Did You Hear About Bunny Sandler?

I recently heard the writer and sociologist, Arlie Russell Hochschild describe the discontent many feel in the country today.  It was from her acclaimed book,Strangers in Their Own Land, and was captured in the following metaphor:
“You’re waiting in line for the American dream that you feel you very much deserve. It’s like waiting in a pilgrimage, and the line isn’t moving. Your feet are tired. You feel you are properly deserving of this reward that’s ahead. And the idea is, you don’t begrudge anyone in this right deep story. You’re not a hateful person. But then you see… somebody cutting ahead of you. Why are they getting special treatment?
Then, in another moment, the president of the country, Barack Obama, who should be tending fairly to all waiters-in-line, seems to be waving to the line cutters. In fact, “Is he a line cutter?” — the idea is. How did his mother — she was a single mother, not a rich woman — afford a Harvard education, a Columbia education? Something fishy happened. That was the thought there.”
In a final moment, someone from the coasts, someone highly educated, someone from that so-called elite, turns around, and they’re really close to the prize, or they have the prize. But they turn around and look at the others who are waiting in line and say, “Oh, you backward, Southern, ill-educated, racist, sexist, homophobic redneck.”  That is the estranging thing, that insult.”
The power of metaphors is their ability to reveal deeper insights into our thinking about a particular topic.  

And in hearing hers, it illuminates the following truths about how we see mobility in this country:
We generally don’t understand how we end up in our place in line.

We have even less knowledge about how other people get their place in line

We don’t know why the line moves for some and not for others.

And finally, we spend too much time judging others in the line and too little figuring out how to make the line move faster for all of us.

What do you do when you’re in line?

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

They Were Everywhere

On bookshelves, under end tables, on the dining room table, behind the sofa, and under chairs. In the hallway, kitchen, bedroom, living room and yes, the closet. They were spread to every corner of our home like the Starks to the kingdoms of Westeros.
Legos, Legos and more Legos. Our home had turned into a literal Lego-land. Constructed sets abounded – tree houses, ski lodges, yogurt shops, pet hospitals, ice skating rinks, pizzerias and amusement parks. While they are in a seemingly constant state of reproduction, their forces had multiplied exponentially recently — the result of birthday parties and Christmas.
In an effort to contain the madness, my wife and I had decided to take matters into our own hands.  Each year, we make our children a Christmas gift (with Santa supplying all others under the tree.)  

This year we decided to make them each a Mobile Lego Cart. It was tricked out with three shelves. On two we affixed Lego baseplates, which would allow them to display their Lego creations, the third had a storage bin, for either Lego pieces or assembled accessories, like cars and planes. Each cart was equipped with hooks for hanging bags of pieces and magnets (some of which were used to spell their names prominently on the cart).

The idea was they could place their creations on the cart, play with them and when done move them to a place that would be out of sight, out of mind for their Lego fatigued parents.
They were things of beauty and our girls loved them. Soon we would learn the shortcomings of our plan.
Our girls are big fans of these Lego sets. Pre-packaged boxes of 400-1200 distinct Lego pieces organized in one to eight different bags with step-by-step instruction booklets that can be up to two hundred pages long. The assembly process takes hours, sometimes spanning multiple days.  A simple bump or knock can send that effort into a heap of bricks and tears.
Now put that on a moving cart.  Oops, sorry  I meant three different moving carts.
Predictably, within the first few hours, two accidents had led to the previously referenced heaps of bricks and tears.
Beyond the tenuous nature of moving intricate Lego sets was the question of real estate. The adage of “If you build it, they will come” was never more true.

Initially old completed sets were moved into their new home only to be quickly displaced by freshly built new sets – a Lego gentrification process forced by limited cart capacity. The building of new sets was so furious you would have thought they were developers in Dubai.
Frustration mounted as did calls for more carts and space.
When I was young, Legos did not come in elaborate sets with instructions.  There were Legos and your imagination. 

You built something and played with it until you were bored. Then you tore it down and built something different. One set could last a childhood.  
Today each set is intended to have permanence. Our children learn the importance of following instructions carefully and take pride in their studious accomplishment.  And they certainly exercise their imagination when they play make believe and insert themselves into the complex worlds designed by Lego but assembled with their own two hands.  
But something seems decidedly different and potentially lost – and I’m talking about more than just space in our home. 

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.

What Will You Leave Behind in 2018?

With 2019 right around the corner, it is customary to look forward.  To set goals, create plans and, of course, make resolutions.  It is also an opportunity to reflect and look back.

Recently a friend told me that during a recent yoga class, the instructor asked everyone to reflect on the question, “what do you need to leave behind?”  In other words, what mindsets, behaviors or habits do you need to change if you want to be able meet those goals, follow through on those plans and keep those resolutions?

For some, it is easier said than done. The weights holding them down cannot be willed away.

Challenges like illness, mounting debt, and lack of opportunities can be debilitating and difficult to simply “leave behind.”

For others, limitations are of our own making. We form habits that are incompatible with the energy required to be our best selves.  Our thoughts are subject to mindsets that make excuses, deflect responsibility, and limit our options.

So as we say hello to 2019, what will you say goodbye to in 2018?

For me, it’s sayonara to sacrificing sleep, excessive time online, and a mindset that too often relies on validations from others.

Imagining how much more I could accomplish with more energy, time and internal motivation creates a vision of a 2019 where more goals are met, plans kept and resolutions realized. 

Some may say this seems simplistic and Pollyanna-ish but so too would thinking that I could accomplish much of anything vital without first leaving something unnecessary behind.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.

The True Meaning of Eve

For millions of children around the world (and perhaps an equal number of adults), today is a day of incredible anticipation.  For tomorrow, they will wake up uncontrollably consumed by the excitement that comes with presents nestled under and around the Christmas tree.
The very nature of any “eve” is one of anticipation and even anxiety.  As the great Tom Petty once sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”
Its meaning today is simply “the day or period of time before an event or occasion.”  But the word’s Hebrew origin is much more evocative of what is to come. “To breath” or “to live” suggests that “eve” is the very precursor to of our being.
I try to imagine what my mother felt like on Christmas Eve, 1968. The year had been one calamity one after another.  Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had both been assassinated. Vietnam had escalated.  There were riots in the streets. In this context, already struggling to raise two children on her own, she was now expecting a third.
I can only guess that she felt both excitement and fear. A blind belief that things could only get better and a nagging feeling that perhaps they would not.
The next morning, she watched her oldest son rejoice in seeing his new train set chug around the tree while her two-year-old daughter feverishly tore wrapping paper from one present after another. 
Shortly thereafter, she brought me into this world. To say it was a difficult birth would be an understatement, as I was nearly twelve pounds and breech.
This year is not unlike 1968, as much anxiety and anticipation mark the eve of this holiday. 
It would seem appropriate to take inspiration from the advice that I assume my mother heard while in labor that morning. 

Reminding us to breathe, especially during the difficult times.  

Remembering to offer words of encouragement when someone is struggling, “You’re doing great, you’re almost there.” 

And of course, the solace that comes when our labor is done and we have brought new life into our troubled, beautiful world.

Happy Holidays (and thank you Mom.)

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

What Do These People Have in Common?

Grace is a social worker who bravely intervened to defuse a dangerous situation between a homeless man and the police.

Sean is in prison for stealing guns and trading them for heroin and is a suspect in the killing of Whitey Bulger.

Catharine is a legal scholar who pioneered the legal claim for sexual harassment. 

Rachel is the first transgender woman world champion, winning the gold in Masters Track Cycling.

Gary is hacker who was accused of perpetrating the “biggest military computer hack of all time.”

Rebecca is an author, researcher, and Internet freedom advocate.

Kiley is an Olympic aerial skier who finished 10th in the last Olympic games.

Nathan is a former #1 draft pick for the Colorado Avalanche.

Jerrick is a running back for the San Francisco 49ers.

Mark is a political advisor who has honorably served President George Bush and Senator John McCain.

Kate is a comedian and actress.

Bob is writing this post. 
This is a notable group. They come from three different countries and nine different states. They range in age from 22 to 72. Their diversity spans across race, gender, political beliefs and, of course, life outcomes.
What unifies them is their last name — McKinnon (or in some cases the original Scottish spelling MacKinnon).
For reasons, too long to go into, I spent most of my life never knowing anyone personally who shared my last name. 

So over the course of my life, I’ve “collected” this assorted group of “relatives.”  

In some strange way, I have found solace in discovering that there are people out there whose name and ancestry I presumably share.

It is a small but poignant reminder that regardless of our differences, we are connected.

If you’ve never done it, spend five minutes and start googling your last name. Cherish the diversity in the people and stories you find. Seek out differences that make you uncomfortable and others that make you proud.
The roots of our family tree run long are a buried, tangled and beautiful mess.


Thanks to everyone who watched or shared my TEDx talk, How Did You End Up Here.  It is very much appreciated. 

Why We Share

Every minute there are over 3,000,000 pieces of content posted online via social media. That’s doesn’t even include texts or emails like this one.

Most people keep what they see to themselves.  Only 18% of people share more than one piece of content a day.

When we do share content, the number one reason is to entertain our friends (insert cat video joke here).  Conversely, only 13% of people share something for the purposes of making their friends “feel something.”

With that as context, I hope that against these odds, you will both watch my recent TEDx talk and share it. At the same time, I will understand if you do neither.

I write these posts and share this talk because I truly believe that the act of reflecting on our lives can improve them – and those around us.  I’ve been moved when I receive notes from people saying that they have done just that.

Yet I often get caught in the ego trap of trying to measure their value through the numbers of opens, clicks and shares.

Case in point. Recently I was feeling pangs of disappointment that my TEDx talk didn’t break the Internet within the first hour. Then I received a message from a high school friend who I hadn’t spoken to in twenty years but had just watched the video. 

She wrote, “My heart is so happy. You’ve given me so much to think about and share with others.”

If not one more person views this talk, I can feel satisfied.

Yet, I hope so many more get the chance to feel the same way she did.

Please watch and share.

Thank you,


This Is Me vs. This Is Us

This devastating article details the lengths to which a private school went to drive their students into college. It included allegations of abuse, falsifying transcripts and encouraging students to exaggerate the challenges in their life in their admissions essays. 

The idea was to “manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity.”

In the fictional world of the TV show “This is Us”, a recent episode also focused on a character’s inspirational admissions essay.  Here young Randall resists the temptation to answer the question of naming “one” person who has made the greatest impact in his life.  Instead suggesting that it was a small army of people who made his journey possible. Watch him read his essay here. 

Both of these stories put a spotlight on the increasingly high stakes game of college applications and their signature component, the admissions essay. 

The first exposes the system’s bias toward “pull yourself up from your bootstraps stories.”  The higher the climb the more worthy the student appears to be. 

The second also funnels the student down a narrow narrative that tries to pin success, if not on your own effort, then that of a single other person.

We all love a good success story.  We root for the underdog and are moved – even to tears – when they make it. 

But our attraction to these stories can inadvertently drive young people to only see their journeys through this narrow lens at a time when we should be teaching them to see their lives more completely.  

We are telling them that we value stories that scream “This is Me” instead of asking them to make the connection that says “This is Us.”

Thanks to all of those who donated to our #givingTuesday campaign. Your generosity will go directly young designers/interns who have struggled to move up in life. They in turn will help us create moving content that helps more people reflect on their lives. 

Thank You For Reading This Special Post

“I will never see my own life or anyone else’s the same way again.”
Over the last seven years, the Moving Up Media Lab has worked to create a new conversation about the American Dream. One asking us to look beyond our own hard work to see the many people and events that have contributed to where we are today. Research has shown that this kind of reflection can make us both more grateful and giving.
The quote is from a reader like you and attests to the ultimate potential of our non-profits’ work.
Today for the first time, we are asking for you to support it financially via a Donation to our Dream Team Fund.
Here is how your gift to the fund will help:

  1. Your donation will go directly to an intern/young designer who themselves have struggled to move up in life.
  2. They in turn will help create content that helps thousands of people reflect on their lives
  3. Upon reflection, those thousands become more grateful for and giving towards others

As a bonus, Paypal and Facebook will be matching donations tomorrow only. They are doing this on a first come/first served basis up to a total of $7 million dollars matched for qualified organizations such as ours. So if you plan to give, please do so now so your gift can be matched.
I hope you give now to our Dream Team Fund
Thank you for your support. For opening this email, your mind and perhaps even your wallet

About Tomorrow…

As you may know, tomorrow is #GivingTuesday. This online giving holiday was founded as a way to spur end-of-year charitable giving.
Last year alone, $300 million dollars were raised on #GivingTuesday, with the median gift of $120.
What you may not know is that the organization behind these posts, Moving Up Media Lab, is itself a 501c3 charitable organization and we also will soon be celebrating our seventh anniversary.
During this time individual philanthropists and small grants and contracts from Foundations have funded our work.  This has allowed us to:

  • Conduct one of the largest national studies on our attitudes on the American Dream.
  • Design an online platform for our work (www.movingupusa.com)
  • Share a month long #thx2 campaign encouraging people to share stories of gratitude
  • Develop a curriculum that has been taught in hundreds of of high school students
  • Launch Your American Dream Score that has helped over 550,000 people reflect on their life journey.
  • Deliver almost three years worth of weekly blogs to thousands of readers like you.

More important than the impact demonstrated by the numbers are the stories that people have shared with me over the years.

They prove that when we give people the tools to see their life’s journey in a more complete way, they never see the journeys’ of others in the same way either.

The simple act of reflection can make us more grateful and giving at the same time.
For the first time tomorrow, we will be launching a #givingTuesday campaign of our own. It will undoubtedly be one of tens if not hundreds of requests for your time and money.
I encourage you first to please give to worthy organizations that are directly serving those in need. Some of my favorites are Save the ChildrenDoctors without BordersFamily Independence InitiativeROCA and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
If your resources allow, we hope you can then support the work we are doing at Moving Up Media Lab.  All donations will go towards a Dream Team Fund, which will allow us to pay interns and junior designers to create more programming and content like that mentioned above. More details will follow in tomorrow’s special email.
In the meantime, thank you for all you’ve done to support this work.

Thank The Forgotten

This Thursday most of us in America will find ourselves surrounded by family and friends celebrating Thanksgiving.

Perhaps during prayer or a quiet moment in our mind, we will offer silent thanks for those whose presence in our life has made us who we are.  Our parents, partners, children, family or close friends will top most lists. 

Hopefully more than a few will go the extra steps and give voice to those silent thoughts in ways that go beyond a cursory thanks but offer a level of specificity of why we are so grateful for their presence in our lives.
Doing this alone would honor the spirit of Thanksgiving and the effort of others on our behalf.   We could all use more open exchanges of gratitude and appreciation.
But what if we also took the few days leading up to Thanksgiving to reflect on and reach out to those whose role in our lives we might have forgotten?
Here are a few prompts, if you need them:

  • A teacher who inspired you
  • A friend who was there when you were down
  • A work colleague who made a connection to help you land a job
  • Anyone who through an act of faith, kindness or trust supported you when you needed it most.

If you’d like a little more inspiration, here is a link to a video I shared previously but earns repeated viewing. It’s Kevin Durant’s acceptance speech as Most Valuable Player in the National Basketball Players Association.

Take note of both the breadth and depth of the gratitude and appreciation he is sharing for the world to hear.

Take ten minutes today, another ten tomorrow and a third ten on Wednesday. Use each to track down someone whose impact in your life you now remember.  It will make your Thanksgiving and theirs.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.