Learning from the Boss

I’m sitting here paying my bills and just kicking myself.  Not over money spent but on money not.

Before sitting down, I went to Spotify and stumbled on Springsteen Live on Broadway. When it came out, the reviews were stupendous as were the first hand accounts from friends who had shelled out significant money to see it. 

Within five minutes of listening, I could tell that this would have been money well spent.

Most would say Springsteen’s music speaks for itself.  It is storytelling at its finest. But his introductions to each song, stripped of musical accompaniment, are a special gift.

He shares his life story with raw intimacy, bravery, nuance, humor, strength, vulnerability, affection and love. This list of adjectives could go on and on. 

Of particular note is his introduction to “My Hometown.” Here he paints a picture familiar to anyone whose connection to his or her hometown is conflicted. It is a messy mixture of fond memories and familiar struggles told through the prism of a thousand eyes.  They belong to the boy he was, the man he is and the many characters that shared his life – chief among them his father. 

Through his songs and stories, Springsteen accomplishes something that is critical for anyone who has ever had a childhood marked by struggle. He finds meaning.

It is hard to listen to Springsteen on Broadway and not reflect on your own life – regardless of your circumstances.

So with that said, whether you have 10 minutes now to just sample this experience or two hours and twenty eight minutes later to listen to it in its entirety, I hope you listen to Springsteen on Broadway

He’ll show you why he is the best Boss one can imagine. One who inspires and teaches without you even realizing it.  

Plus with Spotify, it will not be money you’ll be spending well – it will be time.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

What Kind of Neighbor are You?

Consider these three stories:
A couple in Newton Massachusetts give birth to a daughter who is deaf.  In response, twenty of their neighbors learn sign language and have been speaking to that child regularly for the last two years.  Rather than having to travel hours away to learn how to sign at a school for the deaf, the little girl is able to stay in her community and learn by signing with her family and friends.
In my town, Hastings-on-Hudson, the high school wanted to put on a production of Hairspray. The play is homage to diversity, acceptance and integration.  Because the student body isn’t itself diverse racially, they invited students from nearby towns Yonkers, Stamford and the Bronx to join their cast.  The show is a hit – on every imaginable level.
In the recent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighborthere is a scene recounting when Mr. Rogers invited the postman, Mr. McFeely, to come soak his feet in his pool.  This is a response to the resistance at the time to allowing African Americans to swim in the same public pools as their white neighbors.  This decent man in a small public television studio in Pittsburgh transmitted a powerful signal to the country.
The origin of the word neighbor comes from combining an old English word “neah” meaning “near” and the Germanic word “bheue” meaning “to be, exist, grow.”
Together they suggest something so elemental to our existence – the importance of connecting with those around us in order to grow or add meaning to our lives.
There is an oft-cited phrase that fences make good neighbors.  Some today might extend that to include walls.
These three stories demonstrate how short-sited that aphorism is – as these barriers limit our ability to truly see other people.
Whether the neighbor is next door in Newton, the next town over from Hastings or spanning across the airwaves and state lines as in Mr. Rogers.  It is the lack of fences, walls, and boundaries – both literal and psychological – that allow us to fulfill this most fundamental part of being alive and growing.

Being a good neighbor asks us to see everyone – not just those next door or in our town – but across all borders – as someone with whom we share our planet and humanity.  Someone with whom if we gave the time to be welcoming, we might both grow from that experience.

What kind of neighbor are you?

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

Battling for Trophies

Recently my 10 year-old daughter participated in an event called, Battle of the Books. The premise seemed noble. Spark interest in reading by creating a program where students would be given five books to read over the summer.  They would meet as a group to discuss the book and then in the fall, they would gather with students from other schools for a competition based on recalling the book’s content. Sort of like a gameified book club for kids. 

Programs like this can be very valuable in encouraging reading over the summer, where studies have showed student’s reading and vocabulary often decline.
Then I arrived at the Battle.
Held in a high school gym, it had the feeling a live sporting event. Teams from across the county gathered and there was a palpable excitement that was easy to get caught up in. It was clear that teams were taking this seriously – some much more than others.  

While at the event, I heard of the lengths that some towns would go to in order to bring home the trophy.  Some teams had cuts.  Meaning that kids at some point were “kicked off” a reading team – and left home from the competition. 

Other teams had practice sessions to develop their “buzzer strategy.”  Apparently this is a key tactic for being able to be the first to “buzz” in to answer a question. Some even had designated buzzers. 
With a large team and no “buzzer” strategy, our squad did not fair well in the standard metrics of this competition. But when I asked my daughter how she felt about the whole things, her answer was telling.  
“Well, we were given five free books to read over the summer that were really interesting.  And we were able to spend time with our friends talking about books – which was fun.”
It has become the accepted position that competition and the potential for rewards are ideal motivators to drive us to our best.  

But as parents, teachers, business leaders, and even our elected officials – do we too often prioritize winning and competition over teamwork and cooperation? 
New research summarized in this week’s New York Times talks generally about the limits of a rewards based culture and how intrinsic motivation is better for long-term character development. The last line in this op-ed really drives home the point.
Leading thinkers like Douglas Rushkoff are encouraging us to return to our cooperative roots, via his Team Human podcast and soon to be released book of the same name (both are riveting and should be required listening/reading).
Competition can be fun and intense and there is no doubting the dopamine high we get when we reach the top of a podium. Yet, when we “go all in” and see only the trophy it means that some things are left out – like perspective and purpose.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.

See How Where You Live Affects How Long and How Well You Live

In general, people believe that their own actions are more important than the environments in which they live. It’s a belief that’s so powerful its name is Fundamental Attribution Bias.

At the same time, the decision of where to live, work, go to school or raise our kids is among the most important and serious ones we will make in our lives.  

If you’re curious to know how much where you live may impact your life, check out these two tools:

The first from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation uses CDC data to estimate life expectancy down to the census track level.

The second from the Pew Research Center allows you to see how where you live impacts how far your money goes – in other words how does it impact your social class.

Both will show you how your results compare to the rest of the country.

In my own situation, the good news is that people who live in my town live two years longer than the national average. The bad news is that our money doesn’t go nearly as far as it would in other parts of the country – especially with a household of five.

On the surface, this makes sense. Places that have a higher tax base from higher incomes can invest more in schools, hospitals and other types of social infrastructure. Research shows this can contribute to both quality and length of life.

Digging deeper the results begin to look more troubling. By the nature of where I have been able to choose to live, I am now expected to live 4.5 years longer than my brother and sister who live in a different part of the country.

Two years longer than the national average or 4.5 years longer than your siblings may not sound like a lot?

Try measuring that time not in years but in missed hugs from your children or lost opportunities to see your grandchildren grow from grade schoolers to high schoolers.

There is no doubt that our individual choices matter but the reality is not everyone can choose to live anywhere they want. 

In a capitalist society, we readily accept the fact that some people will drive used Toyota’s while others cruise around in new Porsches. That some will vacation at their local beach while others will whisk away to Bora Bora. We don’t begrudge the success of others we admire and aspire to it.

But how much difference are we willing to accept when it comes to living longer? 

Thank you for taking the time to read the latest from Moving Up.

A Great Vacation Idea

Leading up to the July 4th holiday, several friends told me they were traveling into America’s heartland for the week. There they would undoubtedly encounter people whose political beliefs were the polar opposite of their own. My own family vacation to Lake Erie meant that I would share both their predicament and trepidation. 
Yet there is something uniquely apolitical about how Americans celebrate July 4th

In our case, this included the traditional swimming, hot dogs and fireworks. But it was also marked by an impromptu parade within the park where our cabin was located. Golf carts and bicycles lined up at 11:00AM sharp. They were decorated with the stars and stripes – on banners and balloons.  The marchers ranged from age 6 to 60.  Patriotic music swelled from a golf cart in the middle of the procession whose wheels were adorned with red, white and blue paper plates as hubcaps. The parade commenced with the entire group reciting the pledge of allegiance.
Later that evening, we joined local townspeople for fireworks along the lake. I would be lying if I didn’t make snap judgments about their political beliefs, education and health, based solely on their appearance. A fact that embarrasses me – especially considering how gracious and polite every person I met was and that I was the visitor in their hometown.
Among the many flag themed t-shirts was one that read “Shoot Your Local Heroin Dealer.”  Later I would learn that the number of opioid related deaths has tripled in this county over the last six years. Another sign of this region struggles was an unemployment rate that is almost double the national average.
The conversations I did have about politics during my week away from the trappings of the New York Times and nightly news were unusually civil.

Even when I talked to members of my family whose beliefs often clash with my own – there seemed more room for common ground than previous years.  Perhaps born out of a shared desire for a country we can all be proud off.
During the trip, my father-in-law introduced me to the Luke Bryan song “Most People Are Good.” This country tune includes both a homage to Friday night football and lyrics that support gay marriage. Its chorus ends with:

I believe most people are good.
I believe this world ain’t half as bad as it looks

It’s a sentiment I share but in the din of negative news forget from time to time.  Fortunately, a vacation out of my bubble was all the reminder I needed.

What Does It Take to Save a Life?

This week buried beneath the din of politics and conflict was a brief article in the New York Times featuring an 81-year-old Australian man who was donating blood for the last time in his life.

He started giving blood as a young man – a way of paying back those who had donated the blood he needed to survive surgery as a 14-year-old boy.

He would go on to give blood every few weeks for over 60 years. The total number of times he has donated blood?  1,173.

While remarkable, this is only the beginning of the story.

At one point, it was discovered that his blood contained a rare anti-body that was essential for a life-saving drug called Anti-D given to expectant mothers to keep their babies healthy.

The Australian Red Cross estimates that the blood of this man, James Harrison, now retired, has saved more than 2.4 million babies from a potentially fatal disease.

If not amazed yet, among that number are included two of his own grandchildren. You see, his daughter received the drug with his anti-bodies as well.

Now rewind back to the beginning of this story. This remarkable journey began with nameless strangers who first donated blood to save James’s life. He then decided to give back –values instilled in him through his upbringing. 

Researchers then discovered something in his blood that was precious. Companies then made the drugs available to doctors who with nurses administered them to mothers.  All made affordable through a single payer health care system.

James’s actions are heroic. His dedication to giving back is awe-inspiring. At the same time, hidden in this amazing tale are the contributions of nameless others.

Like these nameless others, it is doubtful any of us will ever know how many lives we will save or impact at all. But this story is a reminder that it starts with a blind gift. The beauty of not knowing, but hoping that this gift will connect with others.

It is a sentiment, embodied in the words of Robert F. Kennedy who  said that those who act to improve the life of another or stand up for an ideal, “sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current …”

Here’s to all the tiny ripple’s among us and the currents they will create.

Breaking News

Last week,  the weather app on my phone showed sun icons across the board.  As if three cherries had come up on a slot machine. Jackpot, spring had arrived!  Everyday temperatures would be above 75 degrees. The children clamored to wear shorts to school. Walking the dog would feel like a treat versus a cold chore. Visions of  firing up the grill and relaxing on the patio filled my head.

Then this breaking news alert came in from the New York Times:  “Summer may never be the same. Infections like Lyme Disease, dengue and Zika that are spread by ticks and mosquitos are soaring, CDC says.”

I guess we can’t have nice things… like the warmth of the sun.

Appreciating, journalism’s duty to inform and prepare its readers for potential harm, I couldn’t help be taken aback by the timing of this report.

We couldn’t even say hello to good spring weather before being told in the first sentence, “Farewell, carefree days of summer.”

In fairness, these diseases are serious and are on the rise. At the same time, the total number of people getting diseases transmitted by mosquitos, ticks and fleas is less than 100,000. This may seem significant, and according to the CDC, may be vastly under-reported. But to put this in context, we are a country of 325 million people.  So as a percentage, .03% of people are impacted.

So while this may be newsworthy, is it “Breaking News Worthy”?

Why should we care?

It is hard to move up in life, when we are constantly bombarded with news that brings us down – whether that be about politics, economy, world affairs or well, the weather.

Recently, the journalist James Fallows offered an alternative outlook in this article in the Atlantic. The subtitle of which was “Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.”

In the piece he describes what he and his wife discovered after traveling across the country and talking to Americans in towns we often describe as left behind.  Moving beyond the corrosive talk of politics and the din of national news he describes a more promising future where people are coming together to build stronger communities and a better future.

Interestingly one of the solutions Fallows suggests is spending more time and money investing in local news – where these bright spots can be shared and spread.

On that note, I think I’ll turn off my breaking news alerts and instead grab a copy of our local Rivertowns Enterprise to learn how our local towns are fixing things.  The sun is supposed to be out again today, so maybe I’ll even read it outside and enjoy this beautiful weather.

Update on Coyote Attacks

This was the subject line of an email we received from our Mayor. It marked one of the strangest weeks our town has experienced in recent memory,

On Monday, our schools went into lockdown as a man with a gun was on the loose after killing his girlfriend in a nearby town.

On Wednesday, there were reports of multiple coyote attacks that injured five and killed a small dog.

On Friday, a storm with high winds whipped through the town, knocking down trees, damaging property, and resulting in hundreds of families without power.

If you were a child in this town it meant that your shades were drawn in your classroom on Monday.  An adult escorted you to and from school each day. You weren’t allowed to walk to school or go outside for recess all week. School was canceled one day and sent you home early another due to the conditions. Some had no heat or electricity for a week.

There will always be scary things in the world. This week it happened to a man with a gun, rabid coyotes, and live wires.

At the same time, it has been said that whenever something bad happens, you will always see helpers looking to do good.

This week there were teachers keeping kids calm in the class, people from the police and fire department searching the woods for coyotes, and the public works team sawing and removing trees to clear the way for vehicles and a restoration of power. Our tax dollars were certainly hard at work.

Beyond what people were doing is what they were saying. The Mayor and Superintendent kept us regularly informed. Citizens offered support for their neighbors in the form of shelter, showers and charging stations.  And, of course, parents walked the fine line of helping their children make sense of the real dangers while making sure they felt safe and protected.

So on one level, it was undoubtedly a very, very strange week.  At another, it was a community working together exactly as we would hope and expect them to during difficult times.  In a word – acting normal.

How Much Do I Have To Give?

The school lost everything. An after hours fire melted crayons, turned paper to ash and pencils to tinder. The supplies had just been donated as part of a foreign aid trip to this Nigerian classroom and now needed to be replaced
When our daughter brought the note home from her teacher requesting any used supplies, it included an unnecessary apology for adding one more request on top of the flood that come in for donated coats, toys and food to mark the holiday season.
Soon after, we were sitting in the playroom looking at our stockpile of Crayola, mountains of markers and various bins filled with paper, glue, pens etc.
Feeling more than a little guilty for our excess, I asked our girls if we could give half of all of it away. Keep a yellow marker, give one away. Find a purple crayon, give the next one away. In less than an hour we had filled a large box with supplies that she would bring into school, add to the efforts of other students and then be shipped to Nigeria.
Yet what still remained in our playroom was more than we could possible use in a year.
A separate request for men’s clothes sent me into my own closet, gathering pants, sweaters and coats, that I hadn’t worn in a year but was presumably reserving the right to wear in the future.
Neighbors organized a drive for a local food bank. In our pantry were jars of jam, canned goods and other non-perishables that had been sitting there like the island of misfit toys looking for a home.
This is, as they say, the season for giving. We buy presents for our loved ones, provide bonuses to our employees, give gifts to our teachers, tip more generously to those who provide services, and donate to causes we care about.
This is of course, what this time of year should be all about. But it also raises the question:  How much do I have to give?

In our cabinets, closets, cupboards, garages, dressers and maybe even bank accounts are vast resources that go underutilized for most of the year. The amount of what we give depends not on how we answer that question but in how we read it.

How much do I have to give?
As in what is required of me. 


How much do I have, to give?
As in, what do I have that others could use.

This Is THE Moment

It was a simple enough question from a friend I hadn’t talk to in months.
“What did you do this your summer?”
My answer condensed one hundred days into a handful of stories. Each capturing a brief moment in time. 

  • The walk in the canyon during a family camping trip
  • Drinking Pimm’s with my wife at Wimbledon
  • Swimming with the kids at Walden Pond.
  • A bike ride with the entire family – including my mom!

These small collections of moments become our summer, our year, and our life.
Given their outsized influence, it is surprising we don’t invest more of our time, energy or money in creating them.

This is the point made in a talk I heard recently by Dan Heath based on the upcoming book, The Power of Moments, written with his brother, Chip.
Throughout the pages are stories about The Popsicle Hotline, The Reverse Wedding, Yes Prep Signing Day, and the Trial of Human Nature. Each according the Heaths, generate one or more of the following:  elevation, insight, pride and connection. 
In reading the book, the call to invest in more moments is intuitive and persuasive. Yet often in our own lives, it is a classic case of “easier said than done.”
You see, in order to have a moment, we need to first be in the moment.
The chaos, stress and distraction of our daily lives and the world around us, make being in any moment a challenge.
To be elevated we first must feel free. To have an insight our minds need to be open. To feel pride we must remove doubt and to feel connected we must be fully present.

Perhaps this is why so many of our defining moments are during our vacations and major life events where we free ourselves from everything that typically would take us out of the moment.
Yet there is the potential for defining moments waiting to be made all around us each day.

There are two basic definitions of moment. One is “a very brief period of time.” The other less common one is “importance” (hence the adjective momentous).  

The way to turn any brief period of time into something important is to be present enough to treat it as if, “This is THE moment.”

So the next time someone asks, “How was your summer?  Or weekend?  Or life?” I hope you have many great moments to share.