Do You Suffer from ERI?

If you’re like me, until recently you never even heard of ERI, let alone know if you suffer from it.

The term, coined by Johannes Siegrist, senior professor at the University of Dusseldorf, stands for Effort/Reward Imbalance.

The idea is that we all make a mental calculation when it comes to work. How does what I’m putting in compare to what I’m getting out of it?

In this insightful article on the topic from the Guardian, the author quotes Siegrist, saying there are two types of imbalance. “You can either do too little and receive too much or do too much and receive too little.”

In both cases, these imbalances can prove to be unhealthy. For those whose effort is great and reward small, it has been linked to heart problems and depression. 

Surprisingly and perhaps less sympathetically, those on the other end who may feel their reward is unearned may also experience mental health issues. 

So what is our response? 

Well because no one likes to feel off balance, we recalculate our Effort/Reward for ourselves and dangerously for others.

We overstate our effort while understating those of others. And we minimize our own reward while overstating the reward of others. 

In the process we throw shade on others in the form of guilt or shame. 

The problem is both effort and reward are hard to quantify in our own lives let alone try to judge in others. 

Both effort and reward are relative. They vary from day to day. They are both a point in time and a reflection of a lifetime of activity

So what is one to do?

If you’re reward is in excess of your effort — work harder… for others.

If you’re doing too much and receiving too little — demand more… with and from others.

You see the solution to ERI is not something we will find in our own heads but something we must seek in the company of others. 

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

You Can Do Hard Things

This is a phrase my wife has recently used several times with our children. When I first heard it, it immediately struck a chord.
As a child, most things seem a little hard at first – tying your shoes, getting your own breakfast, reading a book, riding a bike.
It is by only by doing these things ourselves, that we eventually master them and what at first seemed hard eventually becomes second nature.
It is to easy to forget this simple lesson. In the name of expediency, we answer the call to “tie my shoe”, “get me breakfast”, or “read to me?” 

Our lack of patience denies them the opportunity to overcome a struggle and independently solve their own problems.
Ironically, we at the same time, serve them empty pabulum that “nothing is impossible” and “they can do anything.”  This is while we simultaneously deny them the skills necessary to achieve even the most mundane goals.
“You can do hard things” is a realistic invitation to meet life where it is – right in front of you.  

Life, after all, is hard and as Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “nothing worth having comes easy.”  So day-by-day, we work to do hard things. When we master each, we feel rewarded and energized to take on the next hard thing. This is a fundamental part of learning, living and growing.
Conversely, well-intentioned calls like “nothing is impossible” and “you can do anything” can ring hollow. For those of means, it seems like an entitlement (since we may have shown them that things will come to you regardless of your effort).
It is also a little tone deaf to those who face constant adversity.  Their lives are filled with hard things and  everything seems impossible and overwhelming considering their circumstances.
For different reasons, it creates unrealistic distant expectations when what is needed are smaller invitations for mastery.
My youngest daughter loves baking shows and occasionally helps us in the kitchen. But until recently, she treated breakfast as if she were in a diner – ordering what she would like as her parental waiters obliged. 
On Wednesday, she poured her own cereal, spilling just a little drop of milk in the process. Smiling she looked up and said,  “see, I can do hard things.”
One day a bowl of cereal, tomorrow maybe it’s tying her shoes. Whatever the next hard thing is, she will be just a little more prepared to tackle it.  And that I suppose is all we should ask.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.

Check Your Shoes

When you are born on the bottom rung and now stand near the top, you ask,“How did I end up here?”

When you grow up in trailer parks and now live in a beautiful home, you wonder, “How did I end up here?”

When no one in your family went to college and you now teach at one, “How did I end up here?”
The typical answer to these questions is “Hard work.” And while true, it is also grossly incomplete.
The science behind how we see our own paths is fascinating. We remember our obstacles more than the help we receive. The stories we tell ourselves about our lives are more important to us than the facts of them. We have a bias towards the influence of our own actions over the environment in which we were raised and live.
But the most important research shows what can happen when we take the time to reflect upon where we truly came from.
A guard becomes more humane to the prisoners he oversees.
A CEO takes a pay cut to provide fairer wages to her employees.
A politician promotes better policy at the expense of his own political future.
People say the key to solving our problems is to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
But a more powerful exercise is to realize how we came to walk in our shoes first.

The Future of Work

This July 4th most Americans will have a vacation day – one “free” from work. But how free or independent does your work normally make you feel?

Technology was intended to be the great liberator – transforming our lives and ushering in the 15-hour workweek.  I’m not there yet are you?

The number of people working in blue-collar jobs has decreased since 1970 from 31% to less that 14% today.  Automation promises to dispatch more people working in what we might describe as hard labor.

In his new book Bull—- Jobs, David Graebar raises critical questions about why this shift and others hasn’t “freed us up” to enjoy life more.

His central tenet is that most jobs now require us to serve at the whim of others – decreasing our independence and the meaning that came from once making things.

One of the most provocative questions he raises is “Why do so many people have to squeeze doing the things they love — like writing novels or woodworking — into their free time, while spending grim hours under the fluorescent lights of an office doing pointless tasks?”

The answer might be found in the etymology of the word work itself.  As this essay in the Guardian points out, it dates back to the same root words that are associated with compel, persecute and torture. 

It is interesting to note that two of the most identifiable parts about being American. The ethos of hard work and the belief in freedom are, in fact, at odds with one another.

Ideally it is the work that provides us with the freedom, financial and otherwise, to enjoy our lives. But as Alissa Quart points out in her new book, Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, that is becoming increasingly difficult for more and more Americans.

The potential of the gig economy persists but its promise will go unrealized until we tackle fundamental policy questions around wages, childcare, healthcare and retirement.

Until then, we should just ask ourselves a few simple questions. If you are an employer or manager of people, what can you do to help your employees feel more independence and freedom? And if you are a worker, how can you go and get it?

Great Jobs

Consider the following:

When we talk about our relationship with work, we often focus on our own satisfaction, work/life balance or lack of meaning in our jobs. In other words we talk about our unhealthy relationship with our own work.
But perhaps what is more damaging AND what’s behind those numbers is our relationship with other people’s work.

If we respected the work of others, we wouldn’t ask them to work on a day that celebrates their labor.
If we respected the work of others, we would help them find meaning by showing how much their work means to us.
Instead, we have a country where management and labor are often estranged – looking to deny things (like good benefits and a fair wage) that we expect for ourselves.
Instead of appreciating labor, we either look down upon it (“imagine doing that for a living”) or question someone else’s skills and judgement (especially in service work and teaching).
Martin Luther King’s street sweeper speech is a clarion call to finding meaning in our work.  It’s a beautiful sentiment. Now imagine how much harder it is when you are struggling to support your family and others look down upon your work –  both with their condescending glances and with their inconsiderate actions (like littering).
Think over the course of the last week, how many times did you complain about the job someone else had done versus praising someone for the same?
Many years ago, I read the book Breakfast at the Victory. In one story, the author is having breakfast at a diner and marvels at the artistry of the short order cook. How he is able to gracefully handle so many competing tasks without missing a beat or breaking a yolk. It is an wonderful essay of utmost respect and appreciation.
Perhaps a key to having a great job is seeing the great in the jobs all around us.   

There is an undeniable circular nature of work. Our work impacts the lives of others just as the work of others impacts us. It is as the saying goes, “what goes around comes around.”  What are you sending around that circle?  If you’re not sending respect and appreciation, you probably shouldn’t expect to receive it.

Why Do Racehorses Wear Blinders?

This is the question posed by legendary music producer Jimmy Iovine during the spectacular HBO docu-series, The Defiant Ones, chronicling the parallel journeys of his life and Dr. Dre’s and how together they made music history.
His answer to this question is “focus”.  Without blinders horses would look to their left and right distracting them from their pursuit of victory.
This six hours series is a testament to how focus and hard work can help overcome extraordinary life challenges. In that regard it is a typical American Dream story – albeit on steroids.  It is really hard to underestimate how much these two men have contributed to music and culture over the last 40 years and their work ethic is legendary.
At the same time, the focus of their lives and/or this series would lead one to believe that they never cooked a meal, did laundry, went to a kids game or recital, watched TV, read a book, played with their children, or went on vacation with their family.  In other words, did the things that constitute a life for the rest of us. 
Even racehorses take time to graze and nap.
It was also telling to see how their hard work was aided by the people and environment around them – repeatedly leaving me thinking – “you’ve got to be kidding me,” after hearing a story.  Here are a few examples:
Iovine’s first job in the business was at a janitor in a recording studio.  His boss took a liking to him and helped him learn the ropes.During his first stint as a recording engineer, Jimmy was asked to come into work on Easter Sunday. Over his family’s objections he went in to find John Lennon waiting for him. Working with Lennon gave him the confidence to launch his career. Shortly after he was working with Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, and U2.Meanwhile, Dr. Dre played DJ when his mom had friends over, often stacking up ten 45’s on their turntable based on what he thought the guests would like.Seeing her son’s early interest in music, she bought him some recording equipment. Soon he was making mix tapes and recording friend’s music – selling them back tapes of their own recordings. No doubt Compton was a challenging and dangerous place to grow up.  Yet it was in this neighborhood where the talents of Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and others came together to form N.W.A.  Suge Night, founder of Death Records was also a Compton connection. One of Dr. Dre’s latest finds, Kendrick Lamar met Dre when Lamar was a nine-year-old boy.One of Jimmy’s interns told him about a young rapper he saw at a battle rap competition.  Jimmy asked the intern to get a tape. At another show the young rapper threw his last tape the intern’s way.  Jimmy shared it with Dre.  Soon after they signed Eminem, rejuvenating Dre’s career.Jimmy was walking along the beach one day when Dre saw him from his balcony and told him to come up. Dre mentioned that he was getting endorsement offers for sneakers and wasn’t really into it.  Jimmy responded saying he should put his name on “speakers, not sneakers.”  Dre responded by saying, “Yeah, we can call it Beats”.

What followed each of these stories and others like it was a tremendous amount of work, but without a constellation of people, connections and serendipity, these critical pieces of their success probably don’t happen.

No doubt blinders help us focus and accomplish more.  At the same time, it’s good to take them off so we can appreciate why we run as fast as we do.

A Present from Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Bill Belichick

One wears a hoodie and the other a robe. One rules from the bench, the other from the sideline.  But their success, in part, comes from a similar gift.

Recounting the challenges of attending law school as a wife and new mom, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a bold declaration that it was only possible because of her ability to compartmentalize. In the morning before school she was strictly a wife and mom.  At school, she was solely a law student (while a baby sitter watched her daughter). When she returned home at 4:00 each day, she was once again a mom and wife. When her baby went to sleep at 8:00, she was a law student once again. Her boundaries were strict by her own choosing. As she said, the only way she could be good at all of them was to be fully present during each of them.

To be present, as the play on words go, is a gift. But it is one we don’t easily give to others or ourselves.

Life is messy, demands constant, distractions relentless. The result is a perpetual sense that our resources are scarce – time, money, sleep and attention chief among them.

The psychological impact of scarcity has been well chronicled in the book: Scarcity: Why Having So Little Means So Much.  It is a slippery slope and self-fulfilling prophesy: the less we have of something the more poorly we manage what’s left.  Leaving us with even less and so on and so on.

Bill Belichick, who has seven Super Bowl rings and is widely regarded as one of the best coaches of any sport, was recently asked this question:

“With all you have accomplished in your coaching career, what is left that you still want to accomplish?”

His answer? “I’d like to go out and have a good practice today. That would be at the top of the list right now.”

This is the kind of laser focus that is possible when someone doesn’t “feel scarcity.”

When I think about my good moments recently: teaching my daughter how to ride a bike, going to a party with my wife, or even writing this piece – my attention was focused, my phone safely stashed out of site.  My time felt abundant and immensely satisfying.

It is ironic that we think to get the most out of life or move up we constantly have to be moving from one thing to another. In reality, we may just need more moments to be still.  It is a gift that will keep giving.

Can You Do This Math?

Last week, Seth Godin wrote, “The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you’ve spent your time along the way.”
Serendipitously that same day, I watched, The Man Who Knew Infinity – a true story based on mathematicians trying to understand the world by discovering life’s underlying equations.  
With Seth’s words in mind, this amateur mathematician tried to develop a simple equation to capture how we become who we are. 

Here was a first stab:  Being  = Activity x Time

This could be quantified by looking at how many equivalent days were spent doing that activity over a five year period. The formula for which would be:

(Weekly Activity Hours x 260 weeks)/24

For example, if you practice guitar one hour each week, you will, over the course of those five years, spend the equivalent of 10 entire days playing the guitar. This could over time make you a better guitar player. 
Now imagine, if instead, you spent three hours a week practicing. That would translate to an equivalent of an entire month doing nothing but playing the guitar! Think of how much better you would be.
Conversely, there is the time we spend becoming things we didn’t intend.  For example, while I fancy myself a pretty avid reader, lately I’ve spent more time watching things on television than with my nose stuck in a book.
So let’s suppose, I watched ten hours of TV this week, an average of 1.5 a day.
(10 hours TV x 260)/24 =  108 Equivalent Days.
If I keep up the current pace, I will spend the equivalent of three and a half months of the next 5 years doing nothing but watching television.
It is said that we are what we do. Writers write. Teachers teach. Ballers ball.  In this case, I’m not really a reader, I’m a TV watcher. Ouch.
I encourage you to do your own math using the formula above. Pick one thing you’re trying to be and see how your time stacks up.  Now compare that to something you’re doing that really isn’t in line with who you want to be.

What does that look like five years from now?  How does that make you feel?
Don’t be overwhelmed. It starts with choosing that first hour.  Then as they say “rinse and repeat.”

What Is The Soundtrack Of Your Life?

Music is seminal to our lives. From our first lullaby to our wedding dance to whatever dirge they may play at our funeral, songs mark both our most important moments and hum in the background of our daily lives.
(As I write this now, music ripples through my ear buds playing Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia – which perhaps subconsciously led to the inclusion of the funeral reference above).
Where music came from and why is a long contested subject among musicologists (yes that’s a field  – how cool, right?)
Several theories captured in this fascinating paper, trace its beginnings as a necessary aspect of evolution. Suggesting that someone who made music had a biological edge in mating (guess that cliché about being in a band to attract others goes way back).  Another evolutionary idea links the need to soothe babies via music as being critical to allow mothers to move on to other important survival activities.
A different line of thinking points to the use of music for bringing people together, consider this quote:
Recognizably musical activities appear to have been present in every known culture on earth, with ancient roots extending back 250,000 years or more…
Work and war songs, lullabies, and national anthems have bound together families, groups, or whole nations. Relatedly, music may provide a means to reduce social stress and temper aggression in others.
In an extensive review of the literature, the authors bring together over 129 different reasons why we listen to music — derived from past research.
In thinking about the role music plays in helping us move up, a few top factors struck me:

Because it reminds me of certain periods of my life and past experiences. Because it makes me believe I am better able to cope with my worries. Because it can make me dream. 

All three of those statements are critical in having a better understanding and appreciation for all that it takes to move up in life.
We need to look back to appreciate from where we came.
We need help so things can get better today.
We need to have hope for a better future.
Think about your own life.  What songs make you appreciate your past, overcome a current challenge or dream of a better future?
If it’s not too much to ask, I’d like you to email me back either a song that does one of the above or your three-song playlist answering all the above questions.  

We’re putting together a music compilation for an upcoming Moving Up project and would love any inspiration you’d like to share.
To kick things off, Here is my eclectic list:

Past Appreciation:  Brooklyn Roads by Neil Diamond
Overcoming:  Lose Yourself by Eminem
Dream: Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland


Maybe You Could Be President Someday…

This phrase has probably been uttered to hundreds of millions of American children over our country’s 240 year history.

Yet during that time only 44 people have actually held that job.

It is no wonder that when we tell the stories of our Presidents we marvel at the individual efforts and the hard work that must have been required to ascend to our highest office. Yet consider how many other factors, like these, had to fall in place when you hear their extraordinary individual tales:

Money helps. Every President but one (Truman) since 1929 has been a millionaire at the time of achieving office.

Education is critical.  Over 40% went to Ivy League schools and since 1893 all but one graduated college.

Health matters. Most enjoyed healthy lives – especially for their times. Even those who had to overcome well-known health issues, such as John F. Kennedy and both Roosevelts, had the benefit of being able to afford literally the best care in the world for their conditions. 

Connections count.  40 out of 45 came from politics – many hand picked by party bosses to be their nominee. Ten were directly related to another President (2 sets of father/sons, 2 sets of cousins and one grandfather/grandson).  In fact, genealogists have determined that FDR was related to 11 different Presidents himself (5 by blood and 6 by marriage). 

A little luck goes a long way.  20% didn’t even get elected to the office – rising only after the previous occupant died or resigned.  Of course, there are also five who did not win the popular vote but won via the electoral college. 

Lifted by many helping hands. Behind every President is a whole host of advisors, friends, relatives, aides and funders who supported them along the way.  However, 18 Presidents actually owned slaves, in many cases hundreds, which presumably allowed them to amass their fortunes that made running for public office possible

These are just a handful of the factors that help explain how these 44 people rose above the hundreds of millions of children who were told that “maybe one day they could become President too.”

None of this is to diminish any of their hard work or the amount of individual effort required to rise to the oval office.  But hard work and help aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact to become President of anything they are mutually dependent.

Consider this:  Even Abraham Lincoln perhaps our most “self-made” President, would never have risen to that office were it not for the simple fate of his birth.  Leave 99.9% of his genes exactly the same, but assume he were born either a woman or a black man. Could he have become our 16th President in 1860?

So on President’s Day, let’s honor those who have held this office by honoring the totality of what made their journey possible.