Just a Little More?

Fifteen miles from my home is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Its primary claim is the setting for the infamous ride of the Headless Horsemen – the author of which ironically was eventually buried there.

Perhaps less well-known is its status as the resting place of perhaps the richest collection of wealthy individuals this country has known. The names are a who’s who of American wealth — Astor, Dodge, Chrysler, Rockefeller, Watson and Carnegie.  

Most their graves are lavish mausoleums or memorials. Carnegie’s, however, is a little different. It is adorned with a modest Celtic cross — the graves of he and his wife marked by simple grave plates.

And as a symbol of the paradox of wealth, Carnegie’s plot also includes the graves of three others – all long time servants to he and his wife.

Some may see this gesture as an act of kindness and friendship, while others could view it as a sign of inequality and privilege.

In his lifetime, Carnegie could be ruthless. He pressed his advantages, leveraged his power, to skyrocketing levels of wealth.

He believed that a person’s life was to be divided into two halves; the first involved making money and the second giving it away. To that end, Carnegie gave 90% of his fortune away during his lifetime, and the balance when he died (a total of $4.8 billion in today’s dollars). To his only daughter and wife, he left a small trust.  As a result, none of his present day heirs claim his riches, or for that fact his name.

Rockefeller was, if anything, more ruthless in his business practice. His approach to philanthropy was slightly different, as his fortune was both passed down from generation to generation and given away over time. The Rockefeller name and fortune continue – with family assets estimated at $16 billion today.

As a youth, Rockefeller said his goal was to make a $100,000 and live to be a hundred (he made it to 97). 

As an adult, when his wealth had already tacked on three more zeros beyond his goal, a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” His reply, “Just a little bit more.”

Rockefeller’s sentiment may seem cold but does it ,  veer far away from the prevailing thoughts of today? Maximize wealth and advantage while you can, and pass it on to your children. Give what you don’t need away to good causes.

But how much do we need?  “Just a little more”

Recent news underscores the issue with this approach: growing class tensions, parents using bribes to get their children into college, politicians calling for wealth taxes, populist uprisings on both sides of the political spectrum.

Which brings us back to the answer given by Rockefeller a hundred years ago.

What if instead of answering the question, “How much money is enough?”, those same four words were the response to each of these questions?

– How much could we be taxed?
– How much should we give away?
– How much should we share the wealth with those we work with?
– How much confidence should we have in our children to succeed without our help?
– How much should we question how our wealth is acquired?
– How much should we think of others before ourselves?

Just a little more.

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.

How Strong Is Your Heart?

Years ago, I felt honored to deliver the eulogy at my Grandmother’s funeral. I talked about how the average person’s heart beats 30,000 times a day.  This meant that during her 87 years, it had beat right around a billion times.

I recounted how her heart must have beat differently at different milestones in her life. Racing to her first picture show as a little girl, going gaga over Bing Crosby, straining while working odd jobs during the great depression, or nearly coming to a stop when she learned her first husband was killed in the war. How it began to beat again when she fell in love with my Grandpa and welled with pride as she watched her children grow.

Recently, I realized that while this device may have been useful in bringing to life her individual moments and experiences, it did little service to understanding the cumulative impact of a billion beats on the muscle that makes our life possible.

Naturally, some of us are born with stronger hearts than others. Leaving some to suffer defects that need surgery or live with hearts genetically more prone to wear and tear.

When it comes to nurturing our hearts, some will have more opportunities to exercise and eat better than others.  Similarly others will experience more stress and strain causing both figurative and literal heartache.

The heart is the engine of both our vitality and mortality. As it goes, so do we.

Despite it’s value to us, it is still so easy to take for granted.  We assume that while we may age on the outside, our heart must stay young on the inside.

Until we are met with the reality that it doesn’t.

For a few, this reality could be a positive. We learn that our heart is in great shape and that while we may be losing our hair, our heart hasn’t lost a step.

For most though, this reality strikes like a dagger.  We learn that the hundreds of millions of beats have taken their toll on our own heart or on those of our loved ones.

Unable to turn back the clock, we lament the missed opportunities to strengthen someone’s heart through acts of love and kindness or lighten their strain through our sacrifice.

It is a reminder to take care of our own heart and the hearts of those all around us –  one beat at a time.

Answer These 3 Questions to Test Your Vision

There is an ongoing tension in our vision between short and long distances.  In clinical terms we refer to the extreme on both ends as nearsighted or farsighted. This is a rare instance when we label a condition not by a weakness (e.g. I can’t see things close up) but by its opposite strength (i.e. I can see long distances well).
In a figurative sense, we also experience the same tension. Am I always looking to the future while neglecting the present? Or, do I see things well in front of me at the expense of the bigger picture?
It is probably safe to say that in a world where too many people live check-to-check, so many noses are buried in cell phones and busy lives place larger questions on hold – most of us fall into the latter bucket – we are nearsighted.
If your answer isn’t intuitive, ask yourself these three simple questions:
Do you spend at least one quality hour outdoors everyday? 
The sheer act of being outside makes us more farsighted. The horizons allow our eyes to gaze into the distance. Also, when we are in the expanse of nature, we feel smaller which is healthy for our mental state.
When you think about your future, do you feel at ease?  
Ok, your laughter may be masking your anxiety.  Whether it’s your next job or retirement, having kids or sending them to college, being a good parent or taking care of your parents – our future can weigh heavy on us. This is particularly true if we think about it sporadically and plan for it less. The more you engage with your future, the less anxious it will feel.
In little moments, do you often see the bigger picture? 
It is easy to get caught up in the stress of daily life and lose sight of what really matters. Phrases, like “in the scheme of things” and “in the long run” give us pause to look up and put these moments in a broader, healthier context.
 If you answered, yes to all three questions, congratulations – you’re doing a better job than I am.
If you answered no to any or all of the above, don’t worry. There is simple way to improve your vision.  Use it.
Our eyes and perspective get better with practice.  So spend a little more time outdoors each day, take an evening once a month for planning your future, and the next time a moment starts to feel heavy – try to make it lighter by putting it in perspective.

What Can You Say in 6 Words?

Distillation requires us to reduce something to its essence.  Within art and literature, it often means that less is more.

Hemingway was especially gifted in this regard and, as legend has it, was once challenged to write a story using only six words. His response?

  “For sale; baby shoes. Never worn.”

This six-word format has been popularized by the organization Six Word Memoirs.

It has also been an effective instrument in getting people to open up on issues like race as evidenced by The Race Card Project.  This initiative was started by Michele Norris of NPR and is now affiliated with The Bridge at Aspen Institute. 

Several hundred thousand people have shared their six-word reflections on race. Just spending a few minutes on the site will show you the power of the format.

In reflecting recently on why I do this work in general and more specifically my interest in a better conversation around the American Dream, I distilled it down to this:

“I die. Daughters live. Now what?”

Part of the discipline of this exercise is to allow these few words to stand on their own – and, in doing so, give us pause so they may soak in.

So if you have a few minutes today, try distilling your story down to six words.  As is the case in so many things, much of the value lies in the process not the end product. Still, I think you’ll be surprised by how a few words can say so much.

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. 

Three Reasons History Rocks

Jimmy Carter was the first US president born in a hospital. That is the kind of historical fact that makes you go “hmmm that’s interesting.”
But history is more than a collection of interesting facts, dates and events. It is who we are and from where we came. 
David McCullough’s new book, The American Spirit, is a collection of speeches some stretching back more than twenty years.  But inside each are poignant stories that provide invaluable lessons for where we are today.
As a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Freedom of Medal recipient, I will let McCullough’s words largely speak for themselves:
1. History makes us more appreciative. 

 “As history abundantly shows, Congress for all its faults has not been the parade of clowns and thieves and posturing windbags so often portrayed…It was Congress after all that provided the Homestead Act, ended slavery, ended child labor, built the railroads, built the Panama Canal, the Interstate Highway System. It was Congress that paid for Lewis and Clark and for our own travels to the Moon. It was Congress…that created Social Security, TVA, the GI Bill, the Voting Rights Act and the incomparable Library of Congress.”
2. History makes us feel more connected.

“We are all part of a larger stream of events, past, present and future.  We are all the beneficiaries of those who went before us – who built the cathedrals, who braved the unknown, who gave of their time and service, and who kept faith in the possibilities of the mind and the human spirit. From history we learn that there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman.”
3. History makes us feel alive.

“History isn’t just something that ought to be taught, read, or encouraged only because it will make us better citizens. It will make us a better citizen and it will make us more thoughtful and understanding human beings.  It should be taught for the pleasure it provides. The pleasure of history consists in an expansion of the experience of being alive.”  
Throughout this wonderful collection, McCullough offers countless engaging stories – within each are more lessons we can glean from history.  Undergirding them all is a simple plea.  Know your history – then share it. 

History starts at home, McCullough writes.  We need to know and tell stories that make not just American history come alive, but our own personal history as well.  

Keep your eye out for a special announcement tomorrow about a new tool that we hope will help each us do just that. 

Why Less Time Makes For Better Living

Time is the most commonly used noun in the English language.

In our daily lives we try to manage our time or hope to use our time wisely. We grow frustrated with ourselves when we waste time and try to fill time when we have nothing planned or to do.

When experiencing a wonderful moment, we wish we could make time stand still and for a brief period we can. But then that time, like all time, passes. And in the most true of all clichés, as we watch our children grow, we are left to wonder, where did time go?

In his new book, Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation, Alan Burdick takes us on a journey into, around and through time. What I have found most fascinating are its passages on our perceptions of time – exploring such questions as “How long is now?” and “Do children experience time differently than adults?” 

The book is organized by units of time: the hours, the days, the present. In exploring each, he walks us through their origin and science. At a recent book event, I asked Alan if he had ever learned about the ultimate personal measure of time – a lifetime.   

For most of human history, people did not even know their own age and certainly did not have any definitive idea about how long they might expect to live. So as they moved from day to day and from year to year, you wonder how did they consider the value of their time in total?

There are still cultures today that do not measure time at all.  They don’t count minutes or hours or days with the same intention as we do and they certainly do not count the years in their lives.  

Untethered to the ticking clock, they simply live to the beat of their own circadian rhythms. If just reading that makes you feel less stress – imagine living that way.

It may come as no surprise then that a commonality shared by cultures that disproportionately have more people live past 100 is their loose relationship to time. 

In the show Rent, the song Seasons of Love opens with this question about time:

525,600 minutes, 525,600 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes, how do you measure a year?

It makes the case that time is a very clumsy unit for measuring life, when compared to say, love.

But what does it say about us when time is the most commonly used noun in our language but love doesn’t even crack the top 100 nouns or verbs?

For better or worse, time has become the de facto organizing principle and currency of our lives.  And while most of us may wish we had more time for this or that, you wonder if less focus on time wouldn’t make for a better life.

You Have 45 Seconds

It’s the biggest night of your career. Over 30 million people will watch you take the stage to accept an award. Filled with pride and gratitude for everything that it took you to get to this pinnacle of success, you lift your trophy and approach the microphone.

You now have 45 seconds to express what’s in your heart. Go.

During last night’s Oscars a few took the opportunity to use one of the world’s largest stages to make an overt political point — no doubt earning appreciation from their fans but derision from those who disagreed with their views.

Others took the more standard approach of trying to squeeze into those 45 seconds as many names who worked with them on their film or supported them in their career.

But what if these two approaches were merged. The list of individuals actually MADE an important political point.

In a country that prides itself on individual accomplishment, the reality is that these speeches can serve as reminder of exactly how many different influences it takes to make our life story possible.