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 Do You Do When You’re Wrong?

In response to last week’s post, several readers wrote me to point out an error. I incorrectly wrote, “Mr. Rogers invited the postman, Mr. McFeely, to come soak his feet in his pool.”  

In reality, he invited Officer Clemmons. Mr. McFeely is white while Officer Clemmons is African-American – not a minor point considering Mr. Rogers was trying to make a statement about integrating public pools.

My initial instinct was to hope no one else noticed and ignore it.  

Ultimately, guilt made me own up to my mistake, email the readers who pointed out the error and send this mea culpa. The net result was not only a personal relief but also some excellent exchanges with readers – even netting a book recommendation. What originally felt threatening instead felt liberating.
A few weeks earlier, my middle daughter had given me a master class in apologies.  Around bedtime, she had completely lost her cool about something that seemed trivial at the time. She said some hurtful and hateful things, including that I was “the worst Dad ever” and she “never wanted to read with me again.”  Both of which stung, especially since we’ve been having an absolutely awesome time reading a book series called The Unwanteds every night for months. She ran into her room crying, slamming the door.

Several minutes later, a notebook came sliding out from under said slammed door. In her two-page note, she walked me through every nook and cranny of what she was feeling and why she acted the way she did. I went into her room, her apologetic words in my proud hand, to tell her how brave it was to share her feelings so directly and purely. I asked if we could read theUnwanteds and so we did.
In the spirit of President’s Day, both examples, reflect these words from Lincoln:

My old Father used to have a saying that ‘If you make a bad bargain, hug it all the tighter.’
Owning our mistakes has always been hard, but it seems even harder today. We don’t allow much space for forgiveness. 
Saying sorry, admitting when you’re wrong. These are really, really hard things.  Yet we put every potential apology through the lens of judgment instead of understanding.  A world that seems more about gotcha, than “I get you.”
The problem is that when we don’t feel safe to own our mistakes, both parties suffer.  Apologies come either half-baked or not at all. And no one is able to move on.
There is something poetic about the imagery of hugging our mistakes all the tighter.  Just imagine, if we could all hug ours as tightly as a nine-year-old.

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. 

Small Invisible Acts

A man wrote a short story that he could not get published. So he included it in 200 Christmas cards he sent out to friends and family.
One of the cards ended up in the hands of a film director. He made a film based on that story.
It lost a fortune and the director never made a successful film again. He ultimately had to sell his production company and with it the rights to the film.
The company and the rights were sold several more times. The eventual owner forgot to renew the copyright of the film.
Which meant that it was now free to anyone who wanted to air the film.
So PBS did.
And then other networks followed suit.
They aired it around Christmas because they needed cheap programming to compete with newer holiday specials.
The film was It’s a Wonderful Life.
The story behind how this classic came to be epitomizes its name and central message every bit as much as the better known plot of the film itself.
Small invisible acts by people known and unknown shape our lives.  It reminds us to send more such acts into the world – without thought or expectation of any grand outcome.

Although, as this story shows, this doesn’t mean that something grand won’t eventually happen.  And when it does and others learn the story behind the story, they too will feel all the more grateful and enriched.  Perhaps inspiring more simple invisible acts to made.
Thank you to Phillip Van Doren Stern for sending his story, “The Greatest Gift” out into the world and into our hearts.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

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. 

The Child or The Road?

Uncertain times raise the stakes for raising a child.  We project our own fears upon their future and our anxiety seeps into our actions and ultimately theirs. 

This manifests itself in ways big and small, many of which are chronicled in the new book, The Coddling of the American Mind:  How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.  (Ironically, the title itself may unwittingly add to this anxiety.)  The book is challenging and tough to read as you reflect on your own actions and life, but it is valuable for that very reason.

It opens with a quote from a folk tale that says, “Prepare your child for the road, not the road for the child.”  Let that idea sink in.

We have leaders who we hope will prepare the road well through policy and practice. When they don’t we should do our part to hold them accountable. But the reality is that our control over the road pales in comparison to our ability to prepare our children for whatever that road may hold.  The film Captain Fantastic is a perfect example of how families can do just that – albeit perhaps to an extreme.

In an example closer to home, we’ve been giving much thought to the newfound freedom of our fifth grader who now must walk to school each day. It is a ten-minute journey that includes crossing multiple streets, navigating one five way intersection and walking through a hidden path.

Preparing the road means that we have street lights and stop signs, penalties in place for breaking traffic rules and crossing guards to facilitate crossing the road. Increasingly, some children are given phones so parents can receive updates on their progress or even track it themselves via GPS.  All of these seem reasonable ways to prepare the road for a smooth journey. 

At the same time, what does the child do when the crossing guard is not there, or the lights are not working, or the phone battery dies?  It is then when the test will come as to whether we have prepared them for this road.  Do they know to look both ways?  Can they use their judgment to determine when to cross un-assisted?  Will they know which adult it is ok to ask for help, if they need to reach their parents?

It is natural for any parent to want every road – present or future – to made free from danger.  But the reality is that is an impossible and exhausting ask.

Instead, our only hope is that we have prepared them to deal with the uncertainty that can make life both scary and thrilling.

The Space Between Hope and Despair

In the film First Reformed, a reverend and environmentalist are experiencing existential crises – each waging a battle between hope and despair. In one exchange, the environmentalist shares his conflicting feelings about being an expectant father yet having to answer for the catastrophic effects climate change will have on the earth his unborn daughter will inherit as an adult.  He asks, “What will I say when she looks at me and asks – ‘You let this happen?’”

Reverend Tiller responds by describing the need to embrace both despair and hope in our lives. Suggesting without some despair there is no need for hope. While at the same time extolling us that too much despair blinds us from seeing any hope at all.

The effects of their exchanges are both thrilling and devastating.

This last week, as I attended multiple moving up ceremonies and parties for my children, I could not help but feel hopeful. Yet hours later sitting in front of a computer, I listened to the cries of children separated from their parents at the border, I similarly could not help but feel despair.

In almost every aspect of our lives, in ways big and small, we can see the ideas of hope and despair plotted along a continuum – we, in the middle. like a swinging pendulum swaying from one side to the next.

When we fall sick, we feel despair at what we are unable to do. When we begin to feel better, we are hopeful at what we can now accomplish.

When we fail at work, we feel despair at wasted effort and time.  When a new project comes along we feel hopeful at what success it might bring.

When we have a fight with our partner, we feel despair at the pall it casts over our days. When we make up, life feels right again.

Within our personal lives, events will bring despair one moment and hope the next. Often, in these instances, there are things firmly within our control that can help us swing that balance.

In the larger world order, when we consider the state of our planet, our country, our politics, it becomes trickier.  They feel beyond our control and we feel powerless.

Maintaining a healthy balance between hope and despair is difficult.  A little of either spurs us to act, too much leads us to paralysis. In the case of despair, the belief our actions will do no good while too much hope can lead us to think the problems will take care of themselves.

In our daily lives, it is important to recognize the yin and yang of hope and despair and how we are feeding these two impulses.

How much time do you spend mired in the daily news of doom and gloom?  How many conversations are you having with Eeyore friends?

Conversely, how much time are you spending with your head in the clouds?  How many optimistic conversations do you have with the rainbows and unicorns set?

In the stirring conclusion of First Reformed, it offers that the middle ground between hope and despair is occupied by grace – the disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.

When in doubt, move the pendulum with an act of grace.

(In this spirit, here are a list of actions you can take if moved by by children separated at our borders.)  

Watch This Twice

A few weeks ago, someone suggested that I watch the video, This Is America, from Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover)

A better recommendations would have been to watch it twice.

My first viewing left me mesmerized, but also wondering, “What the hell was that about?”

My inclination was to google that very question.  The results were revealing. Countless articles broke down the multiple layers of the video, pointing out important things I had clearly missed in my initial viewing.
So I watched it again. This time, instead of watching the action taking place in the foreground, I focused exclusively on what was going on in the background.

Like the peeling of an onion, each layer was stronger than the one before.

Demands on our time and distractions to our attention make for superficial viewing. And as supply follows demand, eventually superficial content.

Yet beneath the surface of every story, including our own, should be depth worth examining.

Find the time to watch something twice. First follow the action right in front of you, then watch again to see what’s happening in the background. 

It could be this video.  Or try it with a sporting event (watch a portion of the game following the ball, then spend 10 minutes focused on one player without the ball.)  Re-read a great book or listen closely to the verses of a song multiple times to get past the hook.

Finally, try to view your own story differently. Take your eyes off of yourself and look to see everything that is happening all around you – what meaning and depth do the people, places and events in your background add to your story? 

When you take the time to look twice at something, you won’t have to worry about what you’re missing. 

This Is Impressive

Pride is a feeling of pleasure derived by the acts or qualities that we admire. It is natural to take pride in our own achievements or from those closest to us.

To be impressed is an altogether different matter. It is a feeling imposed on us. It represents something so unusually good that we can’t help but remember it. It suggests something has been forcibly pressed upon us in such a way to leave a lasting mark.

This distinction was made evident this weekend on two different occasions involving my family.

I am proud that my oldest daughter puts herself out there by performing in a local theatre group.  But I was so impressed by her recent unforgettable performance as Scar in the Lion King. She so thoroughly immersed herself in a role that was so unlike her own personality that she became unrecognizable to me.  Without inhibition and with such confidence, she was remarkable. I was so impressed that a ten-year old could do this.

A few days later my wife completed a three-month course to become a certified volunteer firefighter. The training easily involved 10-20 hours of additional work each week. It was a combination of bookwork (the text was over 1000 pages) and hands on drills (think hoisting ladders, tying various knots while wearing cumbersome gloves and controlling pressure filled water hoses).  I am proud that she is choosing to serve our community in this way, but I am more impressed by the strength required to learn and master so many new skills.

Sadly, the use of the words pride and impress are both in decline over the last 150 years – but the decrease for impress is more precipitous.

Perhaps we grew weary of people superficially trying to impress us or  jaded by the steady stream of things to be impressed by that we take them for granted.  (How do you top walking on the moon?)

At the same time, when we are impressed a indelible mark is left.  It changes how we will forever see that person and how we see ourselves.  

The desire to leave a mark is a powerful one.   Remarking on his new role as Pablo Picasso, Antonio Banderas said,  “I still don’t think I have done the thing I will be remembered for.”

It makes you wonder, “Have I?”

There are so many opportunities to both be impressed and make an impression. Both require us to be open to new experiences, to dare to push our own limits and then persevere to reach them.

May your week be an impressive one.