For those of you looking for hope in a seemingly hopeless world, I strongly recommend one watch Bryan Stevenson’s, the President of the Equal Justice Initiative, TED Talk. In it, Mr. Stevenson recounts a conversation he once had with Rosa Parks. As the social activist explains his organization’s mission, Mrs. Parks exhales, gathers her thoughts and responds, “Oh boy… that’s going to make you tired, tired, and tired.”
The lack of political statesmanship, escalating nuclear tensions, non-stop climate disasters, and our country’s largest mass murder have certainly made many of us tired, tired, and tired.
Despite these trying times, I hope we don’t find solace in political solitude. We instead, march on and understand the fundamentally important psychological and political reasons for persevering.
In these stressful moments, it is understandable to give up and retreat to our ideological echo chambers or simply disengage from politics all together. The perpetual state of outrage and agony wrecks an emotional toll on our mental health. Having to continually keep up with the political mishaps hampers our urge to be civically active, and worse, our ability to be empathetic to others suffering.
President John F. Kennedy once virtuously remarked, “Don’t pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.”
And Psychologist Angela Duckworth explained, “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”
Both are right. We must pray to be strong, but also endure. Because there is not the time to succumb to the cacophony of the current Presidential political rhetoric or wave the white flag to dangerous policy changes.
Justifying repugnant rhetoric only invites more repugnance in the future. When our country’s moral compass is out of sync, it is paramount to stand up and fight to properly adjust it and set it on its right course. Moreover, apart from extraordinary exceptional events, creating a silent majority that withdraws from the Democratic process rarely leads to noteworthy progress.
As wearisome as the status quo may be, they are even more cumbersome for others. More than four in ten U.S. children are living close to the poverty line, suicide rates for adolescent boys and girls have been steadily rising since 2007, 25% of incoming freshman will fail to graduate from high school, the United States houses 22% of the world’s prisoners, and we haven’t even touched the topics of race, Appalachia, or climate change.
But history shows, if we continue to persevere we can achieve tangible positive results. On June 20, 1979, the Carter administration installed 32 panels designed to harvest the sun's rays and use them to heat water. He was mocked and ridiculed by both parties. Almost thirty years later we are witnessing the rising rapid adoption of solar energy. Three times as many workers are employed by the solar industry than the entire coal mining industry.
In November 19, 1945 President Truman called for universal healthcare. Granted, the current system is far from optimal, but today 11% of Americans lack health insurance – down from the 35% when America’s 33rd President called for complete coverage.
Around the same time, a young female from Tuskegee, Alabama joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. One morning in 1943, a young bus driver by the name of James Blake ejected this lady from the bus after she refused to re-enter the vehicle through the back door after paying her fare at the front. Over the next decade, she continued to be involved in the Civil Rights movement.
Almost 12 years later, on the afternoon of December 1, 1955, returning home from her job as an assistant tailor at a Montgomery, Alabama, department store, she boarded bus 2857 on the Cleveland Avenue line. When told to give up her seat for a white man, she refused and was arrested for violating the city’s racial segregation laws. Her act of civil disobedience precipitated the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Her name was Rosa Parks.
It’s difficult to imagine or pinpoint the grit or inspiration behind the perseverance for these noble and brave acts. It’s probably even more difficult to fathom that such societal improvements can occur today. We, however, must believe that our young Democracy will continue to experience a graceful evolution that we are unable to currently envision. If we do, I am (somewhat) optimistic that we can persevere and make some progress that decades from now we can look to as a symbol of hope.
Sometimes there are no words to be said, none that make sense anyway. Sometimes there’s no way to reconcile or explain what happened. It’s times like these that hurt the most, and it’s times like these that may take years before we’re able to find the right words to put it all in perspective.
My friend died this week. I miss him. I don’t know what else to say. It hurts. It’s one of those emotional pains deep enough that it manifests itself in a physical way. The voices in my head want me to scream that it’s not fair, it’s not just… this isn’t how life was supposed to happen; but I don’t have the energy to utter a single word.
I wish I could go back and fix this and fix so many things. I wish I could go back and talk to him one more time, ten more times, a hundred more times. I wish I could go back and help him, through this and everything. I know though, that he would be the first to tell me how useless it is to wish.
Life happens. Sometimes it’s short, other times it’s long. Sometimes it’s ugly, but every so often it’s beautiful. I believe that overall the beauty outweighs the ugliness, but sometimes I wonder.
I don’t know what else to say. I’m hurt, I’m angry, I’m sad. I don’t know. I don’t know. All I do know is that I will use this pain and this anger. I’m not sure what for, but they’ll be put to good use; maybe in that book I keep promising myself but never deliver. Or maybe not. That’s what he would have done, I think. For now, I just don’t know… the world doesn’t seem right.
Goodbye my friend, you will be missed.
Tom Durham – 1987 to 2017
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.”
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
This is a post that I’ve been struggling with for a while now… I don’t know everyone that reads my blog, but I know a good number of you, and I know that all of you have very different views of the world. I’m proud of that fact. It makes me happy when someone who is either a staunch Republican or a diehard Democrat, approaches me and lets me know that they look forward to reading my posts. It makes me particularly happy when people from both sides of this divide let me know that they really enjoyed the same post.
That being said, I typically do what I can to avoid having too many partisan viewpoints in my writing. I don’t like sites or “news” that state opinion as fact and imply that anyone who disagrees is automatically the enemy, no matter which viewpoint they promote.
This brings me to one small point, before I dive into the deep end of this post. I know I have readers that are Trump supporters. I appreciate you, and the fact that you read my blog, I hope you continue to do so. Nonetheless, for the sake of context, I’ll preface the rest of this post by making it clear that I don’t support Donald Trump. I don’t trust him or his motives and I don’t believe that his actions will directly contribute to the betterment of this country. I hope he proves me wrong; but so far he certainly hasn’t.
Despite my personal views, I see so many liberal people; friends of mine, other bloggers, reporters, etc. repeatedly state that Trump doesn’t represent the America that they know. They still show shock that he won, they argue that he lost the popular vote, they point fingers at Russia for interfering… I’ll admit, I was confused on election night, surprised that it was actually happening. Then again, I live in a bubble, most of us do; and it takes an event such as this to make us realize that there is more to the world than that which we allow ourselves to see every day.
This brings me to my main point… there is something very wrong in this country and other countries around the world. We all know it. The fact that there is something wrong has been a narrative in our society for over a decade now. It’s a sickness that has dug itself into the bones of our society, where it’s thriving and growing. Donald Trump, Brexit, Le Pen, and various other unprecedented movements and political actions across the world are NOT that disease, they’re just a symptom.
Let’s look at America as an example: First we have to accept the fact that Donald Trump wasn’t elected because of some accident or a fluke. He won the election because a massive amount of people voted for him. Did Russia interfere? Probably. Looking at the evidence, there’s so much smoke, chances are there’s a fire there somewhere… But that doesn’t change the fact that he developed a massive following with or without outside help. He did it by speaking to and identifying with an immense group of people who had felt as if they had been ignored and like they didn’t have a voice in their own governing. He gave them that voice.
Throughout the election, and now, in Trump’s America, I have seen so many blog posts, television shows, news articles, etc. from the perspective of the political left that belittle Trump’s supporters. They look at those people and lump every single one of them together in one group and assume that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist, xenophobic, sexist, hate-filled, uneducated, hypocritical bigot. Despite the rallying cries of “Love trumps hate” and the all-inclusive image of the political left (extended primarily to minorities and the disenfranchised in large, coastal cities), their posts and news and ideological views are still coated in hate.
So many times I’ve seen people on Facebook post something promoting that all-inclusive nature, imploring people to stand together, to lend a helping hand, to love one another, etc. Then I read the comments, and the first person to post a comment that is even slightly dissenting (or sometimes extremely dissenting) is immediately demeaned, belittled, and insulted. The teeth come out and that person, no matter their point of view or their stance on various issues, is immediately dismissed and they are thrown in the same “basket of deplorables” as the most extreme Trump supporter.
Meanwhile, I see posts, videos, and news from the other side, from people who support Trump. In fact I spend a lot of time talking to Trump supporters, face to face. A year ago, those same people were complaining non-stop about political and social stances being forced upon them no matter whether they agreed with them or not. They complained about a president that they felt was illegitimate and a government that didn’t represent them. But now that Trump has won, all I hear them saying is that the “special snowflakes” of the left need to suck it up, accept that they lost, and stop complaining. They criticize a political left that is oblivious to their own, American grass-roots values, claiming that people on the left are out of touch with reality… then they turn around and dismiss and ignore facts that challenge their perception of the world around them.
These two political ideologies are standing on opposite sides of a massive canyon, hurling rocks at each other. The few people that remain speaking out in the middle are on tightropes and trying to dodge rocks from both sides. Most of the voices in the middle of this argument seem to have given up and either joined one extreme or the other or simply fallen silent.
The problem in our society isn’t the far right OR the far left, it’s the divide between the two. Donald Trump’s presidency is a product of that divide, as was Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. The truly scary part is that the divide doesn’t only exist in our politics, it has spread to our news, our social lives, the products marketed toward us, and even the filters through which we see the world around us. We have inadvertently created these bubbles that we live in, where we are able to shape the world into the image that we wish to see, and to largely shut out everything else.
Think back, when is the last time that you, voluntarily, sought out an article, a video, or a viewpoint that challenged your world view, and did it not for the sole purpose of wanting to tear it down, but because you wanted to understand it, for your own sake? When is the last time that you approached a differing opinion while acknowledging the possibility, however slim, that your preconceived notions may be dead wrong?
We don’t challenge ourselves anymore. We shy away from points of view that we don’t like, we block people that don’t agree with us, we surround ourselves with news and noise that agrees with and informs our worldview. I’m not sure why we are doing this, why we’re unwittingly allowing this divide to grow… Maybe seeing the world the way we want to see it is just pleasant enough that we’ve become the land of the lotus eaters. Maybe it’s the rapid advancement of technology and the decline of face to face conversations, because it’s a lot easier to be angry at a screen than it is a person who’s looking you in the eye. Or maybe it’s cultural backlash from the speed with which our society became globalized and we’re struggling with the concept of a world that is somehow too small and too large at the same time.
Whatever the cause is, I leave that to wiser minds than mine to discover. I can see the divide growing though, in fact I believe that most of us can see it, we just choose to ignore it or to blame it on “Them”. The day to day people that I hear from on social media, or television, or even the people that I talk to on a regular basis, don’t tend to take any part of the blame for the divide. I wouldn’t expect them to either, that’s a large burden to take on. Still, at some point, we’ll have to do the unexpected, as individuals and as a society, we’ll have to stop blaming each other, take some responsibility, and strive to understand one another.
(A brief Sir Terry Pratchett interlude):
"It was because he wanted there to be conspirators. It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy. You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn't then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was Us, then what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things." ~ Terry Pratchett
Back in November, I went to Austin, TX to go to a wedding of a couple friends of mine. One night, at a bar, a friend and I were approached by a complete stranger. The guy who stopped us had dark-ish skin, implying some sort of non-European background. My friend and I on the other hand are a couple of big, white guys. This stranger asked us if we saw him as “different” than ourselves, and if we viewed him as “lesser than”. He seemed vulnerable, almost scared; as if he were shocked that he asked the question, which he’d been working up the courage to ask someone for a while. We both of course let him know that we didn’t view him as any different than we would view anyone else. Still, our answer isn’t important. What is important is that he was worried enough that he felt the need to ask.
No matter what you believe, no matter which side you support, and no matter which lens you choose to view the world through; we live in a country that was founded on the simple idea that “all men are created equal”. That idea is fundamental to our country, and to our identity. The fact that anyone in this country is being made to feel as though that phrase doesn’t include them, nearly 241 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, is shameful. And that shame belongs to every one of us.
For a country built upon the ideal of equality, we have a pretty poor track record. If we ever want to truly live up to that standard set for us 241 years ago, then the first step would be to stop pointing fingers and to share the blame for this mess equally.
On that note, I’m begging anyone who reads this to do one thing. Challenge yourself, break the bubble you’re living in, and embrace the diversity that surrounds you. Take the time to really talk to someone who disagrees with you. Don’t dismiss them, don’t insult them, don’t demean them. Instead, show respect, take an interest, and listen to what they have to say. Maybe you’ll learn something, and maybe just maybe, we can start to heal this divide…
In closing, I’ll go back to a method that I’ve used in a few posts now, and remind myself and my readers of a lesson that we all should have learned as children, “two wrongs don’t make a right”. Just because someone is a jackass and doesn’t show you or your viewpoint the respect you deserve, doesn’t mean that you’re free and clear to be a jackass to them. We can’t move forward as a society unless we can learn to not hate each other. I know it’s not an easy task, but it’s better than the alternative.
I’ve promised/planned so many blogs that I haven’t delivered on in the last few months. Still, I’ve got to AT LEAST do one to wrap up the year of 2016, so I’m going to try to cram in all of the ones I’ve been meaning to do, Cliff’s Notes style, before getting to the meat of my New Year’s post…
The Grand Experiment (Results):
Remember when I said I was going to try out a few dating apps, to see what they’re like? Yeah, I did that. My opinion of them at the end?.... Meh...
Match cost money, and yet I didn’t get much activity on it. I would get a match here and there, but not very many that truly caught my eye. Those that did really catch my eye, I would send them a message or something and then would never hear back from them (typically). After a while, and when talking to a couple of my matches, it became apparent that Match.com’s algorithms give your profile more attention in the last couple of days of your paid membership. Then you get even more push after your membership expires.
Since I let my membership expire, I have had twice as many matches reach out to me as I did when I was paying… Though since I’m not paying, I don’t have access to see those matches or the ability to respond to them. It’s a trap.
As for Bumble… I got really few matches on that app. Also, most of the few that I did get, wouldn’t say a word. As a reminder, Bumble is the app where the woman HAS to make the first move. When you both swipe right, she’s the only one that can send the first message. I only had two actually send me a message, and one of them ended up being a friend, who borrowed someone’s phone and messaged me for her. I don’t know why I got so little communication on Bumble… Maybe people just aren’t using it that much, maybe my profile/pictures suck, or maybe some of the women on there are realizing how difficult it can be to make the first move…
And finally, Tinder. I talked to and even met a handful of people through this that are fun and interesting. I went on a few dates. They were fun, but not particularly worth following up on. It’s a surprisingly nice way to meet random people who may share some interests or a sense of humor with you. But for actually dating? Not for me.
Again, maybe it’s just the matches that I’m getting, or maybe it’s my profile not being as “swipe-able” as the other guys on there, or maybe I’m just not giving it and the women I meet enough of a chance. But overall, it’s a fun social tool, not a successful dating strategy, at least not in my eyes.
So to summarize: Tinder is the only one worth anything, but even that is not great for dating. So, as a result of all this, some days I think “I’m ready to start legitimately dating again and take this seriously.” It’s an uplifting feeling, it’s nice.
Then other days, I remember all the games and BS rules that come along with dating in our modern society and I think, “F*** that. Not worth the headache.”
In other words, I’m right back where I was at this time last year! If I stumble across someone that really interests me, then I’ll ask her out. Otherwise, forget it.
A Quick Update (Parts 3 & 4):
I have been working a ton lately. Traveling some, going to after work events, and having long meetings resulting in long hours… It’s been good, I love the new job, even though at times it eats into my social life. I’ve met some new people, had some fun nights, and my friends all seem to think that I have Don Draper’s job.
When I was planning out these two blog posts earlier, I had a lot more to say about work. It’s been moving so fast though, that I’ve forgotten what I was going to say. So instead here’s a variety of pictures from work.
My tiny zen garden...
The conference in Vegas 1...
The conference in Vegas 2...
The conference in Vegas 3...
The conference in Vegas 4...
End of the conference...
Don Draper 1...
Don Draper 2...
As for the house… it’s ok. But I’m really not crazy about it. I know I told the landlord that I would be looking to live there a long time, but I just don’t like the house enough, and I still really want to buy my own house. So prepare yourselves to hear more about that house search in 2017.
For those wondering about Levi and wanting an update on the old man… He’s still doing great! He has a tumor the size of a grapefruit in his throat, and a bunch of harmless, fatty tumors all over his chest and belly. Also, it feels like there may be some more, not-so-harmless tumors in his chest. Despite all that, he has the energy of a puppy, and nothing seems to be slowing him down. He’s the Benjamin Button of dogs.
For an update on my dating life, see above.
Unnamed Post-Election Blog:
Shounak and I had talked about doing a ton of post-election blogs in an attempt to calm what few people we could and hopefully have some small impact on our world. But then life happened and I got too busy to write, and frankly lost the drive for a while there.
So I do still have some things that I want to say and share on this topic, and I will, soon. But for now, allow me to remind my readers of a little something…
If the election didn’t go your way: It’s not the end of the world. Don’t panic, don’t give in to the catastrophic mindset that has fallen over our society and that is perpetuated by 24/7 media. Stand up for what you believe in, in a peaceful and respectful way, even if you aren’t treated with respect in turn. Screaming at each other, fighting, and continuing to grow the divides in our society won’t accomplish anything worthwhile. Show respect, and make an effort to understand “the other side”, because respect and understanding are the only things that will bridge these gaps.
If the election did go your way: Congrats. But don’t stop now, there is still work to be done. Just because things went your way this time, doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a massive divide in this country, and it doesn’t mean that everything will magically be great again. So… Stand up for what you believe in, in a peaceful and respectful way, even if you aren’t treated with respect in turn. Screaming at each other, fighting, and continuing to grow the divides in our society won’t accomplish anything worthwhile. Show respect, and make an effort to understand “the other side”, because respect and understanding are the only things that will bridge these gaps.
We are not all as different as we are led to believe. So stop and listen to your fellow citizens, for we must strive to find a way to respect each other and to unify once again.
That should do it for the summaries, time to get into the real New Years blog…
Every year around this time, I write a blog with the purpose of summarizing the year behind us, and looking forward to the one ahead. As I begin that process, and look back at 2016, I see a few bright spots that were simply wonderful… and they are surrounded by the rest of the year, which resembled a dumpster full of crap sandwiches that spontaneously combusted due to a high level of methane.
2016 began, at least for me, with such incredibly high hopes and so much promise. The year began on so many optimistic notes (365 days ago), and yet it so quickly turned to ash. Still, I don’t want to harp on my personal life, this blog is meant to be a look at the year for all of us…
This year we lost: David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Allen Rickman, Leonard Cohen, and Carrie Fisher (to name only a very few).
This year contained the most violent mass shooting in US history, and that was only one of over 340 mass shootings nationwide this year.
Multiple police brutality cases and subsequent riots took the already large divide between minorities and police, and cut it open like Jack Nicholson with an axe.
On top of all this was the incredibly drawn out and much too long 2016 election. It was the most demeaning and pathetic excuse for civil discourse in recent memory, and it took almost the entire year to get through it all. Now that we have gotten through it, we are in uncharted waters… No matter what you think about the results, it’s undeniable that the country is left in a very tumultuous and unsure place.
All of this combined to create one of the most divided (by race, location, religion, political affiliation, gender, or sexual orientation) societies in our country’s history. And I’m not even touching on things that happened in the rest of the world, because at some point we all must stop staring at the flaming dumpster of 2016, and look forward to whatever 2017 holds.
On that note, a hope…
In the next year, I hope that you rise.
If you’ve been knocked down, pick yourself up… there will be people there to help, whose shoulders you can stand on.
Help up those around you, let them stand on your shoulders… because when we all stand together, we are giants.
If you wish to be heard, raise your voice… but raise it in song, not anger, because the world needs more beauty and less hate.
Give a voice to the voiceless, fill the silence with song… because harmony can’t be achieved alone.
If you feel alone and afraid, stand up to your fears… because the only way to push back the darkness is to shine bright.
Be a light for those around you… because the only way we can be the shining city on the hill is if we each make the effort to shine.
If an opportunity is passing you by, reach out and grab it… you never know how high it will take you until you try.
If you can provide opportunities for others, do so… opportunities are like kites, they’re more beautiful when they fill the sky, and with enough of them, you may be able to fly.
If your goals seem unattainable, keep climbing toward them… there will always be a new horizon, but with each one you reach, you grow a little more.
Make a trail for a path that hasn’t been taken, so others can follow in your footsteps… whoever follows you, may someday lead you somewhere new.
The next year will be filled with challenges, both large and small, for each and every one of us… I hope that we can each rise to the occasion, for together we can be stronger than we ever were alone.
And finally, I will leave you with this, in honor of Leonard Cohen and the challenges we can overcome…
Multi-Tasking: Doing many things to achieve nothing
Friends who stopped texting me every time they eat Indian food + Teresa,
If you find yourself home on Friday night because you have Ebola, are still recovering from the fallout of globalization, or you realize you’re not 22, you can treat yourself to an hour of Shark Tank. The premise of this show revolves around decent and hard-working individuals who present their start-up ideas and then proceed to get mercilessly bitch slapped by five billionaires who use the show as a replacement for therapy (i.e. Adam Smith’s wet dream).
The one common theme you hear from all five investors is the creed of multitasking. Marc Cuban, a judge on the show and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, claims, “I work 20 hours a day and I’m usually doing three things at the same time.” The head Grinch on the show, Mr. Wonderful, proudly stated in one episode, “You have to work very fast, give up every other hobby you have, juggle thirty things at once, and then maybe you might make it.” The notion that multi-tasking is the key ingredient in success isn’t confined merely to the egalitarian class. In a survey by the Washington Post in July 2014, over 78% of Americans believe that if they aren’t taking on multiple tasks at once they will lose their job. Another report put out by the Harvard Business Review last summer noted that out of 300,000 job postings put up in 2015, an astonishing 82% demanded prospective employees excel at multi-tasking.
Even with the new push for mindfulness (our main subject for my next blog), Americans are more enamored with multi-tasking. Speed evangelicals argue that a swifter and more hands-full approach to life leads to more time, better productivity, and greater prosperity. However, evidence shows that all three of these notions couldn’t be further from the truth. There are two prime examples that prove meticulous planning over multi-tasking proves to be a superior method.
Even in today’s digital and app-service age, working professionals are finding it harder to allocate time to all the endeavors they value. In a CNBC Europe survey taken in March 2015, only 4% of millennials, in the world, felt they have experienced a day where they accomplished completing all the tasks they wanted (tasks included beanie shopping, beach selfie Instagramming, and wearing one’s Amnesty International sweatshirt they bought at Whole Foods).
Correspondents on the financial network suggested the quick fix solution is juggling more things at once. But wellness researchers disagree. MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller argues “our brains are not wired to multitask well…when people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.”
Ariana Huffington, the first deportee under a Donald Trump administration, believes that trying to work on multiple projects at once increases error and leads to a counter-psychological effect that elevates a human’s desire to achieve more in the current time period.
In her books, “Thrive” and “Sleep Revolution” the former Greek blogger chronicles numerous examples in the investment banking industry where young professionals are pushed to take on more tasks, adopt “volunteer” initiatives, and handle requests from multiple managers. After the 2008 financial crisis, numerous reports highlighted many investment bankers missing simple mathematical errors, forgetting to place risk-averse trades, missing client meetings, and being too tired to provide employer feedback. Since the Reagan “greed is good” era in the early 80’s, the number of suicides in high pressure jobs (banking, hospital care, police work) has skyrocketed by 256%.
The perils of multi-tasking are not simply confined to the finance industry. Recent reports out of Silicon Valley are proving even the smartest IT professionals are getting crushed by an over-load of work. TechCrunch reports more than 38% of support services at start-ups are hiring more workers and eliminating the on-call component of one’s job. Zenefits, a once promising start-up in SF, folded after poor management decisions. For starters, Zenefitis boasted that their managers were skilled professionals who were jacks-of-all trades (except for the skill of running a profitable business #boomroasted) and oversaw a number of departments.
In 2014, I had the opportunity to interview with this company. Back then Zenefits had a staff of over 200 people, but there was no receptionist to meet me and show me to my interview. After 30 minutes, two people rushed in to ask me questions and apologized because they had just learned they were on the interviewing committee.
The common pushback from those who defend a busier lifestyle argue it leads to a more productive society. But does it?
Now there many methods and metrics to measure productivity. However, there is only one word to call someone who mentions the word productivity in a conversation and that word is “douchebag”. Every year, Forbes magazine ranks the productivity levels of 180 countries. In the past ten years, America has never been ranked as the most productive nation in the world.
But this shouldn’t’t be a surprise. Behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman notes that the human brain shuts down if they are in same arena for more than seven hours. Despite the illusion of our workforce duties being more dynamic, we know this to be false. It should be no surprise that the monotony of an average blue AND white collar job leads to an eventual decline in cognitive thinking.
While many multi-tasker enthusiasts acknowledge the mental trade-offs of juggling a number of projects, they forcefully argue that this burden bears its fruit in economic gains. This is another unfounded myth. Again, there are a number of metrics to measure economic success. For this blog we will focus on the quantitative calculation of a worker in the developed world and the lead sectors that lubricate the global economy.
The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation Development), ranks the financial output of the standard worker in the developed world. If you’re gotten this far in the blog, it will come as no surprise that the OECD’s statistical ranking places the United States at 18th. Despite US laborers working more hours than any other industrialized nation, we still are less economically productive than four nations who cap their work weeks at 35 hours.
Even if you qualify that as an objective measure we can still point to the two aforementioned sectors, finance and technology, as an economic reason NOT to engage in excessive multi-tasking. Since 2008, finance and technology have been the only industries in America that have grown in number of employees and capital allocation. Both of these industries have been developed by former McKinsey and Bain consultants who pride themselves in engaging in the multi-tasking arena. However, both of these have succumbed to the short-sighted thinking of corporate strategic consulting.
While these two industries were the growth darlings in the early 10’s, gains in tech and finance are starting to slowly erode. In the past five years, The Economist points out that the number of hedge funds have dropped by nearly 54% and the number of tech companies have swindled from 7,200 to 4,500. Twitter, once considered to be a tech giant, has yet to make a profit and is in the process of down-sizing. Financial gurus tab this as smart fiscal consolidation, but this statement contains more bullshit than a Donald Trump African-American outreach speech. From the laymen’s perspective you probably couldn’t name a successful merger in the past five years and you would be right. A staggering 82% of mergers in the finance and technology field have been deemed fiscal failures.
So this begs the question, why should we adopt a mindset that has dulled our creative ability, tarnished our overall mental state, and provided us with no fiscal gain? The answer is that we shouldn’t.
Many of you would argue that a society with a systematic way of life in the corporate world is a hipster’s heaven that would not be possible. However, there are many moments in history that would prove you wrong. In the course of researching for this blog, I found hundreds of large scale projects from the earliest construction of temples in Asia to Portugal’s policy for decriminalization as evidence that meticulous planning trumps multi-tasking. Still, I will only focus on two projects that are near to my heart.
When tracing the roots of the tech industry one looks back to a top-notch institution in Silicon Valley. Known as the birthplace of Google, Tesla, and Yahoo!, Stanford University has been deemed the prime incubator for technological innovation. You’d think that the founders of this institution would be proud of the multi-tasking of the tech sector, but you would be wrong.
In honor of his son who passed from typhoid, railroad tycoon and former California governor, Leland Stanford sought out to build one of California’s first non-denominational and co-ed universities. In 1891 Stanford opened its doors to its first students and in 1893 Leland Stanford died. The school struggled financially for several decades after Mr. Stanford’s death. Local papers decried this university as “academic boondoggle” and an “educational nightmare that couldn’t teach Japanese immigrants how to use chopsticks.”
But, Leland’s model was different in one key way. The former Governor purposely built an institution where roles and responsibilities were more segmented than any other college at that time. The Silicon Valley-based campus aspired to build programs where teachers would solely teach. Leland and his predecessors prohibited professors taking on side projects. Stanford University was the first academic institution to carve out programs that focused on endowments, creating public-private partnerships, and student mentorship programs.
When many academic institutions folded or increased tuition during the Great Depression and in the financial crisis of 2008, Stanford did neither. Admittedly, the university’s current core goals and student body deserve a fair amount of criticism, but no one can deny that Stanford has built the foundation to be a long lasting elite institution.
While this blog has focused on sectors shaping our current society, we humans are also affected by the places we visit. For me that would be the Taj Mahal.
On May 15th, 1632, during John McCain’s sweet 16 birthday party, Shah Jahan, a Moghul emperor in Northern India, commissioned the construction of a monument in honor of his wife. Architects of the romantic shrine estimated it would be completed in five years. The Taj Mahal’s final complex was built in 1652 and Mr. Jahan deemed the shrine to be finally finished in 1665. What was the hold up?
During the initial stage of development, two architects were tasked with developing the budgets, gathering workers, and developing blue prints for each corridor of the Taj Mahal. But in 1637, Shah Jahan halted construction and hired five more individuals to oversee the project. Unknown to him at the time, Mr. Jahan not only created what would be one of the Seven Wonders of the World but also a new job, the project manager.
Mr. Jahan’s meticulous and methodical approach paid off. Despite India’s rampant government corruption, fiscal imprudence, and horrendous environmental record that would make Leonardo Dicaprio weep organically filtered tears, the Taj Mahal has largely been immune to all these problems (for nearly 400 years!).
Mr. Jahan was such a forward thinker that in the mid 1600’s, he purchased more land for public transportation. The Taj Mahal has never been attacked nor has it been the center of property debate. The commission has always funneled donations back to maintain the building and no government official in Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, has EVER been implicated in a money laundering scheme.
With technology, constant public criticism, and shareholders having a greater stake in how businesses run I will admit society may no longer produce a new elite institution or a historic monument. But that doesn’t mean we can’t recalibrate our lifestyle. As someone who recently turned 30, I understand that even daily activities once deemed effortless have become ever more arduous (i.e. stretching). However, nothing is stopping us from slowing down and prioritizing one task at a time. If anything, take your cue from the hosts of Shark Tank. In Season 3, all five “Sharks” demand to cut down on pitch meetings and restructure the show where they analyze one investment at a time.
When asked about the change in format, Mr. Cuban replied, “When you look at one thing at a time, you’re more focused, you learn quicker, and you just make better decisions.”