what would trees do?
nature inspired lessons, reflections, meditations, and musings
lessons from nature for a more fulfilling career
when a "great" job still doesn't feel like enoughwhen your current environment doesn't bring out the best in youwhen your title feels too smallwhen you can't figure out what job is right for youwhen you feel like you don't have any controlwhen you're supposed to change to please otherswhen you're feeling unmooredwhen all the advice out there isn't helpingwhen the future feels so uncertainwhen it's hard to let gowhen the seasons are changingwhen you're feeling burnt outwhen you want to learn more about why i'm doing this
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what does it take to have a thriving career?
“The health of a forest can be measured by how much it gives away.” - Janine BenyusI think the same applies to careers.When I was most thriving in my career (as measured by money, status, and impact), I had little left to give outside of work. I certainly wasn’t emotionally or physically healthy.I much prefer this nature-inspired way of defining a thriving career.I didn’t have a thriving career when I was so drained at the end of each day that I couldn’t show up as my best self with my friends & family.I didn’t have a thriving career when I was so stressed that I become impatient with the barista in training.I didn’t have a thriving career when I couldn’t make time for activities I enjoyed.I didn’t have a thriving career when I wasn’t kind to my colleagues when they needed my help.I didn’t have a thriving career when I felt trapped and frustrated with reality.A thriving career needs variety and community, just like a healthy forest needs biodiversity.Just like the true value of a forest is far (far!) greater than the economic value of its lumber, we have to remember that the true impact of a career is not measured in dollars earned.A healthy forest can withstand many setbacks; your career can handle you taking your foot off the gas (especially if you aren't feeling well)A forest is not defined by any single tree; your career is not your current jobWhen simply left alone, forests absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen; when you have room to breathe in your career, you have more capacity to absorb the toxicity in this world and turn it into something meaningfulLet this be a reminder that when I’m worrying more about what I can get and not what I can give, it’s time for some forest bathing.P.s. here’s the wonderful podcast episode where I heard this quote
reflections to make the most of a time in transition
A list of reflection questions you can leverage at the end/beginning of each quarter/season“We are in the habit of imagining our lives to be linear, a long march from birth to death in which we mass our powers, only to surrender them again, all the while slowly losing our youthful beauty. This is a brutal untruth. Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again." - Katherine May in WinteringLooking back over the last season…* How would I describe this last season?
* What seeds were planted?
* How did I “flourish”?
* What “leaves fell” that left me feeling bare?
* What got in the way of my growth or fullest expression of who I am?
* What can I takeaway from the above reflections?Looking forward to the next three months…* How can I apply the lessons from the last season to how I approach the next season?
* What should I start / stop / continue?
* What am I longing for? How can I invite more of that into my life?
* Where is less actually more?
* What noise do I need to tune out so I can better hear myself?
* How can I create the conditions to be more myself?
* What do I really want to be known for?
* What seeds can I plant this season to help?As for me, I want to be known for how fully I lived life, how I saw potential in everyone and everything, and how I did my best to help others see it too.“Longing itself is a creative and spiritual state.” - Susan Cain in Bittersweet
another reason to embrace the seasons of our lives
"You just need to have the courage to eliminate everything that doesn't directly feed what you really want.” - James ClearJust as deciduous trees must drop their leaves in order to survive a winter, I know deep down that letting go can be “good” for me. And yet…I hang on to a variety of half finished creative projects, even when I’m far more excited by others.You could say I’m afraid to drop my leaves, even when it’s practically spring again.My partner is a software engineer, and the startup where he works decided to pivot several months ago. In doing so, they deleted all of their original code. Over a year’s worth of code written by my partner and his boss, the co-founder. ALL of it. DELETED.This is unfathomable to me (to the subscriber whose husband is the co-founder of said company: are you as amazed by this as I am?!). I can’t imagine raking up the leaves of my half finished projects and stuffing them into a metaphorical trash bin to be permanently emptied.I’m much more able to relate to my dad, who is a hoarder of things, especially books and electronics. He can’t stand to see things in the trash that could, in theory, have value. In his small 1-bedroom apartment he has at least half a dozen each of TVs, computers, and office chairs - all of which are broken.He had two storage units filled with books, costing him half (!!) of his monthly social security. He eventually fell behind on payments and lost everything.As much as I think losing his storage units was for the best (he truly cannot afford to store so much junk), I really empathize with the psychic pain it must have caused him.As for me, I don’t hoard physical things, but I do hoard memories, experiences, ideas, notes, and photos. I feel naked if I “lose” any of these. I want to hang on like it’s still summer when it’s in fact winter.The time between fall and spring, when everything is so grey and dreary (especially in Winnipeg where I’m from), has always felt like a time when everything was dead.Geese (and retirees) fly south, mosquitos die, and all the leaves fall off the trees. In the dead of a Winnipeg winter, it’s so easy to believe that this is what the rest of your life will be like. You literally forget what spring even feels like.But spring always comes (albeit, always later than you want it to). The geese return, and the trees grow fresh new leaves. You can hear water dripping everywhere as the accumulated ice and snow starts to melt. The sight of grass again is intoxicating. The smell of wet cement is divine. Eventually, you feel confident enough to leave the house without your jacket again.There is nothing (!!) more glorious than a Winnipeg spring after a Winnipeg winter.I have spent my whole life fighting winter, I’ve neglected to appreciate that the gloriousness of spring and summer are only thanks to winter."The tree is waiting. It has everything ready. Its fallen leaves are mulching the forest floor, and its roots are drawing up the extra winter moisture, providing a firm anchor against seasonal storms. Its ripe cones and nuts are providing essential food in this scarce time for mice and squirrels, and its bark is hosting hibernating insects and providing a source of nourishment for hungry deer. It is far from dead. It is in fact the life and soul of the wood. It’s just getting on with it quietly. It will not burst into life in the spring. It will just put on a new coat and face the world again." - Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest & Retreat in Difficult TimesI think I’m afraid to let go, embrace winter so to speak, because it’s hard for me to trust that spring will come.This passage helps me remember that, like a tree’s dropped leaves nourish the forest floor, what I “let go” of can actually feed others.My new working hypothesis is that it’s more helpful for me to think of how I can turn the “leaves I need to drop” into nourishment, rather than seeing them as a chore to rake up and throw in the trash.
how should you navigate uncertainty?
“Nothing is ours, except time.” SenecaFive years ago, what did you think your life would look like today? Could you have imagined it?If you’re anything like me, the answer is probably yes and no.I take a lot of photos and screenshots, which helped me very vividly recall what I was interested in and thinking about five years ago when I asked myself this question.My life was dominated by dating apps and responding to “do you have a sec?” meeting requests. I felt trapped and stunted at work. I made up for the lack of professional momentum with lots (I repeat: LOTS) of swiping on dating apps.Five years ago, I still had the distinct feeling that I never wanted to be close to anyone ever again after my mom passed away. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get into a meaningful relationship or fully connect to a future child of mine.While a lot hasn’t changed (I’m a member at the same gym, I live in the same neighbourhood, I have many of the same friends and interests), a lot has.For one, I went from going out for a cultural event almost every night to really having to force myself to go out at all. But there are even bigger shifts that have happened in the last five years.Five years ago, it literally hadn’t occurred to me that I could be a freelance consultant, let alone that my life would include such an incredible partner and an intoxicatingly perfect baby.Five years ago, I didn’t identify at all as an artist, I probably couldn’t name any (!!) trees in my local park, and the biggest goal I could set for myself was to gather the courage to quit my job.Five years ago, none of us would have known a pandemic could disrupt our lives and drag on the way it has, nor would I have ever predicted that so many of my friends would move to Florida, Texas, and the suburbs.Five years ago, “NFTs,” “web3,” “chatGPT,” “quiet quitting,” and “the great resignation” weren’t in our lexicon.I know I’m not alone in wondering what the next five years will bring. It feels almost impossible to predict, especially with the way AI is disrupting the career landscape. We’re already so burnt out, lonely, indebted, and polarized as a society, I can’t imagine how it can possibly get worse, but I also can’t imagine how it will realistically get any better.Yet somehow, in our careers, we’re expected to know what we are working towards. What our five or ten year goals are.I’d like to say that five years from now, I will own a home in Brooklyn, I will have gone on another big bike trip, I will have published a book, I will be running a small business with a small but mighty team, I will be an adjunct professor at my alma mater, and I will still be sending this newsletter.The truth is, as confident as I am in my resourcefulness and ability to adapt, I don’t know if I’ll be able to magically afford a home in five years (without sacrificing my mental health). I don’t know if I will be able to stomach sending my baby to a school in the U.S. in five years. I don’t even know if Substack or my alma mater will still be around!What I do know is that there is nothing in nature that stops because it doesn’t know what lies ahead.Even with so much out of its control, a tree continues to grow. But, crucially, it can’t just grow in one direction that might look today to be the most promising, nor can a tree guess five years in advance which direction will have the most sunlight for its leaves to photosynthesize or the most nutrients and water for its roots to absorb.To grow, a tree has to stay open to the possibilities that lie in every direction, not knowing ahead of time where its branches or roots might run into an obstacle.Putting my head down to work towards a five year goal might pay off financially, and might please an employer, but it feels artificial to me. It’s more natural for me to stay open to possibilities and follow my curiosity.These days, I feel naturally motivated to learn more about how psychedelics and hobbies can be leveraged to reconnect people to themselves, each other, and nature. I don’t yet know what I will do with the knowledge and insights I gain as I learn more about these spaces, but I know I will be growing and that is what matters.What do you want to learn more about? How do you want to grow?“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” - Mark Twain
how do you know what advice to follow?
“I'm never finished with my paintings; the further I get, the more I seek the impossible and the more powerless I feel.” - Claude MonetI’m an expert at starting things. Just look at some of projects I have on the go right now:I’m developing a new leadership framework that I strongly believe is better than anything out there, though it’s a beast of an undertaking because it involves me learning enough about several different professions (teachers, therapists, influencers, software engineers etc) to translate those lessons to business leaders.I’m also working on a documentary about my dad’s work as a full-time, unpaid, anti-poverty activist for the last two decades.I have a half finished documentary about a non-binary artist who is cooking up so many crazy ideas to spread love, it’s hard to keep up.I’m sitting on a near complete first draft of a novel that I put on the shelf when COVID hit.I have lots of half finished poems to add to this site, a photography website to refresh, a backlog of short essays to publish, and more lists I want to curate for my Love Lists site.Let’s not forget my actual paid work as a growth advisor/consultant to three ed-tech startups.For a long time, I’ve beaten myself up for “biting off more than I can chew,” for starting projects impulsively without thinking them through, for spending so much time on things that don’t scale and won’t generate any income, and for taking so long to get a project to the finish line.When I try to explain what I do, I know some people (especially my MBA classmates) think I’m crazy. But my willingness to experiment and do things I enjoy seems to draw others in.A friend recently approached me to start a community with her - yes! Another friend invited me to host a conversation series with him - yes! A former classmate wants to collaborate on a startup for hobbyists - yes!You could argue that I need to get better at saying no. That I need to focus, be more discerning, and let some projects go. Mainstream advice would certainly agree with you.But I see potential in everything. Is that so wrong?I follow what excites me. Will I end up regretting that?I’m energized by new challenges. Should I really turn this side of me off?I collect ideas and inspiration faster than I can put them out into the world. As much as that makes my brain spin some days, I know deep down that my approach to work works for me. It’s unconventional, but it makes me feel alive.I’ve tried to follow allllll the advice out there. I’ve stuck with jobs that gave me hives, because it was worth it to wait for a promotion. Right? I’ve compromised my values working for companies that misled their customers, because I should have “manager” on my resume. Right? I’ve worked for ed-tech companies because helping millions of students is better than helping one. Right?Wrong.Whenever I have followed advice that was supposed to make more successful, I found myself feeling less human.There is so much career advice that only serves to further separate us from who we really are. It deadens us.Per usual, the only lessons that have really worked for me are the ones that come from nature, not from CEOs or other “successful” people.Titles do not matter. Would a maple tree have any less value if it was called something else? We are not here to get a progressively better title.Productivity does not matter. Would you cut down a maple tree if it didn’t produce as much maple syrup as you had hoped it would? We are not here to hit arbitrary benchmarks that serve someone else’s goals.The variety and number of projects I take on does not matter. Would a maple tree’s syrup improve if it stopped providing food to wildlife like deer? I am not here to limit my creative energy to that which will earn me the most money.A maple tree doesn’t do anything it wasn’t simply “born” to do.I don’t actually know what I was “born to do”, but I strongly suspect I was not born to stare at screens all day or to maximize how much money I can earn (though, begrudgingly, I know money goes a long way in this culture).I do know I feel most energized (and least like an “imposter”!!) when I’m helping others, solving problems, connecting with new people, learning, dancing, writing, exercising, laughing with friends, exploring, and trying new things.All of my projects are in pursuit of that which energizes me. The number and variety of projects may make me look crazy, but I sure don’t feel crazy. I feel alive.
This awesome essay on the topic of personal branding is a must read:“When a person aspires to be a brand, they forfeit everything that is truly glorious about being human. Building any brand requires consensus. When we position ourselves as a brand, we are forced to project an image of what we believe most people will approve of and admire and buy into. The moment we cater our creativity to popular opinion is the precise moment we lose our freedom and autonomy.”
do you need a job to feel rooted?
“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth” - Pema ChodronI’ve been without a job title for a year now, since being laid off during my maternity leave.While I mostly enjoy the freedom this gives me to define my career for myself (I can be an investor yesterday, a writer today, a mom tomorrow, and a startup growth advisor the day after!), I have to admit that it scares me most of the time.What if no one values my experience? What if my life doesn’t amount to anything meaningful? What if I am wasting so much time heading down the wrong path? What if I run out of money?Some days I feel downright lost and aimless, like a fish out of water.It would be so much easier to just wake up every day knowing I’m a Product Manager at Meta.I catch myself grasping for some illusion of control by doing things like counting the number of networking calls I had in a week, and searching for online courses to take (death doula anyone?!).It reminds me of how my need to feel productive went into overdrive when my mom passed away.The day after she died, my biggest focus was getting a hole in our bathroom wall repaired. It felt absolutely imperative that the hole be fixed that day. Thankfully my boyfriend at the time didn’t treat me like I was overreacting and instead, went to Home Depot.I always thought I appreciated my mom. Then, when she was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I really appreciated her. When it became terminal, you better believe I believed I fully appreciated her. Then she died and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had no idea she had always been my air.I came home from the hospital and the first thing I did was go to the kitchen to get some water.I opened her cupboard, the one she had opened and closed a million times, took out a cup, it didn’t matter which one because they were all her cups, went to her sink, the one she would never touch again.The water coming out of the tap sounded like the tea she made every evening and the fruit she rinsed every morning. The hands holding the cup moved like hers, were veiny like hers, held hers so recently. The mouth receiving the water spoke its first words to her. The water tasted like her.My throat didn’t feel like my own. I felt like I couldn’t remember how to swallow. Everything had her print on it.More than a decade later, I can see clearly how adrift I felt after losing such a significant figure in my life. Everything needed to be redefined.Of course I focused on fixing a hole in a bathroom wall rather than sit with the profound loss.Since losing my job, I’ve been so consumed with the coping mechanisms that I’ve perfected over the years, that I’m just starting to see how unmoored I feel without it.I think any significant loss is like a tree having its thickest, oldest, deepest root cut off.It won’t fall over or die (at least I don’t imagine it will..), so long as it has other roots to lean on while it adjusts to its new reality.Of course I feel lost in this job-less season of my life, just as I did in my mom-less season.But just like I didn’t need to resurrect my mom to move on with my life, I know deep down I don’t need to go back to the traditional 9-5 model of work to feel rooted again.I can focus on fortifying my other roots by doing things like:being present in my body with physical activitybeing present in the moment and in naturecreating something out of nothinglaughing with friends and familydoing/learning something newexploring and experimentingbuilding communityhelping otherswritingWhile, unfortunately, none of the above pay the bills, they all remind me of my resourcefulness and my inherent value. They remind me that I’m strong and I’ll be ok. The more I remember that, the more I’m not just ok, but great.In the years since my mom died, my life has been more amazing than I could have ever imagined.I truly was surprised to wake up the day after she died. I didn’t realize I had internalized that my life would just end when my mom’s did. I simply couldn’t imagine life without her.Following the shock of still being alive and having to redefine everything came the shock that I still knew how to smile. Then the shock that a warm, sunny, fall day was not just still beautiful, but perhaps even more beautiful than I had noticed before.Had the sky always been so blue and the leaves so yellow? Did the air always smell like childhood? It was intoxicating. And slowly I started to see that I was still breathing. I was ok. It was ok.Of course I miss my mom all the time, but I actually believe my life is better because I lost her.If that can be true after losing a root way more critical than the one represented by my job, then I know that whichever way life takes me, it will be full of joy and wonder.The more I believe it’s ok, the more I can open myself to the beauty of what is in front of me.Recently I was at a market with my partner when he showed me a plain white t-shirt with two words on it that caught his eye.“Look! These are the first words [our baby] heard.”“Oh wow, you’re right!”I didn’t think much of it at the time, my partner repeating these words over and over and over to our wailing, seconds-old baby -it’s ok it’s ok it’s ok it’s ok it’s ok it’s ok it’s ok- but the more that I think about it now, the more I believe it was the best possible way to welcome him to this world.“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” - Pema Chodron
Exerpted from a podcast about Simone Weil:“A human being needs roots to be able to survive and to grow. But while a plant, needs soil to grow in, people get their roots from their ‘real, active and natural participation in the life of the community.’When you take a plant and you tear its roots out of the ground and plant it in an entirely different type of soil with a totally different microbe profile, that plant could die, or even worse sometimes, continue on living sad and withered.Well what happens when you do that with people? When you spend time with anyone living in this age of industrialization, where human relationships have been reduced to moving images on a screen, or monetary transactions, you will find people who find it extremely difficult to feel rooted in the culture they geographically live in because it’s extremely difficult to participate in a meaningful way.You don’t have to colonize and uproot people if they never had roots to begin with. The society is systematically designed in a way that makes it difficult for the average person to feel rooted within it.”
is it better to deal with a difficult person or become one?
“Patience is developed..through an acceptance of what is. Impatience is an argument with reality.” - Rick RubinI have many job search pet peeves: resumes are a waste of time in the age of LinkedIn (don’t get me started on cover letters), job postings that aren’t actively being interviewed for, and interview questions that don’t tell you anything about who I am or how well I can do a job.“Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult person.”This question SUCKS.First of all, it implies that the ideal state is one of conformity.Second of all, labeling someone as difficult says more about me than it does them. It means they aren’t behaving in the way I want them to. It’s a fight with reality.When I was on the dating apps, I always chuckled at the profiles that begged for “no drama please” in their descriptions of themselves. That’s how I knew for sure that that person would be drama!It’s actually pretty easy to deal with “difficult” people: find out what they want and give it to them.I’m very good at dealing with “difficult” people, but, 22 years since being asked this question in my first interview, I have finally come to realize that is not necessarily a good thing…My mom prepared me well for my first job. She was the type of mother who believed her primary job was to make sure I could be independent by the time I was 18.The moment I was legally old enough to work, she helped me write my first resume and sat me down for some mock interviews. We practiced all the standard questions, but I was stumped when she asked me how I deal with a difficult customer.I had no experience dealing with customers. My mom insisted I did. I could tell a story about a teacher or a teammate to illustrate how I might approach a similar situation at work.“Just remember, the customer is always right.”That’s what she taught me. My mom was my customer and like any kid out there, I wanted to make her happy.We drove to a strip mall to hand out a copy of my resume (which was basically just a summary of my academic accomplishments and my contact info) to every. single. business.“A job is a job. It doesn’t matter where you work, as long as you get some experience.”The only place that contacted me was a donut/coffee shop. This particular location was popular with truckers since it was next to a gas station with a large parking lot at the corner of two major highways. A job is a job. Of course I later learned my wealthier friends’ parents did not approach first jobs this way, but I digress..I took the job (not like I had much of a choice), for $6.25/hour. It was enough for me to create the illusion of living in the same world as these wealthier friends.I took the bus to and from my shifts, which were either from 7:00am-3:00pm or 3:00pm-11:00pm. The one time I agreed to work the overnight shift, my mom drove me there at 11:00pm, then followed me inside to order some tea while she sat at the table and read until my shift was done at 7:00am.Memories like these really make me miss her.A job is a job, and like any other job, the people were the most interesting part for me.One regular always stood near the entrance when placing his order, knowing (I assume) that he reeked of pig manure. Another regular would tip $1 on top of her $1 coffee. I couldn’t believe such generosity existed. Some middle-aged men hit on me (to be fair, I was tall for my age…) which I found flattering.It was a hard job though. My 14-year-old feet and back ached at the end of my shifts (my mom took me to buy shoes suitable for nurses when it got so bad that the pain didn’t subside between shifts). And not all of the customers were nice to me.There was one regular who was just downright mean. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right when she came in. No matter how hard I tried.“This is great experience!” my mom said. She had this annoying way of always looking on the bright side of things. And she loved the idea of any experience that served her goal of my independence.I hated seeing this woman open the door. I knew the “customer was always right”, so I bent over backwards, trying to make her happy. But I never did. She never was satisfied; she never thanked me or acknowledged my efforts.I’ve been thinking about this woman a lot this week. How frustrating it was that I couldn’t win her over.Then it occurred to me: this lady kind of reminded me of my mom.My mom died when she was 57, too young for such a healthy woman. And she was largely unhappy the last year she was alive, waiting for death.I tried everything to make her happy. I cooked for her, I rented movies I thought she would like, I left her alone, I took her on walks. Sometimes she smiled, but mostly she was still unhappy.In the 13 years since she died, I haven’t fully been able to shake the feeling of inadequacy, that I couldn’t relieve her of her pain and regrets and disappointment.Now I’m left wondering if maybe the “great experience” my mom pointed out had less to do with learning how to please that customer, and more to do with learning that I couldn’t and shouldn’t.I wish I could ask my mom now what she meant, but I want to believe she wanted me to stop trying to please her (and everyone), and just be comfortable being myself, even if that self was sometimes…difficult!When I think of who I really want to be professionally, who I really want to work with, and even who I want my baby to be, it’s not someone who is “easy.”When I think of an “easy” tree, it’s one whose roots are tidy and boundaried, whose pollen doesn’t blow with the wind, and whose leaves stay on its branches. It wouldn’t trip us or make us sneeze or expect us to rake up after it. It would stay nice and small.What kind of tree would that be?Stunted.So, I’d like to propose some better questions to reflect on and for the interviewers out there. Questions that celebrate diversity and won’t imply that it’s better to make yourself small to please someone else:What are some common reasons you find someone to be “difficult”? What does that say about you?What have you learned from “difficult” colleagues that has made you a better human?When have you found it necessary to be difficult? Why?“Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don't let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.” ― Jim Carrey
the necessity of agency at work
“There is no joy in following others’ expectations of yourself.” - Miriam ToewsWhen I was a teenager, I worked for a call center doing research for Monsanto, of all companies.I spent my summer calling farmers across North America and listening to their complaints about the (financial) need to exploit every inch of their land, every day possible.The farmers knew the way they farmed — the pesticides, the genetically modified seeds, the tilling, monoculture etc — was not sustainable, but they felt they had no choice. Their neighbours all used chemicals to improve the productivity of their farms and they had to keep up (not to mention, they’d be infested if they tried to go organic).All this technology and pressure to keep up is doing the same thing to our brains as it is to our topsoil.The way we (especially those of us working in tech and/or corporate America) are expected to work is no different than what we expect of our most fertile soil.Sure, we can squeeze a lot out of our brains (showing up to meetings when we really feel like sleeping, replying to slack messages when we really need some fresh air, putting in overtime to make a case for a pay bump) but at what cost?Industrial agriculture is proven to deplete soil of nutrients (making the soil less productive over time), reduce organic matter, and can cause significant erosion, among other adverse effects. I’d argue our hustle culture is doing the same damage to our brains. It's no wonder, we've become the "burnout generation" as Anne Helen Petersen writes so eloquently.Nature has been telling us for a long time that we need to listen. We are no different.I just want to be myself, and that means being honest about what I currently feel energized by or motivated to do.Unfortunately, even the best corporate jobs demand that our energy, motivation, and attention is diverted to suit someone else’s higher desire (ahem profit ahem).But having agency over how we spend our time and energy is fundamental if we want to thrive.What does this mean for you?Even if you're not in a financial position to quit your job, you can still become aware of this dynamic to reduce the shame you may feel for not loving your "good" job.You can also try to reclaim at least some agency in your job. Hold time on your calendar for yourself, then hold that boundary.“To restrict the artist is a crime. It is to murder germinating life.” - Egon Schiele
what nature can teach us about our need to be seen
“Understand this if you understand nothing: it is a powerful thing to be seen.”
― Akwaeke EmeziAs a new mom, I can’t help but feel like I now see the world in a new way (I know I know, so cliche).Beyond the obvious observation that it’s such a fascinating time it is to be alive (sure, we don’t have a “village” to help raise our baby, but we do have Google), I’ve been thinking about what it must be like to go from feeling like you’re the absolute center of attention everywhere you go, to picking up on the vibes that you are actually kind of a nuisance.My guess is it happens around 7 years old. When questions go from being cute to incessant. Parents with older kids: feel free to correct me. But this is generally around the age of the kids who I would rather not share precious and limited New York City park space with.I have a hunch it was around that age when my very vivid feelings of telling my mom about some accomplishment or another in school and her not listening start. I try to reassure myself that she probably listened and cheered me on more times than not, but what remains is the memory of not feeling seen.I have a theory that for the rest of our lives, we’re just trying to be seen the way we were when we were babies. More than we want to attract the attention of a mate to procreate, more than we want money to buy expensive things, we want to signal our inherent worth.The desire for validation is deep within us. It fuels the fashion industry, the wellness industry, the dating industry, the entertainment industry, the political economy, and of course, social media. It’s no wonder that 1 in 4 (and by some estimates, 3 in 4!!) young Americans want to become “influencers.”As much as I sometimes feel ashamed for wanting attention (which for me, primarily comes in the form of writing this newsletter and posting on LinkedIn), I know it’s very natural.Every plant and animal has a way of communicating. Mosquitos whisper to each other and have receptors to detect our scents. New research shows mushrooms communicate with electrical impulses. Don’t get me started on all the ways octopus communicate!!Generally, trees bloom in springtime because they too need to be seen. Their brightly coloured blossoms and fragrant aromas are their way of attracting pollinators. They are trying to say “Look at me; I have value; pay attention to me.”I remember hearing that trees actually bloom more when they are not well. Now, I’m no scientist, but this sounds to me like a plea to be seen when they feel least worthy of attention. And I don’t think we’re so different. We long to be recognized for all our potential.And maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the cries for help are getting louder and louder. Plenty has been written about how we are increasingly isolated and polarized as a society, but what’s missing is an examination of the role we all can play in helping bridge these divides.So, I’m trying to see public demands for attention (my new definition for PDA, like it?), for what they are, and do my part in helping others feel seen and heard—from reading and liking more posts on LinkedIn, to offering encouraging comments to performers on the streets.How do you want to be seen? What can you do to help others feel more seen?
can an oak tree ever hope to grow avocados?
“Heed your life’s calling-that inner urge to give your gifts away”Richard LeiderWhat were you "born" to do?I’ve been talking to a lot of friends (like a lot a lot) lately who have no idea what they should do next in life. Sometimes their current jobs (if they still have them..) aren’t challenging them anymore. Sometimes they are too demanding. Other times they are lacking meaning. You get the point.If this sounds like you, first you need to decide on a function you’re interested in. Or wait, was it decide on industry first? Never mind, better to decide what company excites you. But what if the founders are a$$holes? You should actually just focus on the job description, do what you love and trust eventually it will come with a living salary. But maybe you are better off just burning yourself out in a job that will at least let you retire early. Maybe?Then let’s say you actually finally find a job that sounds perfect, but it turns out they decided not to hire for that job you spent hours applying to. Or you finally get the job but they expect you to move to Winnipeg, the second coldest city in the world (as a native Winnipegger, I’m allowed to trash talk it 🙃).It’s truly too much for us to navigate with any reasonable confidence that we’re heading in the right direction. I’m pretty sure from all the conversations I’ve had over the last few years, that at least 80% of us are full on lost.If I’m really honest, I have no idea what I’m doing either. Even as someone who has specialized in helping people navigate these transitions, who (from the outside) has “figured it out." And no, thank you, I don’t need a career or life coach to guide me through a world I was not made for.Of course we’re lost.The ways we can earn money are evolving faster than we can ever hope to. Yet we expect people to figure out if they were meant to be Chiefs of Staff or Product Managers, work in fin-tech or health-tech, a small startup or a large nonprofit.No one is born to do a job that didn’t even exist 10 years ago (looking at you “influencers”). We were born to help, to learn, to teach, to create, to solve problems, to connect, to explore, to play. But not many of us were born with the privilege of not having to worry about how to “earn a living.” So we’ve got quite the dilemma on our hands.For what it’s worth, I do know how to contort myself into something that can make me money that doesn’t make me sacrifice too much of myself: helping mission driven startups scale their impact! If you need help figuring out how to contort yourself to make a living, a career coach can definitely help, I’m just saying, they’re not ever going to get you to the REAL thing you are searching for because we have not evolved for this nonsense.We are living in a time that we’re really not adapted to.I like to imagine a young oak tree, reaching six feet tall then being asked to decide what it wants to do with the rest of its life.
Five years later, this oak tree is gonna feel like shit. It’s going to think if it could just get 45 more years, maybe it could finally learn how to grow avocados.
I share all this to say, you’re not crazy if work isn’t working for you. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you haven’t figured out what you “want to do with your life.” It’s ridiculous to take on the pressure of trying to find the RIGHT job for us. As you’ve maybe heard before:We’re the only species in the entire planet that believes we need to earn our living.I know it’s not much comfort when there are mouths to feed and bills to pay and parents to please, but, like the oak tree, just try to remember that who you already are is exactly who we need you to be.“Your time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” - Steve Jobs
there's nothing wrong with wanting to spread your roots
So often I speak with people who are in “great” jobs, where nothing in particular is “wrong”, but still they find themselves longing for something “more”. Then they express how they feel guilty for looking for something else, and/or anxious that they might regret leaving something known for something unknown.Every time I have stepped out of my comfort zone (moving to new cities, traveling on my own, quitting a job without a backup plan, starting a documentary etc), I too felt a lot of guilt and anxiety, and I struggled to justify my decisions. Especially when the tradeoffs appeared so significant (ending relationships, depleting my savings/taking on debt, even risking my physical safety).The only thing that has helped me make sense of an urge I couldn’t put words to was to reflect on trees🌲.I think of how trees (like any other living thing really) are primarily driven to grow and expand. Imagine trying to tell a young tree that they’re tall enough already, have enough leaves already, have produced enough fruit already! You’d have to poison it to make it stop.When I see tree roots breaking through cement sidewalks, I think of how ridiculous the imagined limits that we humans place on ourselves are, how we’re poisoning ourselves when we settle.I’ve never, ever regretted optimizing for growth. I still feel anxiety, fear, guilt, confusion, and uncertainty like anyone else, but I get better and better at trusting those feelings will quickly be replaced by better ones like awe, exhilaration, gratitude, and confidence.The world would be a happier place if more people saw that they could break some sidewalks.
we have as many uses as an oak tree
“Lord grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish” MichelangeloAs I find myself spinning on the question, once again, of what to do with my life, I am trying my best to remember who I am. Who I really am and always was.For as long as I can remember, I was the person who wanted to taste the whole rainbow. When my dad bought a new minivan, I wanted to ride in every seat. At restaurants, I wanted to order every menu item. I wanted to adopt every orphan and, literally, this was an actual goal of mine, know every face in my hometown, all 700,000 of them.My true nature has always been to explore, take it all in. But for the longest time, this felt “wrong.” Society has always told me (and I suspect you..) to decide what I want to do with my life. To settle down. To focus.It wasn’t until I started learning more about trees, and started considering how my life was not so unlike their lives, that I started feeling less shame for all my ambitions and interests.Who Are You?An oak tree can no better be expected to grow a maple leaf than I can be expected to live in one place or do one job forever. We are meant to be different.An oak tree provides shelter, food, and protection, to more life forms than any other tree in North America. Imagine trying to tell it it is only good for firewood for humans. We are meant to do many things.Every oak tree, no matter its age or location or size or season, has value. I don’t need to be the tallest tree ever, or survive the most extreme conditions, I just have to be my absolutely unique self.
are you a palm or a pine tree?
“to be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” e.e. cummingsI regularly connect with people who feel like something is wrong with them because where they work is making them miserable. They are the type who have tried everything to manage their situation proactively: be patient and wait for things to change, lean in and try harder to change what isn’t working, get a career coach, make new friends, exercise, find hobbies, seek external professional development etc etc.In the end, none of that works and they end up feeling so much shame for not being able to change how they feel. I find this is especially common in people who have “great” jobs, that they “should” love.I have struggled with this, at one point truly believing I was broken because everyone around me seemed to be doing just fine and I couldn’t muster any intrinsic motivation to do even simple tasks at work.The only thing that has helped me through these times is to remember that I am part of nature. I love both palm and pine trees (all trees actually), because they are so unique, and they remind me that we too thrive in different conditions.We’re not as different from plants and animals as we like to imagine we are, but somehow we have internalized a myth that we should just be able to adapt to conditions that don’t suit us.Big cities aren’t for everyone. Startups aren’t for everyone. Teaching isn’t for everyone. If you think you’ve given something your best shot and it’s still not working, I really believe it’s ok to let it go and find the conditions that will help you grow as you were born to do!!Life is too short to be a palm tree in the arctic.
we could have been friends
Several years ago, I was asked what I would put on a billboard if I could say anything. My response?We could have been friends.I really believe that, not just with you, but with anyone, ever.I know that when we can truly open our minds and our hearts, we can always move beyond human-invented dividers like race, religion, and socioeconomic status, to find something to connect us to each other. A shared love of pandas, pencils, Paris, peppers, whatever.Don’t believe me? Watch this short documentary and then let’s talk.How often I have found that I actually quite like someone who I initially found annoying, self-centered, or even toxic, just by taking a little more time to get to know them. It just took a willingness look beneath their many layers of defense to see what was real.Let’s be honest, we all have layers that hide who we truly are. Masks we put on to (attempt to) cover for our insecurities, and armor that we erected to protect us from being hurt.I want to help you remember who you really are. I believe it’s the best hope we have to not only live more fulfilling lives, but also to bridge all the divides in this world, including the one between ourselves and “nature.”Our true nature is to be connected.Our true nature is to delight in the inexhaustible variety of life.Our true nature is to grow.Our true nature is to care.Our true nature is to seek.Our true nature is to have needs.Our true nature is to create.“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make you soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” Kurt VonnegutWhen I was growing up, I wanted to know everyone in my hometown. All ~650,000 inhabitants. Know them. As a tree is compelled to grow, or as Picasso was no doubt compelled to paint, I felt (feel) compelled to know their names, their faces, their souls. That is to say, I can’t exactly explain why I care to get to know you, I just do. It’s in my nature.I want to hear what’s in your true nature. What inspires you? What gets in the way? How are or aren’t you yourself at work?Let me know!