January 24, 2011
I feel that I must add to the Tiger Mom discussion…
When I read the WSJ article Why Chinese Mothers are Superior by Amy Chua, I had an immediate negative visceral response. I was simply aghast after the snippet on the actions that Chua took to get her 7-year-old prepared for a piano recital.
Although I didn’t read Chua’s book, I collected more information by soliciting two of my very successful Chinese-American friends and by reading other related blogs/opinions/comments. I learned that there is a range of behaviors within the extreme parenting advocated (described? lamented?) by Chua. Both of my Chinese-American friends agreed with some of Chua’s observations but not all. There is also a range of reactions to the behaviors. Many kids became successful (as shown by the statistics) and some became scarred for life (see opinion by Lac Su who also wrote a book on Tiger Mothers).
What I have realized is that parenting methods derive from parenting priorities, whether stated explicitly or not. What you choose as your priorities determine your methods and your metrics. There can be endless argument in favor of differing priorities, but as a parent, you get to choose the investment priorities in the extremely complex and multi-fauceted task of raising a child.
If you narrowly focus on a few factors (academics and music) you can achieve success in those domains, but potentially at the expense of other factors. David Brooks make an excellent case for the value of social factors in his NYT piece, Amy Chua is a Wimp.
Amy Chua deliberately chose academics and music as her priorities for teaching her children. Her metrics were GPA, class rank, and recital success (piano or violin only). By her own admission, her methods were often shame, humiliation and coercion. To her credit, her daughters succeeded in both of these domains.
With two teenagers of my own, I have deliberatley chosen:
- Impart the ability to make good decisions, and
- Create a caring and generous soul.
The metrics for my priorities are much more difficult to quantify and my primary method is to capitalize on teachable moments. The jury is still out with regard to success because my children have not reached matriculation.
I have given and continue to give both my son and daughter opportunities in diverse environments (social, music, academic, domestic, athletic, etc.) trying to amplify what interests them while providing them safety in the background. Although I do require a minimum of proficiency across all domains, in their early years especially, I supported just trying stuff with a minimum level of commitment. My kids tried languages (Japanese!), music (flute and piano), and many sports. Even though my husband would have liked our son to play baseball, our son found his soul in soccer. I dreamed that my daughter might be a swimmer, but her passion is cheerleading. By allowing them to choose, we have nurtured self-directed drive for accomplishment. I never tell my son to practice his soccer footwork, but I do have to tell him occasionally that it’s driving me crazy and that he needs to give it a rest.
Like Brooks, I tend to think that the trickiest stuff to learn is the social factors – there is no road map or easy measurements. Yet the next generation will have to navigate a more complex world than we live in today, thus it is super important to ensure that my kids be fully competent in this capacity. Disallowing media, sleepovers, and friends avoids the issue and does not allow for development, so it is imperative (to my husband and I) to thoughtfully allow all of these complex interactions to ensure that they achieve excellence in social collaboration without becoming lost.
To that end, my husband and I hold fast to the, “trust but verify” method of teaching. We give our kids sufficient rope to try stuff (what friends they will choose, what media they will consume, and how they spend their leisure time), but we pay very close attention to what they say they are doing and the congruence to the signals that they send. We don’t allow them to go just anywhere, we require knowing: the who, the what, the where, and the when, of their choices and then we observe. For example, does their style of dress match the social situation they told us that they were attending? If stuff does not match, we hold them accountable taking each breach as a teaching opportunity.
My kids hate reading books or writing essays on the subject of scrutiny, but we have found that such methods instill the required reflection for incremental maturation. One time after a particularly egregious transgression of trust, I required my daughter to read with me, girls gone MILD by Wendy Shalit and then write an essay on selected themes from the book. Her essay was excellent and I know that it made a difference from the perceptible changes than manifested.
To Chua my priorities and methods might look like over-indulgence in media, friends, and leisure, but the reality is instilling my priorities in my kids is just as excrutiating as instilling her priorities in her kids, mine are not as visible.
Thus, after much reflection, I do respect Chua’s priorities; I only question some of her specific methods (she also questions them in her memoir, but not necessarily for the same reasons). Specifically, I object to the strategy of extreme shame, humiliaiton, and coercion because it does not scale effectively. When I consider the parenting arms-race, if everyone were to adopt this superior method, it would stop being superior simply because not everyone can be 1st in their class — the necessary escalation goes up considerably with increasing competition. Can you imagine the consequences if every child had to withstand escalating levels of shame, humiliation, and coercion to be 1st in their class when by definition only ONE person could achieve that pinnacle? At some point it crosses the line from instilling discipline to abuse. It’s a slippery slope…
Everyone agrees that parenting is hard. Depending on the age of the children, it can be physically hard, emotionally hard, or psychologically hard, and there are no days off. My long view advice on parenting:
- Know your priorities, act with intention
- Be deliberate in your method, understand how your tactics scale
- Love and nurture because children are our most precious gift.
In the end, only the children can truly decide if the job we did was proper. I guess I’ll find out in a few years…
Can you articulate your priorities?
October 1, 2010
I recently had the pleasure of hearing David Brooks speak about politics and his career as a journalist (now for the New York Times). He was both funny and insightful.
Mr. Brooks spoke on many subjects, but I was especially piqued by his observations about one specific character trait that makes President Obama unduly effective in his role as leader – extraordinary CALMNESS.
The story he tells about Obama’s calmness is as follows (paraphrased):
When Obama debated McCain in the 2008 presidential election, each man took turns at the lectern. Both could be seen writing notes onto the provided notepad. An observer later collected those notes. McCain’s notes were jotted words topical to the debate. Obama’s notes were six extremely straight drawn lines.
I deeply appreciate those who have mastery of calmness because I am personally a hyperactive, difficult to sit-still person. Yet I recognize that calmness is an essential ally in gaining mastery over new material or terrain. It is easy (and natural) to panic when a situation seems overwhelming and futile. However, panicking never breeds success.
Having pushed thorough to higher knowledge and performance many times before, I know that every obstacle must be overcome to achieve success. As I continue to push myself professionally and personally, I often find myself in over my head. At those times, I must channel calmness to proceed. My personal mantras (long view advice) for learning new things and tackling more demanding challenges are as follows:
- Breathe deeply through your nose (channel straight lines) – it helps to retain focus and minimizes irrational thoughts about quitting.
- Break down the problem – try simpler versions to validate the strategy or idea before incorporating into more complex scenarios.
- Ask for help – consult someone more knowledgeable and learn from them.
Although #2 (teach oneself) enables deeper learning, don’t wait too long to seek #3 (learn from another), because of #1 (irrational thoughts).
Would you benefit from channeling straight lines?
September 17, 2010
Recently, I have needed to take that advice.
I had an AMAZING summer! I enjoyed 4 weeks of a European vacation and another 4 weeks of my husband being around because he was on sabbatical. 🙂
The good was that we had a BLAST together — it was wonderful. The bad was that I got severely behind in my client work and have spent the last many weeks digging out of that situation.
Because I am fastidious about my work and because I was very behind, I abandoned everything non-essential until I could get my work in order. My blog took the biggest hit with my last blog post from France during my vacation. 😦
Since then, I have wanted to blog, but given the lapse I have desired an extraordinary return blog post, yet it has not manifested. So my long view advice (to me):
- Take baby steps – the first step is always the start (or restart) of a journey.
- Continue to strive for more, better, and stronger, but be patient with yourself or you will lose the JOY.
- Keep taking baby steps until habituated – then push forward with all the passion you can muster.
I’m glad to be back!
Would baby steps help you get started (or restarted) on your adventure?!
June 21, 2010
I have had a terrific opportunity to spend some time traveling in Europe on vacation. There have been many opportunities to learn a bit about perspective, but a really great lesson has been taught to me via automobile parking in France.
As Americans accustomed used to large roads, large cars, and plentiful parking (most of the time), the roads, cars, and parking spaces in urban France were downright micro. After a few days in France, we became more and more acclimated to the very challenging parking of the densely populated urban areas (often requires curb jumping for success).
When we arrived in Saint Tropez, there was a mix of the micro and large cars and thus the parking situation was mixed. As my husband backed our rented European car into a marked parking space at our hotel, I was giving him guidance. He asked me, “How many spaces were in the empty back area of the lot?”
My first answer was 2 (from my American perspective based upon the striping of the spaces). My second answer was 3 (when I realized that the spaces were large relative to the size of our small European rental car and there was plenty of room for another one next to ours based upon my recent acclimation to Paris parking). My third answer was 4 (when I realized the same was the situation on the opposite side of the back lot based on the more recent acclimation to Marseilles parking which is even tighter than Paris!).
My answer sounded something like 2…, 3…., 4, because my perspective was shifting.
Afterward, my husband gave me a hard time about being unhelpful and indecisive, but it made me realize that he had assumed a single answer to a multiple answer question if you consider multiple perspectives…
In the morning, there were three cars parked in the back lot, so the answer was 3! Perspective was indeed important.
My long view advice:
- When asking for guidance, recognize that advice might not assume a specific perspective.
- Be patient with difference in perspective until a specific perspective is defined.
Are you considering the affect of perspective?
February 28, 2010
When I first became interested in blogging it was because I was an avid reader of Seth’s blog, I knew one person who blogged (my friend Willis), and because it existed on my edge. But that wasn’t really the why I wanted to blog…
I recently described the why to my father-in-law (Ed):
“I take in so much information on a daily basis, in the form of interactions, reading, and listening, that I want to process and resolve what I learn each day (or week) against my framework for life. Although that might seem weird, for me it’s about adapting and evolving with each new piece of information. As such, I must process and store what I learn (and how I learned it) so that I can reference it for future reflection, lest I become anxious from internalizing too much stuff! It’s about leveraging my opportunities to live life as positively as I can.”
Blogging has allowed me to tame the fire hose of my thoughts and distill them constructively in the form of advice (to myself). The process of sharing my blog allows me to receive feedback and create references to topics when they resurface!
Although I stumbled upon the importance of building a framework of ideas, real experts, like David Allen, have written extensively on the subject. From his blog:
“…we’re overloaded – not with information, but with meaning to be mined. So the solution is not about slicing and dicing and reorganizing data – it’s about how quickly and discretely we can decide its specific meaning to us…and most of us weren’t taught how to get fast and comfortable with clarifying meaning…”
David provides practical tips on improving productivity in his book Getting Things Done through the processes of Collecting, Processing, Organizing, and Reviewing. My long view advice is similar:
- Observe and collect interactions – what could have been done different for an improved interaction?
- Process and clarify – how does this fit into and/or change your framework?
- Distill the key learnings so that they can be referenced – can you describe in a few sentences the crucial nuggets?
- Find the discipline to do it regularly so growth does not stagnate.
Blogging might not be for everyone, but blogging provides me the discipline to do this knowledge work regularly. I care about my consistency to my few readers (aka stats!) and the importance of legacy (the long view!).
Are you engaging in disciplined knowledge work for personal growth?
February 10, 2010
I learned a new Hebrew phrase this week, “Shev VeAl Taaseh,” which means “Sit and Do Not Act.” It is a rabbinic (leadership) tactic that is the moral equivalent of “If I cannot have my way, I’m going to take my basketball and go home.” Although it doesn’t surprise me that such a tactic exists (or has a name), it does surprise me that anyone would consider it an appropriate leadership tactic in a modern community.
Our world is fluid and complex; full of choices, opportunities, and negotiations. As individuals, we find and align ourselves with communities that meet our needs recognizing that aggregations large enough to share costs of community transactions (services) may not be perfectly aligned with each of our personal worldviews. We tolerate and accept those differences for mutual benefit.
Thus, in aggegrated diverse communities leaders must be positive, proactive, and effectively connecting to ALL members by:
- Being sensitive to the needs/desires of every community member,
- Striving to create tolerance, coexistence, and compromise for mutual benefit, and
- Seeking novel solutions for challenges not yet resolved.
“Shev VeAl Tasseh,” a primal command and control tactic that might have been useful in ancient society, has been outgrown by modernity and should be relegated to the dustbin of history along with animal sacrifice. Channeling the proverb: If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem, leaders must lead in times of difficulty — it is never acceptable for leaders to opt out.
- Exert effort on OTHERS first,
- Determine the needs of each constituency beyond your own (What’s in it for them?),
- Gracefully concede that others have legitimate needs,
- Engage, participate, and create innovative solutions to enable diversity,
We are fortunate to live in a society that tolerates a richness of many communities, each with different leaders, norms, and conduct. Yet in order for any specific community to flourish, leaders must participate inclusively and exercise good judgement lest their community pick up and leave due to no confidence.
Are you EDGE-ing?
January 11, 2010
First, I have been married a LONG time (in a few more months, a wonderful 20 years LONG) so this will not be all gushy…
The setting was post-breakfast. Everyone at the house was moving toward jobs and school (two teens, two parents). I mention to my wonderful husband that I just got off the phone about a quote for some insurance that I thought we should consider. His immediate response was to tell me that it was unnecessary and I shouldn’t spend any time on it. I became upset because I thought I was doing something good for us and he was not being duly appreciative.
Even though we both hate to part mad at each other, there was no time to get everything back to better before we all had to depart (he was leaving for three days).
When I was done being upset, I wrote him a quick email with the following long view advice: Support first, then Criticize.
- I know that we both hate parting mad, so I apologize for not being able to get past my upset this morning. I know that you mean well when you criticize my efforts. I even value the criticisms, but not when I don’t feel supported.
- I need from you: Support first, then criticism. Okay?!
- You beat me to the punch. I was chomping at the bit all morning to get a moment to write you and say “sorry” for the bad parting this morning. Yes, you are right. I meant to say and do exactly as you suggest – “good idea to investigate, let’s make sure we understand if it is really needed.” Please accept my apology.
- Apology accepted.
All better! 🙂
Are you supporting first and then criticizing (when needed)?
P.S. Support first then criticize (if needed) applies to business too….
January 2, 2010
I am always grateful to welcome new opportunities. Yet recently, my blog has suffered while I’ve been opening doors and building new roads for myself…
As I reflected on what long view advice I might give on the departure of 2009 and arrival of 2010, I realized that my siblings are professionals in door opening and new road building, respectively.
My sister is responsible for writing software to open the door on NASA’s specialized jumbo jet that hauls an infrared telescope above the lower atmosphere (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA). More pics here…how cool is that?!
On account of the new year, I offer some amateur long view advice on opening doors and creating new roads that I think the pros would agree:
- Be deliberate, act with intention.
- Be aware, observe, listen, and assess more often than you advise.
- Be dedicated to quality, don’t settle for less.
- Be committed to improvement, get better at what you do.
Wishing you new roads and many open doors. Happy 2010!
October 28, 2009
The latest cover of Wired (17.11) magazine shouts FEAR in bold letters (cover article is about vaccination fear) and a popular writer (Rabbi Kushner) just published his latest book, Conquering Fear, and even my favorite blogger (Seth Godin) is blogging about fear. Seth reminds us that news inherently amplifies the emotional, flaming fear. Seth also reminds us that we live in a choice rich world causing us to fear our own decision-making. Purveyors of fear then are all around us, yet we must master our fears to live healthy satisfying lives.
When I was out running the morning that the news reported that the body of Somer Thompson had been found in a nearby garbage dump (7-year-old Florida girl that was abducted and murdered), my mind wandered to those tidbits. During that moment, I was suddenly seized with fear from an old, yet vivid memory of a stranger asking me if I wanted a ride in his car when I was about 10-years-old.
I remember being very frightened at the time, yet knowing that I needed to show calm. That stranger had tricked me into talking to him by playing to my insecurity of being a tomboy – he asked, “are you a boy or a girl?” I was indignant to the question and immediately asserted that I was a girl, quickly realizing that it was an unsafe conversation. When he asked if I wanted to ride in his car, I told him that my mother was waiting for me because we were making cookies (yet it was only myself making cookies since my mother was at work). Following my attempt at a polite excuse, I leapt onto my bike, clutching the small bag containing the vanilla extract that I had purchased, and escaped as fast as I could the back route to home.
I’ll never know if the situation was actually benign, but I was afraid then, and the memory drove a surge of adrenaline as I ran for exercise last week. My pace and breathing quickening and the fear I felt was as real as if I had been ten again. The fear passed quickly and I was again relieved that I was safe. Mostly, I was surprised at the intensity at which it momentarily enveloped me. As Rabbi Kushner notes in his book, “there is nothing that reaches us more deeply into our souls than the experience of facing danger and being spared.” Yet we must be outraged deeply in our souls too by the unfairness and tragedy of those like Somer and her family, who were not spared.
When Robin Roberts of Good Morning America was interviewing the mother of Somer Thompson, who, like my mother was at work at the time of the incident, said to her, “You cannot blame yourself,” I deeply concurred. She must not blame herself rather she must blame the perpetrator. With the randomness of terror like this, Somer and her family are simply tragic victims who deserve our compassion; it could have been any of us. My long view advice:
- We must stay calm in the face of adversity.
- We must not isolate ourselves and/or change our behavior because of intimidation.
- We should be alert but not frightened, vigilant but not paranoid (Kushner, p.39)
- We must act decisively when faced with daunting complexity based upon the information that we have.
- We must accept the knowledge that we must make choices and not second-guess our decisions based upon the information that we had in the moment.
Being the anxious perfectionist that I am, taking this advice is hard even for me, but I desire to live in a world where I am not afraid. Do you?
October 19, 2009
Someone once told me that the most powerful person in an organization is the receptionist. Although it may not be entirely true, there is a kernel of wisdom in that advice, because the receptionist touches everyone that comes through the door of a business. The process of touching allows the receptionist to develop a sense of order about vendors, staff, and clients, allowing her to come to understand the underlying structure of the organization and be able to successfully assess and courteously triage access to executives and other staff.
I recently ran across a director-level staff person not yet ready to relinquish known workarounds and seize the opportunity to transform his work by touching data flows (such as cleaning up a client database). The rationalizations were typical, “I’m too busy” and “Maybe we could hire someone else to do that?,” failing to recognize the long-term benefits of gathering information oneself and understand the underlying limitations.
I was saddened by emphasis on the short-term urgencies and the limited investment in the important (long-term) that I observed, but this was a case where I did not actually have any influence. Because I care about the organization, I asked too many questions, so my advice to self is to stop asking such questions, but I digress…
When I look at situations like this one, I recognize that organic learning is often required, because organizations tend to grow organically – they fail to document along the way, they fail to create processes for review and archiving (until it is a crisis), and they allow single person specialists to emerge (that can leave with the organizational history). Yet it is important (and tedious) to gather, consolidate, or validate information when trying to move an organization to an improved future. The hard news is that such work often requires tedium and/or assimilating the unknown. The good news is that the most valued people in every organization are the people who learn, think, and transform by doing this. As such, my long view advice:
- Seize the opportunity to touch key data flows and learn the limitations of the current system.
- Spend time on the important (learn, think, transform) even when your schedule is filled with urgencies.
- Do not be above tediousness; participate in the tedium and gain appreciation for the efforts of others who complete tedious work regularly.
Are you touching important data flows, learning from them, and creating transformation?