That’s So South of Shaw: Geographic Health Disparities in My Hometown

fresno
photo via nytimes.com

I grew up in Fresno, CA—the center of San Joaquin Valley and, really, the state. While Fresno is home to a great deal of large-scale agricultural production, it’s not all farm land; it’s the 34th most populous city in the US, ranking between Tuscon, AZ and Sacramento. Cher went to high school in Fresno…so there’s that.

Fresno’s also the poorest big city in California. You may have heard the word, “ghetto” used as slang for something that associated with being poor, budget-friendly, or sub-par. But in Fresno high schools in the early aughts, “ghetto” was replaced with “south of Shaw.”

Shaw” refers to Shaw Avenue, which runs east/west and divides the city in half—racially and economically—thanks to the railroad tracks Shaw replaced, Depression-era redlining, and suburban sprawl.

When hearing—or, admittedly, using—the term “south of Shaw” in high school, I didn’t think much of it. With the exception of a couple historic neighborhoods like Fig Garden, home to North Van Ness Blvd, which transforms into the spectacular Christmas Tree Lane every December, the phrase held up: south Fresno was depressed, disadvantaged, and dangerous; and Shaw was the border. (By the way, my high school was literally south of Shaw—way south—with a student body that was a combination of neighborhood students and magnet students from all over the city but largely from neighborhoods north of Shaw.)

It wasn’t until I learned, sometime in college, that Fresno’s wealth gap was the largest in the nation that I reflected on how loaded of a phrase “south of Shaw” is. It tells us something about the impact “place” has on the people in and around it. (Fresno is now ranked second in the nation for income inequality, just behind Bakersfield, which is about two hours south of Fresno and also in the San Joaquin Valley.)

I found a 2013 dissertation from a PhD student in City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley called Health Equity in a New Urbanist Environment: Land Use Planning and Community Capacity Building in Fresno, CA (I hope she got that PhD!). In it, I learned that Fresno’s racial and social segregation is due in large part to historic and sustained land use, which can have major health implications on the populations in those neighborhoods.

For example, the majority of the city’s industrial areas are located—you guessed it—south of Shaw. In 2005, the lifetime cancer risk for people living in neighborhoods south of Shaw was 27% higher than those living north of Shaw, likely due in part to there being three times as many tons of toxic chemicals emitted in South Fresno compared to North Fresno.

And in 2011, neighborhoods north of Shaw had nearly three times as many acres of parks per capita than neighborhoods south of Shaw. And we know that 1) people are more physically active when they have access to safe, affordable, high-quality space for recreation; and 2) physical activity is critical to prevent and control chronic disease.

So to bring it all home (so to speak), in 2011, the average life expectancy for those living south of Shaw was 2 years less than those living north of it.

Turns out, the term “South of Shaw” isn’t just slang. It’s a term infused with data and history about the systems of power and (dis)advantage that allowed certain groups of people to settle north of Shaw while it was made virtually impossible for others to do the same.

Who knew that a high school student’s go-to insult would become the basis of the work I do now? It shouldn’t matter if you live south of Shaw or in the southern states of the US; everyone deserves the opportunity to live a healthy life in a healthy place. Even Cher.

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Being in charge is FUN

fun

via giphy

I’m “the boss” in two major areas of my life: at work (I’m the Executive Director of a nonprofit), and my running club (I’m a co-founder and co-organizer).

The best part about being in charge? No one tells you what to do.

The worst part about being in charge? No one tells you what to do.

I’ve always been pretty obedient, but have a tendency to question authority. So being the authority makes it easier for me to get work done, because I understand what’s important and why (usually). But I’m not omnipotent (gasp!), and rely on my team (work and running) to bring up issues and suggestions.

Here’s where it gets really hard for me: I often take these issues, suggestions, and even random comments as directives. For example, a runner in my group might say something like, “I missed out on the last t-shirt order, so I’m looking forward to the next one” and I hear, “It’s time for another t-shirt design and order, so get on that, will ya?”

It’s even worse at work. I work really hard to create and maintain a culture of transparency and openness, which means people speak their minds all the time. And I love that! But it can be hard to hear what’s on someone’s mind without making it into 1) a complaint about me/my leadership, or 2) an urgent task that needs to completed, or at least spearheaded, by leadership.

So what’s a boss to do?

In some cases, those comments really should be directives, and I’m grateful for them, especially when I feel like I’m not sure what I should be doing. But how do you know the differences between those and the ones that are truly ideas for mulling over, projects for the backburner that you get to eventually, or maybe never?

I think back to the Harvard Business Review Guide to Getting the Right Work Done, which I’ve written about before. A lot of the book is discussion on concrete tips for managing your day, minute-to-minute, with the purpose of focusing on your priorities—or, the right work. What it doesn’t have (if I remember correctly—I don’t have the book in my possession anymore) are tips for identifying those priorities or filtering feedback from other people advocating for their own priorities.

So, here’s my stab at a simple trick for doing exactly that: the next time someone makes a comment/suggestion that you’re not sure should be a directive, ask yourself, “Is it FUN?”

While I wish I mean “FUN” as actually fun, I don’t this time. This time, it’s an acronym for: Feasible, Urgent, and Necessary.

Feasible – Does the complaint come with a built-in, doable solution? Is there a solution, and is it even possible?

Urgent – Is the problem (or root cause of the problem) an emergency?

Necessary – Will not fixing or acting on this comment result in disaster, or least continued discomfort/inefficiency/negativity?

Depending on the scope of the comment/suggestion/complaint, this system might be too much (not everything needs to be analyzed before taking action) or not enough (something might be feasible, but require a longterm plan with lots of moving parts). You might also want to ask yourself if it’s mission-driven or on-brand, but I think a lot of those extra questions could be collapsed into the categories FUN provides (I think those two examples fit in with Necessary).

And you know what? Writing this post and boring myself a little, I’ve changed my mind. Might as well make it FUNF, with that second F standing for Fun, even if it’s not as catchy. Because we could all use a little more of that, even before the working day is done, right?

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I ran 500 miles this year and here’s what I learned

500 miles in 2018

I ran over 500 miles in 2018. 75 of them were in December. Why? Because when I saw how close I was to 500 miles, sometime in early December, I had to go for it.

And then it snowed, and I just don’t run in slush or ice (though I hear it’s a great way to naturally clean your shoes). And I also traveled for work, my schedule not allowing for any runs. So not only were 75 of my miles in December, but 47 of them were in the last 10 days.

Holy moly.

While that’s not a lot for some runners out there, it is an awful lot for me, and especially this year, since I didn’t run any races over 6 miles or so. I don’t recommend suddenly going from a 40 to 50 miles per month runner to a 75 miles per month runner, but I have to admit that I’m really proud of myself…not just for making it to 500 miles for the year, but for buckling down in the second half of December to make it happen.

I had a lot of time to think about what I was doing in those final pavement-pounding miles. So here are some lessons I learned:

Procrastination is not your friend when your goal is best achieved through steady progress. I like to believe that if I had set my goal early in the year, I would have hit it much earlier or had been able to maintain progress—instead of spiking my mileage—at the end of the year.

Then again…

Procrastination is your friend when you need a little bit of motivation, pressure, and self-competition to achieve a goal. The fact that I was close-but-not-too-close to my goal when I checked my mileage in early December ignited some serious initiative.

Some deadlines are arbitrary, but so what? As a Questioner (from Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies), I typically don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because if I want to make a change or achieve a goal, I start immediately and believe January 1st is meaningless. But there was just something about the deadline of December 31st to get all of my miles in. Maybe it’s because others set goals based on the year, including—and perhaps most importantly—the app I use to track my mileage, times, and routes (screenshot above).

Variety is the spice of life. I put strength training on the back burner in order to focus on running and I missed it so much! When reviewing my fitness data for the year, I noticed that I ran a measly three miles in February. Thinking about why that was, I remembered that I was focusing on a workout program that didn’t give me time to run. I was proud of myself for finishing that program too, but any routine that takes away the balance that keeps you motivated needs to be rethought. (This lesson was also learned through route changes, races, mileage variations, and different running buddies.)

A slow mile is still a mile. Some people go fast and some people go slow—and sometimes I went much faster/slower than I did the day prior—but when your goal is the distance and not the speed, it doesn’t matter.

Rest is important. Those last 10 days were brutal, and there were a couple moments where my body was angry and I was ready to throw in the towel. I was worried that if I took a rest day, I wouldn’t be able to handle the make-up miles in the time remaining. But then I took a look at my schedule and saw that I could work in a morning run one day and an evening run the next day, which gave me some semblance of a rest day in between. Allowing myself time to rest (including sleep and ice) is the only way I made it through—and without injuries to boot!

When the going gets tough, it’s easy to talk yourself out of something (and into excuses). A few years ago, I wrote about how I didn’t think to look for shortcuts during a relay until I started getting tired, and I noticed something similar with this challenge. I found myself thinking back to all the runs where I forgot to wear or start my watch and maybe didn’t record any mileage; I thought about all of the walks I took with my husband and my dog and how, if I counted them towards this total, I’d be well above a thousand miles by now and it’d be fine to stop. And while I’m all about flexibility and adjusting goals based on new information and reality, I had to stop myself from being too lenient. I believed I could do it—without all the fine print—so I did!

A beautiful day makes a great motivator. We may have different definitions of what a nice day looks like, but the point is to take real advantage of the days that make your heart sing. We saw a big snowstorm in early December, but the rest of the month was unseasonably warm and I felt foolish being inside. If it was nice enough to be outside, I had to get out there.

Removing obstacles can go a long way. On the flip side of the nice days, 2018 is the Triangle’s wettest year on record, and I can vouch by all of the times I opted to stay inside for a workout instead of go out and run. As a bit of a Christmas gift to ourselves, my husband and I bought a treadmill and I was able to rack up some end-of-year miles on it that made a huge difference in getting to 500. Some friends of mine with similar mileage goals have their gym memberships to thank, too.

***

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, these lessons aren’t just for running 500 miles in a year. In fact, they’re not just for running at all.

I hope you get the chance to take some time to reflect on your year—your goals, accomplishments, and lessons—in order to start 2019 on the right foot. No matter how far your feet take you.

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Battling Burnout

Europe

via GIPHY

Did you know that in Europe, burnout is a legitimate mental health condition categorized in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-equivalent, the ICD?

I learned that from this conversation between Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and author of Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life and Sheryl Ziegler, founder and Managing Director of The Child and Family Therapy Center and author of Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process.

The conversation was enlightening/validating for me in a lot of ways:

It reinforced the concept of burnout as a cycle. It’s “the build-up of stress over time” plus dissonance of what you want or expect and what you’re actually getting. This often leads people to self-soothe in ways that may seem productive and positive in the short-term (hello booze, junk food, social media rabbit holes, and shopping!), but are not healthy ways to engage in self-care in the long-term, which only makes burnout worse.

It validated my feelings about burnout being a real threat to mental health. If you’ve ever experienced burnout (and you probably have), you’re probably going, “DUH!” right about now. But I think the fact that stories of bosses praising employees for taking mental health days go viral because they’re so progressive and rare tells you something about how we view burnout (and mental health in general) in the US—and in certain industries. I can attest to the fact that in nonprofits and academia (where I’ve spent nearly all of my career), burnout kind of comes with the territory.

Note: This is not the post for me to rant about all of the ways nonprofits are stuck in a cycle of burnout, but if you want to learn about it, listen to Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk, The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong (transcript also available).

It taught me a way to recognize it. Since burnout is a chronic condition that builds up, recognizing it can sometimes take a while and be a bit delayed. Tasha Eurich shares the acronym ICE, where I = inefficient, C = cynical, and E = exhausted. Being more inefficient, more cynical, and more exhausted are symptoms/indicators of burnout. Makes sense to me: I’ve snapped out of a zombie-like trance of online shopping, realizing that I was looking for an escape on more than one occasion.

It confirmed my attitude about time off. Having control over my calendar is the best way for me to battle burnout. Just yesterday, I was in a meeting over lunch (which I hate doing) and it ran over (by a long time). I was hangry and stuffed my face on my way into another meeting. That sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but I recognize that not having control over my schedule a pretty good way to make me resent the work and become ICE-y. Making sure to take breaks throughout the day and full-fledged vacations helps me to combat ICE–and I know I have to be mindful about actually making it happen by blocking my calendar and pushing back on meeting invites (especially the ones that happen during lunch!).

It reminded me that there’s a way out. Tasha Eurich shares, “Ultimately, you’ve got three choices if you’re burnt out or unsatisfied. You can keep doing what you’re doing, you can change something, or you can get out.” I think we can all agree that continuing to do what we’re doing isn’t the right answer (even though it’s the easiest in the short run!). If you choose to change something, you might have to get creative, but little changes can really make a big difference overall. So big, in fact, that they might actually get you out of the burnout cycle entirely.

It taught me that we need to talk about burnout and motherhood. Burnout at work is—unfortunately—something of a badge of honor. But a mom who’s inefficient, cynical, and exhausted is faced with a level of judgment that is simply too harsh. I saw this quote recently: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.” Ugh. Let’s stop perpetuating the myth that women can have and do it all (at the same time) and start acknowledging the trade-offs, sacrifices, and support staff required to have and do even some of it at the same time.

So, as we approach the end of the year, a time notorious for burnout because of the work/family/social obligations that come with it, keep tabs on if you’re ICE-y, be mindful on how you’re engaging in self-care, think about ways to take control of your calendar, and, importantly, don’t be a dick—especially to moms.

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Your Personal Board of Directors

Back in March, I attended Durham Women Take No Bull, an event hosted by the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce that celebrated International Women’s Day with two multi-generational panels of successful women. The focus was on women in the workplace (whatever that means for each woman), and one of the discussions that’s still with me was about building a personal board of directors.

Since I run a nonprofit, I know that board composition and management is incredibly important. The board’s insight is invaluable when it comes to making big decisions about the organization, so it’s critical that the board in comprised of the right mix of people: backgrounds, personalities, skillsets, etc. Building an active, engaged board is a challenging task, but it’s essential to the success of the organization.

If you think of yourself as your own entity (and you are) with a vision, a mission, programming, and overhead (can’t ignore overhead!), who would you recruit to be on your personal board of directors? Who’s already on it? What expertise, leadership qualities, and resources do they bring to the table—your table?

Build a Better Board has a great worksheet for nonprofits to assess their board composition and identify needs. Check it out and see if it would be helpful for you! It might require some tweaking; for example, I wouldn’t expect my personal board to give me money or fundraise for me, but you get the idea: think about your personal and professional goals and populate the rows based on what you need to reach them.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t include a little bit about diversity in here. One of the quotes I wrote down from Durham Women Take No Bull was:

“[You need a] network of people who are not like you, who will be honest with you, and who you can be honest with.” (I don’t remember who said it!)

And from Build a Better Board:

“A homogeneous board may not always be ready to deal effectively with problems due to an inherent near-sightedness. Diversity on a board breeds varying opinions, approaches, attitudes, and solutions. It requires open-mindedness, curiosity, acceptance, and responsiveness, which can ultimately facilitate understanding and willingness to work together.”

Now get out there and surround yourself with your biggest fans—but ones that make you do better. Happy board-building!

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My interview on the LEADx Podcast!

I am THRILLED to share that my interview for the LEADx Podcast is live! Go listen to it rightthissecond! And if you’re here because of the podcast, welcome! I hope you find some interesting stuff in these here pages.

LEADx is a digital media and online learning company that is re-imagining professional development for millennials and others. LEADx has amazingly helpful content on all kinds of useful topics from managing an employee with a bad attitude to optimizing your workspace for productivity.

A couple weeks ago, I Skyped with Kevin Kruse, LEADx founder and CEO, to talk about the User Manual that I created back in July.

In the interview, I…

Enjoy!

As a refresher, here’s my User Manual again:

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 11.19.17 AM

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The Wishlist as a Planning Tool

Do you make wishlists of the things you want to own? Whether it’s for my birthday or something to save for, I do. I have an Amazon wishlist, a Pinterest board dedicated to things I want, and an ongoing list in my head.

While an argument can be made for wishlists being material nonsense, I think they can say a lot about the kind of person we want to be. When I think about my wishlists, the things on them are typically beautiful and/or useful things that I wouldn’t buy for myself because they either aren’t necessities or are too expensive to justify without a good reason. But the things on my wishlist help me to work toward becoming the version of myself I want to become. For example, I wanted to be physically strong, so I put adjustable dumbbells on my wishlist and saved up for them, while lifting whatever weights/heavy things I had on hand.

But making a wishlist isn’t just for things, and it’s not just a personal thing.

My organization recently went through a strategic planning process. While “strategic planning” might sound incredibly dull to some of you, I like to think about it as an “actionable wishlist” process instead.

What did I wish for my organization?

  • That we don’t worry about making ends meet
  • That we have the right team in place to do the work we do and the work we want to be doing
  • That our work is effective and helpful to our partners and the field in general
  • That we become a household name (in certain circles)

Knowing these goals, we were able to turn them into more business-y sounding strategic priorities and then work backwards to determine what action steps will be necessary to achieve each of them.

And then we’re off to actually tackle those action steps! Just like I did with my goal of getting stronger: having the weights on my wishlist wasn’t going to make me stronger; and just buying them wasn’t going to do it, either. I had to create an action plan to get stronger, and acquiring those weights were just one step toward granting my wish.

There are a lot of quotes out there about wishing being a waste of time because it’s action that makes dreams come true. I only agree with half of that: sure, action is what makes dreams come true (along with luck, and perseverance, and knowing the right people), but how do we know what to work toward if we don’t wish for it first?

 

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