The Need for “Meantime” Solutions

Last week, a colleague shared that Raleigh-based company, Undercover Colors, recently announced their new product for detecting beverages spiked with certain drugs.  From their website,

Drug-facilitated sexual assault (commonly known as “date rape”) is a global crime that impacts people of all genders. We spent four years in our lab developing a quick, easy and accurate test to help you make informed decisions for your personal safety.

Our test can tell you in as little as 30 seconds if your drink has been spiked with a common date rape drug. It’s discreet, fast, and small enough to fit in your pocket.

My first reaction: Whoa! This is so cool.

My second reaction: But isn’t this just another tool for would-be victims to use? Doesn’t this put the responsibility back on the victim, and not address the actual reason date rape is a thing? <– You know, rapists?

Yes. The answer is yes.

And, it’s what I would call a “meantime” solution.

The Merriam Webster definition of “meantime” is “the time before something happens or before a specified period ends.” In this case, that “something” that happens, or the end of the specified period, is a solution.

Should the solution address the root causes of date rape in order to eliminate it completely? YES, ABSOLUTELY.

But in the meantime, we need to do something to reduce/prevent/thwart attempts. And if that means that people–potential victims–need to attend classes on personal safety and self defense, test their own drinks for drugs–or throw them out–while out with a date or at the club, and/or carry around a self defense weapon that looks like a cat (and yes, I have one), then that’s what they have to do. For now.

Meantime solutions aren’t just for sexual violence. They’re important for all of our systemic, deep-rooted societal issues as well.

A lot of my work is related to tobacco control and prevention. We help communities work toward health-promoting policies that affect the retail environment. For tobacco, this could be prohibiting coupons for tobacco, making tobacco products and advertisements less visible and pervasive, or restricting the sale of tobacco in places like pharmacies or stores near schools.

Those policy options are meantime solutions because the best thing would be to eliminate commercial tobacco as a product entirely. I won’t get into all the reasons that’s not easy or won’t be happening any time soon, because I think you get the idea: while we are working to address the root causes of the very bad things in this world, we need solutions to address the downstream effects of them in the meantime.

And the meantime could last for a while, so let’s make it good.

 

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My User Manual

I’ve been working with a fabulous executive coach, Janeen Gingrich, for a few months, and one of the tasks she gave me was to write my leadership philosophy. I did all of the assignments that are supposed to prep you for writing such a manifesto, but I was really struggling with making the leap from the prep work to the actual philosophy.

Then, Founder and CEO of LEADx, Kevin Kruse, posted an article he wrote on Forbes about how to create a user’s manual–about yourself–for the people you lead. “The basic idea is that managers should create a short guide to their personality, work style and, yes, even quirks, so that their direct reports would know how to best work with them.”

I had to do it. Making such a guide for my team would be a productive and tangible way to communicate a little about myself and my leadership style–even if I couldn’t quite get to the philosophy part–and would help them work with me.

So, I hopped on over to Canva, selected a fun resume template, and made this: Nina Baltierra’s User Manual 3.3

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Things I stole from Kevin:

  • Model number: Kevin used his age as his model number, and I did the same. It creates a nice reminder to update it every year.
  • Personality frameworks: Kevin used Myers-Briggs, Insights Discovery, Big 5, and CliftonStrengths. I used Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, and my Hogwarts House. I think my strengths and weaknesses uncannily align with the strengths and weaknesses of the personality types in the frameworks I selected.
  • Warnings: This is a great way to present work-related pet-peeves. I’m still doing a lot of discovery in this area, so there’s plenty of room for updates as I get more and more feedback from my team.
  • Work cadence: I work hard to minimize work/life conflict, and letting everyone know when I’m at my best and when I’m truly not on the clock will help to achieve that balance.

Things I added myself:

  • Work manifesto: I wrote this work manifesto a few years ago, but recently unearthed it and really loved it. It captures my desire not to dwell on perfection, my goal to be a reliable colleague, that I value a sense of humor, and captures my catchphrase from my MPH program, “Don’t be a dick” (because basically all of the leadership case studies we read boiled down to that one lesson).
  • Leadership values: One of the exercises to prepare me to write my leadership philosophy involved values flashcards. You start with about 70 and narrow them down seven–without overthinking. These are the ones my gut selected.

I shared it with my team and got a positive response (Janeen loved it, too). I’m also happy to report that no one’s been late to my meetings since I sent it out.

What will your user manual include?

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It does not say “RSVP” on the Statue of Liberty

Yesterday (Independence Day 2018), my husband and I traveled from Durham, NC to the ICE detention center in Farmville, VA to participate in an organized protest…but no one else was there to protest and we couldn’t get into the facility to visit detainees.

According to a July 3 article from the Texas Tribune, “Detainees’ ability to make calls has taken on new urgency as separated migrant families see phone [calls] as the crucial lifeline by which they can be reconnected or find out if their children, sometimes held hundreds of miles away, are safe.”

And while calls to certain lawyers and government agencies are free, detainees must pay to call their families. Detainees without sufficient funds in their commissary accounts are denied personal phone calls.

When we returned home, we got straight to work identifying detainees in the Farmville facility and adding funds to their commissary accounts. We were able to put $25 in 12 accounts before getting blocked from making additional contributions by the system.

Now, we’re raising money to fund more phone calls so that families can connect and get at least of sliver of peace of mind during such a tumultuous time.

In order to raise that money, I designed this t-shirt (with a quote from the movie Clueless) on Bonfire.com.

Please buy a shirt (or a few!) and let everyone you know about this campaign, and, more importantly, this injustice.

Thank you!

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Saying “nope” to OPE

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via GIPHY

No, this isn’t a plug for the DARE program. OPE stands for Other People’s Emergencies. And it’s time we talk about saying “no” to them.

A couple months ago, I was hit with a deluge of emails asking–and in one case demanding–I take immediate action on something, or else there would be dire consequences.

My initial reaction was that I had to hop-to and do the things. But why? The “dire consequences” varied in their effect on me, personally, and the organization I run as a whole. Plus, these emergencies weren’t created by me. Why is it my responsibility to put out the fire in your hair? What’s more, I’m a busy person and no one should expect me to do something immediately, especially when their request comes in via email (more on that in a future post).

As Bob Carter (according to Goodreads) said,

“Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.”

And it is SO TRUE.

Look. I get it. We’re all busy, and sometimes, we get to things when we get to them; and sometimes, that’s at the last minute. But really, if you need someone else for it, for goodness sake, give them some notice. Otherwise, the answer is no.

Here’s another quote for you (not sure who said it first–maybe Sean Covey or Dan Millman):

“When you say yes to something, you say no to something else.”

Saying yes to an OPE means saying no to the thing I had planned to do instead. And that thing is most likely more important to me than the OPE. Saying yes to an OPE is also sending a message to others–and myself–that I will allow my time to be hijacked.

I want to be the kind of person who spends her time in ways that reflect what her priorities are. I think it will lead to more satisfaction with work and life and being more productive in general. In order to do that, I have to say “nope” to OPE.

Plus, burning hair smells really bad.

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I spent 90 minutes in a sensory-deprivation tank

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My husband’s company was having a big meeting in Nashville, TN. It was right on the heels of an extra busy time at work for me, so we booked an extra ticket and I joined him for a mini-vacation (for me). Since I had the days to myself, I did some research about what I should do around town.

Float Nashville came up as one of the best-rated Nashville businesses on Yelp. I had never heard of flotation therapy, so I did some research. Basically, you lie in a pitch-black and completely silent tank filled with about ten inches of water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts. And you just…float.

According to the Float Nashville website (and research), floating can help with stress, pain, anxiety, muscle recovery, and sleep issues. Plus, it can be great for meditation and boosting creativity.

I was intrigued and impressed by the reviews, but didn’t book a session right away. But when I had a bad week, complete with an eyebrow twitch that just wouldn’t quit, I scheduled a 90-minute float for my first full day in Music City.

Here’s what happened:

After checking in, I was shown to my dimly lit (private) room, complete with a bench and hooks for my things, the tank, and a shower. When I was ready, I got undressed, put in wax earplugs, and took a shower with shower gel and shampoo (but not conditioner!).

Then, I opened the tank and got in. I was warned that there is no graceful way to enter the tank and I can confirm this. I closed the door behind me.

There was a little magnetic light on the inside of the tank so that I could get situated. Once I felt comfortable (I chose to use the inflatable pillow provided, but this is not necessary), I turned the light off.

And then I just…floated.

It took me probably five minutes to calm my thoughts and breath and find the best position for my arms (which turned out to be bent, on either side of my head, like a cop had just ordered me to put my hands up). Once I took care of those things, I had 85 minutes to go.

I was struck by the temperature of the water and the tank itself. I thought my exposed skin should be cold because that’s what happens in the bathtub, but it wasn’t. The water and the tank were exactly the temperature of my body.  After the temperature, I noticed the weightlessness I experienced. Since the water has so much salt in it, I floated half above and half below the surface. I would experiment with forcing my toes down all the way underwater and letting them bounce back up. I eventually folded my hands and placed them on my belly, but I ended up switching back to my “surrender” position and kept them like that for the majority of my float.

I focused on my breathing, trying to take note each time my mind wandered and redirecting my thoughts to my breathing. I used to meditate fairly regularly for about 30 minutes at a time. 90 minutes is much longer.

My mind wandered a lot. I found myself thinking about work and my professional future, and what I was going to eat for lunch also crept its way into my thoughts on several occasions. What I thought about most, though, was what I was going to say about my float experience. Only half an hour in (I guessed), I thought about if I would recommend it, what I would title this piece, and if I would want a membership at the new flotation therapy place opening up near my office back home. I was being somewhat mindful about my experience, but I wasn’t totally present in the moment: I was thinking about it as if it was already a part of my past.

When I kept perfectly still and succeeded at focusing on my breath, my body would twitch like it does in those moments as you start to fall asleep. Those twitches would wake me up, so to speak, and I’d focus on my breathing again.

When your time is up, music loud enough to be heard in the tank plays; and at some point, I’d had enough. Surely, it’s been close to 90 minutes, I thought. I was relaxed enough, I had done enough thinking (and not thinking), and enough twitching, drifting in and out of pre-sleep. My ears perked up, expecting the “wake up” music to start. I was on alert and agitated, ready to continue my day and finally eat that lunch I had been thinking about.

But the music didn’t come. I calmed myself down again. I got into position, focused on my breathing, and let the womb-like environment carry me back to pre-sleep.

And I stayed there for a while.

Just when both of my biceps twitched in unison, the music blared. It was so jarring, like the sudden assault of my alarm clock, I realized I must have dozed off—or managed to find myself in an unadulterated meditative state of nothingness. So flustered from the sudden arousal from sleep, I practically threw the tank door open and flew out, back into the shower (though I can’t guarantee my exit from the tank was any more graceful than my entry).

While showering again (this time with shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner), I let my heartbeat slow back down and I focused on my breathing again.

As I dried off and got dressed, I was angry with myself for wanting to give up when I felt I’d had enough. I guessed my body was done with relaxing at about the one-hour mark, but once I made it to 90 minutes, I couldn’t imagine cutting my experience short. I wouldn’t have had the chance to savor that last surge of meditative bliss!

I left my room, blow-dried my hair, and sat on the coach in the tiny waiting room while I waited for my Uber to arrive.

It was time for lunch.

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On not having an a-ha moment

I went to a leadership forum last week. It was good! But I had some beef with it. (And I mean more than a certain former NC governor being there as a participant with a name tag that read “John Locke.” Barf.)

Almost every speaker told a story about the “a-ha moment” that catalyzed the pursuit of their passion, the start of their organization, or their drive to lead in general. One speaker talked about the time he and his wife were brutally attacked. Another told the story of the first time he witnessed extreme poverty. Another gave a timeline of a series of unfortunate events that happened in quick succession that caused her to reevaluate her life.

And it wasn’t just at this forum. In public health, I hear these stories all the time. And they’re great! They’re moving and inspiring, and I’m so glad these people had these moments and are willing to share them.

But what if you’ve never had an a-ha moment? What if, early in life, unprompted by a proverbial lightning bolt, you just decided that helping people, fighting for justice, and making the world–or at least your corner of it–a better place was not only what was right, but what you wanted to do?

That’s what happened to me.

I never really had an a-ha moment that made me want to help others or become a leader. Sure, I’ve had experiences that strengthened my resolve after making the decision, like cleaning up an elderly woman’s yard that was being used as the neighbor’s personal dumpster, witnessing mothers with HIV using contaminated water to mix baby formula, getting a self-portrait of a student with a noose around his neck in my anonymous question box when I was teaching, or holding the hands of many young women getting abortions without any support.

But were these a-ha moments? No.

And that’s okay!

While stories are incredibly important to understand and navigate the world around us, I’d like to change the expectation that every leader has to have a story that starts with some sort dramatic sign, calling, vision, or whatever in order to be successful.

What about you? Did you have an a-ha moment? Do you think every successful leader should have one?

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The case for sandwich-tasking

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Have you ever clicked on Word or Excel or some other program that you need to work in, only to discover that it’s already open because you were working in it an hour or so ago and then got distracted and abandoned that task, your spreadsheet getting buried under all sorts of other documents, windows, and tabs that are sparklier and more interesting?

Me neither. (Hahaha, I’m hilarious.)

Last year, I posted “give up multi-tasking” as something to stop doing in order to be successful.

And I still believe it. But it’s HARD.

Here’s the thing about multi-tasking:
I’m pretty sure I didn’t get a job offer (that I really, really wanted) based on my smart-alecky response to a question about multi-tasking. It was many years ago, but even then, I couldn’t bring myself to say, “Yes, I can multi-task, and I am SO GOOD at it!” Because I know that I cannot multi-task and expect any of the things I’m doing simultaneously to be of high quality.

My response in the job interview was something about not believing in multi-tasking, but instead being a really good switch-tasker, in that I can focus on one thing, get interrupted, and change gears really quickly to focus on something else.

But guess what? Switch-tasking is just a sneaky word for multi-tasking. And I was too naive to understand that. (Maybe that’s the real reason I didn’t get the offer.) The start/stop/start process with switch-tasking takes a serious toll: one study found that it takes over 23 minutes to re-focus on the primary task after an interruption (or series of interruptions). 23 minutes!

When I think about interruptions throughout my day, there are far fewer external ones, like coworkers popping into my office to ask a quick question, than internal ones, where, in the middle of writing an email, I suddenly decide that I NEED to check the weather or look up how many songs Neil Diamond wrote for other artists.

So, single-tasking?
Since there’s not a ton of mindfulness involved in my self-interruptions, I need a constant reminder to single-task instead. Sometimes, when I embark on a task, I’ll write it on a pad of paper right next to me. It serves as a visual reminder of the task (literally) at-hand. When it’s done, I cross it off and write down the next task. And when I think of something in the middle of a task I’m working on, I write it down on that same pad of paper and get back to work on the original thing. Yes, that’s an interruption too, but it’s much better than shifting my focus to the shiny new task that popped into my head and could derail me for who knows how long.

But nobody’s perfect.

Presenting: sandwich-tasking!
On my journey to single-tasking utopia, I’ve done a bit of a Bunny Hop. Instead of thinking of something else mid-task, writing it down, and going back to that first task, what usually ends up happening is I think of that new task and switch to it. And this could happen over and over again until I’m eight tasks away from the first one, and none of them are finished.

When I first discovered this pattern, I thought, “I know! I’ll make a rule that when I catch myself switch-tasking, I have to go back to the original task and finish it before I go back to the new one.” But then I realized that that’s interrupting two tasks–the original and the new one–instead of just the first task. So now, the rule is: when I catch myself switch-tasking, I HAVE to complete the new task before I switch back to the original. If the original task wasn’t written down, I write it down because I can easily lose sight of what it was when I finish the new task.

It’s still switch-tasking, sure. But now, I can make a complete task sandwich (with the bread being Task A and the insides being Task B) instead of an infinitely-layered open-faced task sandwich.

Now. Who’s ready for lunch?

 

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