Leadership

Coronavirus, leadership, and The Stockdale Paradox

On March 12,2020 my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with breakfast at a local pancake house and a matinee showing of the movie, Birds of Prey, complete with buttered popcorn and Icee.

We knew about Coronavirus, of course, but the virus was still mostly somewhere else, not here. After all, there were only a few cases in San Antonio.

But we wondered if that would change.

It did.

Schools were on Spring Break that week and we soon learned the break would be extended another week. We wondered if the situation could get as bad for us as it was in Italy at the time. (For more on this, read How COVID-19 went from global to personal.)

I never imagined it could be as bad here as it was there, where the enitre country was shut down in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus and the death rates climbed every day.

Of course, it did spread here.

San Antonio shut down and only essential businesses were open. People stayed home. Schools closed and switched to online learning.

Everything stopped. For me, that meant no hugging the family, not even kids and grandkids, no more group workouts, going out to dinner, bunco, book club. Nothing in person, only virtual.

Still, I was sure it would all be over by June.

Okay! Let’s open back up!

I felt relieved when the orders were lifted and businesses opened back up at 25% capacity several weeks later in Mid-May.

Perfect! Right in time for Memorial Day, Graduations, Summer, Father’s Day, and Independence Day. 

Of course, the virus was still around, but I was like most people who just wanted to get back to normal.

A headline summed up the general feeling pretty well, “Coronavirus is not over, but people are over Coronavirus.” 

As a result of that “being over it” attitude, case numbers spiked sharply. Now, COVID cases are filling hospitals.

It makes me wonder: When will things get back to normal?

June came and went and things only got worse. Now, we’re in July and things aren’t looking so good.  

August? Probably not. September maybe?

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nierenberg said the other day, The virus is not going away. The best we can do is learn how to live with it. Wear a mask, keep your social distance, wash your hands. If you’re sick, stay home. (I’ve paraphrased his message from my memory.)

Okay, fine. If that’s what I have to do, I’ll do it.

I guess.

This is what I don’t understand.

If staying at least 6-feet away from people, staying home, wearing a mask when I go out, and washing my hands constantly can help my family and me stay safe, why don’t I want to do it? I mean, I do it, but I hate every minute of it.

I realized I need a mindset shift to help me better cope with this whole quarantine-COVID situation. Even though I accept the reality of it all, I can’t quite accept that this is our “new normal.” I’m resisting accepting that possibility because I want it all to go away in the worst way.

A few days ago, I told my husband about my internal struggle. He listened and said, Tell me more about that struggle.

I explained, When I think about it, it’s like, I wish it were different. I mean, this sucks. Are we going to have to wear masks at Thanksgiving and Christmas? I want us to be past this.

He said, What you’ve just described is The Stockdale Paradox. That’s covered in the book, Good to Great.

He recently read it as a recommended book about leadership. So…what does my bad attitude about quarantine-COVID have to do with leadership?

Attitude and leadership

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses something called The Stockdale Paradox.

“The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again.” 

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. New York, NY, Harper Collins Business, 2001.

When the author met Stockdale, he asked how he had dealt with his circumstances when he “did not know the end of the story?” (That is, whether he would survive and make it home)

Stockdale’s response:

“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Stockdale said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Coronavirus and the Stockdale Paradox

1. Have faith that you will prevail in the end. 

Believe that we’ll get through this. The virus will eventually be contained. It may be a long time from now and things may be different by the time that happens, but we will get through this. 

2. Have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of the current reality, whatever they might be. 

I would not have thought of my mindset as discipline, but it’s basically having the kind of attitude that says, Well, this is where I am. This is what’s happening. And this is what I can do about it. And then doing that thing. 

Brutal reality

So what is the reality of our current situation? In Texas, where I live, the reality is that more people are getting sick every day and there’s no end in sight. 

Stockdale says “faith that you will prevail” is not to be confused with being optimistic. He says the “optimists” in the POW camp are the ones that didn’t make it.

“They were the ones who said, ‘We’ll be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

That’s me!

I always thought it was good to be optimistic, but according to the Stockdale Paradox, having faith that you can get through even the most difficult circumstances is not the same as optimism, where a person avoids or denies reality, kind of like they wish things were different and hope it all goes away. (Exactly like I was doing!) 

Leadership is personal

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t takes an in-depth look at why some companies make it through difficulties and other don’t.

What it boils down to is leadership. A strong leader has the “discipline to confront the most brutal facts” of their reality. Ignoring or wishing away brutal facts doesn’t change them. Neither does irrational optimism when you’re in a storm.

As much as I want to be optimistic in relation to Coronavirus, I now understand the difference between being optimistic and facing the facts of the current situation. 

This isn’t about politics or predicting the future or hoping for the best. It’s about dealing with the undesired reality of the current situation. And it’s about taking the couragous path of leadership, even if it’s only for my own attitude.

Although you never know how your actions and thoughts can affect the people around you.

Mindset changes everything even if it changes nothing

My attitude now? Wanting and wishing things were different doesn’t make them different. I have to deal with COVID-19’s brutal reality.

I’ll focus on what I can control (wash hands, wear mask, social distance, etc.) and not worry about what’s out of my control (what other people do).

And keep the faith that we will prevail and thrive in the end.

It’s strange, but I feel better prepared to live with quarantine-COVID now.

How are you handling the current situation? What struggles have you faced and what are your thoughts about The Stockdale Paradox and leadership? Feel free to leave your notes in the comments below.

be the light

Bias, racism, discrimination, and invisibility

I’ve thought a lot about the current situation regarding protests for racial justice and my thoughts are all over the place:

  • What can I do?
  • Am I racist and have I let race rule my thinking?
  • Is it time for self-examination in general? 
  • What are my biases?
  • What is racism, anyway?
  • No form of racism is good, but there are definitely different degrees of it, aren’t there?

What is it?

Racism is a noun. A thing. Defined by dictionary.com as:

  1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.
  2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
  3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

Definition #3 is probably what most people think of when they call some one a racist, “hate and intolerance.”

Definition #2 has to do with the idea of systemic racism, such as Jim Crow laws and redlining, as well as “discrimination.”

And according to definition #1, thinking a group or individual is a certain way, positive or negative, because of their race is racist.

But can’t that also be bias? We all have biases we don’t even think about. How can bias always be bad? Except for racial bias, which can lead to stereotypes and discrimination. (For an interesting discussion about racial bias, go to Speaking of Psychology: Understanding your racial biases)

I accept that I have biases, but I’m not aware of racial biases? Do I have those too? And at what point do biases become racism and descrimination?

George Floyd’s murder and the protests that have followed have sparked serious self-examination and memories of conversations, experiences, and books about racism and discrimination.

One experience stands out in my memory. It has to do with being invisible.

Racism and invisibility

When I was in college forever ago I had the most amazing teacher for an American Lit class. He was a tall, balding, bearded man who wore very thick glasses to aid his low vision. My teacher was legally blind, and used a white cane to help him get around campus. 

He was big on class discussion and literary analysis and I wasn’t the most diligent student, but I loved books and could talk about them all day, every day. I loved that class. 

In the Spring semester he assigned The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The book is about a black man who has been through something that has made him invisible, not because he is a ghost, but because people refuse to see him.

To my 19 year-old sensibilities, the work was deep and I muddled through it thinking I had a decent understanding of the novel. 

But when I got toward the end, the story took a strange turn and I was lost. I couldn’t understand what was going on when the main character took on several different personas all at once. 

I decided to visit my teacher during his office hours for some insight. 

The question that stumped me was,  Who was the main character at the end of the story? 

I went back and forth with my teacher in an attempt to analyze the work. He asked me questions meant to develop my understanding, but I was still confused. 

It doesn’t matter what you think

Then our discussion got personal. He asked about assumptions we make about people. He used himself as an example: Why would people assume that I need help opening a door? I’m able-bodied, I just can’t see. Why would someone see me coming half-way down the hall and stand there holding the door open for me while everyone stands back and watches me pass?

He seemed irritated by the gesture, which surprised me because that’s something I could see myself doing. 

I responded, I think people are just trying to help. 

He said, People assume I can’t open a door for myself because I use a walking cane. They don’t know me, but assume they know what I need.

We must have continued to discuss and I must have continued to make my case in the spirit of, Why wouldn’t you just accept people’s thoughtfulness. 

Then he gave another example

He elaborated on the idea of making assumptions and then drove his point home by saying, It’s the same as someone assuming you’re a certain way because you’re Mexican. 

I hadn’t expected that at all and I must have looked stunned, like he’d just slapped me.

He said: When you came to me wanting to enroll in the class, I really didn’t want to let you enroll. I thought, Who is this Mexican girl thinking she can sign up so far into the semester? This is a 2nd year English class. We’d already read a novel that you totally missed. (Well…you see…what had happened was I wanted to drop an 18th Century British Lit snoozer class and enroll in his American Lit class, but it was so far into the semester I needed special permission to make the switch.)

His first impression of me exemplified his bias, prejudice, and even racism. He had thought of me as a late (true) Mexican (also true) who probably wasn’t very smart (false) and not a very good student (It’s complicated). 

But he came to realize he was wrong about me, just like people who assumed he needed and wanted help were wrong about him.

His racial bias caught me off-guard. I would have never guessed I had made such a negative impression on him, but that example helped me understand Ellison’s character and who he was at the end of the book. 

Class discussion about conclusion of The Invisible Man

In typical form I was late to the final discussion on The Invisible Man and snagged a seat by a window close to the back of the crowded classroom that seated probably 40 students of all different majors. 

He stood behind a podium at the front of the classroom and posed the big question to the class. Who is the main character at this point in the story? Different characters call him by different names and he seems to transform into a different person every time. Is he any of them? Is he all of them?

It was one of those lively class discussions where hands shoot up with students eager to get the right answer. 

But none of them did. I had my hand raised too but he didn’t call on me until the rest of the class was out of ideas. 

Finally he called on me and asked, Who is he? 

I said, It doesn’t matter who he is. 

And a girl with perfect hair said, Well then why are we talking about it? 

The whole class laughed. 

He ignored the outburst and pressed further, Why doesn’t it matter?

I said, Because people didn’t see him. They saw who they wanted him to be. To the people he encountered (not just white people either) he was who and what they thought he was. 

The person he wanted to be, his dreams, abilities, aspirations, family, heritage, or plans for the future didn’t matter a bit. 

That’s what made him invisible. 

Just like my teacher and I were invisible to each other when we first met, it turned out. Our biases caused us to falsely assume things about each other, like character, attitudes, and values.

“Otherness” and me

Not being racist is not enough.

When my biases cause me to assume a person thinks and behaves a certain way because of the color of their skin, heritage, gender, physical difference, language, religion, socio-economic status, level of education, or some other “otherness” they become invisible to me. 

If I think, I’m not racist. I’m not the problem, and continue just as I am without examining my own biases and prejudices, then I’m not doing enough to be part of the solution. I can do better. 

I wonder if future generations will understand any of the current protests and calls for social and racial justice. Will they think it insane that policy based on bias, racism, and discrimination went on for so long? Will they be grateful for the more just and inclusive framework they enjoy?

I hope so.

On a related note, read Words and actions reflect your personal policy on the blog.

Healing

Ta-Nehisi Coates looks at the past for a better future

The Water Dancer, a novel with qualities of historical fiction and magical realism by Ta-Nehisi Coates, had been on my Books To Read list for a while. When I finally got to it (I listened to the audiobook) I thought it was brilliant.

The novel is a story about family and freedom told in the context of slavery.

The main character, Hiram, is both the property and the son of Howell Walker, the man whom he calls “Father.” Hiram works as servant to his brother, Maynard.

Hiram is smart and a gifted storyteller with an extraordinary memory. He remembers everything he sees and hears. But he cannot bring forth the full and clear memory he most desires, that of his mother, the “Water Dancer.” His father sold her away when he was about 5. 

He discovers he has another power called conduction and eventually works in the Underground Railroad with the woman known as Moses.  

Hiram’s experiences help him gain perspective and understanding. He witnesses family, belonging, obligation, freedom, justice, and love in action.

The Water Dancer is a great book and I was eager to explore more of the author’s work.

A letter to his son

Between the World and Me is a narrative to his teenage son after the news that police officers will not face charges for the death of a black man in their custody.

The author imparts his hopes and dreams for his son. He speaks of the challenge he will face to protect his body in a society that proves again and again it does not value his body. 

He shares his own experience growing up in the rough streets of Baltimore and of attending Howard University. Of broadening his perspective as he traveled the country and to Europe. 

The author’s deep desire to protect his son comes through clearly.

Also clear is his realization all parents must accept, that his child will have to find his own way.   

A case for righting past wrongs

His article, “The Case for Reparations,” published in The Atlantic magazine June 2014 issue.

It’s a long essay that addresses systemic racism, from slavery to Jim Crow to redlining housing practices and unjust incarceration. Coates makes a compelling case for reaparations in order for America to end the pain of racial divisions. He does not propose exactly what amount or form of “reparations” would be adequate, but he does address bill H.R. 40, Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. 

The author says of the Commission: 

Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.  

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, accessed on theatlantic.com 6/11/2020.

Impacting future leaders

The final Ta-Nehisi Coates item is his guest lecture to the West Point Corps of Cadets in 2017. 

But whether you agree with him a hundred-percent or not, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a deep thinker. His ideas provoke thought and consideration on difficult subjects, like justice, race, American history, and leadership. 

I highly recommend you read or listen to his work. At the very least, he will give you something to think about.

Go to Ta-Nehisicoates.com to learn more.

Must read book

Now read this: The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

If you only read one book this year, read The Gift of Fear – And other survival signals that protect us from violence by Gavin De Becker. 

The opening scene grabs you by the throat and tells the story of a violent attack in progress and then twists the narrative in such a way to confirm the author’s authority on the subject of fear.

To me, fear is a negative thing. Violent crime happens all the time. Shouldn’t I be afraid of that?

According to the author, no. And yes.

This book takes a close look at what fear is and how recognizing fear can be life-changing.

As I listened to the audiobook, I found myself rewinding over and over because I didn’t want to miss a single bit of insight he had to offer about the gift of fear.

Here are some of those insights (noted from the audiobook :

“Trusting intuition is the exact opposite of living in fear.”

“Unwarranted fear has assumed a power over us…It need not be this way.”

“Understanding how fear works can dramatically improve our lives.”

“Real fear is not paralyzing. It is energizing.”

“Worry, anxiety or panic, concern are not fear.”

“Worry is the fear we manufacture.”

“When worrying, ask yourself, ‘How does this serve me?’”

“What you imagine, like what you fear, is not happening.”

“Though the world is a dangerous place, it is also a safe place.”

Intuition vs. fear

I believe in the power of intuition, but always thought of it as a internal compass for making life decisions and choosing life paths in a big picture way.

But the author doesn’t touch on intuition in that context. His take on intuition takes more of a practical, in the moment, small picture way. 

That feeling you get when you walk into a room and something doesn’t feel right, for instance. You don’t know what it is and can’t explain it, but you don’t feel comfortable there. Something tells you to leave.

Do you listen? Or do you deny the feeling and rationalize that you sound like a crazy person because it’s fine. And you come up with a handful of reasons you are right to suppress that feeling. 

The author analyzes how victims of violence saved themselves by listening to their intuition.

As I listened to the book I thought of exact instances in my life when I did the latter and realized that I had failed to see that “feeling” as my intuition, failed to recognize its power. 

I recommend this book for everyone, especially people who tend to worry or fear things that could happen, but aren’t actually happening. 

So, tune into your intuition, listen to it, and act accordingly.

The Gift of Fear is a quick read. I listened to the approximately 3-hour long audiobook (abridged) on Libby.

To learn more about Libby, read Want to read more books? Maybe Libby can help on the blog.

3 Audiobooks well worth a listen

3 Audiobooks well worth a listen

I read each of these audiobooks via my local library Libby app and they are all well worth a listen.

Two non-fiction memoirs and one novel. There are similar topics in each of them – family, poverty, memory – but they address each in different ways.

Educated – A Memoir by Tara Westover

Tara Westover was raised off the grid. She had a non-conventional upbringing, including working in her father’s junkyard, not attending school, never seeing a doctor, helping her mother prepare herbal remedies, and assisting her mother on midwife calls.  Her father prepared the family for “end of days” and distrusted all forms of government. 

But she wanted to go to school, so she studied on her own and got help from an older brother. 

She had never set foot in a classroom before her first day of classes at Bringham Young University. It was then that she discovered how much she had to learn.

I found her story incredible. It brought to mind how we are each formed by our experiences and how the beliefs, attitudes of those who raise us also make a deep and lasting impression. Those attitudes help define who we are and what we believe. 

She says the book is an account of her memories, which may be different from her sisters’ or brothers’ memories.

My sister and I can remember an incident from our childhood but we remember it with vastly different details. We’d each swear we were right about it.

Such is the nature of memory. 

But how does a person raised in this way go on to excel academically at BYU, Cambridge, Harvard? 

It’s a fascinating story.

For more information about the book and author go to tarawestover.com

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir and commentary about what it took for the author to break out of the cycle of poverty and abuse.

His story exemplifies a deep cultural divide between many poor American whites from the Smoky Mountain region and middle class America and the American dream.

He points out that it’s very hard for a child to see his way out of a bad situation unless someone shows, teaches, and believes he can. 

His grandparents were that force in his life, and while their’s was an abrasive and tough-love type of nurturing, he learned how to figure things out, work for what he wanted, and see that he could break the cycle of poverty and addiction. 

For more information about the book go to to the publisher’s book page at harpercollins.com.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Kya is a young girl abandoned by her family and left alone in the marshlands of Norh Carolina. She comes to be known as the Marsh Girl by the people in town. 

But she stays away from nearly everyone and trusts only a select few.

The marsh is her refuge. Kya loves her home in the marsh and finds connection and solace there.

Her days are filled observing, listening, and drawing what she sees. In this way she creates her life’s work of chronicling life in the marsh—birds, insects, soil. 

When a dead body is found near her home, Kya becomes a murder supsect.

I found myself engrossed in the mystery and didn’t want to accept the possibility that she could be removed from her beloved marsh.

Owens’s writing, especially her descriptions of the landscape as seen through Kya’s keen eye, allows the reader to see, feel and love the relentless cycyles of the marsh.

I couldn’t help but feel that pulling her from it would be the real tragedy. 

The audiobook, read by Cassandra Campbell, is beautifully done. She performs each character’s voice distinctly.

For more information about the book go to the author webpage at deliaowens.com.

So if you’re looking for a good book, you can’t go wrong with one of these books.

For more information about Libby, see Want to read more books? Maybe Libby can help

The Radium Girls

Book recommendation: The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls, subtitled The dark story of America’s shining women, by Kate Moore is the true story about a group of young women, employees of the Radium Dial company in the early 1900s, who sounded the alarm about the dangers and health risks of radium. It’s an incredible story of courage, friendship, and resilience. Despite repeated setbacks, they fought their employer to tell the truth about what made them sick. 

A heartbreaking story. 

Imagine you’re a young girl living in a town with few opportunities for work. You’d like to help your family and yourself because you dream of getting married and starting your own family, but without money, that seems like a far-off dream. 

Then a clock making factory opens up in your neighborhood. They make a sought after watch whose dial numbers glow in the dark and they need young, hardworking girls to paint the dials. The job pays well and you’d be working with your friends. It’s perfect. You’re happy to contribute to your family and you love your work. 

When you begin to experience strange symptoms, like a sore jaw and aching teeth, you go to the dentist and he says your tooth must be pulled. And then another. Then another. And then your hips and knees begin to ache and the doctor has no idea what’s wrong with you. 

Your symptoms grow worse and most of your earnings, because you’re still dragging yourself to work, go toward doctor visits and medicine to relieve your symptoms.

But the cause of it all is a mystery. Then your friends start dying and you wonder if you’ll soon follow. 

This is the story of The Radium Girls. 

I found the story fascinating and horrible. Meticulously researched. The author, Kate Moore, explains in the Author Notes that she first heard of the Radium Girls when she directed the play that dramatized the story: Radium Girls: A Play in Two Acts by D. W. Gregory in London. The story so intrigued her she wanted to learn more. In the writing of the book, she researched historical records, interviewed descendants, some of whom shared letters, and journals of the women involved. 

When radium was first discovered by the Curies in the late 1800s, people didn’t know what to make of it. Products, elixirs, and serums containing radium had snake oil, cure-all claims. No one had made a connection to radium and radioactive poisoning. 

The glow in the dark property of radium made it an indispensable tool for soldiers on the battlefield during WWI. And the glow in the dark radium dials became a big money-maker for Radium Dial Company. 

Lip, dip, paint

In order to get a pen-like tip of the brush, they would lip, dip, paint.  

It meant bringing the tip of the brush up to their lips, moistening the brush with the tongue, and twist the handle as they pulled the brush away, making the tip fine like the point of a sharpened pencil. Then they’d dip the fine point in the radium and paint the dials. 

The lip, dip, paint went on all day every day.

Radium exposure is deadly, but they didn’t know that then.

They also didn’t know that their company had another factory in NJ whose employees suffered similar symptoms and fought a similar battle.

These women chose to stick together and fight for what they believed was right. They found a champion, attorney Leonard Grossman, to fight their case against their employer in the courts. Their cause became a battle for social justice, truth over profit, corporate responsibility, and employee safety. 

Author, Kate Moore, did a beautiful job researching the stories and breathing life into the brave women and their families who lived with the misguided belief that they could trust what their company and government told them, that they would be protected from harm and that their company would never intentionally put them at risk for profit’s sake. 

For more information about the book and author, go to theradiumgirls.com

The story of the Radium Girls are soon to come to life on film. Go to radiumgirlsmovie.com for more information.

End of Your Life Book Club

Book recommendation: End of Your Life Book Club

This is a book recommendation for The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. (I listened to the audiobook version read by Jeff Harding.) 

Last December, I was looking for something good to read and found this title on my running list of books someone has recommended, either somone I know or some other source, like a magazine or newspaper.

I didn’t remember what the book was about or who had recommended it, but the audiobook was available on Libby so I decided to check it out.

A 2-person book club?

The book is the story is of a mother and son, both readers, who start their 2-person book club when the mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They will spend many hours in conversation as he accompanies her to doctor appointments and chemo treatments and agree to read the same book so they can talk about it.

Judging from the title alone, it seems like the story would be gloomy and sad, but I didn’t find it so at all. 

Here are a few things I loved about it:

I love that the core of the book is conversations between a mother, Mary Ann Schwalbe, and her son, Will Schwalbe, the author of the book.

Through the long hours of chemo treatments with his mom he gets to know her like he never had before. He learns about her younger years and life choices, and what shaped her into the woman who became his mother. 

Through these conversation the reader learns about this extraordinary, smart, humble, and compassionate woman. She believed she had a responsibility to help people if she could. And even though she knew she couldn’t do everything, she knew she could do something. And so she did. Alot, including working with refugee families in Afghanistan and work tirelessly to build a library there. 

And, oh yes, books

As you might have guessed, The End of Your Life Book Club is about books, how reading can change your life. It’s about how stories relate the shared human experience. 

I’m grateful for the opportunity to sit in on this 2-person club. And I’m grateful for a chance to meet someone like Mary Ann Schwalbe. Her legacy lives on through this story.

If you’re looking for a good read, I recommend it. 

End of Your Life Book Club is available in audiobook, ebook, and print. I encourage you to look for it at your local library and Libby.

For more information about the Libby app, read Want to read more books? Maybe Libby can help.

Listen to this

“Becoming Wise” podcast offers morsels of wisdom

I was looking for a podcast to listen to, something short, but packed with insight. That’s how I stumbled on the podcast called “Becoming Wise”

The name intrigued me because, How do you become wise? And what is wisdom anyway?

But as I perused, I saw that the podcasts are short, around 10 minutes long, so they’re like morsels of wisdom, and feature big-idea people like Brené Brown, Seth Godin, and Desmond Tutu.

The last episode was published July 2019 so it looked like the podcast may be done, but I decided to give it a listen anyway.

Compassion changes everything

One segment title caught my attention: Compassion for Our Bodies. I thought, Oh yeah. Let me check out what they have to say about having compassion for my ever-changing, menopausal body.

The podcast host, Krista Tippett, introduced Matthew Sanford, an innovator of adaptive yoga who’s been in a wheelchair for 30 years, since an accident that killed his father and sister when he was 14 -years old.

Mr. Sanford says, “Your body, for as long as it possibly can, will be faithful to living. That’s what it does.” This from a man who has endured numerous operations and painful recoveries. He says of his experience, “My body didn’t ask to get hammered and break, and to have its spine shredded, and many bones broken. But it went, ‘Ok. Let’s regroup. Let’s go.’” He also says, “I look at places — skin on my body, old pressure sores and old stuff that happened — where you can see the skin is struggling to stay and hold. I don’t think, ‘It’s not holding, dang it.’ I feel like, ‘Man, it’s working as hard as it can.’

Whoa! How true! 

That philosophy is something I’ve tried to practice for a while now, but what a great reminder. The interview got me thinking, How can this idea help me as I age and my body changes and I’m less able to do what I used to do?

Mr. Sanford’s insight opened me up to have more compassion for my body and gratitude that it “for as long as it possibly can, will be faithful to living.”

How can I dislike any part of my body when it does nothing but work for me, even when I eat too much, skip my workout(s), or don’t get enough sleep?

The episode had me saying, Thank you, body. You’re amazing and wonderful and I’m sorry I don’t treat you like it sometimes.

A small bite of food for thought

If you’re looking for a small helping of something of substance, I recommend “Becoming Wise” Podcast. I like to listen to an episode and mentally chew on it for a while.

Here’s a sample of some other episode titles:

Courage is Born from Struggle with Brené Brown
Beauty is an Edge of Becoming with John O’Donohue
We Choose Our Own Tribes with Seth Godin
Healing Through Story with Desmond Tutu
The Everyday Gift of Writing with Naomi Shihab Nye
Evil, Forgiveness, and Prayer with Elie Wiesel

That’s quite a sampling, don’t you think?

There are a total of 37 episodes. Happy listening!

For more reading on the blog about “Aging” read Getting older and how to be okay with it

For more information about Becoming Wise or Krista Tippett’s other work, go to The On Being Project at onbeing.org.

If you have a chance to listen, share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Read more books

Want to read more books? Maybe Libby can help.

If it’s been a while since you read a book or just think it’s time for you to make the time to read more, allow me to introduce you to Libby.

“What’s Libby?” you ask. 

Read more books with Libby
This is the Libby App

Libby is a free app where you can borrow ebooks and digital audiobooks from your public library. You can stream books with Wi-Fi or mobile data, or download them for offline use and read anytime, anywhere. All you need to get started is a library card. 

https://help.libbyapp.com/6144.htm accessed 1/27/2020

If you want to read more books, Libby may be able help. You can stream or download magazines, ebooks and audiobooks in a wide range of subjects and genres.

Screen shot of The Dutch House Audiobook

I’m currently enjoying the audiobook “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett, read by Tom Hanks. The book is beautifully written and I’m toward the end of it now. (I have a feeling I know what’s going to happen, but we’ll see.) Tom Hanks is a great narrator, though I admit, at times he sounds just like Woody from Toy Story : ) 

With Libby, you can read ebooks anytime, anywhere on your phone or tablet and listen to audiobooks while driving or cooking dinner.

To get started with Libby. 

1. Get a library card from your local library. 

2. Download the Libby app on your mobile device. 

3. Link your library card to Libby. 

4. Find a book or audiobook on the app.

5. Start listening/reading.

While I use Libby a lot these days, I’m finding it important to keep reading print books as well.

For these reasons:

1. I have to hold a book in my hands and focus on the text. That means no multi-tasking. 

2. I give the writer my full attention. It’s only courteous if you think about it. He or she is talking to me!

3. It forces me to practice reading the words on the page, instead of skimming the text, a bad habit I’ve developed by skimming headlines online.

Take a look. It’s in a book.

If you really want to read more but haven’t gotten started, Libby can help you “turn the page” toward a more robust reading life.

For more information about Libby, availability, and how to get started, go to LibbyHelp

Think listening to an audiobook is cheating? Sometimes it kind of feels that way to me too, but this article in Discover magazine offers an interesting insight to reading vs. listening: Audiobooks or Reading? To our brains, it doesn’t matter

Have you been thinking about reading more? Do you have a book you’ve been dying to read? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Photo by Mark Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

A small victory outside my comfort zone

I had a Book Signing at the Barnes and Noble store in Corpus Christi a few weeks ago and it was a big deal for me for a couple of reasons.

First, it was my 1st ever Barnes and Noble event and, to me, brick and mortar stores are still really important. (See my post 4 Ways in person shopping is good for your health). There’s nothing like talking to other people who love books. (Somehow I hadn’t realized what a major book-nerd I am!)

Second, I would be among strangers. I was not in my hometown and my friends and family wouldn’t be there. I would be talking to people I’d just met. Except for my husband, Mark, who patiently sat and listened to me read from my book  : ) I’d be meeting all new people.

Here are my top 5 takeaways:

Opportunity lies past your comfort zone.

Maybe it helped that my husband was with me and I knew I’d have at least one person in the audience. I loved being there and seeing my book among a bunch of other books. It didn’t matter that I was in the Cookbook section and near the toys and games.

It was a great reminder about why I write and what that’s all about.

I sold 2 books (yay!) and the 2 women who bought them could relate to my novel’s plot for different reasons. It was a really great reminder that even though my story’s not for everyone, it’s for some people. I have to get out of my own way and just tell the story. Then I have to work to help people find it.

Practice, practice, practice.

Only 3 people stopped at my table and I was there 2 hours, so I read from my book and did a Q & A session. That’s right, my husband asked me questions like, “How do you come up with names for the characters of your book?” and “Do you know what’s going to happen when you write? Do you know how your story will end?” I used a small sound system and read random chapters of my book, which was great practice for my audiobook recording.

Here’s the thing that’s really interesting about that: My husband, Mark, knows this story, A Song for Jessica, and my process better than anyone else. But he asked questions he was genuinely curious about.

I learned that it’s very different to know something in my head and another thing entirely to talk about them. Speaking to an audience of one was very good practice.

Nothing’s wasted.

A writer commented on Twitter the other day about coming across a story she’d written years ago and had never developed but then fell in love with it again. And she said, “Nothing’s ever wasted.” That’s kind of how I feel about the Q & A and reading to my husband.

Everyone has a story.

When I first decided to self-publish my book and started learning about marketing, one of the people I follow said, get out of your office and meet people. She said authors tend to do great online and in ads and marketing, but we struggle to get in front of people. I’ve been the opposite. I love meeting and talking to people, even if they don’t want to buy my book. I’m always amazed by the compelling and fascinating stories of regular people and the choices that determine outcomes. I’m reminded that I’m still writing mine.

A small victory

When it seems like you’re not making much progress and your efforts feel pointless, remember that small victories can be hugely satisfying.

And bear in mind:

  • Opportunity lies past your comfort zone.
  • Practice is good.
  • It’s okay if your work isn’t for everyone.
  • Nothing’s wasted.
  • Everyone has a story.

Thanks to Jessica and the Barnes and Noble Corpus Christi staff for welcoming me to their beautiful store. I’m grateful for the opportunity.