Category Archives: misc

On Conan and Kindness

I didn’t have a lot invested in the Conan O’Brien vs. Jay Leno standoff, but I followed with some interest. What really hit me, though, as it did many people, was the last bit of Conan’s goodbye speech on his last episode of “The Tonight Show”:

Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.

Conan has been lauded by the press and public alike for his classiness in this situation, especially with regard to his goodbye remarks. But this sentence has particularly resonated with many folks. Part of it is because Conan comes off as incredibly sincere and humble. But I think that another reason is because he mentions something we don’t talk about often enough: kindness.

You may think that “kind” is not a particularly noteworthy adjective. It means “nice,” right? I don’t think so. In my mind, being nice is more about being polite. Kindness, in my mind, implies a greater degree of sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Nice is something you might be because you’re supposed to be, or it will get you something; kindness is more about the other person’s feelings, whether it’s a close friend, a colleague or a complete stranger. In the end, I believe, it’s more important to be kind than to be nice.

Why am I seeing this line quoted everywhere? Why is this hitting home? I think because we all recognize the importance of kindness, and also how unique it is to see someone call it out. The concept has become special, which is great, in a sense. But I wish it didn’t seem like such a novelty.

Hearing this line, I recalled the National song “Baby, We’ll Be Fine,” where the insecure protagonist desperately tries to navigate everyday life. “All we’ve got to do is be brave and be kind,” he reassures himself. I’m not sure how Matt Berninger’s protagonist turns out, but I hope he meant being kind to himself. That’s an important side of kindness, too. We are often too hard on ourselves, too critical and too demanding. Let’s forgive ourselves a little bit. Let’s give ourselves a break. We can’t take anyone for granted, much less ourselves.

Anyhow, kudos to Conan. People say he’s one of the nice guys in show business, and that may be true. And that’s great. But if he’s one of the kind guys in show business? Amazing things are definitely in store.

Work Hard And Be KindImage by Clay Larsen

Who Are These People and Why Are They Running for Senate?

So, I have a question about this wacky Senate race we get to have in Massachusetts. Everyone says Martha Coakley is the frontrunner over Mike Capuano. (I’m not even taking Khazei and Pagliuca seriously.) But… why? I’ve only seen one independent poll give her a lead, but that was a month ago. (A more recent, but still several weeks old poll commissioned by Coakley’s campaign also gives her a big lead, as does an unscientific poll at kennedyseat.com.) I’m wondering how much of this is actual data versus expectation. Anyone have any supplemental information?

Here’s the problem I’m having with this campaign. It’s hard for me to find any comparative information between the two leading Democratic candidates. Boston.com is letting me down bigtime, and KennedySeat.com, while promising, still seems incomplete. I’m familiar with Capuano because I live in Somerville and he’s my Congressman, but if he’s been harboring these big-time ambitions for a while, he did himself a disservice by not getting some name recognition outside of his district. People don’t know who he is. (Heck, I’ve at least heard of Barney Frank and William Delahunt and — when he was still in Congress — Marty Meehan.) Capuano’s been off in D.C. — doing great work, in my opinion — while Coakley has had the benefit of being in Massachusetts and having her name come up fairly often. So I guess I understand why she is considered the frontrunner, data or not. But that’s not enough for me.

I have nothing against Martha Coakley, and I think most of her views are in line with mine, but I need more information. I’m really looking forward to the debates to begin to see what the ideological differences are between these two candidates. The first debate is Monday night at 7PM and will be aired on NECN. I’ll be at pilates class, unfortunately, but I can’t wait to read/watch the recaps and catch future debates down the road.

Interestingly, I follow both Capuano and Coakley on Twitter. The Capuano team is much more savvy with how to use the tool, getting in touch with the liberal community on Twitter, retweeting and (sparingly) responding to followers. Coakley is doing the same, though I think to a lesser degree, but here’s what really bothered me. I went to her website to read up on her positions, and there was no information on anything remotely international: Afghanistan, Iraq, national security, terrorism, North Korea, you name it. I was a little appalled. I understand she’s been working at the state level, but if you’re running for a Senate seat, you cook up some views on international affairs and let them be known. (The only statement I could find from Coakley on Afghanistan, in an interview with NECN’s Jim Braude, was pretty unsatisfying.) So I sent a message to her via her Twitter account — both a direct message and an @ reply — inquiring about statements of her views on international affairs. No response. For that, she gets docked a couple of points in my book — if you’re going to be in the space, you can’t just be broadcasting. You have to be listening. Because people will talk to you. And if you don’t answer, it’ll leave a sour taste in their mouth.

Those are just my initial observations on what is sure to be a long and annoying race. :-) More to come on this topic, I’m sure!

The Fight Against Fear

Chris Brogan linked to a post by his “Trust Agents” partner-in-crime Julien Smith about becoming child-like. In the post, he writes that the more we retain the adaptability and curiosity we are born into the world with, the better for both our business dealings and our day-to-day lives. I agree with this wholeheartedly. These traits, along with wonderment, sincerity and idealism, are sometimes considered “childlike” but, in my mind, retaining a healthy sense of each of these open our eyes to more of what the world has to offer — and more of what we can offer it.

Smith goes on to lay out some principles to train ourselves to remain flexible. But something that Smith wrote when explaining the third principle, “overcoming fear,” caught my eye:

But mistakes are the stuff of life– it’s how we learned not to touch the burner on the hot stove.

…there’s a real problem with the way we’re brought up. We learn by making mistakes, but those mistakes also teach us to fear a lot more than we need to. We need to find ways to absorb the idea that the worst will usually not (or never) happen. How can we do this?

Since Smith invited feedback to his post, I decided to oblige :-)

I completely agree with what Smith says here about the need to make mistakes — it’s the only way we learn, whether it’s getting an answer wrong on the math test or scrubbing a project because it’s not working out as planned. Failing forward — I’m all about it.

But what got me is this sentence: “We learn by making mistakes, but those mistakes also teach us to fear a lot more than we need to.” I don’t think it’s making a mistake that necessarily makes us afraid — and I think this is an important clarification to make — it’s people’s reactions to our mistakes that make us afraid. If I screw something up, how I feel about it will largely depend on how other people feel about it. If my boss freaks out and yells at me, I’m going to feel a lot worse — and a lot more gunshy the next time — than if my mistake is met with understanding and a constructive conversation about how to learn from it and move on.

That’s not to say that all mistakes should receive some sort of a passive reaction — you wouldn’t just sit back and let a child touch the burner on the hot stove and then chat with them about it afterward. But the reaction can be firm, if necessary, while not being discouraging. More often than not, fear is bred from an expectation of the consequences of  doing wrong. But what if we stop treating mistakes as something done wrong? A mistake is simply one of the possible consequences of trying. The more we can make mistakes into learning opportunities rather than opportunities for recrimination, the more we can re-channel fear into motivation.

So, how do we do this? It’s easier said than done. We can’t always choose our bosses. We can’t control how people react to what we do or don’t do. But to the best of our ability, we can seek nurturing environments. We can encourage cultures that are supportive, not reactive. We can set an example and hope for the best. We can steel ourselves against those who try to bring us down for our mistakes with the knowledge that we will learn and do better work next time. It is not ideal, but we can do something to counter the fear and turn mistakes into opportunities.

One last point: Smith also says that human beings are “naturally submissive.” I’m not sure how much I buy this. Going back to the crux of Smith’s post — the point that we need to regain a childlike sense of adaptability and curiosity — what about a childlike sense of fearlessness? Where there is fearlessness, there is entrepreneurship, experimentation, free thinking and speaking. Perhaps that is another childlike quality we should try to hold onto.

Photo by Fabien Belcourt via Flickr

Joining the BlackBerry World

I’ve spent the past couple of years essentially counting down the days until my contract was up for renewal and I could get a smartphone. I admit to being hopelessly addicted to connectivity, and as well as my Samsung Sync served me, it could not completely sate my thirst.

Snapshot_20090621_1

For a while, I thought about the iPhone. Who wouldn’t, really? Heck, with the iPhone 3GS coming out  so recently, the timing would have been perfect. Alas, I am working with both a budget and a penchant for a keypad. So, while I did a cursory examination of other smartphone options (my husband, for instance, loves his Samsung Blackjack, the most recent version of which is the Jack), I had a pretty strong feeling I was going to end up with a Blackberry. And I did – the Curve 8900.

I got my Curve at the AT&T store in Porter Square, where I initially browsed my options last weekend. As excited as I was to get my new phone, I was sad to see my old one go. Part of it is that I usually have some resistance to change, even when the change is for the better. I remember when I got my Sync in June 2007, right before I went to the Cape for a long weekend, and I grumbled the whole weekend about the functionality. But as I stood in the store on Saturday, watching the salesman switch all (well, OK, most) of my data over to my new Curve before he handed me the SIM-less, powered off Sync, I felt a pang of sadness. I won’t lie. After all, my phone is my right-hand man. And I was giving it an honorable discharge.

Any sadness, however, quickly abated as I thought of all the cool new features my Curve would have. One that particularly excited me was the Google Calendar sync, which may remove the last obstacle between me and regular Google Calendar usage. My problem is that I do a lot of my social planning in transit, so a good ol’ day-planner usually does the trick. As awesome as Google Calendar is, there’s been no way to bring it with me — until now. In addition, I would get a more powerful web browser, a better camera, greater ease of tweeting and sharing photos/videos and, of course, a host of delightful time-wasting apps.

When the Curve finally landed in my grimy little paws, it didn’t have a lot of juice left, so I couldn’t play with it that afternoon as much as I would have liked. But after about a couple days’ worth of use, here are my first impressions:

Everyone is everywhere: At my softball game last week, one of my teammate’s roommate showed up, and she had a Curve. I asked her what she thought of it. “It’s great, if you like being connected to everyone you know every second of the day.” I didn’t know exactly what she meant until my phone started buzzing and blinking every time someone e-mailed me, texted me or left a comment on Facebook.

Everyone is everywhere, thrice over: At first, if someone e-mailed me, my “Messages” icon would light up, as well as my Blackberry inbox and my Gmail app. Not to mention my Gmail in my browser that I’ll have to deal with when I get back to my computer. Same goes for Facebook notifications — I’d get them via e-mail, via the Facebook app and then as notifications on Facebook.com. I solved part of the problem by disabling my Gmail and Facebook apps, but I still feel like I’m mowing the lawn twice. I wish there was a better way for Gmail and Facebook to understand that if I see a notification or read an email in one place, it can be mark read in the other. Room for innovation, I guess.

That said, connectivity makes me happy: I like having more information at my fingertips, more ways of reaching people, more opportunities for engagement.

Mmm, shiny: I also, let’s face it, just like having a new toy. I am not a big gadget person, but I do like a good phone. I’m still treating it somewhat like a newborn, being overly cautious and neurotic and curious, but soon, I’m sure, I’ll be beating it up just like I do the rest of my electronics.

I am a n00b: On both Monday and Tuesday mornings, I woke up to find my phone drained of battery power. Since the previous evenings, I had turned it off, this seemed awfully peculiar. Last night, I accidentally left it plugged in, so I’ll have to wait and seee exactly how the battery continues to behave. One thing I have to get used to is how much more of a battery drain smartphones are than standard phones.

Mmmm, apps: My favorite app so far has been UberTwitter, which more or less incorporates every Twitter feature I’ve been dying to have on the go — retweet, reply, viewing Twitpics, viewing @replies, viewing links — heck, even trending topics. The only thing I need to do is figure out how to make it not tell me every time someone sends a tweet. I know I saw that menu option somewhere…

Synced up: So far, the Google Calendar sync has proved to be more of a toy than a life-changer, but time will tell. I added my first event to my calendar via my phone yesterday, so there’s progress.

Overall, I’m pleased. I can’t wait it starts to feel a little less new and alien, because my new phone and me, we’re gonna have a good ol’ time.