The Deep Dark Email Abyss

I recently read a new article called “Killing Me Softly: Electronic communications monitoring and employee and spouse well-being” and I immediately thought of the number of people this issue impacts in the Bay Area, let alone the US at-large. In essence, the study found that the culture of an organization was more important than the actions. A culture that expects employees to check email 24/7 means more than the hours an individual actually spends checking email outside of work. This is a classic example of “spillover“, or stress that bleeds from one area of our life to another.

While this is a mild stressor, I think it is one more example of chronic stress and an inability to “turn off” our brains and simply live in the present moment without worry about the newest email alert or slack notification.

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I vividly remember sitting in the car as I was about to go drive off to see Christmas lights with a friend. I was so relaxed, happy, and suddenly inbound slack messages began popping up on my phone. This was 8pm on a Sunday evening; I felt an immediate wave of frustration, but also sadness that my coworker was working on her Sunday night. I felt like I had no choice but to respond right then since she was working on a task for one of my clients and had a question. I saw there and my friend asked, “Why do you have that on your phone?”

I was dumbstruck. My response, “Everyone has it.” Yup, and would you jump off the bridge too? He just kind of looked at me, shaking his head. He did not even have his work email available on his phone. When he left work, he left work.

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It’s not quite that simple at every organization. A culture like this creates such a sense of urgency and an inability to turn off. I even brought my laptop on my one real vacation of the year and responded to emails that easily could’ve waited. One of my clients even told me that I should get offline and go enjoy my trip…

Research shows that its not just the employee that suffers, but also their significant others suffer as well. Just think about the ripple effects that come from one bad workplace. Pretty crazy, right?

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Luckily, I don’t have that experience at my current organization, which is a blessing. I do not take it for granted and fully enjoy my evenings and weekends free from pings of any type. And even if there is a ping, there is not an expectation that it will be answered before 9am the next business day.

I know not all of us are that lucky. So, what are some strategies to deal with a workplace with the expectation of constant communication?

  1. Have a very blunt conversation with your manager–the research is backing you up! It’s not just about you; it’s about your significant others and your on-the-job productivity.
  2. Turn off notifications.
  3. Set the example; when one person sets boundaries, it can set off a positive chain reaction.
  4. Practical tips: leave your phone out of sight or turn the phone off at a certain time each night.

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Do you feel tied to your email? What is your company culture like?

Ted Talk Friday: What Makes Life Meaningful

I saw this talk and found it incredibly accessible, interesting, and thought-provoking. A favorite line: “Purpose is an anchor we throw out into the future.” Meaning-making is a key component to what it means to live a good life; Dr. Steger does a great job exploring this topic and tying in both his research and his own (often hilarious) personal experiences. Steger also provides helpful action steps on how to learn to make more meaning in your life.

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What makes life feel meaningful for you?

What makes a leader?

I heard about a new study on NPR this morning about what differentiates leaders from “followers.” I think these terms are also far too black and white; leaders and followers exist on a continuum. I have always been interested in what makes a leader lead and a follower follow. In high school, I was definitely a follower. I lacked confidence in my abilities across a number of areas. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps because I was simply a teenager. It might also be due to the school I attended; I was surrounded by very intelligent people (and generally people on the aggressive, competitive side). I am not aggressive and I would typically rather follow than fight to be a leader over small issues.

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The summer after my freshman year of college, I was lucky enough to be accepted into a summer program focused on Ethics and Servant Leadership. During the program we had the chance to learn more about want it means to be a servant-leader; this completely changed my perspective on what and who a leader is. A leader can be strong, opinionated, and empathetic without being aggressive. This reframe shifted my mindset, now I want to lead because I value my opinions and know I can express them with confidence while having a conversation around what is best for a group or organization.

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So what about this NPR story? Well the study covered in the story found that leaders are those who are willing to make decisions for a group in the same way that they make their own personal decisions. These people trust their logic, instinct, and are willing to accept responsibility for a group outcome. “Followers” typically struggle with responsibility aversion. Being a leader doesn’t mean you are necessarily authoritarian, leaders often reach consensus with a group and then take responsibility for that choice.

At a time when we have such scary models of what it means to be a leader, it’s important that we think about what makes a leader and how we can train people to learn to lead well. Being a leader does not make you pushy, arrogant, or bossy–it means you are willing to take a risk, often for others, and take responsibility for your (or your group’s) actions.

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What does leadership mean to you? Do you consider yourself to be a leader?

References:

Micah G. Edelson, Rafael Polania, Christian C. Ruff, Ernst Fehr and Todd A. Hare. Computational and neurobiological foundations of leadership decisions. Science: August 2, 2018. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat0036

Ted Talk Friday: How to gain control of your free time

I talk about this ALL the time–to the point where it might be obnoxious if I’m being honest here. We all have the same number of hours each day. While it might not feel that way, we make the decisions of how we spend our time. If you want to do something, something else might have to be cancelled or pushed off. It’s all about priorities and boundaries.

 

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What do you prioritize in your life?

The reverberations of a loss

Whenever we read an obituary of a young twenty-something-year-old with no cause of death listed, it typically leaves one incredibly sad option: suicide.

I found out that a classmate took his life about a week or so ago; you never would’ve known or guessed by talking to him. I can only imagine the pain he must have been in–so intelligent, thoughtful, and bitingly witty, and he hid his sadness so well.

While I certainly was not close with him and hadn’t spoken to him since graduation, moments like this and seeing such loss creates a space for reflection.

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Mental illness and suicide are terrifying things, particularly when we don’t talk about them. Mental illness can take us to scary places.  If you know someone struggling, check in on them. If someone looks sad, give a smile. While these small acts may not make any real changes, you never know what it could mean. While this might sound trite, it’s true. I was crying on the train home about a week ago, and some random stranger gave me his pack of tissues. I’m not exaggerating when I say that lifted my spirits significantly.

I’ve seen so many untimely deaths in the past year and I’ve thought a lot about what it means to live well and what “success” looks like. Unfortunately, I think a lot of us have it all wrong. It’s not about the job. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the great vacation. It’s about the people, the short conversations, the connections, the joy that make the minutes count.

I have been going through a difficult few weeks with the one year anniversary of my ex-boyfriend’s death, and I know some days I’ve struggled to get out of bed and struggled to make it through an hour, let alone a day. These days happen, and when they do, practice self-care by doing whatever you can to feel good. Calling a friend, journaling, screaming into a pillow, getting into therapy. It’s different for everyone, but we have to make this a conversation that everyone can have.

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If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 1-800-273-8255 

TED Talk Friday: Why we laugh

I’ve been going through a rough couple of weeks as I adjust to a new job, reach the one year anniversary of a difficult loss, and see a close friend move away. All of these things have left me in a funk and I have not been laughing as much as I usually do. It already takes a lot to get me to the deep, guttural laugh point–and it often kicks in randomly! One of my favorite childhood memories was laughing hysterically with one of my best friends–I was afraid I would hyperventilate! We were simply so deeply joyous and amused by ourselves. In an attempt to make myself laugh a bit more, I watched this video and it definitely lifted my spirits. Laughter is socially contagious at its core–whether it’s in person or in a video.

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Did you laugh while watching this video? What makes you laugh out loud?

Making Chocolate in Peru: From Bean to Bar

I went to Peru on an amazing trip a few weeks ago–endless mountains, beautiful views, hiking, and freshly made chocolate. Chocolate was considered a “food of the gods” across much of Central and South America–and we still love it today!

My dad is a hardcore chocolate lover so we scheduled a special class at a Chocolate Museum located in Cusco. Cocoa beans are harvested from a variety of locations; and Peru (and the Amazon) is home to a number of plantations. Not all chocolate is the same–the flavor of cocoa beans changes based on what the plants are growing near. Some chocolate has subtle hints of bitter coffee, whereas other have a more fruity undertone. It’s not always easy to tell, but comparing the two flavor profiles makes it very clear.

After the cocoa beans are harvested, they are fermented and then dried in the sun. This process can take anywhere between one to two weeks depending on how dry the environment is. After the beans are dried, they are roasted. We actually got to roast the beans ourselves during our class. The beans need high heat and slow stirring and you can hear a popping similar to popcorn popping as they get closer to being ready. Our teacher/guide got really into it and asked me to sing to the cocoa beans–to show my love for them. If you know me, you know I always refuse to sing in public. It is simply a no-go for me so I politely declined and felt like a complete spoilsport!

Fortunately, cocoa beans are not dependent on singing and were roasted all the same without the affection of my *lovely* voice.

(*= heavy sarcasm)

Here are the freshly roasted beans with cracked skins prepared for winnowing, which is the process of removing the fibrous husk from the cocoa bean.

After winnowing, you’re left with cocoa beans that look like this:

When you break these up, you are left with cocoa nibs! If you like extra dark chocolate (like me), you would love the tiny pieces that come when you break apart the beans.

The next step is more intensive–grinding the cocoa beans by hand with mortar and pestle to create a smooth, creamy mixture without large chunks. This is when you can start to see how cocoa butter and cocoa powder can both come out of the same beans.

This is most of the way through the cocoa bean grinding process; you can see a smooth mixture start to form and it tastes incredibly rich (and bitter).

After grinding up our cocoa beans, we collectively made xocoatl, which translates as “bitter water.” We made ours with hot water, ground cocoa beans, honey, and a dash of cayenne pepper.

The mix was absolutely delicious and rich, but without the milky richness we often think of when we drink hot cocoa. The idea of mixing in milk with chocolate only came along in the 1700s in Europe.

We learned a lot during the class, but there was not much discussion around the importance of buying fair-trade, eco-friendly chocolate. Cocoa production often leads to deforestation as people chop down trees to make room for lucrative cocoa plantations.

“…a 7-ounce bar of milk chocolate produced from a cleared rainforest has the same carbon dioxide emissions as driving 3.2 miles in a car. Furthermore, a dark chocolate bar of the same size has the same emissions as driving 4.9 miles.” –Hello Giggles

While large companies like Hershey’s and Mars are seeing the perks of doing social good they have made numerous commitments to the environment and use of child laborers. Unfortunately a lot of this is just talk and no action.  With the price decline of cocoa during 2016-2017, a lot of efforts towards fair production took a hit. Farmers bear the brunt of the price dip and can easily end up operating at a loss. There are approximately 2.1 million child laborers working on cocoa plantations in West Africa–and this is after companies have committed to making changes.

One way to make sure you are choosing ethical options include looking for fair-trade labels as well as brands that are “bean to bar,” which means the brand or company is fully involved from the growing of the beans through to the final stages of manufacturing.

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Do you prefer dark or milk chocolate? Did you know how your chocolate was made before reading this?

TED Talk Friday: The Unstoppable Power of Letting Go

This is a great talk told in an incredibly personable, relatable way. Her message around the danger of “not yet” is something that rings true for me across numerous areas of my life, but I’ve been working very hard over the past year to lose that outlook. Saying “not yet” helps us cling to certain things, or stay a step away from things, and those choices often come from fear. I hope you enjoy this wonderful talk.

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What do you need to let go of? Which rule is your favorite?

Becoming a #FutureHuman with Orb

I have posted a lot about my difficulties with sleep, usually I fall asleep within 45 minutes, but I struggle with staying asleep. I’ve tried so many different supplements, teas, and pills with little help.

I decided to try Orb Sleep Complex at Costco after the brand reached out to me with their new release to Costco stores (not all stores carry it, but you can find it on Costco’s online store.

I’ve worked in the health & fitness industry so I know about the smoke and mirrors involved with many supplements out there. I’ve tried a lot of products and have done my research, and I think it’s important to know exactly what you’re putting into your body.

So what makes Orb different? It has time-release technology with a blend of supplements that help your body calm down for sleep, plus B12 for energy support. Plus, the pills look pretty cool:

See the beadlets floating in the liquid? The ingredients are separated for ideal absorption; vitamins best absorbed in liquid are in the oil and the the vitamins in the beadlets are better absorbed in dry form.

The Orb Sleep Complex contains:

  • Melatonin
  • Valerian
  • L-theanine
  • GABA
  • 5-HTP
  • Lavender & Ylang ylang oil
  • Vitamin B12

Our body naturally produces a hormone called melatonin; we make it based on our circadian rhythm, which follows the sunset and sunrise. Melatonin production also decreases with age. Melatonin supplements can help with insomnia, jet lag, and general sleep troubles. I’ve taken melatonin for years with mixed results.

Valerian is far less popular, but can be found in Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime tea varieties. Valerian is made from a root and helps with insomnia, and many claim it helps with anxiety as well. Research suggests it acts like a very mild sedative.

L-theanine is an amino acid naturally found in tea (and some mushrooms). L-theanine boosts the neurotransmitters that make us feel good and happy–seratonin, dopamine, and GABA. These neurotransmitters work in the brain to regulate mood, emotion, concentration, and sleep, as well as appetite and energy. L-theanine has recently grown in popularity because it doesn’t make you sleepy, but instead makes you feel calm and relaxed.

GABA is crucial to our brain’s health; low GABA activity has been correlated to anxiety, depression, and difficulty focusing.

5-HTP increases the synthesis of serotonin, a neurotransmitter I mentioned earlier. It has been shown to diminish depressive symptoms in high doses (500-1400mg daily for at least two weeks).

Lavender and Ylang Ylang oil both provide natural soothing properties. I actually take lavender oil capsules when I’m having a particularly stressful day and they definitely help me calm down.

Lastly, vitamin B12. Our bodies don’t make B12 so we must get it from food or supplements. Vegetarians are at higher risk for B12 deficiency. This is included because in the Orb supplements because lower than healthy levels of B12 can make you feel groggy or tired.

I’ve started taking Orb regularly and am loving how relaxed it makes me feel. I bought mine at Costco at a bargain price– 120 capsules for $28.99 in-store, $29.99 online (it’s regularly $39.99 for only 60 capsules).

I even brought it with me to Peru to take and share with my family.

They’ve been using it and enjoying it so far! I’ll keep you posted as I get in a rhythm and use it over the next few weeks; some of the ingredients work better over time (5-HTP for example).

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Do you have trouble sleeping? What have you tried that does or doesn’t help?

Disclaimer: I received this product from Orb, but all opinions, thoughts, and photos are my own and represent my own experience.

Ted Talk Friday: What to do when your worldview falls apart

The opening of this talk deeply resonated with me; I remember the moment I started questioning, then completely doubting God. Up until that point, I don’t think I questioned the existence of God–I was raised Catholic, going to Sunday school and church every week. Questioning our world view is terrifying, but it is crucial to building our own identity and learning to think critically.

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Do you question your beliefs? Does questioning them scare you?