What Are Your Top Five?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on June 21st, 2018.

A few months ago I began working with a life coach. I did this for many reasons, but the main reason was because this month marks a big transition point in my life. Personally, my youngest child just graduated from high school, which is a massive milestone for every parent. Professionally, the organization that I am a co-founder of, Women Moving Millions, is undergoing a change in board leadership, as well as soon to be choosing a new Executive Director who will be leading us through our next stage of growth. With these two things happening at once, it’s inspired me to think about hitting a giant re-set on my life. To do this, I knew I needed help.

One of the first things my coach encouraged me to do was to complete the StrengthsFinder profile. StrengthsFinder was first developed in the 1990s by educational psychologist Donald Clifton, and was first released to the public in 2001. Since then, millions of people have completed their online profiles, whether as an individual or as a team, and StrengthsFinder 2.0, released in 2007, is still consistently one of the top selling non-fiction books on Amazon. How it works is that when you fill out the online profile and assessment, StrengthsFinder identifies patterns in your (or your team’s) thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. From this, your top talents are discerned, and StrengthsFinder uses this information to help you turn your top talents into strengths and tools for success.

This was not the first self assessment I have done; in fact I have done many others in the past, and each time I do one I’m reminded of just how important these tools are to developing self awareness. The more we understand ourselves, the more we can really lean into our talents, and by doing this, we can align what we are more naturally good at with how we spend our time. When we do this, it is more likely that we will find success in our endeavours. Does this mean you can’t do things that are outside your comfort zone? Of course not. But in my experience, you can’t live in that space for too long or the stress of it will wear you down.

So as I move into the next phase of my life, what is front and center for me is to try to align my core strengths with the work that I am doing. I firmly believe that one of the main reasons I have loved my time with Women Moving Millions ( WMM) so much was that there was such an incredible alignment in that organization with my core strengths. It has been an incredible 8 years of being “ALL IN” for WMM and being named a co-founder of the organization alongside Helen LaKelly Hunt meant the world to be. So while I will remain on the board I will have a lot more time to do other things, and I am taking time off to figure it out. My own bridge year of sorts.

So, do yourself a favor: buy the book and do the assessment. When you buy the book you get an activation code to take the online questionnaire at no additional cost and it’s worth every penny. (I have no connection to the authors of this book as an fyi, just a fan!)

So what are my top 5 strengths ? Here they are below. If you have used this tool please share how it has helped you in your life and career.

Strength 1 – BELIEF

It was not surprising at all that this showed up. My life’s work is wrapped around my core values around social justice, including gender equity. Although I previously had a 14 year career on Wall Street, I have now found my purpose in my non-profit work. It would be impossible for me to ever again work for or with an organization where our values are not aligned.

Strength 2 – WOO

Yes. I am that person who starts conversations with people while waiting in line for the bathroom, while checking out groceries at the store, you name it. I love meeting new people.

Strength 3 – Communication

No surprise here. I started my personal blog almost 10 years ago because of a burning desire to write and share. Additionally, I truly love being parts of panels and giving talks.

Strength 4 – Activator

This is one that I more recently learned about myself, and it was only when it popped up as a core strength that I fully processed that this really is true about me. I love new ideas, and I love turning them into action. I have a feeling that the next thing I do might well be starting a company.

Strength 5 – Positivity

People have called me an “energy bunny” on more than a few occasions. Although I have never liked that title, I have come to think that what they are trying to suggest is that I am an endless supply of positive energy. This is true. I am one of those people who not only always seems to see the bright side, but who is the one to pull everyone else onto the open dance floor. I often joke that alternative career might have been as a “party starter”. Not sure it would have paid so well.

Are You Racially Literate?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on May 8th, 2018.

Last November I had the privilege of attending the TED Women Conference in New Orleans, and to say that I came away from that event inspired would be an understatement. Out of all the incredible speakers that I heard over those three days, there was one talk in particular that I could not stop thinking about. The one shared below, which was just released on the TED platform yesterday and has already been viewed nearly 300,000 times. When they gave their talk at TED Women, Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo were in the midst of travelling to all 50 states to talk to people about race, and they were doing this during their gap year between high school and college. Their talk outlined how they were attempting to connect both the hundreds of personal stories they were hearing on their trip, as well as their own personal experiences on a cross-country road trip as two women of color, to the wealth of facts and statistics that have been gathered by researchers over the decades about racial inequality and the negative impact of systemic racism in America. In their talk they share their framework by identifying two big gaps in people’s racial literacy: the heart gap, a lack of understanding of our own personal experiences with regards to race, and the mind gap, a lack of understanding about the systemic epidemic of racism in this country. When I heard them speak, I realized I possessed both of these gaps, and it is likely you may have them as well.

Taking a step back, in 2016, Priya and Winona published The Classroom Index, a racial literacy textbook for educators to help them teach students on this often difficult and uncomfortable topic. They did this while sophomores in high school in New Jersey. Yes, you read that right, sophomores in HIGH SCHOOL. The success of, and interest in this book led them to embark on their journey across America to have these conversations with average, everyday people in all 50 states in order to truly understand the current state of racial literacy in this country. Their findings are set to be published in their forthcoming book, Race Across 50 States. At the time they spoke at TED Women in November, they still had 23 states to go.

When I heard that Utah was one of the states they had not yet interviewed in, I immediately invited them to come visit, which they did in February of this year. They set up multiple independent interviews, my daughter Allie hosted them at her high school, and I hosted a home based event with students, educators, and others. What they did more than anything else in each setting was listen; they really listened to each person’s experiences around race. It sounds simple, but it’s rarely simple in execution. As they said in their talk, “Today, so few of us understand each other”, and this lack of understanding is the root of so many social problems across all communities. That is why they set out to change the status quo by founding Choose in 2014 to try and raise the bar in racial literacy, which in turn led to their publication of The Classroom Index just two years later. I think it bears repeating that they did all of this while still students in high school. These two truly are Wonder Women.

Yesterday, their TED Talk was released on TED.com, and I encourage everyone to take the time to not only watch this brilliant and important talk, but to share it broadly. Whether at school, at home, in our places of worship, or in our community based organizations, these are conversations we need to be having. I hope their talk inspires everyone to take a closer look at their own experiences around race, ask and listen to others, and try to understand the many ways race and racial inequality impact our society. Priya and Winona are two of the most intelligent, compassionate, and articulate young women I have ever met, and I believe wholeheartedly that their work is going to help change the racial conversation in this country for the better.

Since TED Women, Priya and Winona have finished their tour of all 50 states, collecting over 500 interviews along the way, and they are hard at work finishing the content for their new book. As if you needed any more proof of their awesomeness, they are also currently in New York City as part of the TED Residency program, where they are the youngest TED residents in history. Despite all this, something tells me that Priya and Winona are just getting started, and I can’t wait to see where their journeys lead them next. If you would like to learn more about Choose, you can find more information HERE. You can also follow the conversation online at @princetonchoose on Twitter. Finally, their TED Talk can be found HERE, and I hope you will all watch and share it with your networks.

Their TED Talk is below, as well as an informal interview I conducted with Priya and Winona during their visit to Utah.

 

What is the Opposite of Hate?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on April 10th, 2018.

This may sound like the ultimate contradiction, but I hate the word hate. I truly do. I hate the way it sounds. I hate the way it feels. I hate the word hate. And I especially hate the fact that I can’t seem to avoid it these days. Politically and socially this word has seeped into our collective consciousness at an alarming rate, and while a lot of people have spent countless hours debating how we got to this point, I’m personally far more interested in how we move forward from here. How do we bridge this ever widening gap to find common ground and work together to move this country, and the world, forward?

Clearly, this is not an easy question, and as such there are no easy answers, but thankfully there are people who are trying to find a way forward. One such person is Sally Kohn, a political commentator and contributor to both CNN and Fox News, whose book on this very topic is available todayThe Opposite of Hate examines the current epidemic of hate and its historical and cultural roots, but more importantly, it offers insight on how we can move past this bitterly divided impasse and learn to work together. I have known Sally for many years, and so when I heard that she would be devoting an entire book to the issue of hate and how we can move past it, I knew I had to pick up a copy. Sally’s writing has previously been published in The Washington Post, Fox News, USA Today, and The Huffington Post, but this is her first full book, and I encourage everyone to pick up a copy for themselves. And if you need a bit more incentive, please check out below some questions I posed to Sally prior to this book’s publication and her insightful responses. I know I’m looking forward to delving into this issue more deeply when my order arrives later today, and I hope I’m not the only one.

Jacki Zehner: Hate is such a harsh and strong word that I actively avoid using it because of how that word makes me feel, and yet you chose to write a book about it. Why? What made you decide to address this topic at this point in time?

Sally Kohn: I don’t want to sugar coat the hard reality of what we’re facing right now as a species. And there’s no other word for it, really. We have a problem with hate. We hate each other. And it only seems to be getting worse at the moment. Whether we’re talking about racism or misogyny or Islamophobia or anti-Semitism or extreme partisan hate and bias, we have a historical and habitual problem with demeaning and dehumanizing others based on their identities. A problem that has ebbed but more often flowed throughout the history of the United States and the world, which we’ve at times made progress on however imperfectly, but also are clearly still struggling with. Arguably it’s been worse before but still, I don’t think hate needs to be at its worst now to be bad enough that we have to do something about it.

JZ: What is the opposite of hate?

SK: It’s not love. Not for my purposes, anyway. You don’t have to love someone to not hate them. But you do have to understand how we’re all fundamentally connected as human beings, how in spite of our differences and disagreements — which, by the way, I think are incredibly important and even worth celebrating — we’re still more alike than not and have more in common than not. And we all want a world that’s less divided and less cruel. And the way we get there is recognizing how we’re connected, and studies show when we connect with people outside our own bubbles, the people we think of as “other” we hate them less. The opposite of hate is connection.

JZ: I love that answer and I could not agree more. The opposite of hate is connection. Thank you. So how did pursuing this topic change you and your worldview?

SK: You’d think that writing a book about hate would be really depressing, and of course parts were, especially coming to terms with our profound history and capacity for cruelty. But honestly, I walked away from the process of writing this book feeling more optimistic about humanity than ever. Sure we have the ability to hate, but we also have the ability for stunning kindness, for forgiveness to a degree that I never thought imaginable, for seeing the best in others in spite of every excuse not to. When I met former terrorists and ex-neo Nazis and people who had participated in heinous genocides who had somehow managed to leave entire lives of hate behind, that left me feeling more inspired and hopeful about human beings than I ever imagined possible. We all have the capacity for great hate, but we also all have the capacity for its opposite — and, to me, it’s that positive possibility that makes us all so remarkable and full of promise.

JZ: You have spent a lot of time working as a social and political commentator on various news channels. What is your take on the current state of our news media? How has the relationship between the news media and the government changed since the last election?

SK: I’m deeply worried about the state of truth and fact in our world today, which I still believe in the power of journalists to defend and promote, but has obviously been deeply undermined. And in addition to each of us as individuals standing up for facts and real news, there’s a role that government I think needs to play in working with the media, in a cross-partisan fashion, to make sure that we the people have access to the facts and information our democracy needs. In addition, I also worry that the news media helped create this moment in part by sliding away from an emphasis on reporting toward over-emphasizing opinion and debate — a dynamic, by the way, I still play into. And I think it’s important there be spaces in media for discussing and debating opinions. At the same time, I worry when news media starts to borrow too much from sensational reality television… and then we elect a reality TV star President and it comes full circle.

JZ: Increasingly, Americans are dividing up and self-sorting themselves into groups and spaces where we are constantly surrounded by people who think alike and hold the same opinions as each other, particularly in the online spaces. What are the dangers of this division? How do you think this is effecting our ability to engage and connect with people who think differently about important issues?

SK: I’m an opinionated person. I literally have opinions for a living. That’s my profession as a commentator and columnist. So I want to be clear that I don’t think the problem is people having deeply held convictions and beliefs or even defending their perspectives. I think the problem is when we do so by demeaning and even dehumanizing those who don’t agree with us. And divisiveness — both conceptual and in real life — just makes the problem worse, because it’s easy to be mean to people you don’t know. And more and more of us don’t know people, don’t live around people, don’t work with people, who hold different views than we do. And then we reinforce those bubbles in the news we consume and the social media we follow. Which is why connection is the answer — making sure you have friends outside your political bubble, or at the very least following smart thinkers on social media who come from the other side of the political spectrum. And then learning how we can disagree without resorting to or reinforcing hate.

If you read this, love your thoughts in the comment section. Have a wonderful day.