The past few years have been full of advice about how to create a better future of work, but we don’t stop often enough to see what’s actually stuck. This is my last column of 2022, and I wanted to use it to recap the smartest, most life-altering thoughts and actions I’ve come across this year—the ideas that literally changed how I work, live, and think. Some are taken from previous columns, others from a year of encounters with really smart people.
When an 87-year-old business associate and a 90-year-old neighbor tell me the same thing, it’s worth heeding. “Cocktail parties are useless,” the associate told me in our monthly call. “But know what’s important—and show up. It makes all the difference.”
My neighbor took it a step further, “Don’t be too picky on who you help and who you like. You want more friends than less by the time you get to be my age.”
I wrote about the best application of this philosophy in a column on how to better show up for people, quoting a colleague who gave the gift of a very specific offer to help when my family was going through a rough time: “At about 8pm, I’m going to put in an order for you for a nice care package from Target. Is there anything you’d like me to get in particular for you and your family?”
I found it gratifying to see the US men’s soccer coach Gregg Berhalter recount as much in recent comments at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership: “Before the World Cup I flew to Italy to have lunch with [player] Weston [McKennie] in Turin and flew home that night to Chicago. The gesture of being there for four hours at lunch with him from the United States went a long way.”
Implement long-term strategies for a hybrid world.
I spent this year learning how to more fully apply some of the tips and tricks I first heard in the early months of the pandemic, back when remote and hybrid work were considered more temporary setups. I am again reassessing my calendar and some of these rules for next year, but I’m happy to report that three have been revolutionary for meetings and schedules.
- Cluster all meetings mid-week. That means no meetings on Monday morning and no meetings on Friday afternoon after 1pm. In 2023, we might even try a day of no meetings because we’re finding we just get more done in long stretches without them.
- I cling to something PayPal exec Kausik Rajgopal shared as an inclusivity hack he borrowed from the US Supreme Court (it’s at the 26:35 mark in this video of last year’s Charter Workplace Summit). He suggested making sure everyone speaks at least once during meetings before others get a second chance: “Nobody speaks twice until everybody speaks once.”
- One more tip from Sarah K. Peck, founder and CEO of Startup Parent: In my February column on how busy people get things done, she advised to stop saying sorry. “Give up trying and give up apologizing,” she said. “We will never win the email rat race, and trying won’t satisfy us.”
Something I might try in the new year is scheduling emails to hit others’ inboxes on Tuesday morning (I currently do Monday) so they get the space they might need to set their intentions for the week.
Maybe we don’t have to always be The Best.
Social entrepreneur and author Sayu Bhojwani started a newsletter this year called “No. 1 Immigrant Daughter.” I heard the title and laughed—yet it stayed with me viscerally as I now identify certain demands and behaviors as distinctly stemming from my role as, well, a “No. 1 immigrant daughter.” Think signing up your elderly parents for every iteration of the Covid vaccine (and flu and shingles, too). Saving plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and old takeout containers for reuse, even while obsessing over what people think about doing so. The people pleasing, the desire for perfection, the belief that hard work can solve everything.
In creating this community, Bhojwani labels the very thing that makes us, perhaps, successful, but also exhausts a lot of energy on pointless, unattainable goals. We might never win. So this immigrant daughter is now trying to watch it, and be okay with being No. 2 or 3 or 537.
Read for pleasure over hacking your life.
I frequently quote Khe Hy and his RadReads blog that covers the intersection of work and productivity, among other topics. Something he tweeted this year has stayed with me: “If you had a year to live, would you read any business books?”
This thought made me consider how much of my precious free time I focus on improvement versus relaxation or escape. Hy’s advice is to not make everything about productivity alone: “Instead of enjoying the grand works of literature, we turn to Shoe Dog (to emulate Nike’s success),” he wrote on RadReads.
Guilty. I read Shoe Dog and am grateful for the lessons (especially on cash flow and innovation) but I really am drawing equal inspiration from literature these days. (I’m reading Olga Dies Dreaming right now and offer it as a challenge to the idea of changing ourselves to fit into the world.)
Sustainability can’t solve everything, but adaptability might.
As someone building two businesses with an eye toward sustainability, I’ve been rethinking a lot about how I work after a recent conversation with my former colleague Meredith Artley, who departed as the editor in chief of CNN Digital earlier this year. “We need a better word for sustainability, one that doesn’t imply just maintenance,” she told me.
I’ve been obsessed with this concept since then, especially as the applications of AI explode around me and it feels like we might be less prepared to meet rapid change with a lens of sustainability versus adaptability. Sure, I am trying to build my startups with an eye toward lasting—but I am also trying to build a strong foundation and endurance and flexibility for the inevitable cracks.
Diversity means killing the old playbook.
I had a lot of conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion this year. Unlike 2020 and 2021, which felt more reactive (“We hired a chief diversity officer” or “We added a lot more diverse programming”), this year was one of integrating new people and processes, and trying to create belonging (this year, I also noticed DEI became DEIB). For one column, I spoke to about a dozen folks who work in the diversity space about their frustration over being underresourced. “They don’t want to have to go to other department heads or C-level executives, often white, to get approvals for their initiatives, reinforcing the very power dynamics they are seeking to upend,” I wrote.
This refrain applies across industries. Just because you have more books published by diverse authors does not mean the marketing dollars have followed. And maybe the old plan to sell mainstream products doesn’t even apply. I saw Aint No Mo’ on Broadway yesterday; it was supposed to be its last show, just 17 days after opening. Then, Queen Latifah, Shonda Rimes, Tyler Perry, Will Smith, and Jada Pinkett Smith started buying out performances.
That’s certainly a different strategy than traditional Broadway, but it seems to be working: Ain’t No Mo’ has been extended until Friday, and 27-year-old playwright Jordan E. Cooper is fighting to keep it going, somehow. The audience I sat in was probably the Blackest I have ever been a part of in my two decades of going to the theater. It might take nontraditional programming a bit more time and innovation to find its customers. As diversity gains made over the last two years feel more precarious amid economic uncertainty, that time is worth fighting for—across industries.
It’s okay to just “be.”
I’ve written frequently about being a caregiver, but this was the year I began to approach that identity differently. Nearly four years after my father had a stroke and three years after he had a second, I finally stopped trying to fix everything, from removing rugs in his house to finding the best speech therapist. In 2022, I learned to accept Papa’s altered state and understand that mourning people while they are still alive is entirely possible, normal, even necessary.
The epiphany was given even more definition by something someone else said to me for a recent column on layoffs. “Treat yourself like a person who has just experienced a traumatic event,” Theola DeBose, the founder of JSKILLS, a career-change academy, told me. “A layoff is a gut punch. Your first instinct is to punch back …That ‘do’ first approach is all wrong. It’s a plan for your career, but not for you as a person. Manage your emotions about a layoff up front so that they don’t haunt you later.”
She said a better first step is to just “be.”
I’ve returned to the idea often, as I ponder these last few years where it felt like so many of us fought for sheer survival: of our jobs, our parents, our children, ourselves. I still don’t think we have the understanding or vocabulary to fully process what we have been through, even as we’ve been “doing” a lot. My hope is that in the coming days, we allow ourselves to spend time “being”—and feeling quite okay about the necessity to do so.