Heroes: Randy Pausch

Recently, I have been very inspired by a video of “last lecture” given by a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Last Lectures typically involve a retiring professor who condenses his or her decades of accumulated wisdom and experience into one final blockbuster talk, but this one is different because the professor, Randy Pausch, is only 46 years old but has terminal cancer: he will be dead in a few months, he tells us, and he will leave behind a wife and three young kids. Pausch’s Last Lecture, on how to achieve your childhood dreams, contains much useful information, but it is his courageous joy and vital energy in the face of a crushing personal fate that has really affected me. It has made me determined to feel more joy in my own daily existence, even the mundane or disappointing parts of it. The video is here - it’s around 90 minutes long, and if you want to skip the intros, just go to the 8 minute marker and start there. … [Read more...]

"Countdown Clock" May be Scary, but It Can Also Keep You Focused

Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly writes here about the "countdown clock" he created on his computer to remind him of how much (or, more to the point, how little) time he has left on the planet and that he shouldn't waste any. He's 55 years old, he says, so anticipates he's got about 8,500 days left, assuming he makes it to the U.S. male average for his age set of 78.63 years. He reports that his friend Stewart Brand (founder of the Whole Earth Catalog), uses another approach: "Brand, who is now 69, has been arranging his life in blocks of 5 years. Five years is what he says any project worth doing will take. From moment of inception to the last good-riddance, a book, a campaign, a new job, a start-up will take 5 years to play through. So, he asks himself, how many 5 years do I have left? He can count them on one hand even if he is lucky. So this clarifies his choices. If he has less than 5 big things he can do, what will they be?" If you're tempted to set up your own countdown clock - and I am - then … [Read more...]

Salon.com reviews The Lifelong Activist

From Cary Tennis, Salon.com's advice columnist : "Anyway, that sort of reminds me about how hard it is to make social change when many of us feel unrepresented by the major political parties, do not belong to labor unions and must figure out for ourselves how to make activism a part of our complicated little private lives of comfort and ease. So along came this book called "The Lifelong Activist" by Hillary Rettig. It is about how to arrange your life so that even though you have to work for a living and pay bills and raise a family or whatever, you can avoid getting sucked into the utterly life-draining mess that is the typical consumer lifestyle. So you can find time to pursue your art or change the world or both." "Now I admit to having all the typical biases against anything that might smack of self-help. This book is not about finding your bliss. I mean, you might find your bliss along the way. But that is not what this book is about. It is about becoming more useful and effective as an activist or … [Read more...]

NYT Publishes My Letter to the Editor on Balancing Work/Home Life

Written in response to this article about how women struggle to balance their spouse/parent/household manager/career roles. A lot of my students and coaching clients (and not just the women) are in this predicament. They blame themselves for being underachievers, when what they should be doing is congratulating themselves on their ability to multitask and meet multiple difficult responsibilities. Underachieving in your career is a problem that can be at least partly corrected using the techniques outlined in The Lifelong Activist. But only partly - the NYT article does a good job of explaining how a lot of blame should go to society. “The real challenge is, companies expect you to perform as if someone is at home taking care of everything for you,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. “Some men are better positioned to deal with these corporate demands, because they do have someone at home. Most women don’t.” The NYT editors edited my letter … [Read more...]

Oh, So It's Called "Time Poverty"

The act of naming something is incredibly powerful, since naming not only defines a phenomenon but can render it visible. Think how hard it would be to fight for justice if we didn't have the words "racism" and "sexism" in our vocabulary, and the corresponding concepts as part of our world view. I just found the name for a phenomenon I've been pondering for a while. It's "Time Poverty," the paucity of non-work-occupied time in our lives. It's a nifty term because it takes the focus (and blame and shame) of living an overworked, imbalanced life away from the individual and directs it where in many cases it more properly belongs: society. The term seems to have been coined by a group called Take Back Your Time which says on its homepage: "Millions of Americans are overworked, over-scheduled and just plain stressed out...We're putting in longer hours on the job now than we did in the 1950s, despite promises of a coming age of leisure before the year 2000....In fact, we're working more than medieval peasants … [Read more...]

Much More Thrilling High Tech News Than the iPhone

Forget about the iPhone - the news that Google is opening its first office in sub-Saharan Africa is truly thrilling. My foster kids are from Sudan, and I have many other personal and professional connections to the region: I have opined many times that the information revolution is going to spur a vast amount of economic and political progress there in a very short time, and now the dream seems on the verge of coming true. It's hard to imagine a stronger catalyst for this kind of change than Google. Its office will be in Kenya, and Google has appointed its first senior executive from the region, Joseph Mucheru, former CEO of Kenyan ISP Wananchi, to run it. It wuld be terrific if any major computer company set up a base in Kenya, of course, but the fact that it's industry leader Google makes the news even more wonderful, as others will no doubt be inspired to follow suit. Mucheru lists his priorities as: "Firstly, we want to optimise the use of Google applications in the region. We already have a lot of … [Read more...]

Unfiltered and Unfettered Kindness at the Grassroots Radio Conference

Had a fabulous time, this weekend, at the Grassroots Radio Conference in (itself fabulous) Lowell, MA. I met dozens of radio producers and fellow progressive travellers from around the world - lifelong activists, most of them. The whole event totally psyched me up and recharged my batteries, and reminded me of the critical importance of immersing yourself within a supportive community that shares your values. The conference also reminded me of the wonderfulness of being progressive. The people I met were so kind and generous: many of the radio producers bought copies of _The Lifelong Activist_ to support me, a progressive author, even though they could have easily requested free review copies from the publisher...and it's a safe bet that most do not have wads of cash to throw around. Conservatives can be kind and generous, too, of course - but as Lakoff and others have documented, kindness and generosity are congruent with progressive ideology and ethos, but antithetical to conservativism, which is based … [Read more...]

Yes, You Can Change the System From Within…

From Daily Kos "The last few days saw advertisers like GM and American Express fleeing from Imus, but the head of NBC claims that's not what caused him to stop the simulcasts of Imus' show. It was the pressure from inside NBC. The pressure from staffers and reporters who were tired of being associated with these boneheaded remarks. Even weatherman Al Roker stepped up to the plate and demanded that Imus go. And it's certainly worth mentioning that Keith Olbermann called for Imus to be fired. With the growth of Keith's audience and this increasing importance of his show at MSNBC, that certainly had to weigh heavily with the suits." … [Read more...]

Dog of the Year

Check out this year's Dog of the Year - or substitute your own dog! … [Read more...]

A 16-Year-Old + A Videocamera + the Web = A Better Future

Margaret Mead famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has," and legions of technology devotees (including moi) keep insisting that the Internet and digital technologies are ushering in nothing less than a new, global Renaissance. Both points by now seem like cliches...until something happens that brings them vividly to life. I don't know how I managed to miss this up until now, but there's a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Montgomery, Alabama, Ava Lowery, who is making the most awesome anti-Iraq war and anti-Bush Administration videos, which she posts on her blog (itself, awesome) PeaceTakesCourage The blog is getting 30,000 visitors a day, and you should be one of them. Would any of history's most famous and influential artists, philosophers, statespersons, freedom fighters, scientists and other thinkers and doers have even dared dream of having the power to communicate and influence people on a global scale … [Read more...]

Because Voting Isn't Enough: Ten Easy Pieces

Living one's values can seem a daunting task, especially if those values are outside the mainstream, or you're struggling just to earn a living. That's why this list of ten relatively easy things you can do to change the world is so welcome. It's from the Small Planet Institute, the brainchild of Frances Moore Lappe, who wrote the seminal guide to socially-responsible eating, Diet for a Small Planet, and her daughter Anna. The list includes: eat locally and organic, buy locally, support fair trade, get a "diverse media diet," host a teach-in, and get involved in a cause. Just don't get all perfectionist about it and think you've failed if you haven't done all ten. Doing any of the ten is way better than doing none of them. Tackle them one at a time, and pull back if you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed. I particularly like the diverse media diet" suggestion, which means getting your news and other information not just from the usual sources but from alternative sources such as the liberal magazines … [Read more...]

Solving Problems vs. Dithering Over Them

Q. In your talk, you discussed the importance of solving problems as opposed to dithering over them. What's the difference, and what exactly does dithering mean? A. Solving a problem means taking specific actions that lead to change. These include observing the problem, precisely defining it, developing a strategy to solve it, testing the strategy, refining the strategy, implementing the strategy, and evaluating success. Dithering includes all the _other_ things you do about your problems, including worrying, feeling guilty, beating yourself up, complaining to family and friends, and feeling sorry for yourself. Dithering is pernicious. It offers the illusion that you are solving your problem, so that you don’t have to feel guilty for ignoring it. It also offers the illusion that you are making progress, so that you don’t have to feel like you’ve given up hope. But dithering doesn’t really solve your problem. The hallmark of dithering is that, no matter how long or seriously you do it, the … [Read more...]

I want to take a dance class. Is that evil?

Q. For years, I’ve wanted to take a jazz dance class, and now, after having read the part of The Lifelong Activist that says it’s good to meet your creative and other non-activist needs, I’m finally thinking of signing up for one. The only problem is that every time I actually get ready to call up and register, I get cold feet. (No pun.) I tell myself that I should use the time to do more activism, that I can’t afford it, and that I probably will miss half the sessions anyway. The truth is that I have a hard time doing anything except activism – although I don’t work nearly as hard as I should and wind up procrastinating a lot. Help! A. I’ll assume that there is nothing else going on in your life right now that is so urgent that you can’t afford to take a couple of hours off each week to take the class. If so, then, in my view, it’s not just okay, but almost obligatory for you to register. Registering will reinforce the reality that you are a complex human being with diverse needs and … [Read more...]

Allergic to Spreadsheets

Q. Do I have to do time management the way you say in The Lifelong Activist? I'm allergic to spreadsheets! A. In The Lifelong Activist I offer a strategy for managing one’s time that involves (1) coming up with a short list of professional and personal priorities, based on your Mission, and allotting a set number of hours each week to each; then, (2) creating a weekly schedule that incorporates all of those priorities; and (3) working to stick to the schedule while at the same time tracking your time so that at the end of the week you can see how well you did. I explicitly say that the system isn’t for everyone, and that if it isn’t for you, you should keep searching for one that’s better. However, most effective time management systems do ask you to budget and track your time, the way most money management systems ask you to budget and track your money, and most diets ask you to budget and track your calories. There’s simply no other way for most of us to control our use of a finite … [Read more...]

Happiness = Reality/Expectations

For some reason - maybe pre-holiday anxiousness? - there's a lot being written about the nature and attainment of happiness this week. Not just the below-referenced article on happiness from the WSJ, but another article from the WSJ on cognitive dissonance as a coping strategy (subscription - hence, no link), and now a long article from New York Magazine on burnout. Some interesting quotes: "Farber had burned out once before. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, he taught public school in East Harlem....for four years he’d struggled to stop his students from fighting with one another, and in spite of his best efforts he couldn’t even teach all of them to read....Eventually, he began to pull away from his students—depersonalization, as the literature now calls it...It was only when Farber went to graduate school at Yale that he learned that this syndrome had a name: Burnout. “The concept offered a perfect understanding of what teachers were feeling,” he recalls. … [Read more...]