I probably shouldn't admit this, but I have a favorite mentee. Here's why 1) She asks a lot of questions and solicits the feedback she needs to hear, not just wants to hear. 2) She drives the relationship. She organizes our meetings, sends an agenda, and reminds me of our last conversation. This is a relief. 3) She runs through every door that I open for her. If you're in the market for a mentor, my best advice is to make the experience delightful for everyone involved.
I'm one of those people who still buys paper books, but I downloaded the Audible version of Julie Lythcott-Haims', Real American, in order to cram before an event with her. As soon as I arrived at the reading, picked up one of the hardcovers and started flipping through the pages, I realized I had made a terrible mistake in consuming her words sight unseen. Her memoir is prose poetry, literally.
Lythcott-Haims guides the reader through the wide, justified margins and the line breaks of her life as a the only child of a marriage between an African American father and a white British mother. Her family lives in New York, Wisconsin, and Northern Virginia, seemingly achieving the American dream, but Lythcott-Haims explores the price of the ascension. She delivers a biting account of how all of the tiny cuts of injustice can leave a gaping scar, and how a sense of community can lead to healing and self-acceptance. Real American is a powerful examination of race, identity, and citizenship that leaves you with hope for our nation's possibility. For anyone who needs a break from the false narratives and the vitriol that plagues our current discourse, Lythcott-Haims’ truth telling is breathtakingly beautiful.
My first book would not have been a bestseller without the writing prowess of Keli Goff, who published the fiercest review on the day of its release. In addition to being a columnist for The Daily Beast and writer for the TV series Black Lightning, Keli is a producer of the new Netflix documentary "Reversing Roe," which chronicles the history of America's political and legal battles over abortion. Keli was inspired to begin working on "Reversing Roe" nearly five years ago when she became frustrated with the lack of nuance that colored most coverage of reproductive rights issues.
When I asked Keli what she's had to drop the ball on in order to manage so many projects, she mentioned that this year she missed not one, but two, close friends' birthdays. "They are both like sisters to me and I was mortified. But they showed me such grace and understanding, for which I am eternally grateful," she says. Their generosity allowed Keli to drop the ball on her guilt, which is one of the most difficult things for a woman to do. Even if we don't have friends as forgiving as Keli's, it's so important that we be forgiving of ourselves. It's how we embrace our full potential.
Starting a business, asking for a promotion, applying to law school—these milestone moments can be scary and overwhelming. Recently I started my new company, The Cru, and becoming a founder has stretched my leadership in ways I never imagined. If you find yourself not wanting to push further because it's too hard, ask yourself: At the end of my life, is there a chance I might regret not taking action? Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge in the right direction.
How we see ourselves isn't always how the world sees us. I realized this on a car trip with my kids when they decided to do impressions of me. The result: a cheesy inspirational workaholic. Now, this is not me. But it occurred to me maybe there was some accuracy to their impression. If you want to know how other people view you, just ask. If you have kids, ask them -- you'll get the most honest reaction there is.
In Gloria Steinem's book, My Life on the Road, she writes that you can always anticipate the outcome of an election by talking to cab drivers in the weeks leading up to it. This week I was speaking at events in Manchester and Cincinnati and took the time to ask the cab drivers their thoughts about the midterms. Bottom line: We have a lot of work to do in the next eleven days.
Two of my drivers (both white, one a woman) had voted for Barack Obama and were now Trump supporters. The most surreal part of my conversations with them was that they were perfectly comfortable sharing this with me, a black woman who by that point in the conversation they knew lived in Harlem. As they spoke passionately about how the President is "bringing back jobs," "not taking crap from other countries," "protecting us from terrorists and illegals," and "putting America first," there was no caveat, hesitation, shame, or even confrontation. They truly believe what he is telling them and trust the media outlets that disseminate his propaganda and bolster his agenda. They were not persuaded by any of the sound facts I offered to counter the false narratives.
I sat in the back seat thinking to myself, this is what the normalization of hate looks like. It's not the angry mobs at a rally or a stampede of tiki torches in Charlottesville. It's good, decent people who have been artfully manipulated into undermining their own self interest and blaming their pain on vulnerable people they should be in solidarity with. It was clear to me that we've lost the hearts and minds of some of our fellow citizens. Which is why we must win at the polls. Please vote on November 6th, encourage everyone you know to do so, and join efforts to recruit people to vote, too. You can get more information about creating a #VotingSquad, hosting a voting party, or campaigning for your local official by visiting When We All Vote, an initiative spearheaded by Michelle Obama.
At one point in my taxi conversations, I noticed that my female driver was wearing a hand brace. She said the pain was getting worse but she doesn't have health insurance. When we arrived at the airport I insisted on taking out my own suitcase because I didn't want her to injure the hand any further. When she opened the trunk I noticed two bags of groceries and a pink toddler car seat.
"Do you have a daughter?" I asked.
"Yeah, she's my world," she said, beaming.
I beamed back. "That's how I feel about my daughter, too."
Here’s the easiest way to grow your network: just follow up. How many people's business cards are just collecting dust in your drawer? Are you still waiting for the right opportunity to ask for coffee or needing a good hook to connect with the person? Waiting for a future perfect moment will hold you back from fostering new relationships. I've learned that following up immediately is better than waiting for the perfect moment. Here's how to do it.
This week I found much to celebrate. We wrapped up our final two Cru launches in DC and New York before I traveled to Simmons University in Boston, where I serve on the board. I was thrilled to visit the new Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts & Humanities, named after the trailblazing journalist who died two years ago after a year long battle with cancer. Her archives are held there, along with precious memorabilia like the jackets she wore to moderate two vice-presidential debates in 2004 and 2008. In February 2016, just months before her death, she moderated the Democratic national debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Ifill was born in 1955 in Queens, New York. She moved frequently during her childhood as her father was the pastor of various churches, which taught her the value and skill of engaging new people across boundaries. She graduated from Simmons in 1977 with a degree in communications and landed her first job at the Boston Herald-American. She had interned there the summer before and when she took a note someone left on her desk that read "nigger go home" to her manager, the editors at the paper were so horrified they offered her a job. She used the opportunity to build a career that earned her the esteem of everyone who understood her work. In 2008, John McCain, the Republican Presidential nominee, told an Ifill critic live on Fox news that, "She will do a totally objective job because she is a highly respected professional."
Ifill worked for the Baltimore Evening Sun, The Washington Post, and the New York Times before making her way into television. In 1999 she became the first black woman to host a national political talk show, Washington Week in Review on PBS. She went on to earn a Peabody Award and 41 honorary doctorates. Ifill left us a legacy of excellence, curiosity, and honoring everyone's humanity. Two years before her death she wrote that, "We can talk-and we can listen—if we only give each other a chance." That dialogue feels more difficult now than it ever has before, but I'm inspired to channel Gwen Ifill and try.
Courage can't exist without fear. We often have a difficult time turning our side hustle into a business because we are afraid of losing our regular pay check; we are nervous to ask for a promotion because we are not sure we can handle the job. Anxiety can be terrifying, but it's required for growth. The next time you're afraid, own it: Being brave means that you move forward in spite of fear.
One of my mentees was frustrated because she wasn't getting the promotion she believed she deserved. And she did deserve it—from her performance reviews I knew she was a total star at work. The problem was she was waiting for her boss to simply hand out the promotion. But reaching your goals won't happen until YOU decide to make them happen. Start taking matters into your own hands and move toward your goals. Here's how to do it.