Sixth Shift

Here’s a dirty little secret about me: despite all of the things I juggle in my life, I’m a terrible multi-tasker. 

For better or for worse, I don’t multi-task as much as I serially single-task.  Practically, what this means is that I try to be in the present for whatever is in front of me, and other things will have to wait until I can get to them.

Obviously, emergencies happen and you flip the switch real quick; if the school nurse calls, you don’t want until after your conference call is over, you haul ass to get your kid.  And, just as obviously, you seek to integrate different parts of your life so that there is overlap; for example, going for a run with your kids, or serving on a non-profit board that also helps you with your day job. 

But there’s actually a lot about my life that is fairly distinct, and I work hard to keep it that way and to be in the moment for each aspect.  If it’s my turn to take our kids to the doctor’s, I don’t check work emails or take work calls during that time, so I can be present for them.  (That and the fact that anything medically-related requires all of my attention to comprehend!)  When I take time in the morning to pray and exercise, that’s my time, and I try hard to not let anything encroach on that self-care. 

Being appointed to the School Board represents another allocation of time that is fairly distinct from other parts of my life.  And – as with listening to a pediatrician! – since I have so much to learn, it requires my full self rather than a distracted version thereof.   

As a result, my days are beginning to resemble a sequence of distinct shifts, one after the other, the inability to “cheat” by multi-tasking meaning that other things have to wait until I’m able to turn my attention to them.  Just to provide one day’s schedule as an illustrative (by no means necessarily normal) example:

1.       4:30a-6:30a 1st shift – pray, read Bible, check email/Facebook/Twitter, blog, run, lift, shower, get ready for the day

2.       6:30a-8:30a 2nd shift – get Asher up, make him and the other kids breakfasts, get lunches ready, do the dishes, clean the kitchen

3.       8:30a-11:30a 3rd shift – attend event related to School Board

4.       11:30a-5:30p 4th shift – go to the office, do work, go to work-related meetings

5.       5:30p-7:30p 5th shift – come home, do dinner/cleanup/bath/bedtime with kids

6.       7:30p-9:30p 6th shift – catch up on all work I didn’t get to during the day or that piled up since I was last “on the clock”

Here's another example:

1.       4:30a-6:30a 1st shift – me time
2.       6:30a-8:00a 2nd shift – Asher/kitchen time
3.       8:00a-10:00a 3rd shift – Aaron/Jada dental appointments
4.       10:00a-5:00p 4th shift – work
5.       5:00p-8:30p 5th shift – School Board
6.       8:30p-10:00p 6th shift – more work

Please do not interpret this post as a complaint about my life or myself, because it is the opposite.  I love my life and am comfortable with what I need to do in order to fit in everything that is important to me.  I have many friends whose lives are much more fluid than mine and/or whose temperament allows them to be more fluid in their responsibilities and pursuits, and I admire that greatly...but I seldom wish for it for myself.  I am realistic about how I am wired, and I am focused on what matters.  At this stage in my life, this is what it looks like. 


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Here's an excerpt from a book I recently read, "Prince: A Private View," by Afshin Shahidi:

Prince walks into a room. This is not the lead line of a joke. Prince walks into many rooms and to say it’s a grand entrance would be like calling the “Mona Lisa” a sketch. It’s not that he enters with fanfare, fireworks, or an entourage. He’s not riding in on an ostrich or an elephant with dancers and lasers. He just enters a room and the energy shifts, worries and concerns evaporate, and a Gabriel García Márquez–esque trance folds over the room and all the possibilities of the world seem to present themselves, falling at your feet. After all, you are occupying the same space as Prince, the molecules and atoms bouncing between your bodies. I’ve watched Prince enter many a room and it’s always the same. You could be the guy working the bar or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, an actor with billions in box office sales, a fashion icon guiding next seasons trends, or a fan who is lucky enough to be there: The moment Prince enters the room you are all the same, mouths slightly agape, eyes tracking the movements of the dynamo who just appeared, trying not to be caught staring but eyes drawn like magnets to his every movement. It’s not his intention to hypnotize those present when he enters, it’s just that he enters with such confidence, swag, and freedom that it can’t be helped. He walks in and his entourage is his music, his hits, his movies, his dancing, his girlfriends, his controversies, and eccentricities. And then he walks up to you and say’s “Hi, I’m Prince,” and the tension is broken.


Hearing More Voices

Reading is an important thing in my life.  Not only is it one of the few things I do for fun, and a necessary recharge for this introvert who is constantly swimming in extroverted settings, but it is a vital source of information for growing and sharpening and challenging myself.

So I'm ashamed to say that it is only since very recently that I have put real effort into diversifying the voices I am taking in through the pages of the books I read.  Here, for example, is the breakdown of books I read in 2013, less than five years ago (partials represent co-authors who I split 50/50):

White men - 42.5
White women - 5
Men of color - 2.5
Women of color - 0

Ugh ugh ugh.  So far in 2018, I'm doing much better:

White men - 6
White women - 6.5
Men of color - 4.5
Women of color - 8

By the way, here's another way of parsing my reading lists, which is by type and topic.  First, 2013:

37 non-fiction (non-biographical)
8 biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, or fictional stories focused on white men
3 biographies or autobiographies, memoirs, or fictional stories focused on men of color
2 biographies or autobiographies, memoirs, or fictional stories focused on white women
0 biographies or autobiographies, memoirs, or fictional stories focused on women of color

Now 2018 (I'm counting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's book about his relationship with Coach John Wooden as 50/50):

10 non-fiction (non-biographical)
1.5 biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, or fictional stories focused on white men
5.5 biographies or autobiographies, memoirs, or fictional stories focused on men of color
2 biographies or autobiographies, memoirs, or fictional stories focused on white women
6 biographies or autobiographies, memoirs, or fictional stories focused on women of color

As always, I welcome your recommendations.


What Am I Working On

As has become my custom every three months, here's what I'm working on now at work. I won't repeat anything from last time that I happen to still be working on, and for confidentiality's sake I have to blur some of the details for some of these studies.

* Evaluating a municipality's initiative to remediate disparities in access to home lending and business lending in low-income communities and communities of color.

* Articulating the economic impact of a major health system's investment in an urban downtown location.

* Estimating the economic, environmental, and catalytic effect of a new commercial development in a downtown-adjacent setting.

* Calculating the local tax revenues generated by a workforce development program.


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Here are two excerpts from a book I recently read, "The Bonesetter's Daughter," by Amy Tan:

And then I pulled out the second thing. It was a small photograph of a young woman wearing an embroidered headwrap and a padded winter jacket with a collar that reached up to her cheeks. I held the picture up to the light. Was it . . . ? I saw that it was indeed Precious Auntie before she had burned her face. She had dreamy eyes, daring eyebrows that tilted upward, and her mouth—such plump pouting lips, such smooth skin. She was beautiful, but she did not look the way I remembered her, and I was sorry it was not her burnt face in the photo. The more I looked, however, the more she became familiar. And then I realized: Her face, her hope, her knowledge, her sadness—they were mine. Then I cried and cried, glutting my heart with joy and self-pity.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t want to make you tense. I’m just trying to get to know you. When I told the waiter this was our first date, I meant it, in a way. I want to pretend I’ve just met you, love at first sight, and I want to know who you are. I love you, Ruth, but I don’t know you. And I want to know who this person is, this woman I love. That’s all.” 

Ruth sank against his chest. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she said softly. “Sometimes I feel like I’m a pair of eyes and ears, and I’m just trying to stay safe and make sense of what’s happening. I know what to avoid, what to worry about. I’m like those kids who live with gunfire going off around them. I don’t want pain. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to see other people around me die. But I don’t have anything left inside me to figure out where I fit in or what I want. If I want anything, it’s to know what’s possible to want.”


Lazy Linking, 201st in an Occasional Series

Stuff I liked lately on the Internets:

201.1 Sciences and humanities need each other, but we keep keeping them separate bit.ly/2KAlboL @cityjournal

201.2 Deconstructing Amazon/Apple/Facebook/Google business models; what's similar & what's different? bit.ly/2jqR0UF @stratechery

201.3 Old city footage made more realistic by slowing it down and adding street noise
bit.ly/2HMTA6e @thisiscolossal

201.4 Hey, when you have a bad customer service experience, why not give the place a chance to fix it instead of rushing to blast them on social? bit.ly/2uHHwNk @bostonglobe

201.5 Maybe we haven't met any aliens bc as civilizations get more advanced all we want to do is entertain ourselves bit.ly/2jpODkY @seedmag


School Board Musings

It’s been a minute since I and eight others were selected by Mayor Kenney to serve on the School District of Philadelphia Board of Education, but I haven’t yet had the chance to blog through my thoughts on this momentous opportunity.  The School District itself just posted a nice Q&A-style piece about me, through which I was able to say a lot of what was on my heart.  I’ll only add a few more musings here:

* Amid all the congratulatory and encouraging words sent my way since the announcement were a lot of parents who half-jokingly but half-seriously looked me in the eye and basically said, “hey, don’t f$#@! this up.”  Which I appreciate.  After all, isn’t that what’s good about local accountability?

* That said, one thing that has been impressed upon me is that the sheer size of the task at hand – 203,000 kids, a $3 billion annual operating budget, the well-being of an entire generation of Philadelphians AND the future reputation of the region as a place that is growing and that benefits all – necessarily means that we are all in this together.  The Board has a special part to play, for sure, but everyone – businesses, non-profits, government, residents, taxpayers, parents – we all need to do all we can for our kids.

* Speaking of which, I am so thankful for public servants past and present who have taken the time so far during our orientation period to help us, by providing us with administrative support, subject matter expertise, and emotional support.  I take seriously the deep debt I am in, that I will be honored to pay forward someday.

* Some of what we will do as board members will be fun and celebratory.  But some will be hard, controversial, and deeply unpopular.  Both will be necessary to putting the School District in the best position possible to serve its students.  I accept that there will be both commendations and condemnations headed my way from many directions, and receive them from a place of appreciating the passion people have for public education and the willingness they have to voice it and fight for it, and in a spirit of hopefulness that whether we agree or disagree we are all in this together for the sake of our kids.

* Lastly, I’ll end by saying that this new position of mine is a very publicly prominent one.  I am used to living my life knowing that I am being watched – by my children, my co-workers, and colleagues for whom I serve as a role model – but this is a level and constancy of scrutiny that is new to me.  It will take some adjustment, and it will not be easy at times (especially when I am having an introverted moment), but I accept that as part of my responsibility and also as part of the opportunity I have to make a difference.

* On a related note, it doesn't escape me that with this new visibility comes the opportunity to (if I may use a Christian word) testify to the things that are important in my life, for which I am excited and focused to properly represent.  It has been surreal, for example, to be able to speak my deepest held understandings of faith in action (as learned from the Bible and forged through painful hardship) to top city leaders and local media.

Wish me luck!  And pray for me, and for those who serve with me, and most of all for our kids, all 203,000 of them, all precious, all growing up right before our eyes.  We have a lot of challenges in front of us because they have a lot of challenges in front of them.  May we all, by God’s grace, be ready to face those challenges.