Reflections on 2020, Perspective, and Hope

“Rebellions are built on hope.” Jyn Erso, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As I write my final blog post for 2020, I wanted it to be a reflection on this past year. I assumed I’d write how horrible this year has been, and make no mistake, it has been a very challenging year.

For the first time in 100 years, the world is crippled by a pandemic. Millions have died needlessly. People’s worst impulses have been on display. This has all been exasperated by a political year like one we haven’t seen in over a generation, or several generations. The US presidential election was a display of politics at its worst. There is a classic essay by famed economist F.A. Hayak called “Why the Worst Get on Top.” I recently reread it, and I was starkly reminded that America has been flirting with Fascism and will continue to do so if we as a people do not actively take a stand against would-be Il Duce rhetoric.

While we continue to fight the plague of COVID-19 and political dissonance, 2020 was also a reckoning for the history of America’s racism plague. This plague has been on this land since at least 1619 when the first 19 Africans set foot in New World Virginia. America is STILL dealing with the North Atlantic Slave Trade, which ended not that long ago… then again, the world is still dealing with the Fall of the Roman Empire, which ended 1,600 years ago.

What makes us so arrogant to believe we won’t be dealing with the fallout of slavery for generations to come?

Yet, we should be doing much better, but our racist past has been ignored by White America for too many generations. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many more Black men, women, children should be alive today. Their lives cut short by the Racist Plague that has taken early many lives as COVID-19 has.

Yes, 2020 has been a fucked-up year. Pandemics, economic destruction, selfishness and arrogance, political hatred, racist hatred. Yet, I don’t feel as defeated or down as I thought I would be. I feel hopeful, like I haven’t felt in many years.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized what I already stated: How arrogant to believe this year is the worst year ever. It is conceit that blinds many – a false sense of being special or different from those who came before us. Is anything really as “unprecedented” as we believe? Word of the year, no?

I don’t think so. None of this is new. In his Meditations, Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius reminded himself:

“To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before. And will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging.”

That was written almost 2,000 years ago. And it continues to play out the same! Same stage, different actors. This is what gives me hope.

Pandemics? The Spanish Influenza of 1918-1919 claimed an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. However, there was no vaccine created and distributed within 11 months of its onset.

Political conflict? Child please. The American Civil War period was far worse than anything we’re going through today. Yes, Trump is a monster, but at least he’s incompetent. Imagine if he were even half as capable as Mussolini or Franco.* I think it’s a testament to our Country, however fragile it appears, that Trump was soundly defeated and all his attempts to maintain power have failed. (It’s another conversation as to why he received so many votes in the first place, but that’s for another blog).

*While Trump is a wannabe dictator, and there can be little doubt of that, I refuse to liken him to Adolf Hitler as so many others have. In keeping with the spirit of this post – remembering the past – until someone systemically and industrially murders 6 million+ people and starts the deadliest conflict in human history, they are NOT on Hitler’s level. Keep it in perspective, folks.

Racism in America is another story. It takes generations for change to become institutionalized. We cannot, nor will we, change hundreds of years of institutionalized hatred and bigotry. We can, however, continue to chip away at it. And I believe more White Americans have been acknowledging the evil history and present of their homeland, unlike in years past. That’s the difference we need. Black America needs the allyship. White America needs that allyship, too, for our souls.

Whether it’s calling out someone at work for making a horrid comment, actively listening to one another about experiences, making concerted efforts at learning, or making a commitment every day at doing the right thing. All these actions are “little” but important and necessary. It’s the little things done consistently over time that build infrastructure. We need these items to build our foundation for greater, longer lasting change. And the road is long… but we’re finally walking it in greater numbers, or it feels that way. I hope I am not wrong.

The classic line “perspective is everything” has never been more meaningful.

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I never used to be one for “hope.” I guess to me, “hope” is a focus on the uncontrollable. Hope is about the expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. We have zero control over if that thing will or will not happen in a majority of instances. I see that as a waste of energy.

Or at least I used to. I’ve grown to believe that hope is important – when tempered and realistic. I use the past to stay grounded. We’ve been here before. We’ve made it through many times prior, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t do it again.

One of the few things we can control is our actions, our thoughts, our beliefs. I have seen firsthand how study, experience, and conversation have changed mine. I can control the foundation I built within myself in hopes of changing the foundation of others. I cannot control if my actions will change one person’s mind, but I continue to build my own, and that’s important. Just keep swimming. Eventually, the hope is, others will jump in the pool.

If we are to solve issues, whether at our workplace, in our neighborhoods, or in our society, we need to have a rebellious attitude. We need to think differently, challenge convention, and stay strong in the face of weakness. In short, we need hope, because rebellions are built on it.

2020 was a challenging year. It was not the worst year. Even if it were, we’re entering 2021. If you’re reading this, you made it through, and there’s a lot to be hopeful for going forward. Just continue forward. It’s the only place we have to go.

Networking as an Introverted HR Professional: How Stoicism Helped Me Overcome Distance

“You’ve been made by nature for the purpose of working with others.” Marcus Aurelius

I’ve mentioned it many times in the past. I am an introvert. This does not mean, as many erroneously believe, that I dislike people. As a dedicated HR professional, I don’t believe I’d have gotten very far if I didn’t like people!

No, being an introvert is more complicated. It means that my energy is drained as I interact with people. This isn’t a negative. People don’t suck the energy from me – not always anyway! No, it’s how my body naturally reacts to human interaction. I use energy to interact. And it takes a lot of “me” time to recharge. Conversely, extroverts tend to gain energy from interactions with people.

This background is important. As a natural introvert, I spend a lot of time in self-introspection (crazy, I know). I became aware a long time ago that if I were to succeed at HR, I needed to find a way to be comfortable being uncomfortable and interact more often with folks. Success in this industry requires meaningful connections.

How did I do this? Many ways, including this EXCELLENT presentation by Erich Kurschat, who challenged me to think differently about what it means to be a successful introverted professional.

But like most things in life, I turned to philosophy when I got in ruts, and it has proved invaluable.

I’ve written before that philosophy is for everyone, and HR pros can find much wisdom and answers by perusing the art and study of wisdom.

Stoicism in particular is important to me. Its platitudes are timeless. Its creeds applicable for a modern audience and modern problems. I’ve argued this. Others have argued this.

A central element of Stoicism is how the world is interconnected. The great Stoic teachers consistently communicated the idea of “Sympathiea,”meaning “all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other.”

Marcus Aurelius wrote in his private journal, later becoming the famous Meditations, that we ought to “Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” He also wrote, “Human beings have been made for the sake of one another. Teach them or endure them.”

Seneca, in his Letters from a Stoic, On Clemency, wrote that Stoicism was unique in philosophies due to its teaching on sympathiea.

“No school has more goodness and gentleness; none has more love for human beings, nor more attention to the common good. The goal which it assigns to us is to be useful, to help others, and to take care, not only of ourselves, but of everyone in general and of each one in particular.”

The Stoic idea of sympathiea is a reminder that we were made to work with other people. We were made to interact with one another, to teach one another, to learn from one another. HR practitioners, specifically, need to remember this.

So, when I contemplate the implications of sympathiea and networking, it leads me to remember that networking is built on the premise of helping one another – not for others to help me, necessarily, for when networking is done right, the self will benefit. However, the purpose of networking is to help others! It’s to make meaningful connections, gain ideas, and become a better person through helping others.

“One who seeks friendship for favorable occasions, strips it of all its nobility.” – Seneca

So, when I’m looking to network as an HR professional, what do I do?

  1. Connect others with similar interests. I love to make connections. Like Rush the band? I know several HR pros you should get to know! Love Baby Yoda? Do I know some folks! Want to make a career transition into HR? Well, let me introduce you to… “Friendship is given us by nature, not to favor vice, but to aid virtue.” – Cicero
  2. Learn from others. I’ve had a fairly unique career trajectory in HR industry. Honestly, everyone has, but I know what I know and what I don’t know. And I don’t know A LOT! Reaching out to thought leaders and subject matter experts in other areas helps me continuously learn and hone my craft. It’s intentional. It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows. – Epictetus
  3. Try to teach others. Learning is a two-way street. My hope is to pass on knowledge and understanding, or at least expose others to a different perspective they otherwise would not have considered or been exposed to, through my actions. Do what you say, or don’t do it! “Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given to me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it.” — Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

Notice that I didn’t say I network to find a job. Honestly, networking has helped me find new jobs. However, I didn’t go into those relationships looking to find a job. At the end of the day, what’s good for the hive is good for the bee, as Marcus Aurelius reminded himself. If I live my life in service to others, I should eventually see rewards. It doesn’t mean I will necessarily get a new job, or make new friends, or be thanked. But those things are not the point. They’re nice to have, but it’s better to have the knowledge that I controlled what I could and don’t worry about the rest!

More importantly, networking has afforded me amazing opportunities I otherwise would never have found if I stayed in my comfortable little introvert bubble. Due to networking, I’ve:

  • Been a guest on several podcasts
  • Been invited to speak at several conferences
  • Conducted several online trainings for organizations
  • Started this blog and shared many stories
  • Began a side hustle as an HR consultant due to people ASKING me for help
  • And, most importantly, I’ve made many new friends – real life friends – whom I otherwise would have never known or interacted with

The results don’t lie, at least to me. I think this is why it still shocks me to talk with other HR pros who don’t network, at least not consistently! I sense some hesitancy for whatever reason from many folks. Listen, I felt it, too! Whether it’s anxiety leaving your comfort zone, or healthy skepticism, I challenge those who don’t network to just give it a try. Why not?

The aforementioned actions have worked for me, but I encourage you to find what works for you! My strategies may help. Maybe others will help you. Either way, remember that Aristotle said humans are social creatures. Find the best way to translate that social nature into a good life for you and for others through the power of networks, which is just a fancy business term for sympathiea, a.k.a “meaningful connections.”

Street Level Influencer: Meet Jane Murtaugh and Her Passion for HR Education

Profile photo of Jane Murtaugh, SHRM-CP
Jane Murtaugh, Professor at College of DuPage, and founder of the HR Management Certification program.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

It’s been a while, but the Street Level Influencer is back! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, political division, hatred from all sides. All these things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods
  9. Anthony Eaton

The first professional job I had out of college was not in HR, or even a typical post-graduate job. I graduated during the Great Recession when starting a career was difficult to say the least. However, I didn’t give up on finding some semblance of income, so I turned to an unlikely source!

I reached out to an old professor I had at Joliet Jr. College, the community college I went to after high school. Dr. Buck helped vouched for me, and I was hired as an adjunct professor in the Social Sciences Department. I taught Political Science 101.

Being an adjunct professor was one of my favorite experiences I’ve ever had. I am passionate about education, helping develop minds, and brining a love of learning out of even the most skeptical students’ minds! I was proud of what I accomplished during my tenure at JJC.

I’ve always had a connection to community colleges. In all facets of what I’ve done professionally over the years, I tried to support local community colleges. They’re a foundation of learning, and a necessary bridge for some or a lifeline for others.

So, about a year ago, I was thrilled when Jane Murtaugh of College of DuPage reached out to me with a proposal. Jane started the Human Resource Certificate Program at COD a few years prior, and she wanted me to be on their advisory council! I met Jane through social media, and I knew her passion for HR and higher education, so I was honored and geeked to join their advisory council.

Aside from our connection through community colleges, the human resource community, and living in the western Chicago suburbs, her and I both are proud alumni from Northern Illinois University. Go Huskies!

So, without further ado, here is Jane’s story!

1. Tell me about the organization you currently work at and what your role is.

For the past 20 years, I have worked at College of DuPage (COD) as a full-time professor of Business & Management. COD is a community college located in DuPage County, about 30 miles west of Chicago. My area of focus and expertise is in HR Management from my former corporate days; and as the developer and chair of our HR Management Certificate program since Fall 2017, I am now enjoying helping both advise and instruct our HR students as they work to either launch or advance their careers. I enjoy every minute being able to work with and mentor our HRM Certificate students and watching them reach their career goals! Plus, I get to work with great HR professionals such as yourself in a variety of roles as you all support these students as either members of our HR Advisory Board, as mentors, as career advisors, as guest speakers, as presentation reviewers, and as employers. The current education environment is challenging right now, but I am most grateful for the opportunity I have been given to work with students.

2. What is the number one misconception about HR you see your students come in believing?

I chuckle a bit at this question – I see many non-HR students put off taking the one required HRM course for our Associate of Applied Science in Management degree students. HR has a negative perception to many of them as the Department who says “no” or obstructs them from doing what they want to be doing. Others see HR as merely those people in boring payroll jobs or those who like to discipline. I spend a lot of time talking about and selling the value of HR and how each of us are better managers, better supervisors, and better employees the more we learn and understand about HR. Understanding how jobs are designed, how jobs are paid, how benefit offerings are determined, how training is created and implemented, how employees are retained, etc. all adds value to our organizations and ourselves. The two areas of study all seem to be very interested is in employment law and discrimination AND terminations and discipline.

I don’t have to really sell the value of studying HR to our HRM Certificate students – they already have an interest in HR and are eager to learn more so they can become HR professionals themselves.

3. Why was it important to you to push an HR Management Certificate program at the community college level?

Interesting question – the reality is I was frequently being asked why COD only offered one HR course and why we didn’t offer a degree in HR. It was honestly a question I had asked myself many times as well.  At the community college level, we need to be able to demonstrate employability for each of our offered certificate programs. As I began investigating growth in HR careers and job openings back in 2016, I saw double-ditch growth projections. So, I began working on developing our HR certificate, created three advanced HRM courses, and launched them in the Fall 2017 semester. We now have approximately 150 alums!!

Community colleges are known primarily as two-year colleges offering a way to begin the pursuit of a four-year degree by completing general education coursework at a lower tuition cost, but we are also so much more than that. Career and workforce development through Career & Technical Education programs is a huge part of our mission and one that employers are asking us for more and more of these days. Our Human Resource Management Certificate is an example of just that.

As you know, many individuals can end up in an HR career without having completed any college coursework in HR. Or others are looking to begin or advance their HR career without needing to complete a four-year program. And others are looking to advance their careers through certification exams. Our HRM Certificate fits that need. It is truly an example of career and workforce development! Our students come to us for this two-semester program and head out into the workplace ready to meet employer needs.

We’ve seen great success of students completing the program and obtaining employment upon earning their HRM Certificate. Others have achieved their HRCI or SHRM certification upon completion, others have moved into HR internships.

My personal goal continues to be for SHRM National to acknowledge there are many emerging HR professionals looking to certify and be recognized as HR professionals without need of a Bachelor degree and that community colleges can also offer credible HR coursework and certificate programs. HRCI has done that through their aPHR exam, and I have many students who move in that direction upon completing our HRM Certificate. HRCI sees our coursework as being aPHR prep, and we are listed on their website as such. Today’s students aren’t always just the traditional 18-23 year old students.

4. That’s an important point! As much as I am a lover of continued education, I believe the bachelor’s degree has been overvalued over the past several decades. There are SO MANY amazing HR pros who don’t have a bachelor’s nor need one, per se! How would you define being a “good HR professional?”

Ethical – Honest – HUMBLE

Proactive communicator

Respectful

Empathetic

Continuous learner

Enjoys people

Enjoys HR

Knowledgeable

Willing to learn new things

Passionate about working in HR

Eager to share what they know with others across all levels of stakeholders

5. With the HR management certificate program, what types of students do you see come through your classes? Why do you think that is?

This is changing – we began offering our advanced HRM courses in Fall 2017. That semester we primarily had students who completed our advanced HR courses as electives for their Management degrees. Now though we primarily see students coming to us from the local community who are not traditional college students but are those seeking to launch or advance their HR careers. Again, the value of offering a career development certificate such as this. It’s something I am very proud of as it helps educate not only the students, but the DuPage County workforce as well.

6. I’ve been pretty vocal about the need for HR to embrace being uncomfortable as it relates to the social injustices plaguing the Black Community – especially in the workplace. How would you advise an HR professional who is intimidated or hesitant to speak up themselves – as I once was – about wrongs they’ve seen in the workplace for whatever reason?

I absolutely encourage speaking up!! In HR our responsibility to and focus on the people in our organizations, our internal stakeholders. I realize in my current role I have the security of tenure and that may make it seem easier for me to speak up, but I have always led with ethics, convictions, and values. If HR is truly the department that is meant to drive and foster culture and organizational values, we have to speak up – we have to guide – we have to use ethical practice. This isn’t always easy. Followers enable leadership, and I would encourage HR professionals to work to ensure we aren’t enabling a toxic culture or unethical leadership. By speaking up when we see wrong helps to ensure that toxicity doesn’t get the leverage it seeks. We need to be building relationships and credibility with management across all levels of the firm, and my hope is that by doing that we can also work towards fostering a mutual trust and respect and a willingness to listen to each other when discussing those positives and potential wrongs in our organizations. So, start by building those relationships, seek input from a mentor either within or external to your organization, bring a proposed solution to what is wrong, listen, but at all times remain loyal to your values and professional standards. 

7. How do you feel the HR profession can bring about real, lasting change for Black workers, and other marginalized people in the workplace?

My hope is we, as HR professionals, truly are able to bring about cultural change within our organizations. I have worked in organizations where HR is valued to help bring about that change and in others where it is the exact opposite because HR had no voice or input. For many of us, we have much work to do in this area for HR to truly be seen as the drivers of cultural change. 

We all know there is also much work to do in addressing the inequities within our organizations and institutions in general, and there is a need for us to be courageous in our listening, a need for us to be willing to have the tough conversations about race and social justice, a need for us to actually observe the realities of our behaviors and their impact on Black workers and other marginalized people in our workplaces. It’s the “how” of doing that that is tough in helping to bring about the real, lasting changes needed.

I have spent many hours since early June being courageous in my listening and reading the tremendous work that has been posted and distributed from the many books, webinars, and podcasts our HR colleagues across the country have either authored or recommended. I’ve created new assignments that require students to read articles on racism and inequities in workplaces and led discussions on what they are seeing in their places of employment and our role in HR in addressing these issues. I follow many HR professionals on Twitter and saw a post a couple weeks ago that made me stop and think about how many of these conversations have now stopped. The post said something along the lines of “in June you said you would take steps to correct the inequities in your organization…have you?” For me that’s the challenge right there. Are we still listening? Are we still conversing? We have to move forward from social justice and inequities being the current issue and challenge discussed in HR circles to the realities of it’s now time to put actions behind the “how” of bringing lasting change. Personally, I’m still working on figuring out my “how”. 

8. It sounds like you’re doing your “how” by incorporating such discussions into your course work at COD. I do not think that is insignificant. Thank you for doing this. This next question is lighter. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Paul, just ONE??!!

Claire Petrie – a tireless, HR professional who welcomes anyone into her network, and we are all better for it. She also shares my love for helping students advance – she gives back to her alma mater, and she inspires us to do the very same. When I have a student questioning how to advance in their HR career, she’s on my list of recommendations to contact. When I have a question on LinkedIn, she’s there to help. When I give my students a list of HR professionals to connect with, she, like you, is on that list. Her spirit and energy are contagious, and she inspires me to keep moving forward!! She is very active on both LinkedIn and on Twitter, and her weekly email newsletters are always very worthy of your time to read.

9. I truly mean this when I say it, that Claire is one of my most favorite people in the world. No other way to say it, other than, she’s amazing! Who is one person — historic, famous, or personal — who inspires you to be better?

This is personal for me – my oldest sister, Deb. Sadly she lost her battle with colon cancer back in 2009, but I am a better person overall due to her. We shared our love of education and bettering student lives, and we shared new approaches to meeting students’ needs and concerns we were facing. I miss her every single day.

10. What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

This has to be handling the changes the pandemic thrust upon us. Our workforces have changed in size, location, and work habits. Will we be back together next June? Will we want to be? Should we be?

HR also needs to accept the reality our employees have personally changed. Are we ready to accept what that really means? As a mom of an RN whose patients include those with COVID-19, I think about this often as I’ve watched her from a distance and prayed for all healthcare workers over these past 8 months. Are we now ready to meet both the current effects and aftereffects of the stress this pandemic has brought? There has been a tremendous loss in this country, in our communities, and in our families. Our employees’ well-being needs to be considered and addressed today and tomorrow. The impact of that loss and stress will be felt for years.

11. That is an incredibly insightful and important point. We are focusing on the now, as we should. Yet, we should prep for what’s next. How will people have changed when the pandemic ends? It will end, but the effects will remain with us for a lifetime. I know people will want to connect with you if they haven’t, so how can people best reach out to you?

I’m pretty much online unless I’m asleep – it’s something the pandemic has shown me I need to work on. But please reach out to me via email at murtaugh@cod.edu or follow me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/janemurtaugh, or on Twitter at @murtaughj (I’m a better follower than leader on Twitter).

12. Finally, what’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I have learned I am not at all good at Twitter Chats! I try to engage with the #HRSocialHour chat on Sundays and am in awe of everyone’s continuous postings – and then I see Wendy and Jon (hosts of the HR Social Hour Twitter chat) consolidate everyone’s comments and release it a few days later and how they do that is beyond me when I can’t even remember to add the #HRSocialHour hash tag into my posts. I’m exhausted for a week after that one hour of trying to stay caught up with all you Twitter chat pros. Maybe you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks! Ha!!

(For the record, I don’t think that’s true! 😊 I think Claire would help you with that if you asked!)

Street Level Influencer: Meet Anthony Eaton and His Passion for Leadership

Anthony Eaton, PHR, SHRM-CP
AUTHOR | WRITER | HR PROFESSIONAL

“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” — Oprah

It’s been a while, but the Street Level Influencer is back! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, political division, hatred from all sides. All these things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods

Now, I want to introduce you to Anthony Eaton, an HR professional from Dallas-Fort Worth area with a passion for leadership.

Leadership is challenging. Leaders must often forego their own challenges and take on the challenges of others. They must forsake themselves at times so that others can prosper. However, in doing so, the leader then prospers.

Like so many of my network, I met Anthony on LinkedIn. I can’t recall exactly what article we connected through, but Anthony said he wanted to connect because we had an HR background and made posting about what we thought it took to be great leaders.

Since then, I’ve admired Anthony’s thought-provoking posts. He asks questions to try to get people to think differently. Many folks often try to figure out what it means to be a leader. It’s different for everyone. And Anthony asks and observes:

  • Can great leadership be taught and learned?
  • As a leader do you accept that mistakes will happen or do you expect perfection?
  • If the only tool you have in your leadership toolbox is a hammer, then everything will be a nail.
  • What does bringing your authentic self to work mean to you?
  • What makes a leader great?

Clearly, Anthony is a philosopher whether he realizes it or not!

I was drawn to Anthony’s inquisitive disposition, and his willingness to engage to get to the right answer. Leadership is something we’re both clearly passionate about, and it’s something EVERY HR professional needs to focus on.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Anthony! You’ll definitely want to connect with him and get to know him better.

Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I work for AmerisourceBergen a pharma company as an HR Advisor. In my role I work with leaders to address employee relations and performance management situations, do investigations and provide guidance and interpretation of policies making sure our approach aligns with our purpose of putting people first.

How would you define being a “good HR professional?”

I would say do no harm. The best HR professionals really care about people and strive to strike that fine balance between doing what is best for employees and the business. Employees are not just resources, and the business is not just a bottom line and paycheck. While it is not rocket science, the things we do in HR have a direct effect on people and the business.

What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

There have been a couple, first was obtaining my PHR certification on the first try. I had been encouraged by peers to do it and I am very proud that I studied for it on my own and passed. Second would be my first management role in a similar position. While I did not have any direct reports my then to be manager could see my potential and sought me out for the role.

What was your biggest HR setback? What did it teach you?

I believe that everything happens for a reason and there is a lesson to be learned from each experience, so I don’t really look at things in terms of setbacks. We make decisions and choices based on what we know at the time. My career found me and it has certainly ebbed and flowed but I have looked at each experience for the lesson and growth it offers both personally and professionally. In both my professional and personal life I have learned to listen to that little voice inside and if a situation does not feel right trust that. Don’t let other people control your career and don’t take an opportunity just for the money. If you are doing what you are supposed to do opportunity will come but you also must be able to recognize it when it does.

Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Oh my, that is hard because I have been blessed to connect with so many great people. Right now, I would say Keith Mason who I am writing a piece on. His story is amazing and inspiring, people should look him up and read about him. He’s a former professional rugby player with such an diverse background.

You mentioned you’re writing a book on leadership! This is incredibly exciting. How is that going, and what is the title and theme?

It is going slowly, but that is ok because what you create is more important than how fast you create it. The title is 52 Thought Provoking Questions on Leadership. The book will be an eclectic mix of questions with space for the reader to write their own answers along with answers to select questions from a wide range and diverse group of people.

I like to know what other people think because it enables me to look at things from different points of view and consider perspectives I may not have thought about. The more we share the better we are and I want to share more than just my view and opinion; I want to get people to think.

Who is one person — historic, famous, or personal — who inspires you to be better?

That one is easy, Oprah. If you look at her life and career it has been a journey of growth and self-discovery. I could listen to her talk for hours and I admire her for what she has done and who she is as a human being. With that said, I don’t put her on a pedestal because she is “Oprah.” I know she is human and not infallible, but she puts that out there and shares.

What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

That is easy too, getting through this pandemic and past all the social and political strife that has been going on. I am thankful to work for such a great organization that really cares about people knowing that this is not the case for everyone. As HR professionals we need to be empathetic to what our employees are going through and the tough choices they may be faced with while at the same time not letting these things become an excuse. As human beings we need to remember that we are all different, but we are also very much the same in our needs and wants.

How can people connect with you?

Through LinkedIn, Twitter (@ateaton), and my website www.leadershipandmore.com.

What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

Oh gosh, if I can only give you one it is that I am a kid at heart and have tried to hold onto that. My sense of wonder of the world, joy of just being and creativity. I like to be silly.

HR Professionals Need Philosophy

Diversidad Pura -Mirta Toledo 1993

“An important place to begin in philosophy is this: a clear perception of one’s own ruling principle.” – Epictetus

My good friend and mentor, Erich Kurschat, recently forwarded me this article:

6 Lessons From Stoic Philosophy That Can Make Your Life Better Today

Erich knows I am a big-time fan of Ryan Holiday, who has influenced my life, and so many others, immeasurably. Holiday is the founder of the Daily Stoic, and the bestselling author of The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. He is a proponent for people studying philosophy, particularly Stoicism.

According to Holiday the only reason a person should study philosophy – the study of wisdom – is to become a better person. That’s it. And someone becomes a philosopher “when they begin to exercise their guiding reason and start to question the emotions and beliefs and even language that others take for granted” (The Daily Stoic, pg. 71). This is a deeply personal practice, but I have been arguing since the founding of this blog that there are professional applications to philosophy. The modern workplace requires philosophers to function, grown, and thrive!

Thankfully, I am not alone in this belief. Philosophy as a professional application has seen something of a jolt in the work landscape over the past decade. More and more professionals are arguing the importance that philosophy plays in the workplace.

Including Holiday, who wrote how Stoicism can help people navigate the modern workplace, publisher Stephen Hanselman has written about how philosophy helps develop leadership, and Mark Manson – bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** – wrote an entire treatise called Why We All Need Philosophy.

A slew of articles arguing the merits of philosophy in the workplace include: “I work therefore I am: why businesses are hiring philosophers, “ “Why Future Business Leaders Need Philosophy,” “Four Reasons Why Philosophy Is As Relevant As Ever,” “What is the relevance of philosophy in the modern business world?,” “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Why Engineers Should Learn Philosophy” and so it goes…

Why philosophy? Isn’t that a discipline for stuffy old bearded men in ivory towers? Well, not really, unless you’re doing it wrong!

I wrote in a prior article “What is an HR Philosopher” that philosophy is meant for everyone! Philosophy is about living one’s best life and acting on what is right. So, in essence, I take that to heart. Doing HR right is an act of philosophy to me. It is always important to create space to think, put things into perspective, and act on what is right.

As Ryan Holiday said, the only reason to study philosophy is to become a better person, and that includes your profession. Become a better HR professional by incorporating philosophy in what you do.

When done right, philosophy develops critical and innovative thinking, and it helps people develop emotional stability and an empathetic attitude, both required for success in the complex and ever-changing modern organization. Philosophy helps us develop ethics and core values to keep us grounded and rooted in those core values. Hence, successful business without philosophy is unthinkable!!!

This can be AND SHOULD BE done by everyone and taken with them wherever they go – home, work, the bank, the restaurant, their child’s play, their partner’s parent’s house, business meetings, job interviews, EVERYWHERE!

As HR professionals, we are preached to ad nauseum that we need to be ahead of the curve, we need to be more progressive than others in our organization, and we need to do MORE to prove our worth.

I challenge ALL HR professionals to develop their own philosophy. Study the classics. Study the new school. Just pick up a book and read! It’s daunting Where should you begin?

If you are a regular reader, it’s fairly obvious which philosophical school I belong to. If you’re not, I am a Stoic, with a capital S.

I do believe, however, that philosophical value can be found elsewhere. In fact, Stoicism was heavily influenced by other philosophical schools, and studying opposing thoughts and differing views can only strengthen our own understanding of ourselves, how we work, and the world in which we live.

You do you! Just start somewhere. Some places to begin include some of the following philosophers. I took one of their main ideas that has influenced me and how it can be applied to the HR workplace.

Philosopher: Plato – “Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.”

HR Implication: Employee Development – Help managers find the best in their staff. Coach them up to coach their staff up!

Philosopher: Aristotle – “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit.”

HR Implication: Professional & Career Development – Continue to grow as an HR professional. Don’t rest on your laurels.

Philosopher: W.E.B. Du Bois – “The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame.”

HR Implication: Benefits – Remember that people are motivated by money, yes, but many studies show that better motivators are sincere recognition, autonomy, and kindness. The biggest reason people leave jobs are bad bosses. They ruin lives, as the saying goes.

Philosopher: Friedrich Nietzsche – “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

HR Implication: DEI – Do not forget that diversity of thought has led to many amazing breakthroughs and strong organizational cultures!

Philosopher: Héloïse d’Argenteuil – “We tarnish the luster of our most beautiful actions when we applaud them ourselves.”

HR Implication: Performance (Self) Management – Ego is a most disastrous enemy. No matter how impactful or disastrous your work has been, remember to have a short memory. Forget it and move on, or else you risk no longer being relevant.

Philosopher: Hypatia of Alexandria – “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”

HR Implication: HRIS – No matter what system you have, love, hate, don’t have, always remember, it’s there to make your life easier – not replace the HR pro.

Philosopher: Lao Tzu – “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

HR Implication: Work Life Balance – The work will always be there tomorrow morning. 😊

Philosopher: Marcus Aurelius – “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

HR Implication: Investigations – Remember to get the facts. Never jump to conclusions. Check your biases constantly. Make sure you’re getting the right information.

I could go on, and I’d love to, but I will leave that to others wanting to explore on their own. One other “starting point” is provided by Mark Manson. His “where to start” list is pretty good and inclusive. Give it a try!

Lastly, philosophy is mistakenly thought of as an old White Man’s game. Any American going through the USA’s educational system (or presidential election) could mistakenly believe that. Do one simple Google search, however, and you will discover MANY women, Black, and Eastern philosophers who have important things to add to our greater discussion.

Ultimately, I try to make my own philosophy one of balance. Stoicism helps me with this more so than others, but it doesn’t mean I ignore wisdom form other places. I seek to understand, so that I can help others understand. I can only do this by studying differing philosophies. In the context of human resources, this is imperative. Ours is a complicated profession. We must balance the needs of so many, and in doing so risk not fulfilling the needs of ourselves. Philosophy keeps me grounded and reminds me that I need to also take care of myself in my pursuit of taking care of others.

What do you think? Will you begin to incorporate philosophy into your daily life? DO you want to be a better version of yourself? Do you want to be a better person, a better professional? Give philosophy a try.

#HRMixedTape – Justice Through Metal Music Edition

“The only truth is music.” – Jack Kerouac

I write a lot about music and how it influences my life in many ways.

Heavy metal, in particular, has influenced me. It has helped me be a better person. It has helped me think more deeply about life, about social issues, about our shared humanity. And therefore, heavy metal has helped me be a better HR professional. Good people make better HR pros. Music is life. Heavy metal is GREAT music, therefore, great for life!

Music communicates to us. Sometimes, it communicates through the chords, arrangements, notes, or harmonies. Other times it communicates more directly – through lyrics.

These past few months, music has been speaking more frequently to me. Heavy metal is an inherently rebellious musical style. It takes the macabre, the alien, the political and transforms them into a call for action.

And, heavy metal, contrary to popular opinion, isn’t a “White man’s” musical style. Metal music has a history of influential and talented Blacks, Native Americans, Latin Americans, and Women who have contributed to the genre in deeply impactful ways. In addition, metal music has MANY White allies, speaking up and using their platforms to discuss important issues.

Metal has always been political. Social justice issues have permeated many of metal’s most powerful musicians, and inspired many to seek a path of justice.

I wanted to share some of the songs that (1) Have influenced me to think differently and (2) showcase some of the genre’s move diverse bands, who have important perspectives.

I hope you can enjoy, if not the musical style, at least the messages. I believe strongly in searching for inspiration in places we normally wouldn’t look. If you’re not normally a heavy metal fan, challenge yourself to do the same.

War Pigs by Black Sabbath

Politicians hide themselves away

They only started the war

Why should they go out to fight?

They leave that role for the poor, yeah

There wouldn’t be heavy metal without Black Sabbath. The innovators took the Blues and rock ‘n’ roll and turned it into something dark and menacing. They set the template for every metal band since. Part of that template was infusing their sound with political lyrics. They would use their platform to bring attention to injustice – and through the process write catchy lyrics and SICK riffs! (All Hail Tony Iommi, riff god!). War Pigs is the ULTIMATE Sabbath political statement – a stark rebuke against the injustices of war, specifically the Vietnam War. But these lyrics could be attributed to any war before or since.

Native Blood by Testament

I won’t be afraid

I got something to say

My voice will be heard

So loud, native blood!

Thrash metal legends Testament are fronted by Chuck Billy, who is proud of his Pomo Native American and Mexican ancestry. He often uses his own lived experiences in his lyrics, commenting on how difficult the Native American experience has been over the last 400 years. Native Blood is a thrash documentation of his experience as a Native American in a society that has always ostracized him.

Kill the Silence by Nervosa

Suffering alone

Crying in the dark

It’s what he’s done

And you want him to die

Don’t be afraid

Don’t feel dirty

You have the power

Just scream out louder

Kill the silence!

Nervosa is a special band! They are an all-female thrash band from Brazil. While metal isn’t strictly a male’s world, it is overwhelmingly dominated by male acts. It takes guts and fortitude to excel in a male dominated environment, and Nervosa do just that! Their unique talents are powerful, and their experiences bring a different perspective. Kill the Silence is a call for women to continue being loud about their experiences with harassment. Harassment and misogyny is still a very real daily experience for millions of women across the world, and Nervosa aren’t accepting of it.

Remain Violent by Warbringer

The constant threat of a shot to the chest

But defending yourself is resisting arrest

City streets that I called my home

Are starting to look like a combat zone

The new wave of American Thrash has few peers in Warbringer! The band’s front man, John Kevill, is incredibly smart and pointed in his social critiques. His lyrics and commentary are directed, thoughtful, and damning. In Remain Violent he uses the phrase “remain silent” as a twist on police brutality that has become common place on our televisions over the past several months. However, John argues rightfully so, it’s been common place in many communities for far longer.

Black Hoodie by Body Count

Got on a black hoodie, its hood up on my head

I didn’t have a gun so why am I dead?

You didn’t have to shoot me and that’s a known fact

And now I’m laying face down with bullets in my back

Ice-T is someone who has been writing music about police brutality far longer, and has been far closer to that situation than anyone else on this list. Ice-T isn’t only a rapper and actor. He also fronts the all Black metal band Body Count since the early 1990s! In Black Hoodie he goes off on the unjust murder of Trayvon Martin that started the modern Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, it’s something that isn’t new to far too many people…

All these people out here tripping off police brutality, Like this shit is something new

Refuse/Resist by Sepultura

Chaos A.D.

Tanks on the streets

Confronting police

Bleeding the Plebs

Raging crowd

Burning cars

Bloodshed starts

Who’ll be alive?!

This song was written in 1993 by the legendary Brazilian thrash band Sepultura. Those lyrics read as if they were written last week about Kenosha, not about humanity’s ever constant fight – the elites and everyone else. Sepultura, being a Latin band, have a unique perspective on elite control, coming from a country that was colonized for slavery. They’ve brought that “overthrow the dictator” theme in their music for over 30 years now.

The World Is Yours by Arch Enemy

There was only so much

You could take

There was only so much

You could tolerate

When the bough breaks, the empire will fall

Fronted by the AMAZING Alissa White-Gluz, Arch Enemy has always been a band about not caring about other’s rules. They’ve been a female fronted band for 20 years after the departure of their only male vocalist. And they’ve been a BETTER band for having that diversity over the years! Alissa’s lyrics in the World Is Yours clearly a call for women to stand up and not take shit from male dominated spaces. Clearly, she lives her values by being a kick ass woman in a kick ass metal band.

Blackened by Metallica

Blackened is the end

Winter it will send

Throwing all you see

Into obscurity

Death of Mother Earth

Never a rebirth

Evolution’s End

Never will it mend

Never

No way I could post about heavy metal and NOT include my main band Metallica! Blackened isn’t the first heavy metal song about how humans are destroying the planet – perhaps that was Black Sabbath’s Hole In the Sky – but it is my favorite. Justice cannot end with humanity. We must rise up and take better care of our world. When nature is out of sync, humanity suffers. The earth in general seems to chaos – polar ice caps are at their lowest levels in recorded history, wild fires are burning large swaths of the world over, freak weather occurrences happen with regularity, pollution is overpowering the Pacific ocean, etc. If man is a product of our environment, then it’s no wonder we seem to be on tilt. The earth isn’t doing well… people aren’t doing well… We need to treat our Mother better, or there’s no point in social justice, as the world won’t be habitable enough to support us.

Rise Inside by Killswitch Engage

Rise inside

Free your mind

Raise your fist

To signify

We stand in defiance

Of hatred and deception

If I stand alone

I will fight for you

The time has come to

Make a difference

Why have we forsaken love

The time has come to

Raise our voices

So rise up and fight with me

Second only to Metallica, Killswitch Engage has influenced me more than any other band. Rise Inside, in particular, is a song with immortal lyrics. Today, it seems not more than ever, we need to read the lyrics of Jesse Leech and implement them deep within ourselves. Love overcomes. Hatred destroys us all.

Hidden Track:

Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine

F*** you, I won’t do what you tell me!

The song has simple lyrics. Simple lyrics can sometimes be the most impactful. Recently, this song has enjoyed renewed interest as the anthem to many worldwide protests happening in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. It’s easy to see why. People are fed up, and I think this lyric, while crude, is incredibly relatable on a human level. As Frederick Douglas once spoke, and I paraphrase, the moment we gain true freedom isn’t when we lose our shackles. It’s when our master says “yes” and we say “no.”

Live Hard: What Are Your Professional Mission, Vision, and Values?

“Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.” – Marcus Aurelius

Several years ago, I was deciding what I wanted to do when I grew up. The job I had was good, but something was missing. It didn’t feel like it was “it.” I had little to complain about, but I firmly believe that if you don’t like what you do, it will slowly eat you up over time.

I wasn’t officially an HR professional at the time, but I had a lot of HR tasks, and I really liked them! So, I enrolled in a SHRM Essentials of HR Management course, and nothing in my professional life would ever be the same!

The teacher was a man named John Newton, and I am still friends with him to this day! John was (and is) one of the most positively passionate, enthusiastic HR professionals and advocates you will EVER know. Steve Browne and John were likely brothers from different mothers – and fathers and families… but still, I stand by that apt comparison!

John began the class by asking everyone what their mission, vision, and values were. He wasn’t asking what our organization’s mission, vision, and values were. What were OURS as individuals. He firmly believed that EVERY person needs to have those firmly outlined in their minds, otherwise, people could lose their professional way.

John described them as such:

  • Mission – Who you are.
  • Vision – What you want to be known for.
  • Values – What you stand for.

I still have the SHRM Essentials book in which I was frantically scribbling notes, and in it I wrote:

  • Mission – To leave people/organizations I’ve come into contact with in a better place.
  • Vision – To be known as a good person who did his best.
  • Values – Leadership, Consistency, Resiliency, Learning

Not bad for a first try when prompted cold! John said to take this print it out and put it somewhere you can always see it. It can be your compass when you’re not sure where you should be going.

I find that so profound, and necessary. Now more than ever, our communities seem adrift – almost chaotic. It’s as if many don’t have a compass – flailing wildly about as fires burn around. Instead of helping put the fires out, we splash kerosene on the flames watching them fan and spread. It doesn’t seem like people are focusing on doing the right thing, just the thing that they believe will make them feel better.

Feeling good isn’t always synonymous with the right thing. In fact, many times, doing the right thing is difficult, hard. I try to live my life by the mantra: Live Hard. Meaning, remember to always do the right thing. It matters not if people are looking, if you get credit for it, or if it hurts you! The right thing in and of itself is the ultimate goal. Always.

But, what is the right thing? Sometimes, it’s easy to know. Other times, not so much. That’s why values matter. If we pick the right values, we can move toward the right thing – even if we do it imperfectly.

Mark Manson rightfully argued in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck that our actions through our constant choices, not our words, determine our values. If someone claims they value friendship yet treat their friends like garbage, then they actually don’t value friendship. They value being a jerk. If someone states that they value healthy living, but then stay up all night drinking and eating garbage food, they don’t value health at all. They value being slovenly.

“We are always choosing the values by which we live and metrics by which we measure everything that happens to us. Often the same event can be good or bad, depending on the metric we choose to use. The point is, we are always choosing, whether we recognize it or not. Always.” (Manson, p. 95)

Again, this is why it’s so important to define our values, write them down, and measure oneself against them regularly. I find that writing things down is not only therapeutic, but it increases my accountability. When it comes to documentation, it’s well known in HR circles that if it’s not written down it never happened. So, too, if our values are not written down, do they exist? Can we hold ourselves accountable to those standards we’ve placed on ourselves if we’re not consistently reminding ourselves what we hold dear?

The point isn’t that if we write them down, or define them in another way, that we’re fixed and won’t ever stray! We’re human. Each and every one of us. All people, even great persons, fall off the wagon, or go astray. The point is, that when the storm knocks us off course, can we look to our written values to remind us of what we want to be so we can bring the ship back to port?

Choose values that are important, impactful – not only to you as an individual, but to the community as a whole! We are all connected. What one person chooses to value will have an impact on others.

Where do you begin? Well look inside! What kind of person are you? What kind of person do you want to be? Is there a disconnect, or is there synergy? I used to struggle with this, and then I found Stoicism. The Stoic philosophy teaches that there are four main virtues that all other virtues (values) come from: Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Moderation. This is a solid start!

Regardless of what values we choose to live by, we must be able to personify them, so long as they lead us to justice – aka, doing the right thing! Always ask yourself, am I doing what is right? Am I living up to my standards? Am I working to empower the powerless, or working to selfishly allow those with their boots on their necks to lean in harder? Ask yourself daily, is this correct, just, right? If the answer is not an immediate “yes” then stop and reassess. The hardest thing to do sometimes is to stand up and DO RIGHT. Live hard.

Over the years, my personality has evolved – as do all of ours if we’re paying attention – and with it, my mission, vision, and values. Below are the standards for which I have set for myself. I don’t always get there. That’s the point! If we were able to reach Heaven, would there be a purpose in having an earth?

When I fail, I remind myself that perseverance is one of my values. I can always choose to get back up. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the hard thing to do, so it must be done.

I’d love to know what your values are if you’re comfortable enough to share! Drop a line to me via the comment section, or message me on social media!

Taking Control of Mental Health: Acknowledge. Accept. Act.

Kishwaukee River in Sycamore, IL, Winter 2019. I took this photo as a memento during the hardest period of my life.

“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.” – Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones

It’s been a few weeks since I sat down to type for the blog. A lot has been going on, personally and professionally! Forgive me as I take a stroll down memory lane… this is a long journey. I hope you’ll come with me. I need to get this out there.

My hope is someone who needs to read this will read it and be inspired to find help. Even if it’s one person. That’s more than enough for me to know this is the right thing to do – even though is scares the crap out of me.

My favorite Walt Disney movie is Aladdin, due in large part to Robin Williams. Williams’ Genie is one of the all-time great voice acting performances. The heart, the soul, the humor are all delivered with spot on accuracy and energy. To this day, I love watching the Genie do his thing while singing every word to Never Had a Friend Like Me and Prince Ali!

There are bands that explode on the scene and change music, or at least challenge the musical dynamic – even if briefly. One such band was Linkin Park. In 2000 the band dropped their debut album Hybrid Theory, and everyone my age (and many others younger and older) was obsessed! In particular, I loved the voice of Chester Bennington. It could change from raging scream to hauntingly beautiful harmonies on a dime. In the end, it doesn’t even matter if you like them or not. Chester Bennington’s voice was a voice of a generation. In fact, I’m jamming Hybrid Theory as I type and loving how fresh it sounds 20 years later.

I’m obsessed with cooking shows. Since I was in high school, I’ve loved seeing world class chefs show you how to prepare amazing cuisine. Anthony Bourdain, however, was a little different. He was a world class chef, who rose up from poverty and was deeply influenced by a punk ethos. He took those rebellious, non-conformist roots with him – a “fuck you” attitude he used to expose corruption and shed light on injustice and impropriety through food and culture. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown is a beautiful show. I highly recommend binging if you can.

All three inspired me. I am, in some part, who I am today due to their influence. All three of them also share another trait. They all fought through mental health challenges and lost. All three couldn’t rise above the darkest depths of their torment and committed suicide.

I will never forget where I was when I heard the news of each one of them. I was shattered. In some ways, I am still shattered.

Shattered because… I share their torment. I’ve felt it, too. Thankfully, so far, I have been able to stave off the hand of uncertainty and not sink to a level from which I cannot return. It doesn’t make it any less painful. Painful because I fear one day I may sink too far and not come back.

Seeing heroes of mine fail so spectacularly gives me a deep seeded anxiety that I may one day fail. It’s a reminder that my battle may ebb and flow, but it is never over. It’s something I will carry with me forever. Everyone who battled mental health in some way or another knows this truth.

I have carried that battle with me silently, much like Williams, Bennington, and Bourdain. Until their deaths, was it common knowledge that they all had inner demons that tormented them? No. Williams, in particular. Here’s a man who spent his entire life making other people happy. He was a jokester, a (seemingly) happy, energetic person! How could he take his own life???

It makes no sense, except it makes perfect sense. It makes perfect sense to those who share the demon.

Suffering in silence… most wouldn’t know. It’s why I have decided to be more vocal, and it begins with naming the demon… depression.

I’ve been wanting to write this for years – prior to ever having started the HR Philosopher. Yet, I held back. I continued suffering silently, alone. Fear, anger, hate, suffering – all these things kept me from writing what I wanted to, as well as helped me down the path to the Darkside.

Thankfully, I got a push from a friend. Osasu Arigbe wrote a blog series in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month. She asked me to be a part of her series, Let’s Talk About Mental Health. It was the first time I ever publicly discussed that I was challenged with mental health issues. In fact, it was the first time I was even open about it with anyone outside of my wife and maybe three or four others.

Interview with Osasu Arigbe, an amazing HR professional and mental health advocate!

For as long as I can remember, I avoided talking about it, acknowledging it, ESPECIALLY to myself. I hid from it, hoping it’d go away. But it never did – it never does. It just goes into hibernation, much like a bear. It sleeps from time to time, but always wakes up hungry and angry. The bear comes back and goes on a devastating bender.

Thankfully, I came to the realization that as painful as it is, as uncomfortable as it is, as awkward as it is, talking about one’s mental heath struggles is necessary to move forward and regain control of one’s life.

It began with acknowledging that depression was a part of me. It is as much a part of me as my blonde hair and brown eyes. Acknowledging it is only step one. The next step was accepting it. It’s one thing to know something, but it’s another to agree that this knowledge is true and unrefutable. Once you accept it, you have to act. By act I mean take the reigns and intentionally working in ways and doing things to live peacefully with depression.

I came to this understanding after a long battle of depression – the longest and most painful of my entire life. It started in the fall of 2018, and I didn’t come completely out of it until winter of 2020. It nearly debilitated me personally and professionally. Thankfully, I have a wonderful wife, without whom, I may not be writing this now!

I admitted my struggles and came clean with her. It was something we worked on together. And she never wavered while I was a tattered flag in a hurricane barely hanging on by what seemed like a few threads.

During my lowest points, I journaled. It was one way in which I could act. I am glad I did. I chronicled my journey. It gave me something to look back on to realize how far I came, how much I learned, and how much I grew.

Originally, I wrote it for myself. However, I feel sharing it here could potentially help someone else. So, I share the following from March 6, 2019 when I was home desperate for some semblance of “normalcy.”

What have you learned so far?

  • I have learned that you can hit a new rock bottom. You can fall further than previously thought.
  • You can, however, always choose to get back up, every time!
  • Your condition doesn’t define you.
  • You are NOT your job. Sometimes a job is a job. It doesn’t need any other meaning other than a means to provide our loved ones with what they need.
  • Being your own best friend is hard but necessary for sustained wellness.
  • Those who truly matter always reveal themselves, as do those who don’t matter.
  • Internal validation is a key to wellbeing. External validation is fleeting and poisonous.
  • You are always making decisions. It is best to be present for them.
  • Consistency comes with practice. Practice comes with discipline. Discipline comes when your mind is locked in.
  • Quiet is the ultimate equalizer. Sitting in quiet while smiling is even better.
  • It is OK to not be OK.
  • Happiness can be found here, now. You won’t find it anywhere else.
  • At the end of the day, you must be your own best friend. You won’t be a friend to others if you don’t.
  • Being vulnerable is a gateway to true understanding. Open yourself up to the world. Shutting it off, running or hiding, or worse, ignoring challenges, only makes suffering worse.

Being vulnerable? Ugh… I am uncomfortable when vulnerable; however, that uncomfortability saved me in many ways. Shutting myself off, closing myself in armor (not being vulnerable) was slowly causing me to rot. It didn’t help my depression go away. My depression will never go away, but being vulnerable gives me the power to understand my depression – to harness it to make my world better around me for myself, my family, and the community.

I wrote the above in the middle of the worst depression of my life. I wrote the following as I was coming out of it… near the end. On January 17, 2020, I wrote:

What has a year and a half of depression taught me?

  1. Acknowledge and accept. Then act.
  2. Acknowledging you have a mental illness is hard and someone akin to coming out of the closet, in that, for a period of time I hid who I am – even from myself. I have come to greatly respect anyone in the LGTBQ community who is fully out and loving who they are. I admire it so much because it’s something I haven’t been able to do with myself for less stakes.
  3. Greater empathy for the African American experience. I felt discrimination due to my condition. I felt the sting of being treated differently due to being different. Obviously, it pales in comparison to the African American experience, but being discriminated against (even on a minute level) opens one’s eyes – experiencing injustice changes your perception. It makes me mad at how wronged Blacks have been.
  4. Great appreciation for FMLA. Had it not been for FMLA and my understanding of the law, I may not have been able to keep my job.
  5. There is no where near enough support for those with these challenges. One clinic and took 4 weeks to see a doctor.

Middle. End. What about the beginning? On 11/04/2018, I wrote:

“Stop looking for happiness everywhere else than where you are.”

That’s a sobering, grounding thought. Happiness can be found right where you are. You won’t find it anywhere else. You just won’t. It comes from within. That’s why depression sucks. If left completely unchecked, it robs you of logic, emotion, and your future (at its worst). I knew what to do, but I couldn’t do it.

So, past and present, but what about future? My hope with being so transparent is to allow myself the opportunity to move forward – stronger. Coming clean is so liberating. Accepting what you are is power. I hope by following Tyrion’s advice, I can be open and honest about my experiences so they can no longer control me.

I was always fearful of being open due to people using my story to hurt me. I wouldn’t get a job, I would lose friends, I would be ridiculed and made fun of. All of that may happen, but I learned that as long as I accept myself as I am, nothing anyone else does can hurt me – unless I let it. I can’t allow that anymore.

Brené Brown uses the analogy that being vulnerable is taking armor off. Tyrion uses the analogy that being vulnerable is putting armor on, in that, if you openly admit what you are – in his case a dwarf and in Jon Snow’s case a bastard – that’s like putting on armor because no one can use it against you. Your acceptance and openness are vulnerabilities that lead you and others to greater understanding and strength.

“You’re a dwarf bastard?!” “Yeah, I know.”

“You’re depressed and suicidal?!” <awkward look emoji> “Yes, I know.” <smile emoji>

I no longer feel the need to desperately hide my history of depression or my experiences. It feels good to let it go – even if scary.

Acknowledge. Accept. Act.

I hope to one day meet Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, and Anthony Bourdain. I want to tell them what they meant to me and how their deaths – particularly how they died – deeply affected me. They helped me gain clarity that they, perhaps, never had. I wish they were still here, but if there’s any good that came from their suffering – it is that they helped save me.

Chester was wrong on one thing, though. In the end, it DOES matter. Life matters. Just keep swimming. Be here tomorrow because I promise that this too shall pass.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, please know there are millions of others who have gone through or are going through similar challenges. They understand. They feel it, too. Getting help is not a sign of weakness. Getting help is a sign of power. Keep swimming for yourself and for others in your life. Just keep swimming. I got the following information from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255.

Street Level Influencers: Local SHRM Chapters Are Fighting Racism in the Workplace

“When people show you who they are, believe them.” – Maya Angelou

When I started my “Street Level Influencer” series, it was meant to showcase the power of HR professionals at the ground level. People on the frontline doing the work, making a meaningful impact, and not asking for much in return, other than the satisfaction of knowing they made a difference.

I was trying to encapsulate the spirit of those who liked to do the work outside of the spotlight. At the end of the day, the lesson is, those who do the work at the street level, set the narrative. They write the story.

Those higher up on the food chain may think they are writing the book, and in many respects they may be writing a chapter or so, but their power pales compared to the power of the individuals at the street levels writing the bulk of the magnum opus.

Recently, I noticed being a Street Level influencer isn’t specified only to individual contributors. Organizations can also be Street Level Influencers.

Over the last several weeks, there has been a plethora of discontent being voiced by members of the HR community towards the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

And really the discontent has been building for years. The #FixItSHRM hashtag is proof. More recently, the dissatisfaction stems from SHRM’s silence and inaction on racial injustice in the workplace – let alone America at large – especially revolving around the Black Lives Matter and LGTBQ+ movements.

The criticism is mostly fair. Some of it is incendiary and over the top. However, the fair criticism far outweighs the unfair. A small sampling includes the powerful articles:

For whatever their reasons, as they refuse to clarify, SHRM has not openly and directly commented on the issues I stated above. They did, however, recently release a statement…. Over a month after the murder of George Floyd. And what’s worse, when I Googled the title of the statement “ Create better workplaces by eliminating racism,” I couldn’t find it on social media or the SHRM site. I hope I’m wrong, and just overlooked it…

Rightfully so, there was criticism of the weakness of the statement:

At first, I actually was happy to see the statement. FINALLY! SHRM is speaking up!

However, the more I thought about it and analyzed it, I became disappointing because the statement is rather toothless, not to mention over a month late, like I mentioned. It shouldn’t take a month to formulate a plan, let alone formulate your thoughts on a generation defining moment that affects our society – including the workplace – like systemic racism contributing to the murder of George Floyd, and thousands (yes, thousands) of other Black people throughout American history.

Making real change takes leadership and courage. It takes more than doing the bare minimum. I feel the statement SHRM put out is the bare minimum, if not less than.

However, back to the local theme of my article.

National SHRM continues to lag; however, local chapters are doing so much more. I am INSPIRED by what local SHRM chapters have been doing over the past months while National SHRM touts its tote bag.

Take my local SHRM Chapter for instance, Chicago SHRM. They have a five-part series (FIVE PARTS) on racism in our country and its affects in the workplace. I have been so inspired as I attended these sessions.

Part I, Session #1: Understanding How We Got Here and How to be a Strong Ally

Part I, Session #2: Understanding How We Got Here and How to be a Strong Ally

Part II, Session #3: How HR Can and Should Respond to Racism and Inequity

Part II, Session #4: How HR Can and Should Respond to Racism and Inequity

Part III, Session #5: Leading Through Racial Crisis – Open Office Hours

I have registered for and attended all of them so far, and I can tell you, these sessions have been POWERFUL. I have learned, thought deeply, discovered, and grown. This is leadership on fighting for racial justice in the workplace (and society).

The HRA of Oak Brook is a local chapter in DuPage County, IL. They lead several open forum sessions on discussing how HR can be advocates for dismantling systemic racism.

A SAFE SPACE

A SAFE SPACE: PART TWO

The Illinois Fox Valley SHRM Chapter in Elgin is hosting an event called “What is Your Organization Going to do Regarding Racial Equity and Justice?

All of these events have (or will) featured prominent Black professionals as the speakers and moderators. Many of them are in HR, or have a lot of influence in the realm. They have been candidate. They have not held back. All the attendees have been open minded, engaged, and thoughtful.

I could go on and on. The local SHRM Chapters (at least in the Chicagloand area) are KILLING it on this issue! I am so proud to know many of these folks and having the privilege of being able to attend these sessions to learn from Black leaders.

I applaud EVERY leader at Chicago SHRM, HRA of Oak Brook, and the ILFVSHRM for leading where National SHRM has not.

As my friend Carlos Escobar stated, I, too, “am committed to working with any SHRM leader, whether they be at the national, state, or local level. I still believe that SHRM and its chapters are a source for good in our profession and I still believe SHRM members and HR professionals at large want to be actively involved in the solutions to the crisis we are facing.”

I think what I find so disheartening is that SHRM has been excellent to me and my career. I care deeply about the organization. Yet, I disagree with the direction it has taken. It can be doing so much more than what it has to this point. I will not abandon it, however. I want to see it get better. Much like America, SHRM is flawed – because it is ran by flawed human beings. However, we can ALWAYS learn from our flaws, our mistakes. We can get better. SHRM can get better. I believe it can.

SHRM can begin by taking the example of their local affiliates. It can look to emulate their bravery, their vulnerability, their power. Local affiliates are giving voice to Black HR professionals in a way that National should be.

SHRM can look to emulate the Street Level SHRM groups and revive itself in a positive direction. It just needs to look to emulate the right models.

HR MUST do our part to continue the conversation and do the work to dismantle systemic racism in the workplace with or without SHRM. I hope it is with SHRM.

Consider signing the following petition:

Obstacles Are the Ally’s Path: White America Knows What to Do

“Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness – these reactions are functions of our perceptions. You must realize: Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give into such feelings. Or, choose not to.” – Ryan Holiday

There are sayings that change us. Mantras we try to live by. Many of us use them to keep ourselves honest, fuel our fire, or remind us of the paths we wish to travel.

For me, no phrase has done more to redirect my anxiety – done more to change who I am – than “the obstacle is the way.” The beauty of this phrase is that it transcends culture, transcends history. It was uttered by the most powerful man in the Western world while simultaneous having been uttered by Buddhist monks in the East.

Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Emperors of the ancient Roman Empire, wrote to himself in his journal, which would become known as The Meditations, the following:

Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle Is the Way, very beautifully describes what Marcus was writing – he was reminding himself of one of the core tenets of stoicism, the philosophy to which he dedicated his life. “What it is prescribing,” Holiday writes, “is essentially this: in any and every situation—no matter how bad or seemingly undesirable it is—we have the opportunity to practice a virtue.”

The Zen Buddhist phrase, “the obstacle is the path,” also prescribes this notion. Obstacles aren’t to be avoided. When we apply the right antidotes, they are the path itself. Leo Babauta writes:

You are struggling with writing, and procrastinate. Procrastination is the symptom, but it also illuminates the path you should take: you are dreading something about the writing, you are shying away from discomfort, you are afraid of the writing or what will happen when you publish the writing. So work with that dread, the discomfort, and the fear. You’ll be stronger for having done that.

In my last blog post, I described how I was anxious to discuss race and the Black experience with anyone. That silence isn’t uncommon, unfortunately, and it has collectively, among whites in America, lead to a lot of pain and suffering for our Black brothers and sisters.

The obstacle is my anxiety. The obstacle is my fear. The obstacle is losing my comfort. It’s long past time I turn these into my paths. But which virtue am I supposed to tackle? Where am I supposed to grow? The main four Stoic virtues are:

  1. Courage: To stand up. To charge ahead. To not be afraid or timid in life.
  2. Moderation: To know balance. To be in control of oneself. To avoid excess or extremes.
  3. Justice: To do the right thing. To care for others. To do your duty.
  4. Wisdom: To learn. To study. To keep an open mind.

Looking inside, I think it’s time I focus on addressing all of them. Only by going down this path of anxiety, fear, and uncomfortableness can anyone expect to be a true ally to the Black Community. All four of these virtues are needed to turn the tide and destroy racism in America.

It’s been over two weeks since George Floyd was murdered in the streets of Minneapolis. Our nation just witnessed a massive uprising unlike any since at least the 1960s. People all over the world joined in, as millions demonstrated against racism and police brutality.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Initially, I wrote I didn’t know what to do. Turns out, I did know what to do. Every single person who thinks they don’t know – they know. Knowing what to do is easier than white people give it credit. Don’t use not knowing as the same old tired excuse. Look inside yourself and think. We know. The hard part is acting on the things we know.

Acting will take courage, moderation, justice, and wisdom – as well as A LOT of humility. Ego is the enemy.

Listen.

Talk to your black friends, colleagues, employees. When I went to the office last week, I intentionally reached out to my black coworkers. I asked them how they were holding up. I didn’t say much, but listened to their stories:

  • One coworker told me the story of how his family was standing in line to talk to a salesman. They were clearly next in line, and the salesman walked right past them to assist the white people behind them instead.
  • Another told me how a contractor was getting ready to do work in the family’s home. When the contractor found out the house was owned by a black family, he packed up his tools and left. He thought the house was too nice, and he didn’t know where they were getting their money. Drugs, most likely, was his belief.
  • Multiple, who live in mostly white neighborhoods, told me about how they get stared at as they try to take a leisurely stroll around the block.
  • One coworker told me that she cried while watching the rioting over the weekend of May 29-31st. She saw on the news a shot of her old neighborhood and a restaurant she used to go to, which was destroyed. She was devastated that she’d never get to bring her grandchildren there to build new memories in their lives.
  • Lastly, one coworker told me she has always been known as a “strong” woman. People would remark that nothing fazes her. She called her niece to see how she was doing as they watched the looting and rioting on live TV. Immediately, when her niece answered the phone, she broke down. They both broke down as they watched the rioting and looting together and lamented what was going on.

Write.

If you have a forum, use it. Blog, write letters to the editor, post to social media, engage in healthy, constructive dialogue. For a while I didn’t post “controversial” items to my social media site. I believed it was a waste of time because “no one’s mind is changed by reading social media posts.” I no longer believe that because MY mind has been changed many times by engaging in respectful dialogue online.

Read, read, read.

Do not wait for others to teach you, especially Black Americans. That’s not their job. It is the job of every… single… white American to educate themselves. Education is like armor. You’ll need that armor before you go into the battlefield. Where to start? Google…

By now, you’ve seen post after post touting White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist. If you haven’t please look into them because there’s a reason almost everyone is recommending them. I ordered mine last week, and I can’t wait to dig in. You don’t have to wait, however. A simple Google search reveals wonders. These are some of the articles I’ve read:

Your Difficult Questions About Race in America, Answered

Here’s What White Privilege Actually Means, and How You Can Use Yours To Help Others

#BLACKBLOGSMATTER – WEEK 9 – WHAT’S IN AN ALLY?

5 ways to start being a better ally for your black coworkers

10 Steps to Non-Optical Allyship

5 Reads: How to be Anti-Racist, 11 Things to Do Besides Say “This Has to Stop”, How to Make this Moment a Turning Point and More

Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice

How Are You Showing Up, (White) Leaders?

The Research On White Privilege Blindness

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

Anti-racism resources for white people

Also, DO NOT STOP AT ADULTS! White Americans MUST talk about this with their children. Racism isn’t born in folks. People learn hatred, and they act upon what they pick up. This guide is a great start:

Raising Little Allies-To-Be: A Guide for Caregivers

While you’re at it, learn about the Unwritten Rules of being a Black man in America today. If you’re a white male, read this list, and tell me there is not such thing as privilege.

  • Don’t put your hands in your pockets.
  • Don’t put your hoodie on.
  • Don’t be outside with no shirt on.
  • Don’t touch anything you’re not buying.
  • Never leave the store without a receipt or a bag, even if it’s just a pack of gum.
  • Never make it look like there’s an altercation between you and someone else.
  • Never leave the house without your ID.
  • Don’t drive with a wifebeater on.
  • Don’t drive with a du-rag on.
  • Don’t go out in public in either.
  • Don’t ride with the music too loud.
  • Don’t stare at a Caucasian woman.

Lastly, read up on qualified immunity, Rise of the Warrior Cop, by Radley Balko, and Resist Not Evil by Clarence Darrow. These will explains a lot about how we got to the state we’re in.

Act on what is right.

Be kind. Use your emotions to develop your reason and discussion points. Don’t let your emotions control the situation. It’s already a volatile situation. No one was ever convinced by being yelled at, made to feel stupid, mocked, or attacked.

Voting? I’m not sure I’m the right person to address this, but just remember to do research. Local elections matter more than national ones.

https://twitter.com/shaunking/status/1268911183878410246

Prepare for tough times ahead.

Premeditatio Malorum.

After all is said and done, I am preparing myself to lose friends. I am preparing myself to strain relationships with my family. Doing the right thing is sometimes the most difficult thing to do. Ultimately, I hope those preparations are for naught. I’d consider myself a much more successful ally to the Black community if I convinced my white friends and family to become allies, too. In 5 years, 10 years, 50 years, I want to look back and say I did something – that I stood for something and helped bring about meaningful, lasting change for Black Americans. If you don’t stand for something, you fall for nothing.

I cannot allow that to happen. I’m going to be anxious. I’m going to be afraid. I’m going to be uncomfortable. Every white American doing the right thing will feel these things, and must feel those things.

People tend to default to the path of least resistance. There are no obstacles on a path with no resistance. There is also no progress, no growth, no justice, no wisdom, no courage, nothing worthy.

White Americans, our obstacles must become our path.