Category Archives: Economic Self-sufficiency

Happiness vs. the 5 P’s of Thriving

So why don't I give a frack?

Since the gist of Oliver Segovia’s Harvard Business Journal article “To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion” conflicts with my beliefs on thriving, I was interested in this brainiac’s (HBS ’10) ideas.  He argues we have to be solutionists – find a problem and solve it in order to be happy.

Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything. It’s not about the self anymore. It’s about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor. People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. I don’t mean this in a strict financial sense, but in a deeply human sense.

What he fails to mention is that we aren’t going to be effective or even enjoy solving problems that we aren’t passionate about.  I’ll use myself as an example.  Fracking is a big deal right now in El Paso County.  It’s has been linked to water pollution and earthquakes.  But it offers opportunity to reduce unemployment and increase school budgets.   According to Segovia, I should be eager to get educated on the local issue of fracking since it deals with two areas I care about:  the environment and economic opportunity. So why doesn’t fracking push my happiness button? 

Grant Crowell answers my question in his comment, “Segovia is short-sighted when he says for happiness, we should not rely on passion and instead focus on solving problems.” Crowell instead offers 5 P’s to focus our efforts in thriving:

1) Passion: the emotional drive and sense of self
2) Purpose: our need to be connected to something bigger than ourselves
3) Profit: because we need reward for motivation
4) People: because our network and relationship skills make us truly powerful
5) Push: giving as much as we have even when no one but us is paying attention

How Do You Thrive?

Fracking issues don’t fulfill the Ps for me: I’m ambivalent because I don’t see tangible or intangible reward to finding solutions – I have neither the network nor skill set to effect positive change. Thus, I can’t push myself to get going on the solutions.  To thrive, I must focus in areas where I have the 5P’s.

What about you? Does your work fulfill the 5P’s?

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What We Value

Iconoculture, a global consumer research and advisory firm, has conducted research ranking the most important values shared across life stages in North America, Europe, South America and Asia/Pacific global regions.

Some key insights they identify are:

  1. Loyalty, success, honesty, courtesy and equality are top ranking values of North Americans, regardless of age. Meanwhile Latin Americans most value loyalty, authenticity, equality, sustainability and reliability.
  2. Europeans’ top value set includes loyalty, courtesy, authenticity, honesty, and sustainability. Consumers in Asia/Pacific regions value success, health, authenticity, comfort, and sustainability.
  3. Authenticity and sustainability are among the top values for everyone except for North Americans.

Given the Occupy movement across the US, I found it interesting those who valued equality the least are the very young, those in middle age and seniors.

4 Steps to Thrive Now and in the Future

Research shows we’re not good at determining what will make us happy in the future, yet setting and achieving goals is critical to our well-being.  Life coach Martha Beck offers a method for setting future goals but shows you how to experience the joy that achieving them brings today.  I liked that this exercise brings me back to the present and helps me identify the elements of my life I’m happy with now.  These serve as the foundation for all I strive for in the future.

Step 1: Pick your most ambitious goal. Write a sentence for it.  My example (please don’t laugh!): I make a living as a writer.

Step 2: Project into the future a few years. Imagine what your life looks like after you’ve achieved that goal.  I’m writing in my home office, a simple house filled with light, love, and the soothing sound of waves. I look out my office window.  Jack catches a perfect little wave on his favorite longboard.  At my feet, a black lab naps in a pool of sunshine.

3. Write at least three adjectives to describe how you feel in this scenario. I came up with content, secure, creative, joyful, loved, strong, humble, grateful, and purposeful.

4. Here’s the interesting part.  Beck says to find something you’re doing now that makes you feel those adjectives.  My projects to support low-income women achieve economic independence help me purposeful.  Yoga gives me contentment and humility.  When I do something unexpectedly kind for Jack or take a walk with Hobie I feel grateful and loved.  Writing this blog feeds my creativity.  Running the gorgeous Colorado trails gives me joy.

Try it and and let me know what you think!

A Roadmap for Social Change

"All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual." Albert Einstein

Since a perk of my work is learning what amazing non-profits are doing to help families survive these difficult economic times, I was thrilled to talk to Crittenton Women’s Union, an .org located in Boston, MA.  CWU provides direct services, conducts research, and advocates for public policy to better support low-income women in their journey to economic self-sufficiency.

The foundation of CWU’s work is a theory of change for what moves a family from poverty to self-sufficiency, Bridge to Self-Sufficiency.  This model not only provides strategy and internal structure for developing programs and measuring outcomes, it gives the CWU clients a tangible set of goals to strive for in the difficult journey from poverty to economic independence.

CWU has a keen focus on specific, relevant data such as their Economic Independence Calculator that determines the actual costs of living depending on family size and location. A single mom in Boston with an infant and school-aged child knows she’ll need earn almost $60K/yr (about $28/hr) to achieve economic independence.  This data is linked to Hot Jobs, “careers that require two years or less of post-secondary education or training, meet the Massachusetts Economic Independence Index income level for a single-parent family with two children, and currently post high-vacancy rates.”  CWU is giving a woman clear, meaningful data to develop a career path that offers opportunity for advancement and breaks the cycle of poverty for her children.

To see what your community’s livable wage is, visit the National Center for Childhood Poverty’s Basic Needs Budget Calculator.

What is your community doing to support upward economic mobility of disadvantaged families?  I’d love to share your story!

Should Occupiers Take a Stand or Keep Marching Along?

"Make Jobs Not War!"

First, let me say I support the #Occupy movement.  This country was established to be a fair and just society and it’s clear for 99% of us it is ceasing to be so.  As Nobel prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz pointed out,

“We have a social problem, not only an economic problem. We have this strange situation of a country where we have increasing numbers of homeless people and increasing numbers of vacant houses.”

Watching city parks across the US fill up with occupiers intent on tweeting grievances but no concrete ideas, I’m wondering if protesters have read the  American Jobs Act?

The AJA has several initiatives that would positively impact our economy.  Two in particular would provide relief to the unemployed: 1) Reauthorization of unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the year; and, 2) Establishing the “Pathways Back to Work Fund” to create jobs for low-income and unemployed youth.  The former is a given, or 6 million people might lose whatever economic stability they have left.  The latter is a proven success in states as diverse as Mississippi and Michigan.

So, occupiers, while you’re marching for jobs can you take the opportunity to help create some?

Make funny signs AND jobs!

Opportunity is Like a Cupcake…

…or is it?  UC Berkeley College Republicans think so.  Their “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” charged customers different prices based on race and gender in order to demonstrate opposition to California legislation SB 185, which would allow public universities in California to consider race and gender in university admissions policy.

Goodies were priced at $2 for Caucasian students, $1.5 for Asian and Asian Americans, $1 for Latinos,  $0.75 for African American students, and $0.25 for Native Americans. Women got a $0.25 discount.  “The pricing structure is meant to be discriminatory,” said Shawn Lewis, the group’s president.

Accordingly, Native American women qualified to pay nothing for the cookies which inspired some enterprising  individuals to don feather headdresses in order to get free cookies.

Satire? Oops! I thought we were going for irony!

If demonstrators meant to highlight opportunity gaps by race and gender wouldn’t they’d have used a more accurate pricing strategy? Regardless of whether the metaphor is a fair one (bake sale = opportunity via college education), the question remains: “Is legislating affirmative action an effective strategy for increasing access to opportunity?”

Justice Restored?

Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last night, Georgia death-row inmate Troy Davis exhausted all appeals for clemency. At 11:08pm EST he was put to death for the 1989 murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail.

Troy Davis

While CNN switched between the jail where Davis supporters congregated and live interviews with the victim’s mother, Anneliese MacPhail, legal pundits commented on the convoluted Davis case which polarized people into two camps, those desperate to save a life versus those determined to see it ended. At the heart of both arguments was the idea of justice; or, “a scheme or system of law in which every person receives his/her/its due from the system, including all rights, both natural and legal”.

Is the death penalty just? Does it protect society? An overwhelming majority of the country’s top academic criminology experts reject the idea that there is “any deterrent effect from the death penalty.”

Perhaps Davis’ case will highlight the need for restorative justice. Restorative justice differs from our current system in that it views a criminal act more holistically; instead of defining crime as “breaking the law”, it recognizes that offenders harm victims, communities and even themselves. It recognizes that the criminal justice system is not effective in reducing crime; rather than rehabilitating or deterring criminals, prisons make offenders less likely to reintegrate successfully into society. Studies show a majority of felons released were rearrested within 3 years. Importantly, restorative justice acknowledges victims’ dissatisfaction with their treatment by the criminal justice system.

Looking at “justice” not by how much punishment is inflicted but by how much harm is repaired or prevented means we try to get a head of the problem rather than constantly react to it.

What do you think? Is it time for a change? Is our current system of justice working for us?

Brain Bugs, Behavior & Boehner

In his book Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives neuroscientist Dean Buonomano gives some fascinating reasons for why our memory, beliefs and behavior are subject to serious flaws…even if we’re unaware of it.  Simply put, our brain evolved for a different time and place.  He uses the example of a skunk’s effective defense mechanism: When attacked they turn around, lift their tails and spray.  Very effective for scaring off a coyote, not so much against an oncoming car.

It’s somewhat comforting to know that there’s an evolutionary bias (i.e. I can’t help it) for eating naughty food and blowing my budget when I know these behaviors aren’t helpful.  So my brain’s operating system is outdated. Is there an upgrade?

Luckily there is: behavioral priming.  Buonomano cites an NYU study using word puzzles to illustrate how we create “behavior nodes”.  In the study,  subjects were asked to complete word puzzles.  Some had to come up with words associated with kindness while others had puzzles with words biased toward being rude.  After finishing this task, subjects were told to talk to a research assistance pretending to be on the phone.  In measuring how long each subject waited before interrupting the on-going phone conversation, it was found that those who completed puzzles using more rude words waited less time to interrupt the phone conversation.

If the words, images, and sounds surrounding us constantly influence our thoughts and actions,  what are we subjecting ourselves to on a regular basis?

How often are we bombarded with images of war, famine and Beohner?

More importantly, how do we prime our brains to turn it off without turning away?

How Earning More Keeps You Poor

191,000 kids live in poverty in Colorado


Why can’t poor people just “get a job”?  Hell, they get food stamps, free child care, tax credits, welfare checks…what else could they need?

I’ve heard variations of this question; truthfully,  I used to ask it myself.  What I failed to recognize (and now try to increase awareness of) is the unintentional negative affect of the 1996 welfare reform laws: the Cliff Effect.  Consider the real-life scenario of Shari (not her real name):

Shari began working at McDonald’s 15 months ago.  She is eligible for a raise, yet she refuses to ask for one or accept any promotions that McDonald’s may offer. If Shari got even a 75-cents-per-hour raise, it would trigger a cut in food stamps, childcare assistance, and medical assistance. She cannot afford to earn a little more. In order to escape poverty, Shari must earn considerably more. Like others in poverty, Shari is often stuck in survival mode, unable to imagine a better future and trapped without the support systems that families who are middle or upper class take for granted. It feels impossible for Shari to plan for the future or make long-term decisions because she is dealing with today’s crises.

Shari’s work supports are supposed to provide her family a means for climbing out of poverty.  These include the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the child tax credit,  food stamps, health insurance, and child care.  But as Shari’s earnings increase, she begins to lose these benefits, negating any increases in income. The result? Hard-working individuals climbing to reach the American Dream of prosperity end up falling off the cliff…back into poverty.

Just another Shari

We’ve all seen Shari:  at the Wal-Mart checkout counter, at the bus stop, waiting on us at McDonalds.  And we think, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  Is that it?  Do we stop there?  Or, do we wonder, “Is there anything I can do?”

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” ~ Mother Teresa.

How to Grow Where You’re Planted

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”  Tao Te Ching

"Grow where you're planted!"

What do a real-estate agent, advertising exec, medical student, B&B owner, teacher, development consultant and non-profit professional have in common?  They’re all roles that at some point in my adult life I’ve assumed.  Each has taught me something valuable and helped me make the most of my life at a particular moment.  As my sister, a Navy wife, says, “Grow where you’re planted!” Aphorisms aside, how does one do this?  Or, as a newly-divorced, single-mom friend asked me, “How do I reinvent myself?”

Most of us will come to a transition point:  a change in location, family situation, or career opportunity.  Perhaps we want to to take an interest/hobby to a new level.  I’ve found this process goes more smoothly and produces better results if you know your strengths and use them in this new endeavor.  But how do you go about this?

Several years ago, I became intrigued with Dr. Martin Seligman‘s positive psychology theory.  I took his VIA Survey of Character Strengths which helped me identify key positive character traits.  (This is not to be confused with the Myers-Briggs test, also helpful, which identifies personality styles.)

The VIA Classification System’s goal is to identify what’s best about us and how we use those optimal characteristics to build our best lives.  Why is this important?  Well, research shows people enjoy their work and life more when they are using their strengths.

Success = Energy + forward momentum of strengths

So, are you ready to find out what your unique strengths are and put them in action?  If so, click here.  Please let me hear back from you once you’ve taken the survey to share what you found!  If you’re already using your unique strengths, please share how it’s going!