Behavior vs Need

Validation
has somehow become
a dirty word.

So has attention.

It’s as if
seeking validation
or attention
is shameful.

Human beings need
validation
and attention.

Without it,
we’ll die
a slow death.

It’s one thing
to suggest behavioral changes
as to how
when
and from whom
people seek validation
or attention.

It’s quite another
to shame
the human need
for attention
or validation.

This may only increase
the tension
living inside
humanity,
and, in turn,
may either provoke
the very behaviors we dislike
or merely make it
less visible,
and perhaps,
as a result,
make it,
more
dangerous.

Gratitude vs Indebtedness

Gratitude
is an emotion.

Indebtedness
is a judgment one makes
on top of gratitude
to inject our being
with a noble burden.

One that whispers
“You must pay this back.
If you don’t,
you’re not good enough.”

A burden
that sometimes leads us
to hyper-empathize
with the person
to whom
we feel indebted.

Forty Two

There was a period in my 20s, where it was as if “Human-Centered Design” was my family name.

In other words, “Human-Centered Design” was a significant part of my identity. So much so that I felt an implicit sense of responsibility on my shoulders. To the degree that I took “Human-Centered Design” as if it were as serious as the continuation of my own family’s reputation & lineage.

Although… It wasn’t like “Human-Centered Design” behaved like Darth Vader who went “I am your father~” (You know?) So one could wonder why I had felt the way I had felt.

Well, after realizing empathy with my past self, I realized that one of the most important needs I had was to feel a sense of belonging. Without a sense of belonging, I had found it difficult to withstand the pain of loneliness and confusion.

To be clear, I wasn’t aware of this back then. At the time, my conscious thought kept claiming that I was merely trying to “(positively) change the world.” Given the popularity of the phrase “change the world” in the late 90s and early 2000s, this is as cliché as it can get. But I was sincere.

At the same time, what I also see now is that I valued the experience of contribution. I felt alive when I could see that I was contributing to someone’s life. I also see that I had a need to shed the seemingly less-than-worthy identity of a “student.” I had a need to belong to a seemingly more significant and meaningful tribe. A tribe which could bestow upon me a more worthy identity. A tribe to which a number of older pioneers also belonged. Pioneers who made me feel the love and validation that I needed, but couldn’t feel in relation to my own father. All of these lay underneath my subconscious.

This isn’t to say that I think I was wrong to have felt the way I did or to have pursued “Human-Centered Design.”

No.

In fact, I cherish and take pride in my 20s.

I did the thing that brought life into my existence. That was amazing! I also did what I believed would fulfill my unconscious needs. Did it work? Unfortunately not. But I did do my best. And that’s enough for me to cherish and take pride in my 20s.

At the same time, I do find it important to admit that I had not yet attained the requisite maturity back then to confront the eventuality of our humanity. The vulnerable existence we are, once we get to know ourselves, despite how strong and stoic we may try to come across at first. Especially since today is my 42nd birthday.

Because what we do not admit stays in our subconscious. What we do admit rises up into our conscious. And it is only at that point we can design our relationship to and interaction with them.

The need to belong and to feel like we matter is a critical component of the human condition. It is as normal as gravity. There is no shame in such admission. In fact, the earlier we admit and attempt to understand it, the more we become capable of design. The design of our thoughts and behaviors. In contrast to becoming a slave to our suppressed emotions and unfulfilled needs.

In my research, I had learned that art, despite looking like a journey of creating things, is ultimately a journey of creating relationships. Relationships from which value, meaning, language, and identity emerge. Entrepreneurship is very much the same.

On the surface, entrepreneurship may seem like a journey of mere product and service innovation. But ultimately, entrepreneurship is a journey of innovating our relationships. Relationships to our customers, investors, board members, employees, co-founders, or even our so-called “self” and our family. These are all part of the same trail we are blazing.

I know many of you on this list are on your own journey of relational innovation. For some of you, I am also an explicit participant in your journey. So I want to take this time to tell you how proud I am of you all. Not for having achieved certain things or to have done great deeds. But for your willingness to admit what most would not dare admit. For your willingness to attempt to understand what most would not bother to understand.

Our humanity, that is.

Thank you.

I love you.

I’m proud of you.

Slim
August 19th 2019


Photo credit: Belinda Novika

Recovering from Betrayal

“I did my best.
I meditated.
I actively listened.
I created psychological safety.
Yet, they still let me down…”
a founder lamented.

Once upon a time,
I was cheated on.

Externally,
I was angry.

I thought I had done
my best,
and yet
this had still happened.

Some said,
that to recover
I needed to hear
her regret.

Perhaps.

But I was already overwhelmed
with my own.

“I should’ve done X.”
“I could’ve done Y better .”
“Why didn’t I know
that Z was not enough?”

Because internally,
I was ashamed.

In hindsight,
what I needed
was appreciation.

The kind
that would’ve helped me let go
of the unconscious belief
that I hadn’t actually
“done my best,”
and thus deserved
to be abandoned.

There are times,
when we think “doing our best”
means following best practices
as espoused by podcasts
or academic research.

It can.

So long as it also means
accepting we’ve done our best
even if the practices fail.

So long as it also means
learning to grieve
when they fail.

So long as it also means
leveraging the meaning
of them having failed.

All
for the purpose
of recovery.

Happy Parents, Happy Kids

10 years ago,
my mother
realized empathy with herself
and discovered
that all this time
she had unconsciously assumed
she had to do what she felt
was not worth doing,
only
to make others happy.

Ironically,
once she felt
she was given permission
to stop doing these things,
those around her
felt happier.

Why?

Because
She behaved toward them
less out of the resentment
left over
from doing so many things
out of obligation.

Something similar
happens in leadership.

Some founders I coach
started out thinking
it was their responsibility
to make everyone around them
happy.

A tall order.

Especially so,
because behaviors arising
from the tension they held
from that very sense
of responsibility
was contributing
to the unhappiness
of those around them.

But they needed permission
to invest the time and effort
to manage their own tension.

Because it felt selfish
to do so.

So instead,
they chose
to be strong.

The saying,
“Happy parents,
Happy kids”
is not a permission
to be selfish.

It is an invitation
to journey into
the vulnerable
and creative process
of survival
together
by striving
to be the best support
we possibly can
for each other.

Still a tall order,
but together.

Being Strong

At our first session,
she would habitually use the word “strong”
to refer to herself.

“To be strong,”
she said,
“I should
Stop worrying and,
instead,
Focus on problem solving.
I should
Stop blaming my employees and,
instead,
Blame myself,
the CEO.”

On the surface,
these sounded wonderful,
virtuous, even.

But after a month
of realizing empathy with herself,
she discovered
that by “strong”
all she meant
was “numb to pain & discomfort.”

There’s a world of difference
between following advice
and realizing for one’s self
by leading through a journey of innovation.

A journey
through which we learn new
or unexpected choices.

Without the journey,
“stop worrying,”
can merely mean “repress stress & anxiety.”

“Focus on problem solving,”
can merely mean “focus on eliminating fear & concern.”

“Blame myself,”
can merely mean “lead with unconscious shame.”

To frame this phenomena
as someone’s “fault”
prevents a deeper exploration.

More valuable
would be to recognize what happens naturally
when we lack
a sense of choice
or proper support.

Unconscious Shame

I once attended a workshop
that laid out a model of how shame develops.

The model suggested,
that when children feel overwhelmed with emotion,
—pleasant or unpleasant—
their natural instinct
is often to reach out to others
—like their parents—
to process it.

Yet,
for better or for worse,
parents may unintentionally “reject“ such reaching out.
And with repeated “rejection,”
children may start to subconsciously judge themselves
as unworthy of love and attention,
when overwhelmed with emotion.
Thus planting the seed of shame.

In hindsight,
I spent much of my life coping with shame.
I did it by pursuing a self-image
of someone who never felt overwhelmed.
A stoic who could always “figure it out,”
through sheer intellect and will power.

It wasn’t until I began my work on empathy,
that I learned the choice
to empathize with that part of me,
instead of hyper-empathizing with it.

It was perhaps as Carl Jung once said,
“Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

The Journey of Three Emotions

When we, as founders—
especially those with humane intentions—
work to fertilize change in our organizations,
3 types of emotions often rise up
in ourselves:

  1. Overwhelm
  2. Anxiety (also Worry / Doubt / Concern / Fear)
  3. Frustration (or Anger)

When we don’t spend the time
to realize empathy with ourselves
in relation to these emotions,
these can easily develop into:

  1. Sense of Isolation
  2. Hopelessness
  3. Helplessness

Which, over time, can calcify as:

  1. Sense of Betrayal
  2. Shame
  3. Resentment (or Contempt)