Mother Teresa said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness.”
Mother Teresa is an anti-choice criminal who let women and children suffer in poverty under her care instead of fighting for access to health care and contraception to prevent unintended pregnancies and HIV/AIDS.
But most everyone agrees that nobody should be alone during the holiday season.
Well, except for me.
Our culture clumsily vilifies loneliness just as much as it proactively monetizes detachment and isolation. We create intentional systems and conditions that make people feel separate and isolated with the hope that they’ll spend money to alleviate their mental pain and anguish. Marketing agencies create tribes, and companies cater to raving fans. The American political system reinforces behaviors that tell us that some lives matter more than others.
Loneliness is common, universal and profitable.
So if you are alone on Thanksgiving, know that I know you. You’re probably alone all year round. I want you to know that there is a virtue in your solitude. Being alone doesn’t have to feel as depressing as people, systems and marketing campaigns tell you it should feel.
Being alone can be a positive catalyst for change.
Being alone can also be a dignified way to manage dysfunction and chaos in your life. When you choose to be alone instead of jumping into the pool of family-related confusion and turmoil, you set an example for those of us who want to live healthy, balanced lives but feel the pressing weight of obligations during the holiday season.
And being alone demonstrates positive self-control and self-determination. You could run around looking for someone to affirm your existence — a boyfriend, a wife, a group of friends who aren’t really friends — but you actively choose to sit with your loneliness and face what you already know: you can surround yourself with cats or with family members, but you leave this world the same way you came into this world. Might as well do with integrity.
Being alone can be an extension of depression. It can also be a marker of an introverted personality. But sometimes being alone is an impressive and mature response to the world that wants your heart, your mind, and your undivided attention — at a price.
Instead of vilifying loneliness, let’s learn from it and see the good in it.
And let’s stop saying that nobody should be alone during the holidays. If anything, the contemplative nature of the Christian calendar offers all of us an opportunity to settle down, turn down the noise, and have intimate conversations with ourselves.
It’s Thanksgiving week here in America. This means that everyone is overwhelmed with emotional reminders that family is important, forgiveness and charity are essential, and purchasing stuff made in China is the tie that binds American families together.
American citizens are nothing more than an audience for Walmart and Macy’s, and really, you’re only an audience member if you meet the credit threshold and can prove your bona fides by standing outside on Thanksgiving evening to cash in on the latest doorbusters at Best Buy.
When capitalism and sentimentality come together, the consumer always loses. And while I expect devious behaviors from big box retailers and online behemoths, I’m always a little sad when I see leadership consultants and self-help gurus applying the same marketing principles to sacred acts such as gratitude.
Just this week, men and women I respect have told me to buy gratitude jars and gratitude journals. Yoga instructors have invited me to take gratitude walks as part of a broader email and Facebook marketing strategy. And people in my little community of HR bloggers have been writing about gratitude as if it’s a commodity that can be acquired through an American Express Platinum card.
The message of commercialized, widespread gratitude is harmless enough except that it assumes that the audience isn’t grateful in the first place, or worse yet, not grateful enough. And if only we’d follow the advice of a life-coach-slash-blogger on the internet and look inward a little more, and possibly buy a book or an item, we might be happier.
That’s very insulting, and it’s also wrong.
Having just stepped off a plane from Havana, I can tell you with great specificity that I am extraordinarily grateful for my life.
* I have always had indoor plumbing, which means that I’ve never had to urinate or defecate on the street.
* I don’t purchase my rice and beans using a ration card, and I’ve never had to make tough, nutritional choices because of sanctions and an embargo.
* Most of all, I’ve never had to sell my body to tourists looking for a good time. It is something that many men, women, and children cannot say.
I know that my friends and colleagues mean well. They have big hearts, and they want to sell you a gratitude jar (or whatever) because they care about you. But the commercialization of gratitude makes me think of how the Catholic church sold indulgences. First you’ll buy gratitude jars and journals. Next you’ll be able to buy a twelve-pack of gratitude on Black Friday at Sears.
I believe that expressing gratitude is a personal, private matter. For many of us, it’s a practice where some days are better than others. But if you ever find yourself in a place where it seems like a good idea to buy a mechanism to help you express gratitude, you may want to stop yourself before your credit card is swiped. Please go find someone who is professionally trained to help you gain a new perspective on life, love, and meaning in this world. Have a conversation. Create daily intentions that are born out of genuine love and support, not a marketing campaign.
Thanksgiving is a lovely reminder to be kind and generous. Leadership consultants and gurus create amazing content that can help us look inward. But no amulet, charm or gratitude journal will change your life and help you to find happiness and peace in the world. That change begins with you.
In Cuba, it is your right and your duty to work.
There is a labor code that protects workers from social injustice and abuse; however, there are 11 million citizens and only four million workers.
That means four million people hustle and seven million people ride the flow.
Workers in Cuba have mixed opportunities.
Cuban citizens are given a free education, free healthcare, and a free home. Workers are protected by unions, and they are granted access to lawyers to file grievances against unfair labor practices. Food and utilities are subsidized. Children and the elderly are cared for through state programs. And the retirement age is low: for women it’s 60 and for men it’s 65.
But nothing is free.
Human resources in Cuba is complicated.
On my recent trip to Cuba, I met with Dr. Nestor Garcia Iturbe. He provided an overview of Cuban-American relations since 1960. It’s amazing how baby boomers in both Miami and Cuba still keep score while a new generation of Cubans and American workers suffer. You think your parents and grandparents are stuck in the past? Try talking to older Cubans about Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar and property rights.
We also met with leaders at ICAP, which translates to The Cuban Institute for Friendship with the People. It’s a required meeting for visitors where we were lectured on why the revolution makes sense. Honestly, I was surprised by our free exchange. Our delegation asked tough, pointed questions. We received honest, albeit limited, answers. One thing is globally common among older adults: when someone is trying to make a point that’s not being heard, they just speak louder.
Then we met with the head of the Ministry of Work and Social Security. We learned more about the labor code and labor laws that govern Cuban workers. If you think your HR job is tough, imagine the challenges of creating a rolling, ten-year plan to manage a workforce during a time when the country is considering Western-style reforms. Cuba is not China. Fidel’s revolution did not envision workers in sweatshops making cheap trinkets for Walmart; however, Cuban workers need cash and opportunity. Wages aren’t rising as they should in Cuba, although we were told that doctors were just given raises. And so the tension mounts.
We also met with a leading professor at the Center for Studies in Public Administration at Havana University. We learned about state reforms, governance, and how the current government will look nothing like it might look in 2018 when Raul Castro steps down. There are promises of free elections. Spoiler alert: Cuba won’t look like America.
We also met with the National Union of Jurists, a bunch of lawyers who defend workers against violations of the labor code across the three modalities of employment: government work, self-employment, and cooperative employment. The jurist emeritus told us that there’s no sexual harassment anywhere because it’s outlawed in the labor law. Then he said — Oh yeah, one time this fat old lady sexually harassed two younger male workers.
So, yeah, okay, there’s no sexual harassment. None at all. Except once. And it was by a fat, old lady. The revolution has been televised, but our HR group changed the channel.
HR isn’t easy anywhere.
We also met with leaders of co-ops who are trying to be entrepreneurs in partnership with the government. We talked to managers of a beautiful eco-tourist park that are attempting to live in harmony with the environment (and government regulations) while managing the requirements of entertaining Canadian and British tourists. And we talked to restaurant owners about running inventory and POS systems on paper — and sometimes Windows NT — while trying to tackle the challenges of managing staff and operating within the labor code while keeping workers engaged.
HR is tough everywhere, and it’s often not done by HR. Sounds familiar, right?
You’re only as strong as your weakest worker.
Talent management is universal, and Cubans are just like Americans: they want to encourage hard workers and manage out the poor performers. Their methods are different, but Cuba’s revolution only works if everyone operates at peak productivity.
It’s the same way with our American economy.
While Cuba doesn’t have a formal human resources industry, there are plenty of opportunities where future leaders and managers — and even owners — will be able to learn from HR and leverage agile HR technologies.
First, though, they’ll need to tackle the ongoing political standoff with the United States. While we’ve opened an embassy and restored diplomatic relationships, Cuba is not yet open for business in a way that’s readily available to multi-national corporations.
Good luck with that, Cuba.
In the meanwhile, I’m going to incorporate my business in Grand Cayman and drink tropical drinks on other Caribbean islands. It’s a shame, though, because I had a pina colada with horchata in Havana and it changed my life.
It is still illegal for Americans to vacation in Cuba.
Americans traveling to Cuba must be part of a pre-approved delegation. There are twelve categories of delegations that cover everything from research, athletic events, performing in a concert, working on a humanitarian project, or taking part in educational activities. (Lots of information on the internet on those categories.)
If you wish to travel to Cuba, you must apply for a visa through the State Department. This process takes weeks. General tourism is still banned. You can’t fly to Cuba for a weekend getaway and hit the beach.
Travel restrictions may lighten in 2016. Stay tuned for more details.
Here are some do’s and dont’s for Americans traveling to Cuba.
- Do come prepared with medications and first aid supplies. Cuba is an island with limited resources, and the embargo has limited its access to essential things like bandaids and antiseptic ointments. Buy a first aid kit, bring a small flashlight, and come prepared to address minor medical issues on your own.
- Do pack Imodium. Restrooms aren’t up to American standards. Hygiene varies from restaurant to restaurant. Handwashing isn’t always possible, and someone in your delegation might get sick. That someone might be you.
- Do travel with toilet paper wherever you go. Toilet paper is a luxury. Hotels offer the basics, but once you visit the heart of Havana and beyond, you’re on your own.
- Do bring Canadian dollars to Cuba. Havana has two currencies: one for visitors and one for citizens. As a traveler, you can only convert your foreign currency to Cuba’s tourist dollar called the CUC. There’s a massive tax on the conversion from USD to CUC. Canadian dollars are more favorable.
- Do pack light. It’s hot and sweaty in Cuba. More humid than you’ll expect. Be comfortable. Hotels can launder clothes. Worried about how you’ll look? Even in the nicest restaurants, nobody cares if your hair looks pretty or your makeup is applied correctly. Seriously.
- Don’t buy cigars and rum in state-owned stores. Well, technically, everything is state-owned. But find a smaller shop with fewer tourists and negotiate on price.
- Don’t expect to shop. First of all, you’re not technically on vacation. Secondly, this isn’t Mexico. There are no knock-off purses and perfumes warehouses, just yet. Havana offers the basics (t-shirts, Panama hats, handcrafted items) but more and more of this crap is imported from China.
- Don’t be snobby about the restaurant scene. While the food scene in Cuba isn’t refined, it is delicious. Havana is evolving very quickly. Visit TripAdvisor and read the most recent reviews.
- Don’t travel without snacks. While the restaurant scene is improving, it’s tough to grab a quick bite it to eat. Meals are served slowly. If you get hangry, pack protein bars.
- Don’t expect internet access. It’s the biggest challenge for American tourists. Hotels have wifi, but it is slow and painful. Remember AOL dial-up speeds? It’s like that. When you get on wifi, Apple’s iMessage works; however, there’s not enough bandwidth for Skype or FaceTime. You can find illegal hotspots around the city. Just look for a bunch of kids standing around looking at their phones. They’re stealing wifi, and you should, too. Quickly download your email and move on!
I’m just back from Havana, and it was a trip of a lifetime. I hope you find these tips helpful. Please feel free to leave advice and share your observations in the comments below. It’s my goal to help other Americans travel with ease and confidence.
Matt Charney is the king of HR blogging.
There’s a belief out there that if you can’t say anything positive and constructive about HR, you should keep your mouth shut. There’s no place for cynicism and snark in the word of HR.
Those people are wrong.
Can you imagine if someone told Edward R. Murrow to pipe down about McCarthyism? McCarthyism was so intolerable and backward that it could not stand. That’s how I feel about Matt Charney when he writes about the modern HR and recruiting departments across the globe. He is fighting the insanity of modern HR departments.
(And his long-form content is killer. It’s direct, honest and necessary.)
Nobody knows the intersection of tech and practitioners more than Matt Charney. Not because he’s a recruiting jockey who dials the phones, but because he’s studied this field for years. When HR is good, and it’s sometimes good, Matt has a tremendous amount of love and respect for the teams that are doing it right.
The one thing about Matt is that he’s almost always right about the issues of the day. Like, seriously, Matt Charney is dead right about what is happening in the trenches of recruiting and HR. You wish your success rate were that high.
While I’m on hiatus, get to know Matt’s work. And remember who told you first: Matt Charney is the undisputed heavyweight champion of HR blogging. There is no debate.
While I’m on hiatus, I thought I’d stop the recognition train and write about HR bloggers that I hate.
Wait, just kidding, that’s awful.
Over the past few years, everything I’ve done — from being a cat mom to running — has helped me to think about the footprint I leave in this world.
As a vegetarian, I practice non-violence towards animals. So why would I hate people, especially HR bloggers? I’m compassionate. I hope that people will offer grace and compassion to me when I need it the most.
I try to write and speak with some level of truthfulness, too. Here’s what I know about writing on the internet: not everything that is felt is real. Even if it is real, it may not need to be expressed. Anger and hatred are powerful and cunning distractions — more seductive than Facebook and Candy Crush combined. My full-time job as a blogger is to be kind to my colleagues and tell good stories. I can’t do that if I’m consumed with rage.
I think anger is impulsive, as well. Hatred saps my strength and energy. I can whip in the wind like a plastic garbage bag on the highway, or I can focus on what’s important to me. Hating a human resources blogger — or anyone, for that matter — won’t bring happiness or balance to my life.
Not everybody is my cup of tea, and some people cannot stand me. Relationships that once seemed promising have gone off the deep end. That’s life, and my best hope is that everyone learns from one another, and egos are unscathed.
I hate social injustice and racism. I hate celery and sour gummy worms. But I don’t hate any HR bloggers, and neither should you.
Sue Meisinger is a lawyer and an executive leader. She was the CEO of SHRM, but now she’s retired and doing cool things like writing, speaking and traveling. A fun fact about Sue is that she approved my SHRM annual conference press pass in 2008, which set me up to meet so many esteemed people. One of those people is China Gorman.
China Gorman is a veteran of the human capital sector, having led many organizations to profitability during the past 30 years. Along the way, she did okay for herself. You can check out her website and fall in love with her. I admire the way she sees good in people, but I also admire her strong sense of principles. I wish I had her leadership skills, so I stick close and try to learn from her.
Both Sue and China have been nice to me for me for years, which is awkward because I don’t always deserve it. One day, I’ll be a champion for some loud-mouth woman who thinks she knows everything.
(Right now I’ll just continue being that woman.)
Check out their work while I’m on hiatus. You won’t be disappointed.
Maren Hogan is having a moment.
Maren runs a marketing firm called Red Branch Media, and she can write about anything from recruiting to technology with a level of sophistication that rivals any analyst in Silicon Valley, New York or Boston.
I am jealous.
Maren is also a savvy entrepreneur with an informed opinion on complex HR software. She’s able to tell a story without being a bloviator. It’s refreshing and inspiring to watch Maren work a room because she listens with her eyes and smiles. Everybody feels good after meeting Maren, which is why I’m envious of her amazing people skills. She is kind and generous with her time and attention. That counts, dammit!
While I’m on hiatus, check out her site. You won’t be disappointed.
There are a ton of chumpy HR tech bloggers, and then there is Steve Boese. First of all, Steve is a gentleman and a scholar. In an industry of scrubs, Steve’s character is beyond reproach. Many workplace technology experts write about super-technical concepts as if they’re trying to impress other nerds. Steve just tells stories. He uses pop culture, graphs and vignettes from his life to get you thinking differently about the intersection of work, HR, leadership, and tech. Come for the sports and stay for the robots.
Lars Schmidt is the founder of Amplify Talent, and he is a veteran of working with quirky HR teams from NPR to Hootsuite to Space X. Lars tries to say something different about culture, tech, brand, and leadership. His fearlessness inspires me. He never quits on a person, and he’s a big believer in taking risks. I’m not a big fan of people who think improv applies to everything in life — mostly because those people have never done improv — but Lars embodies a #yesand belief to life and HR. Plus he’s funny as hell.
While I’m on hiatus, check out these fabulous dudes who will change the way you think about technology, recruiting and human resources.