How I want to be remembered

As the person who smiled at everyone.

While out on a bike ride this week, my neighbour John said ‘I’d know you from anywhere by that smile.’ I was riding by him and some friends with a giant grin on my face; excited to be on my bike, out in the open air, inhaling the deep green leaves, blue sky and sunshine, and seeing a familiar face as I was out on the open roads.

I got to thinking about about my legacy, how I want to be remembered.

I want to be remembered as the individual with the smile. Not in the Hollywood, grandiose kind of way. I want to be remembered by those in my community because I smiled at them, because I waved, because we’re connected in the sense of greater belonging to where we live, work, eat and play. I believe that smiling is contagious. I believe that it’s a little thing that will help make the lives around me just a little bit better. I know the research is out there too, but let’s not bore you with academia!

During the pandemic this heaviness has become evident more than ever. Life is full of fraught, uncertainty, pain and suffering. We’re all going in and out of waves of grief as we wrestle what we’ve lived with this past 16-months and what might still come. To combat that sadness and negativity, I smile. It started up at the cottage, my friend Katie waving and smiling at all our neighbours and I quickly got addicted to the same dopamine hit. Then I started waving and smiling at everyone back home – and in a big city like Toronto, sometimes people look at you like you’re not quite right. And that’s ok, because for the majority, they smile back and it connects us to the social fabric in a meaningful way.

One story stands out that reminds me why it is just so important to smile at everyone. A woman was walking down the street. While out with the dog, I looked up and gave her a giant smile. It was a beautiful spring day, fresh flower scents, the promise of warm summer days to come, a little more heat from the sun. What I didn’t know was that she was crying behind her glasses. As I got closer I could see her cheeks strewn with tears. But she smiled back. And I know that in her moment of grief she had a moment of lightness. I know I cannot undo her grief or sadness but my smile let her know that I was in her grief with her, even just for a very brief moment.

What I listened to

3 Books with Neil Pasricha Chapter 85 with Jane McGonigal on slaying stress with superhero strengths
Pasricha was first known for his blog, 1000 Awesome Things, which helped him through a challenging time in his life. And if you follow Neil along on social media, he’s been posting Awesome Things throughout the pandemic to find the silver linings in a dark time. His blog lead to a book, which lead to speaking and eventually Neil started a podcast (I guess because I listen to 3 Books often enough I’m comfortable calling him Neil!?!).

The latest episode had another woman I admire, Jane McGonigal, game designer, author, future forecaster, PhD. I first discovered McGonigal’s work when I was trying to understand my step-son’s obsession with video games, I was worried he was hiding behind a screen to avoid real life. I went from being an anti-gaming person to pro-gaming really quickly (she also happens to be the twin sister of Kelly McGonigal, who studies our response to stress, another woman I look up to).

Neil and Jane have a great discussion around how to introduce gaming into your kids lives and why it’s important and the right amount of screen time. I especially enjoyed the conversation where they dive into the major differences between social media and gaming. If you’re anti-screen, anti-gaming like I was I highly recommend listening to the research and science on how these can make yours and your kids lives better.

And yes, Neil, after writing this I will do the things necessary for the analog club, because then I’ll be a member of two of the three clubs of 3 Books!

What I read

Atomic Habits – Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear
I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. Maybe it’s that I thought Clear was too wrapped up in ego, and don’t get me a wrong ego wrapped up in a dose of humility can be powerful writing, but I think Clear missed the humility part. What really made me dislike this book was the lack of credibility in the evidence. For instance, the automaticity graphs, there was no scale on the y-axis, no definition of what automaticity is so you might understand how it is measured, and it seems like to make an asymptote (a pretty looking curve) they fit the data to an equation, which tells me they changed the data to tell a story. In addition, I was so excited when I came to the first appendix ‘What should I read next?’ which was only a plug to read Clear’s blog. Don’t get me wrong, he should take people to his work, but this list would have been made more credible including books that shaped this research, inspired him to leave his job and pursue this work

There are some redeeming qualities of the book and here were some of my big takeaways:

  • Tying habits is necessary to help you to achieve goals, both short- and long-term
  • Breaking habits into a four-part system: i) make it obvious, ii) make it attractive, iii) make it easy, and iv) make it satisfying (which is explained as update to Duhigg’s Habit three part-system of cue-routine-reward)
  • Our sense of identity is our greatest strength but when rigid can be an insurmountable obstacle. “Like water flowing around an obstacle, your identity works with the changing circumstances rather than against them. … A lack of self-awareness is poison. Reflection and review is the antidote”

Unfortunately, this book didn’t speak to me, but I also don’t think Clear saw me as his target audience. If you’re looking for an easy read and you’re struggling with a lot of bad habits, then this is the book for you. I do want get my hands on a copy of the Clear Habit Journal, however, it doesn’t look so easy to ship to Canada. So if anyone has some insight on how to get one, please send it my way.

Braving the Wilderness – The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown
I cannot believe I forgot I had another book by Brené Brown that I haven’t read (and I think I found a second one I still need to read). Brown is one of my favourite authors and speakers. As a new faculty member, Brown inspires me to be a better researcher-storyteller-instructor. To do so, I’m reminded to always lead with a lens of empathy. I loved that this book was founded on three principles – strong back, soft front, wild heart. The idea that to be the best version of yourself you not only have to be authentic but you have to find the link between vulnerability and courage. 

This work mirrors what Adam Grant speaks to in Think Again (and, yes, I talk a lot about Grant’s book), how we need to find common ground instead of being divisive, especially as the world continues to polarize. Brown speaks to this sense of connectedness through the lens of belonging:

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” (pg. 31-2)

We all know that when we pretend and use ‘fitting-in’ we don’t feel like we’re the best version of ourselves, we cannot be authentic, and instead of having courage through vulnerability we often armour up. 

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.” ~Maya Angelou (on Freedom: A 1973 Conversation with Bill Moyers)