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Icons: Busy Philipps Helps Spread A Pandemic Of Love

In the face of a global pandemic, retreat is a natural response. Not for Shelly Tygielski – a meditation teacher and community organizer – and Busy Philipps – an accomplished actor and activist for a range of causes. Both are rare examples of how embracing fear and using your platform can lead to big-scale, meaningful change. Pandemic of Love has raised over $21 million in just 12 weeks. It even led to a casual Sunday evening conversation with former Vice President, Joe Biden.

We chatted about the innate human urge to give, how to build a grassroots movement, and why mutual aid communities can be the simplest of human connection in a world of increased isolation.

Brendan Doherty: Welcome to Icons of Impact. I’m really excited today to have two extraordinary people who are teaming up. One is Shelly Tygielski, the founder of Pandemic of Love; she’s also a renowned meditation teacher. And we have Busy Philipps, an extraordinary actor and activist, who has helped Shelly amplify her incredible work. Shelly, I’d love to start with you: we are obviously in the midst of a pandemic, and you took that moment to step back and ask what you could do in response. Tell me about Pandemic of Love? 

Shelly Tygielski: Sure! Pandemic of Love is the culmination of my life as a meditator for the last 20 years. It’s always been a personal practice, and for the last four years, I’ve been a full-time meditation teacher after leaving the corporate world. I wanted to figure out a way to not be afraid of what was coming, to choose love over fear. When we’re afraid we’re in fight or flight mode, but we have the ability to create a new default mode of empathy and action instead. That’s the seed behind Pandemic of Love. 

Doherty: So what’s the model for Pandemic of Love?

Tygielski: It’s a mutual aid community, which is not something that I invented. It’s been around a very long time. Our grandparents, your parents, my parents, everybody used to use the phrase back in the day when people used to live in a community together… when they knew their neighbors. People would know what was happening, but since the Industrial Revolution and the Technological Revolution, we’ve lost that human connection. So, the theory behind this mutual aid community was people are in fear, they’re losing jobs, they need to stock up on supplies. But most people don’t even have enough money to make ends meet at the end of the week, so how do we expect them to now shelter successfully at home? The mutual aid community was designed in a simple way: there are two forms – one where people can “get help” and have their needs met for groceries, utility bills, gas, and other needs. And a “give help” for people who could be donors or patrons, those who have privilege and are able to fulfill those needs. Now we have over 600 volunteers who spend their time just making matches. That’s it, we’re matchmakers, money never touches our organization.

Doherty: Give us a quick stat – to date, how much money raised and what’s the average amount? 

Tygielski: So to date, we are almost at 130,000 matches. Which means, at least 260,000 people have made a human connection. The average transaction is $145. And we’re over $21 million in transactions. We have micro-communities around the globe, everywhere from Australia, to the UK to Iceland, plus in the Caribbean, Latin America, and all across the US. This is a grassroots movement, it really is neighbor helping neighbor.

Doherty: Busy, you must come across so many folks who want you to amplify their cause or get behind it. How did you hear about this, and what drew you in? What resonated personally for you? 

Busy Philipps: A friend of mine, Ashley Margolis, posted about what Shelly was starting to do on her own Instagram. And I’m always looking for ways to help… I’ve been involved in many charity organizations and seek different ways to help communities in need, especially those in my backyard. I know that people can get fatigued and feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the need. And there are different kinds of donors. You have to figure out different ways to reach people and have it make sense to them. A one-to-one connection was something that made so much sense, and I just knew that people really respond to that. For instance, at another amazing organization, Baby2Baby, we started posting Amazon wish lists instead of asking people for monetary donations. There was something that people loved about just like, “Oh yeah, I’ll buy this cute thing, since it’s already on my Instagram.” So that was what drew me to Shelly. I just wanted to put it out there, repost it. There are all kinds of people that follow me, from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, so I just put – “if you can help, maybe this is a thing you want to do; and if you need help, maybe this is the thing you want to do too.” It’s been incredible how people have really responded to it.

Doherty: Shelly, what did you experience after Busy got involved? 

Tygielski: A surge of people coming to the site. I reached out to her on her Instagram and said, “thank you, you have no idea what this has meant.” We can match so many more people now, there’s always three people in need for every one person who donates. Every time somebody like Busy amplifies the message, it goes down to two- to- one for a short while, and we’re able to do more.   

Philipps: I was thinking about this earlier today, we are currently in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests, and I’m trying to help engage a lot of my followers who are a majority white women — I know that because I get the analytics from Instagram. I’m trying to figure out ways to have them be involved and donate if they’re able. One really valuable thing that I’ve done for years, and advocated for other people who are in a position of comfort to do too, is to think about an amount of money where you wouldn’t blink an eye – to send your kids camp, or to buy yourself a new outfit to go to an event, nice things you’re able to do for yourself or your family —  and match that with a comparable charitable donation.  

Doherty: That also helps folks personalize it. The elegance of Pandemic of Love is that it’s stripped away of all of the fluff, and is really just about how you can connect someone in need with someone who has means in that moment; because that role could be reversed. Speaking as someone who has participated, I was paired with a young mother in North Georgia and after I supported her, we shared a bit. It felt very real suddenly, like I had a little micro-window into someone’s life.  

Tygielski: Yes, that really is the most important part of it, honestly. It’s disruptive. In the business world, we always talk about how companies like Uber are disruptive. This movement is a disruption because it’s like, “Wait a minute, I don’t need this overhead and the staff to get this person help. And I know exactly where my gift is going.”

Doherty: What does this look like post-COVID-19? Is it one of those things that pops up to fit the need and then disappears? Does the model of an exclusively volunteer based organization work longer term given that it can be harder to maintain and relies on generosity of spirit?

Tygielski: Well, being a meditation teacher I live in the present. But I’m thinking about how the concept of mutual aid can be sustainable long after the pandemic is over. After this is all over, something new will emerge. So what does the new order look like? My “BHAG,” my “big, hairy, audacious, goal” is that I’d love to see the institutionalization of mutual aid. Why shouldn’t every municipality have a mutual aid community that’s formalized in some way?  

Then there’s equity. People always have the need to give. It creates that connection constantly. We’re pivoting — like with the Navajo tribe. We’re in Minnesota. We’re in Atlanta. We’ve doubled our efforts. We’ve gotten more donors last weekend and we are allowing people in those cities to select whether or not they want to assist with specifically things like bail money or legal aid. 

Doherty: Busy, with a platform of your size, often there is increased scrutiny. I had  a good conversation with Jameela Jamil about this and about call out culture and cancel culture. I know even myself, especially in this moment, as a white person wanting to speak out and be even more active as an anti-racist … I’m still mindful of not wanting to get it wrong.  

Philipps: You can’t get it wrong if you’re standing up for a thing that is right. It won’t be wrong. Sure, we can always do better, we can always learn better words to use, and we can always own our own ignorance and say, “I’m learning, I’m trying, I will do better.” But the baseline for me, especially if we’re shifting and talking about Black Lives Matter is simply: do you think that racism is okay? If the answer is no, then you think Black Lives Matter. In terms of showing up and using my platform to help the people who follow me use their ears on all kinds of social justice issues, it’s the same thing… there can be a fatigue, you can feel overwhelmed, you can be like “I don’t want to see that.” Well, you know, neither do my friends who live with this daily as their reality due to their skin tone. So I owe it to them to be uncomfortable and upset and own my own place in it and do what I can do in the ways I can do it. I can’t go to protests that are three blocks away right now because of COVID and because I have two small kids. But I do know I can donate, sign petitions, make phone calls. 

Doherty: I also think, given that you have a mostly white female online audience base, that your standing up on these issues and speaking publicly to your audience is bringing new folks in — converting them, making the case accessible and relatable. And eventually, where I came down, is that any ridiculous fear I have of saying it wrong is nothing compared to the fear of being black in America today. So I’m 100% with you.

Philipps: I’m curious and excited to see where Shelly takes Pandemic of Love. I think that she’s right, we’re at a real turning point in our society. Where we go from here is truly up to every single one of us, and it involves both participation and a willingness to be open, to listen, and to know when to take a step back. I would say that the overarching thing — and I know Shelley agrees with me — is that people really do want to help. They do. Most people want to help, they just either feel overwhelmed or they don’t know where to start or they’re worried they’re going to make a mistake or they’re afraid of something. So, being able to strip it all away and just say like, “Shelly, this is Busy. You guys can help each other out”… that’s an incredibly powerful way to move forward. 

Doherty: Thank you both, really appreciate you taking the time. Let’s give Pandemic of Love some lift!

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The Future Of Work Post-COVID19: Why Embracing The Odyssey And Valuing Rebellion Is The New Recipe For Success

We’re all learning to swim.

We are no longer on the beach. I’ve reference this in a previous article, “How to Approach Change Like a Skill.” We’ve became accustomed to a certain level of expected stability. The solid ground beneath our feet is not supposed to shift. The water is supposed to stay at the edge of the beach and we should be safe to build sandcastles. The truth is, this pandemic has swept us out to sea, and we will never go back to that safe, quiet little beach. Instead, the ocean is our new home.

The ocean moves, waves crash and even when the waters are still, there is no solid matter on which to stand. It is in that environment that businesses and people find themselves today. It would be a mistake to assume that the goal should be to swim back to shore. Instead, the ones that will thrive and evolve will be the ones who learn how to swim, surf and build a boat. But what does that look like in a Post-COVID19 world?

We Are Going On an Odyssey vs. a Journey

Aidan McCullen, a transformation consultant in innovation and host of the popular podcast, “The Innovation Show,” shares that business destinations are no longer clear. Today, we are embarking on odysseys, not journeys. A journey has a defined destination while an odyssey does not. A journey follows a predictable path, while an odyssey is ambiguous. A journey follows a map, just as business execution follows a strategy. In contrast, an odyssey follows a sense of purpose, vision and collective values.

What does it take to even undertake going on an odyssey?

We Need to Learn How to Rebel

Nicola Smith, CEO and Founder of Rebel & Reason, an organization that helps to drive disruption and innovation for the numerous brands they serve, says, “We misinterpret rebels. Angry rebellion is part of this mythology. This idea of rebel without a cause or misbehaving teenage rebel that wants to break all the rules is outdated.” Instead, she recommends we recognize that every major accomplishment, whether it’s a piece of literature that sticks with us, a scientific discovery that changes the course of life or a societal revolution that shifts our consciousness, began with a rebellious thought. “The act of creation itself is an act of rebellion. It is breaking the rules of what came before.”

We Have to Be a Rebel that Affects Change vs. Resists It

To overcome the negative stigma that rebellion has had in the workplace, you can’t just rebel for the sake of thwarting authority. It requires purpose, skill and collaboration. How do you approach rebellion without alienating those that you are hoping to influence? The first step is understanding that you are not rebelling against a person. You are rebelling against a policy, process or structure. The goal is for others to come along with you. With that in mind, Nicola recommends the following steps to ensure your rebelliousness affects change in a productive way.

  • Go where the energy is. Find the other rebels. Do small tests and experiments to build momentum and create a tangible example of what you are hoping to achieve. Expand that out to benefit more than just yourself or your territory. Find the people that are passionate about what you are trying to achieve. 
  • Build a business case. Make it easy for those that don’t think like you to come on board and support you. Connect the dots between what you are thinking and how that benefits the employees, clients and the business overall. Help others to see, not just what you want to do that’s different, but how it’s possible to make it a reality. Use the results of your mini experiments to help show what you’re trying to achieve vs. solely relying on telling people you have a better idea.
  •  Frame the narrative of your rebellion to show how you’re trying to help people. Many rebels get a bad rap because they lack the patience to help people process the distance between how they currently are doing things to where the rebel sees things needing to go. But telling people that if they don’t change bad things will happen or getting frustrated with them for not thinking like you is not a recipe for influencing others. Instead, frame the narrative to why your rebellion is for a greater cause, how it can help others and why it’s worthwhile taking a risk and following you.

It’s Time to Recognize Employees Are Paying Attention

There have been new expectations brewing for some time now around how employees and employers should interact and support one another. We went from the culture of employees should be lucky to have a job and employers providing them with security well into retirement to a free agent philosophy of employers reorganizing as they see fit and employees changing jobs as frequently as needed to grow their careers. COVID-19 has brought those two philosophies crashing together.

Now we are seeing two counter-trends emerging. There is a need for agility and stability cropping up in the workforce. Companies are recognizing there are is a need for a certain employee population to keep the company running, the so-called essential employee. Then there are those that are strategic support and require more flexibility in terms of how they do their work and what work they do. There are also employees who are looking for more movement, while others want to see better job security from their employers.

Suffice it to say that the job market and talent pool will eventually right itself and for in-demand positions, the talent war will still exist. Employees will be evaluating how prospective companies supported their employees through all of this. Were they quick to lay off? Did they furlough? Did they come up with creative ways to keep their staff employed. Did they demonstrate responsible business planning in the first place to ensure they could protect people’s livelihoods when hit with a market low?

We Have to Identify the New Skills Needed for High-Performing Talent

Though technical skills are critical for any job we take on, there are transferrable skills that are job-agnostic. All companies should be hiring for and all employees should be honing these skills. Nicola shares a few to keep at the top of your list:

  • Demonstrate a commitment to being autodidactic. What does that mean? The literal definition is a person who learns subjects without the benefit of a teacher or formal education. In other words, a person skilled at figuring things out, motivated to learn without being told to do so and able to find the right resources to help them increase their knowledge base.
  • Solving problems vs. merely finding them. Often, I see people fine tuning their skill set at pointing out the roadblocks in the way of success but having very little practice in finding the solution. The two require different mindsets. You must be looking for deficiencies to spot the problem. That means you have to cultivate your skepticism, sometimes misconstrued as negative thinking. However, you can’t stop there. You then have to switch modes and engage your creativity and find or come up with solutions.
  • Using solutions to move forward. Nicola recommends leaders and individuals implement the ‘Can-If’ approach. This means that you stick to the best practice of never bringing up a problem without also having a potential solution. But phrasing solutions from the viewpoint of, “we can do this, if we do that.” This way, you embrace reality, but you also invite your brain to find a way out. Remember that the solution may not be the ideal, but it should help the business move forward.
  • Setting goals for purpose and momentum vs. to get a guarantee. When it comes to navigating the unknown, it is critical for individuals and businesses to have the audacity to say they plan on making something happen, even though there are no guarantees they will be able to achieve it. The danger is waiting until things feel certain. So many people view goal setting as making a promise that they can’t break vs. using it to create a sense of purpose and direction. Without that, you are guaranteed to be knocked around by the environment you’re in. Focus needs to move from surviving today to creating tomorrow.

“Disruption is not going to slow down. It’s no longer the threat to business but the environment in which we are creating and working. It’s the water we swim in and the air we breathe,” says Nicola. The goal isn’t to learn how to survive COVID-19. It’s about evolving the way we plan, work and support one another so we can be storm resilient. This isn’t about knowing the details of the disruption ahead of time. We rarely, if ever get that luxury. Instead, it’s about navigating all disruption in a way that enables us to use it as a source of energy, momentum and innovation.

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5 Things Bosses Should Never Say During A Crisis

Knowing what to say in a difficult situation is hard for anyone, and especially hard for leaders who are trying to navigate stormy waters with a team in tow. However, knowing what not to say is just as difficult and perhaps even more important right now.

Mary Shores, a multi-million-dollar CEO, best-selling author, and sought-after speaker, had a debt collection agency for over 20 years. Working in this challenging industry, along with her extensive training in neuroscience, Mary has become an expert in communications.

She gave me her top five tips to help you better communicate with your team, clients and colleagues during this crisis. Here’s what not to say.

1. Avoid saying: “You should have…”

“To create lasting connections and get your clients and team members to be open to your solutions, it’s important to talk with them rather than at them. The phrase, “You should have” sounds like the start of a lecture, and when people feel like they’re being lectured or judged, they can become closed off to the rest of the conversation,” says Shores. “Instead use the phrase “What I can suggest is” because it changes the focus of the conversation to the solution rather than the problem. By saying what can be done, you help people move forward – which also makes people feel valued and builds their confidence in your abilities.”

2. Avoid saying: “Calm down.”

Sometimes the way we are conditioned to speak is the opposite of what will work. The phrase “calm down” – even when it’s said with the best intentions – has the power to stir people up even more. Your listeners might view this as a criticism of their emotional state, which can lead to more conflict than connection. 

The coronavirus has touched every one of us in some way and caused a great amount of fear and uncertainty. This fear and uncertainty also affects people’s ability to be present in conversations and connect with others. As a business leader, communicating with empathy must be top of mind.

“One of the best ways I know to express empathy is to make people feel heard. Validating your clients and teams’ experiences with the phrase ‘I know this is a challenge,’ or ‘I can understand the uncertainty you feel,’ does that,” notes Shores.

When we find someone who connects with our struggles (or triumphs), we feel cared for and supported. We begin to see that person as an ally, and a level of trust forms. On the other hand, when we don’t feel heard, we have a hard time moving on in a conversation or being emotionally receptive to a solution from that person.

“Hearing the words, ‘I know this is a challenge’ slows people down and cancels a fight-or-flight response. It also helps people see you as an ally they want to engage with further,” adds Shores.

3. Avoid saying: “Everything will be ok.”

Like the phrase “calm down,” the phrase “everything will be ok” can have a similar effect of creating more conflict than connection. Despite your best intentions, the phrase can come across as tone-deaf. People will sometimes use this phrase when they’re not sure what else to say.

“’Everything will be ok’ is also vague and lacks a sense of action. Telling people it will all be ok without explaining why you feel that way or what specifically will be ‘ok’ can lead them to question your sincerity,” advises Shores.

If you find yourself wanting to use the phrase “Everything will be ok,” try giving people specifics they can hold onto and introduce that information using the phrase, “The great news is… .”

“Hearing the words ‘The great news is’ can instantly give people a sigh-of-relief. It’s like you’re planting a seed of happiness in their minds that something positive is on its way. By providing specifics, you also reassure people that they have been heard and it builds their confidence in you,” says Shores.

4. Avoid saying: “Don’t worry about it.”

There are a few reasons why business leaders should avoid the phrase “Don’t worry about it.” For one, this phrase can come across as dismissive or condescending, especially when you can’t provide specifics for why someone shouldn’t be worried. Just because you tell someone “don’t worry” doesn’t automatically make them less worried.

“The word ‘don’t’ is actually banned from my office. We’ve found that when people hear the word ‘don’t’ or other negative words like ‘no,’ ‘not,’ ‘can’t,’ or ‘won’t,’ they stop listening to us. Hearing these words gives people a punch-in-the-gut feeling and can cause them to enter panic mode because they’re afraid their needs aren’t going to be met. Hearing the phrase ‘don’t worry,’ can actually make people feel guilty for having worries,” says Shores.

“Instead of telling your clients and team members ‘Don’t worry about it,’ try redirecting the conversation to what you think they should be focused on instead using the phrase, ‘Let’s focus on xyz.’”

Communicating what to do as opposed to what not to do moves the situation forward by focusing on the solution.

5. Avoid saying: “You will be fine.”

“You will be fine,” is another phrase that can easily come across as insincere. 

“If you want to put people’s mind at ease, help them see the situation through your point of view. You can introduce your information using the phrase, ‘What I’d really like you to know is… .’ Even if you don’t have all the answers, sharing what you do know can give people some peace of mind. ‘We’re doing x,y,z, to look into that.’ can go a long way,” notes Shores.

We can’t control everything about the current situation, but we can control how we communicate and respond. Let’s make empathy and connection top of mind.

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