There’s no single road to the top

One of the roadblocks to doing diversity work that I set out to explore with The Diversity Dividend is the limiting assumption of perfectionism and its companion all-or-none mindset. As part of this exploration, the book I want to showcase next in the Inspiration Shout-Outs series is The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben-Shahar.

The myth this book helps to explode is that the pursuit of perfection helps us to achieve success. In fact, perfectionism may take us away from success because it blinds us to possible options, discourages us from testing our limits and taking risks and condemns us to the belief that anything less than perfect is equivalent to failure.

“Like most people, the Perfectionist says that she wants to learn from others. But she is unwilling to pay the price of learning—admitting a shortcoming, flaw, or mistake—because her primary concern is actually to prove that she is right.”
p. 13

Furthermore, perfectionism stresses the belief that there is only one right way to success and this can trap those not on that way into hiding this fact, and their purported failures, from others.

“[In most organizations] looking good is often a stronger motivation than being good (by owning up to and learning from one’s failures).”
p. 138

Finally, when we strive to be perfect, we may give up before the job is done, perhaps even within steps from our goal, because of the fear of failure perfectionism instills.

“Failure is essential in achieving success—though it is of course not sufficient for achieving success. In other words, while failure does not guarantee success, the absence of failure will almost always guarantee the absence of success.”
p. 29

Befriend failure; make it one of your tools for success. Think of the diverse paths you would be free to follow if there were many right ways to the top.

Tal Ben-Shahar. (2009). The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life. New York: McGraw Hill. Or the 2010 paperback Being Happy: You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life.

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There’s no single road to the top

Do you seek to demonstrate or develop diversity?

In Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Dan Pink has adopted and adapted Carol Dweck’s terminology – her fixed and growth mindsets – to talk about motivation. As I interpret his work, the fixed mindset (or the entity theorist in his terms) compels us to action through external motivators, whereas the growth mindset (or the incremental theorist in his terms) engages our desire to act through internal motivators.

“Equally important, engagement as a route to mastery is a powerful force in our personal lives. While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.”

p. 112


“ To analogize to physical qualities, incremental theorists consider intelligence as something like strength. (Want to get stronger and more muscular? Start pumping iron.) Entity theorists view it as something more like height. (Want to get taller? You’re out of luck.) If you believe intelligence is a fixed quantity, then every educational experience becomes a measure of how much you have. If you believe intelligence is something you can increase, then the same encounters become opportunities for growth. In one view, intelligence is something you demonstrate; in the other it’s something you develop.

p. 121

As I read the passages quoted above, I was prompted to think about how these ideas could be applied to motivating people within the diversity context.

When you operate from a fixed mindset (entity theorists), your goals for diversity work are about demonstrating the existence of diversity. Diversity is something you have or you don’t. To demonstrate it, you create mountains of statistics, you tick off the boxes into which individuals fall and you feel you are doing well when you measure what you’ve got and the total score is a high one.

When you operate from a growth mindset (incremental theorists), your goals for diversity work are about developing the diversity that exists and finding new areas in which you and your team can grow – both by adding new members and by making the most of what is already present. Diversity has always been there and now that you recognize it, you can work to strengthen what you have. You feel you are doing well when you can see an increase in the ways in which you and others identify yourselves and in the ways all of you seek to be identified.

How is your mindset affecting the way you think about and work with diversity?

  1. Do you tend to see identity as something that is flexible or something that is fixed?
  2. Do you find yourself claiming the power to self-identify or do you feel forced live with the identities others grant or impose on you?
  3. Is diversity an ongoing journey of discovery or simply an endpoint to be reached and filed away?

Your emphasis on either the demonstration or the development of diversity has knock-on consequences: When you demonstrate diversity, typically it is a one-time thing; when you develop diversity, typically it is a continuing process. Take a look at where you fall on this continuum in the various domains of your life, and, if you find yourself on the “demonstrate performance” end of the spectrum in one or more areas, consider the follow-up question of how effectively is this mindset “getting you through the night.”


Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. NY: Riverhead.

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Do you seek to demonstrate or develop diversity?

Telling our whole stories

“[C]onsider the notion of empowerment. It presumes that the organization has the power and benevolently ladles some of it into the waiting bowls of grateful employees.” p. 91

In this quote Dan Pink was describing one of the faulty assumption he sees arising from the use of extrinsic motivational strategies. As I re-read it for this week’s post, though, it struck me that he could also have been talking about identity. A society or a culture is often the arbiter of what labels are available for us to use to define ourselves. Thus rather than growing into our souls, we wait with our bowls outstretched, yearning to hear what aspects of ourselves we can claim and likewise which are not acceptable.

In the organizational case, the prevailing wisdom Pink is challenging is that the individual requires something or someone external to sanction his or her power. In the case of diversity work, a critical misconception we are seeking to overturn is that only the powerful and the privileged have the right to define the options for naming and framing one’s identity. Complying with these externally mandated conventions when defining yourself usually comes at a cost: a cost to self-esteem because it presumes an outsider has the right to be making decisions about your worthiness, and a cost to self-understanding because when we use only the labels approved by others, we must often hide or deny a part of who we are.

With these thoughts and Pink’s quote in mind, consider the following questions:

  • Where have you given away your power to define yourself?
  • What stories about who you are do you struggle to tell due to a dearth of appropriate language?
  • Where is the currently acceptable terminology marginalizing key parts of your identity while perhaps empowering other aspects that you see as only incidental?

Your whole story deserves to be told and thus diversity work needs to include striving to create environments where intrinsic sources of power and motivation are brought to the fore. In such environments, the only permission you need to be yourself is from yourself. When you can embrace who you are and use that definition to build self-esteem, self-compassion and self-respect, you are able tap into your deepest sources of power — self-awareness and self-trust.


Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. NY: Riverhead.


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Telling our whole stories

Extending the gift of love – to ourselves

On Feb 14th many people will be celebrating Valentine’s Day – a day on which we send cards, flowers and chocolates to let the important people in our lives know that we love them. As I reflected on this holiday in light of Hirschfield’s last three chapters – chapter 8 “Learning That You Don’t Have to Disconnect Because You Disagree,” chapter 6 “A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small: Talking About the Things That Matter Most in the Way That Hurts the Least,” and chapter 10 “Footprints of the Messiah: Turning Our Deepest Dreams into an Everyday Reality” – which focus on staying connected, both to others and to our dreams, it struck me that Valentine’s Day would mean so much more if it were extended.

What if we imagined a celebration that involved giving the gift of love to ourselves and to humanity in general, with a particular emphasis on those parts of ourselves we see as the least valid or likable or those individuals/groups with whom we have fundamental disagreements? It is difficult to truly love another if we don’t cherish our whole selves. I believe that the three quotes below identify the hurdles we face and at the same time suggest ways to surmount them.

Without a level of self-understanding that encompasses our strengths and our inadequacies, it is challenging to step into the shoes of another.

“I began to realize that until I was ready to confront myself, I had no business confronting anyone else–that prayer, whatever else it was, was an exercise in that confrontation with who I was and who I wanted to be.”

p. 195

Without careful scrutiny of the assumptions that underlie our worldview, it is hard to recognize that our evaluations – positive and negative, of self and others – while authentic, are only based on partial information.

“[I]t may be that what you saw was not all that there was to see. It may be that you are confusing honesty and integrity with accuracy and completeness.”

pp. 245-246

Without a willingness to accept that people, ourselves included, make mistakes, it is tough to share feedback in a way that comes from a place of love and makes possible transformation.

“Even when punishment is required, it is designed to change a specific behavior or attitude, not to strip a person of his or her power or independence, or to change who he or she is.”

p. 223

I want to close this entry and this series of Inspiration Shout-Outs with a quote from the final page of the main text of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right. The set of questions posed in this quote can be the basis for making every day a day a Valentine’s Day where the expressions of love are directed inward, to yourself, as well as outward, to significant others in your life and to the world more generally.

“In what ways was I the person I most longed to be today? What helped me to get there? In what ways did I fall short? What do I need in my life in order to do better?”

p. 248

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Extending the gift of love – to ourselves

Transitions Peaceful and Powerful

Once again I found that the chapters I had set out to write about provided an inspiring lens through which to view current events, and, in particular, the beginning of the primary season in the US. Reading chapter 5 “Keeping Score: Making Judgments Without Becoming Judgmental,” chapter 6 “Mosquechurchagogue: Finding Unity Not Forcing Uniformity” and chapter 7 “The Bishop of Auschwitz: When the Whole Really Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts” of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right as voters in Iowa are set to go to the caucuses, the first of a set of rituals which will culminate in the peaceful transfer of executive power, made it abundantly clear that we have the tools necessary create a better future, if only we can grasp them.

As part of a conversation about how best to move toward that future, I want to draw your attention to another transition ritual, the Havdalah ceremony described by Hirschfield in chapter 7. The Havdalah signifies the end of the Shabbat and the start of the week ahead, and, in Hirschfield’s words, “marks a new beginning, an opportunity to reenter the world and reengage in the work of making our world a better place.” (p. 161) He goes on to explain the symbolism of the objects used in the ceremony and from these ideas I’ve built several questions for you to consider:

  • The flame of the braided, multi-wicked Havdalah candle represents “our ability to create and build” (p. 163) – how are you seizing the chance to create and build during the transitions in your life?
  • The smelling of sweet spices calls on us to “[breathe] in deeply and [search] out the opportunities for such sweetness even in the most unexpected places” (pp. 163-164) – where might beauty and joy lie, if only you were open to sensing their presence?
  • The wine being blessed “does not grow on vines; it requires human partnership to unleash the full potential of all that we find in the world around us” (p. 164) – who or what is waiting for you to reach out in partnership and what potential might this fulfill?

As in my last post on this book, Mercy,forgiveness and resolutions for the new year, I’d advise you not to be concerned about whether your acts will have earth-shattering effects, simply be mindful that small steps, if taken by each of us every day, will add up to real change.

I’d like to close with one more quote:

“We will figure out that the challenge is never how to get us all into a single room, but how to build a structure with enough rooms for everyone, rooms in which to live out our lives safely and pursue the happiness to which we all aspire, with the awareness that standing in each of them comes with both challenges and gifts.” p. 154

Make of your room a welcoming place and take the risk to explore the rooms of others – let’s inaugurate a new era of understanding and mutual respect where we share both our challenges and our gifts.

Photo from Avital Pinnick
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Transitions Peaceful and Powerful

Mercy, Forgiveness and Resolutions for the New Year

“Turning personal or national suffering into a source for healing is never easy, but unless that remains our top priority, we’ll be left with a world in which everybody has a finely honed sense of how his particular past allows him to undermine someone else’s future.” p. 66

“[The] marriage of justice and revenge is always a death spiral. We know that all it does is give us just enough moral high ground to do to other people precisely what we wouldn’t want done to us.”

I had already chosen to focus on chapters 1-4 of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right in this post, however the material in chapter 3 – “The Shadow Side of Faith: Learning That We Can Be Both Victims and Victimizers” – and chapter 4 – “Vengeance, Forgiveness, Justice, and Mercy: Recognizing the Sacredness of All Our Feelings” – felt particularly apt given the ongoing conflicts around the world and the debate here in Germany over how to foster the integration of refugees without a loss of identity or integrity on either side.

With these quotes in mind, and, if you have read it, the first four chapters of Hirshfield’s book, consider the following questions:

  • What personal issue are you grappling with where you would benefit from letting go of old hurts? Where do you see your nation suffering from an inability to move beyond past wrongs?
  • When have you allowed your desire for justice cloud your judgment? When have you found room to exercise mercy and forgiveness rather than seek vengeance?
  • Where have you created difference, separation or rejection by labeling others? By labeling yourself? How can acknowledging and accepting diversity in yourself and in others help you to fashion a more integrated and balanced life?

Note that these need not be life or death concerns, they could be, as Hirshfield describes on page 94, as simple as sharing your distress and exploring possible motives after hearing a friend’s negative comments rather than holding a grudge, looking for an opportunity to respond in kind or pigeonholing him or her as rude and unpleasant.

I’d like to close with one more quote and a thought on resolutions for the new year:

“[T]raditions exist not to serve the faithful, but to help the faithful serve the world. The traditions are there for anyone to use to craft his or her own life.” p. 51

As we move into 2016, seek to craft your own life and better serve the world by rediscovering your own traditions and making connections with diverse traditions outside your own. This forges the diversity dividend.

*All quotations are from Brad Hirschfield. (2007). You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. New York: Harmony.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Mercy, Forgiveness and Resolutions for the New Year

An invitation to inspiration

If you are going to create a series on your blog called “Inspiration Shout-Outs,” you need to start with a topic likely to spark enough interest to bring people to The Diversity Dividend and then inspire them to engage in online dialogue about it. Numerous sources of inspiration came to mind. However, what caused me to settle on You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism for the first piece in this series was that it had already prompted me to reach out. Indeed, some of you reading this post may recall receiving some rather breathless emails or seeing social media updates extolling the wisdom it contains back in 2008.

I want to begin therefore with the quote that had moved me to broadcast my delight at discovering this book:

When faith simplifies things that need to remain complex, instead of giving us strength to live with complexity, when it gives answers where none exist, instead of helping us appreciate the sacredness of living with questions, when it offers certainty when there needs to be doubt, and when it tells that we have arrived when we should still be searching–then there is a problem with that faith. p.9

My aim with this first “Inspiration Shout-Out” is to start a conversation about the value of holding opposites such as those mentioned above in a creative tension; that is, on the need for embracing that which is appealing and joyful, as well as that which is worrisome and painful, in ourselves and in our traditions. Thus I invite you to join me for an ongoing discussion exploring:

  • being wrong and being right
  • safety and certainty and discomfort and doubt
  • believing and questioning
  • giving and taking
  • commitment and openness

Let You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right kick-start your journey toward a way of living that arises from acceptance and wholeness, not denial and division. This is the diversity dividend.

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An invitation to inspiration