5 easy steps to having an accountability buddy

Accountability buddy Sam Hansen at Hilma af Klint exhibit

I pride myself in helping to un-stick people by being an action-oriented sounding board and problem-solver. I’ve noticed that one of the top reasons people get stuck on something is that they don’t have any accountability to move successfully towards their desired outcome. That outcome could be something as big as a job hunt or move to a new city, or something as seemingly small as scheduling a doctor’s appointment or blocking time to connect with family. It could even be adopting a more mindful state of being.

Without accountability, it’s easy to cite too little time, too much to do, insufficient resources, the wrong context, an initial “no”, or any number of other factors as a good enough reason to not advance a goal.

An accountability buddy is a free, easy, and enjoyable way to build accountability into your life.*

Nearly nine years ago, an Internet friend turned real-life friend agreed to join me in an experiment of an accountability partnership.** We’re still going strong, and both they and I have advanced goals related to work, health, relationships, family matters, city moves, skills, and personal projects because of it. Most of my friends don’t know Sam directly, but they have heard tell of how big an influence they’ve been in my life by holding me accountable.

Accountability buddy (n) – a person who champions your success on reaching your goals through consistent communication.

You can have this friendship and accountability too! Here are 5 easy steps to making it happen.

  1. Find a strategic accountability buddy. Ideally, this is not a person that you regularly interact with. It’s not a close friend or colleague, or anyone who is a strong presence in the communities that you are a part of. They need to be an objective sounding board and confidante, and you don’t want to bias information that you share with them for any reason. I particularly value that Sam and I work in different industries, participate in different hobbies, and live in different places. So where do you find someone that you don’t really interact with? Posting online via social media, or asking friends if they know of anyone who might be interested is a great start.
  2. Establish norms for your communications. What medium will you primarily use to communicate? How often will you communicate? Are there boundaries or frameworks for what you want to share? How will you name and follow up on challenges, and also celebrate and learn from wins? In our first few years, Sam and I would email every weekday with goals for the day, and any longer-term goals and challenges that we wanted to identify. Anything was fair game. While we’ve gone down to just Mondays and Fridays, all else has remained consistent. We follow up with questions about how big things went, check in on unfulfilled intentions, validate fears and concerns while suggesting shifts in approach, and high five victories big and small. We occasionally video chat or connect in person when we feel a need to re-calibrate or give larger updates, or if travel puts us in the same place at the same time. Some updates are short, and others longer, but all are authentic, direct, and devoid of small talk.
  3. Be vulnerable. For an accountability buddy relationship to be successful, vulnerability is key. You can’t beat around the bush. You need to name stressors, root causes, and looming fears, and also admit failure. Similarly, you need to be able to brag about things that you would show humility about around others. There can be no judgment on either side. This is rooted in a deep trust, which is essential to this type of relationship. You may not start with a high level of trust, but you need to build it quickly, together.
  4. Commit to being a consistent cheerleader and challenger. You need to believe in your buddy’s ability to achieve whatever they set out to do. You must believe that their goals are the right goals for them, rather than inserting your own ideas about what’s best. You need to be in their court always; you can’t disappear. You need to give tough love when your buddy needs a nudge forward. Empathy, curiosity, patience, and long-term investment are your essential tools.
  5. Iterate and evolve as needed, together. While it’s been nine years, Sam and I have had moments of pause and re-calibration. You can’t possibly know what you need together in perpetuity. Life happens; goals change; ability to show up well for each other isn’t always optimal. Boundaries may need establishing where you couldn’t have known to establish them previously. What’s key is each taking responsibility to reconnect and evaluate where you’re at, what’s working, what’s not, and if and how to grow your partnership together.

If any of this sounds like a marriage, or something you don’t need because you’re in a marriage or have other close partnerships, think again. What is so refreshing and helpful about an accountability buddy is that it really is all about your goals and their goals. You receive objective, dedicated support in service of your goals, with your only commitment being to give the same to someone else. Unlike other relationships, there’s no give-and-take, no inference, and no personal opinions. It removes the layers of additional obligation and history of more direct personal relationships while introducing a different type of intimacy—full transparency.

There’s not much to lose. Give it a try. Imagine what you could accomplish by following only 5 easy steps.

*This is not intended to be another “be productive during the pandemic” post. Just last week, we were focused on holding each other accountable for resting up and keeping our evenings completely free from commitments.

**If you feel a sense of deja vu and have followed my writing for some time, I’ve written about this before! The old blog archives live on, as does this accountability partnership!

10 two-player board games for any level of gamer

A photo of some of our board games on a closet floor.

Jigsaw puzzles have made an enormous comeback during the pandemic, boasting a screen-free, meditative way to slow down and do something simple. It surprises me that the same has not been true for board games. But, I have a hunch about why.

People enjoy playing board games in social contexts with groups of friends. While some like Codenames have free and functional rudementary versions in online formats, and you can pay for “real” digital versions of others like Ticket to Ride, this isn’t fun for the masses. The masses don’t want to deal with the technology element to get people around a metaphoric table to play a game that probably needs explaining. (And, when you do, there are distractions at homes and the game plays excruciatingly slowly.)

The masses might, however, play a board game at home with their partner, roommate, or kid they want some 1:1 time with if it were easy to do and fun for two.

It is, indeed, easy to do and fun, and you don’t have to be a “gamer”. Here is an unordered list of 10 recommendations that are fun, quick, and only as competitive as you want them to be at any level:

  1. Patchwork. I love the aesthetics and the different strategic approaches you can take in such a seemingly simple game.
  2. Onitama. There are 10 total pieces and only 5 cards in play each game. If chess hurts your brain too much but you like the idea of it, try this. It also plays a bit differently each time depending on the cards you pick.
  3. Backgammon. This is a classic game dating back thousands of years that you find all around the world. It’s a race against your opponent, and some luck-of-the-roll too.
  4. Pentago. Tic-tac-toe-esque, but with five in a row and a (literal) twist. I get a real kick out of this game, but admittedly, my husband will not play with me; it can be a frustrating one to lose.
  5. Quiddler. Aesthetically-pleasing cards, fun mechanics, and an accessible but different take on a word game where the fanciest word isn’t always the best play. There are 8 rounds, but for a really quick game, you can also just play the odd or even rounds.
  6. Hive. For once, a game based around a queen rather than a king! This game has a lot more depth than it might look like, but you can also play without any depth at all and see what happens.
  7. Battle Line. A game with two different ways to win keeps everyone on their toes. We often get very close to the end without a clue who will win…until suddenly it’s over.
  8. Fugitive. This is an unbalanced game, where each player has a different role and objective. It’s fast so you can switch off. And you get to bluff, which is a good skill to practice sometimes.
  9. Othello. I always loved the tagline on the box: “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master!” Kind of says it all.
  10. Sylvion. This game is beautiful and about collaboratively preventing forest fires. You win or lose together!

If you have a high tolerance for a hefty rule book and long length of play, I highly recommend one more bonus game:

11. Twilight Struggle. One player is the USSR, one is the US. There’s a space race, there’s nuclear threat, there’s a chance to poke your opponent. This game is terrific.

While Pandemic Legacy didn’t make this list because #TooReal, I did want to share the tip that if you decide to play it with two players, I strongly recommend that each of you play two characters so that you have four characters playing. It becomes a little more fun and nuanced as a two-player game.

All of these games are easy to buy online, but first, check to see if you can buy from your local game shop! You probably have one in the city nearest to you, and they could certainly benefit from your support.

9 image banks that don’t just feature skinny white people

Plus-size female model stands looking at a person in glasses seated with their laptop in an office setting. Another person stands at a table with their laptop in the background.

Even though stock images are nobody’s first choice, images are necessary for conveying stories, smart design, and marketing.

Diverse photos aren’t just about seeing people of different colors, sizes, genders, and abilities. (In fact, photos that appear to simply check these boxes are colloquially labeled “the diversity photo,” which can do more harm than good at times.)

To pick stock photos representing thoughtful diversity, look at how a photo is staged and what norms are uplifted. What family and power structures are being communicated? Who’s sitting v. standing? Are there religious overtones? Are activities gendered? Is there whitewashing? Images can be even more powerful than words; we have a responsibility to pay extra attention to what they’re communicating both explicitly and implictly.

Here are 9 image banks that feature diverse images, were created intentionally, and have most or all content available for free*:

  1. Gender Spectrum Collection
  2. Lean In Collection
  3. The Jopwell Collection: Intern Edition
  4. AllGo
  5. Disabled and Here
  6. Images of Empowerment
  7. Disability:IN
  8. Nappy
  9. WOCinTech

*There are many other great sites where you can pay for content. I believe in paying people! Much of my audience has to be scrappy, so I focused on free for this post.

There are also a number of organizations that build intentional photography into their work. If you’re searching for photography but not finding the right stock images, consider two options: A) invite a community-based photographer to capture the right images for you, or B) connect with another organization who shares resonant images and see if you can get permission to use some. In either case, you are lifting up a photographer or organization, while also using thoughtful images to tell your story.

Social media is another place to look for real photography of real people. If you repurpose on your social networks, do so with permission and credit. Part of what drew me into weightlifting was the @girlswhopowerlift Instagram account, which showcases all sorts of diverse, strong womxn.

Three final notes on images:

When sharing digitally, use alt text. This is an accessibility practice that describes images to viewers who are unable to see them.

Not all images are taken ethically. Subjects may not know that they’re the subject of a photo, and context may have been omitted by the photographer that the subject might feel differently about. While there isn’t always a way to trace every image, be particularly mindful of sourcing and learning more about an image when you are saying something about specific places, populations, or social justice work.

Check licensing and permissions, and give proper attribution. Make sure you have permission to use an image, pay for an image if you don’t, and give proper attribution always. Especially through social media, people often are not properly compensated for their work. Even for the sites listed above, several have attribution requirements; know them and use them.

Whether your company has a design team or you’re flying solo, more thoughtful stock images are an action you can take today.

8 guidelines for asking someone for something

Text from an email asking for job hunt advice

Whether it’s advice, a connection, a service, goods, recommendations, time, presence at an event, or financial support, people need things from others. It’s how we coexist and form societies and communities. And people are often very willing to give. But, how you ask matters both for immediate results and long-term implications.

Here are 8 considerations you should follow before asking anything of someone else:

  1. Do not obligate or guilt anybody. Give them the opportunity to say no or defer without consequence.
  2. Be clear in what you’re asking. Dancing around what you want leaves room for misunderstandings and frustration, and requires additional effort from the askee to read between the lines.
  3. No person should feel overburdened by your request. When’s the last time you asked them for something? Are you asking for more than is fair?
  4. Are you abusing a power dynamic? Work heirarchies, lived experience, and proximity are common ways that people are taken advantage of because someone doesn’t want to put in the work themselves. Make sure that you’re not crossing boundaries, and offer compensation especially if there is a power dynamic–visible or not–at play.
  5. What sort of reciprocity are you expecting? Will you be upset if it’s not provided? If so, how can you make your expectations known?
  6. What is the timeframe in which you would need your request completed? Are you allowing enough time for the person to rearrange their schedule or resources to follow through?
  7. Are there any unintended consequences that could come from your ask that affect you or others associated with you? Are these possibilities that you’re comfortable risking?
  8. And of course, be gracious. Say thank you (both during the ask and after any response). It’s never wrong and jeopardizes what people think of you if you don’t. Beyond a thank you, if you’re meeting up in person, offer to buy the coffee. And if it’s within your means, offer compensation for people’s time.

If you are the askee, you owe it to yourself to respond to the request honestly, and then to follow through on whatever you promise. You’re allowed to say no; you’re allowed to say yes on your terms; you’re allowed to do exactly as asked but set boundaries for future requests. But be authentic in your reply and follow-through.

I get asked for a lot of things on a daily basis. I do my best to be responsive. But, know that if you’re asking someone for something and you don’t get a response, it’s usually not personal. My inbox is a mess, I’m often running on empty, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. If you don’t hear back, feel free to graciously follow up once with your request; it can be really helpful, and you’re more likely to get a positive response.

7 ways to increase personal happiness during COVID-19

The right half of an envelope featuring four stamps: The Voice of America, Little Women, the Pony Express, and a statue of Liberty air mail

I am taking the Science of Well-Being course through Coursera and Yale (free! highly recommend!), and a valuable reminder it offers is that doing things for others significantly increases happiness. For the first time, we’re forced to think about how to practice this at a distance. Here are 7 practices to increase your happiness by being kind to others from a distance:

  1. Send snail mail. It’s easy and cheap. You don’t need fancy stationery; in fact, my favorite quarantine letter I received was from a friend on printer paper and sticky notes in a #10 envelope. I’ve been sending many on postcards I’ve gathered through past travels and shared memories from those places. Your letter can be short just to say hi; it can be emotional and deep; it can be jumpy with fragments of information that you might not otherwise share (“Today I saw a person walking backwards down my block like it was completely normal.”) It can pose questions; it can acknowledge something in your friend’s life; it can lament not being in more frequent touch. You can decorate with original art and stickers and colorful markers and washi tape, or keep it as simple as pen on paper. You can even use fun vintage stamps.
  2. Let people know you’re thinking of them. A text message, phone call, or comment on social media can go a long way. Especially now, we can tell a lot about how people are experiencing the world based on what they publicly share…and what they don’t. If someone is expressing how hard things are, share an empathetic thought. “I see you; I’m sorry; you are loved.” If you haven’t heard from someone in awhile, it’s great to send a funny or cute gif. For friends working on the front lines, and those who always seem high performing, they need extra love and kindness right now. Thank them for their work, their energy, their advocacy.
  3. Post a message on your window. I’ve seen so many terrific messages in neighbors’ windows, from “Thank you helpers” to “You look like a million bucks today, even with the mask on!” People are looking around and taking notice, and this is such an easy thing to do. Also, look into local neighborhood window games specifically for kids, like the widely-adopted teddy bear scavenger hunt and participate when you can.
  4. Convene a virtual celebration. Graduations, birthdays, (cancelled) weddings, babies, awards…there’s a lot to celebrate. Cards and texts are nice, but real moments should feel like real moments. Whether you send out a paperless post for a zoom party or ask people to all sign a kudoboard, going the extra mile underscores special moments. Equally importantly, this may include celebrations of life when people pass away; grieving is so often done around people, and is particularly hard right now. Ask people how they might like help with group gatherings to grieve and celebrate life together. A note about all of this: when you have more than a few people together on a virtual call, you need to facilitate the time so that people have opportunities to speak and a clear idea of what is going to happen. For a friend’s birthday party for example, I asked attendees ahead of time for a song recommendation, and then shared this agenda: “Hellos and how you know know Sarah, roasts or toasts from whoever would like, she’ll light her own candles and we’ll all sing, we’ll have a dance party to our medley, then there will be a game.” It helps people know what to expect and respect your role as someone who will keep things moving.
  5. Volunteer. There is so much work that can be done right now. You can look for opportunities to help your neighbors via NextDoor or posting signs, sign up with a nonprofit via sites like VolunteerMatch or Catchafire, donate plasma, look for specialized calls for vulunteers based on your expertise, or even just reach out to your own network to see who needs help. There’s a ton to do. I helped one nonprofit recraft their communications to tell stories about how its programs are still strong despite the shifting context.
  6. Offer to watch kids. Those of us without kids or other caretaking responsibilities have plenty of our own challenges, but we do have the luxury of occassional “me” time. If you’re in a neighborhood with yards, offer to watch the neighbor’s kids in the next yard. If you’re states away from friends with kids old enough to chat on the phone, offer to spend some time with them hanging out so your friend can drink her tea in peace. And, depending on you and your family’s comfort level, offering in-person babysitting, especially for kids of essential workers, is an incredible gift.
  7. Tip and treat to coffee/wine. When you order food out, tip better than you ever would. If you’re ordering packages regularly, consider tipping your delivery person. If you’re a fan of the USPS like I am, leave a tip for your delivery person. (How? Just put it in an envelope and tape it outside before they usually arrive.) Similarly, Venmo a friend out of the blue to get themself a bottle of wine on you because you. Or pay for the next person’s coffee at the curbside coffeeshop. (They won’t even hear you do it when they’re six feet away!)

There’s a lot to feel anxious, stressed, mad, and scared about in this world always, and especially right now. But, you can feel all of those things and hold in the same moment some happiness. That happiness, at least for me, refuels me to gear up for the long road ahead.

How else are you being kind to others to increase happiness?