Devin: What do you see as your standout superpower?
Sharon: I’m very good at that big picture at the vision and then getting people feeling motivated by that vision rather than demotivated by the problems of the world.
Sharon Schneider, the founder of Integrated Capital Strategies, helps uber-wealthy families and successful entrepreneurs align their lives more fully with their values. She paints a picture to allow them to see that their charitable giving is a small part of their social impact.
Sharon came to see that the same principle could apply to everyone. In part, it was a journey of discovering her own power that she shared on her blog. “I was missing out, frankly, and I was misaligned in many ways.”
Finally, she has put the words to work in her book, Handbook for an Integrated Life. The insights are helpful to anyone who has ever donated even the smallest amount to a cause. The book will help you align your life more fully with your values.
The book includes a discussion of seven principles for an integrated life. Sharon and I discussed each one.
1. See the Current
Before you can find that perfect harmony in your life, you need to see the corporate context in which we all live. “Western culture has normalized a lot of behaviors,” Sharon says of the marketing messages that engulf us. “You see things like the ten pieces you must-have for spring.”
“Marketing power is the current,” she says.
“If your fundamental value is wanting other people to be healthy and happy as much as you want to be healthy and happy yourself, you want the people that grow your food, teach your kids, work in stores, all of those things to be healthy and happy, too,” she says. “Step one is just to be aware of the ways that our mainstream culture is pushing you in a different direction.”
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2. Embrace “Yes, and” to Keep Making Progress
Drawing on the “yes, and” rule of improv, Sharon learned from Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, she suggests acknowledging what you’re doing and adding to it.
In an improv context, the actors agree to accept whatever premise their partners bring to a skit and add to it. Yes, and.
For a life lived more in harmony with your values, Sharon says, “start with small actions, start with what you can do today or maybe what you’re already doing and celebrate that.”
“But that doesn’t mean you’re done,” she adds. Keep going.
By way of example, she says, “If you take your reusable bags to the grocery store, yes, that’s hard. It’s hard to remember until you get in the habit. And what can you do next? For example, I now have mesh produce bags.”
Ask yourself this question, “What’s the next step I can take?”
3. Don’t Give Back; Just Give.
“I have always hated the term ‘giving back,’” Sharon says. “It’s very individualistic. I’ll get mine first, and then maybe I’ll help some other people.”
We can give along the way in many ways, from how we invest our money to how generously we tip and how often we shop in locally-owned establishments.
“All those choices that we make that may not maximize the benefit to ourselves in the short term, but help everybody win along the way is really what ‘just give’ is about,” she says.
4. Be Brave.
“I have had moments in my life, and maybe you have too, where there’s something kind of sitting back here that you’re not really living in [line with] your values the way you’d like to, but you’d rather not look at that and think about it,” Sharon says, highlighting the context in which you may need to be brave.
She used the current war in Ukraine as an example:
A great example of this is Russia invading Ukraine and how it forced us to look head on into the bargain we had made around oil and that it wasn't just environmental impact, it was also human rights—that we had willingly made this bargain with the devil, if you will.
That was like, we want that oil, so we'll keep allowing you to to make those trade offs.
I can't personally affect the war in Russia, but I can make choices by being brave and saying, okay, this is something I’ve got to turn and face. I can make choices in my own life about my dependance on fossil fuels versus clean energy sources, right?
So, maybe I can insulate my house. If I have the option to have an electric car or drive less, bike more, or put on a sweater instead of turning on the heat or like many, many choices that I can take.
It does take an extra measure of courage to challenge your own behavior. “Step one is you’ve got to acknowledge that the cognitive dissonance that’s maybe been bothering you and make the commitment to do something about it,” Sharon says. “I think that does take bravery.”
5. Resist the Allure of Convenience.
We live in an Amazon Prime world. “In Western culture, we’ve been convinced, through many billions of dollars of marketing, that our own convenience is the most important benefit that a product can have,” Sharon says.
That convenience comes at a price paid by workers incentivized to skip bathroom stops and the environment cluttered with plastic that will last thousands of years.
She says, “Sometimes you pay a little bit of a convenience tax by going the extra mile” to shop at a small business. Giving up convenience can have positive impact on people and the planet.
“If we continue to encourage each other and normalize [extra effort], we will get there,” Sharon says.
6. Walk Lightly in the World
“In Western cultures, we consume way more than the earth can reproduce in terms of raw resources in a year; we’re just literally using up the planet,” Sharon says.
She proposes asking a series of questions before every purchase.
Do you really need it? You’ve probably purchased a few things that you don’t need. Make a point to ponder the question of need before every purchase. If you do need it, move to the next question.
Do you have to own it? It may not make sense to rent or borrow a coat if you live in a place with long, cold winters. On the other hand, if you want to power wash your house every other year, perhaps you can borrow or rent the equipment. If you decide you need to own it, move to the next question.
Does it have to be new? There are many ways to buy used things, from thrift stores to eBay and even Amazon. You can reduce your impact on the Earth by buying something someone else no longer uses.
If you decide you need to buy something new, you can look for something that producers grew organically, produced under a fair-trade arrangement or otherwise made sustainably.
7. Know Your Power
“What is our power?” Sharon asks. “It is immense.”
I realized, you know, I'm no billionaire, but there is still tens of thousands of dollars passing through my household every year, if you count my all of my consumption. So whether it's food, clothing, all of my financial products, my mortgage, my insurance, my cell phone, all the money I spend on entertainment, on travel, on maintaining my household, I have all this consumer power.
Plus I have social networks. Right. I'm a sister and a mother and a daughter and a friend. My kids—I have schools that they go to. I have my professional skills and networks.
I'm also a voter. I'm a voter and I'm an active volunteer in my community.
If I only think of the 5 percent or 10 percent of my budget is what I have to spend to make the world [better]. That's like using 5 percent of your brain. It's like, how do we activate the other 95 percent?
That's really the message of an integrated life. The more of those assets you can bring into alignment with your values, the more powerful that you will be.
In her work, Sharon uses her superpower, helping people feel motivated by the big picture.
How to Develop Helping People Feel Motivated by the Big Picture As a Superpower
Sharon sees her life’s purpose as helping people achieve an integrated life. “By focusing on what you can do and painting a picture for what our world could be,” she helps people overcome the sense that today’s problems are insurmountable. She helps people overcome the temptation to quit.
She helps wealthy families and founders increase their social impact. Traditionally, foundations are required to give away 5 percent of their assets each year. Most ignored the social impact of how they invested the other 95 percent. Over the past 20 years, Sharon has been part of a movement working to change that.
Over the years, I like to think that I've successfully counseled any number of families and foundation boards and endowment holders, nonprofit endowments, to to spend more of their focus on what the investments are doing as opposed to just treating them as a black box that generates cash that we can give away. And so really giving them the vision of giving 100 percent of the foundation working towards their mission.
That is a significant achievement resulting from, she says, using her superpower.
By following her example, you can develop this skill into a superpower that will help you do more good.
Sharon will be presenting at SuperCrowd22 on September 15 and 16. “I love what you’re doing,” she says. “You’re getting people to expand their aperture. I’m just thrilled to be able to be a small part of it.”
The conference will feature a variety of ways for interaction with the presenters and other attendees. Just as happens with in-person events, you’ll return with a collection of contacts to go with the information and insights you get. Because it is virtual, the conference is affordable with a light carbon footprint.
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