We were honored to have Sarah Lewis speak at our Kindness at Work event Nov. 9-12 this year. Uniting art, science, live music, and VR simulation, the event is our annual celebration of inclusion and belonging at work. Like the rest of the world, we’re “Zoomed” out, so we aimed to make this a truly immersive experience, appealing to all the senses and bringing the offline and online together through books, giveaways, and live experiences.

Why Kindness and why now? Kindness, far from being a throwaway or platitude, is profound in its challenge and its ramifications and requires us to see past the surface of things. As Mary Lefaiver discussed on Day 1, Kindness often involves “doing the hard” thing speaking up (and having more courage) or standing back (to let other voices be heard). It often involves a conscious use of time and the ability to draw boundaries and manage one’s concentration and energy in order to see and hear others better.

As one of the most cross-disciplinary and exhilarating public intellectuals in America today, Sarah reverses all our collective notions of “success” and “failure” to show us how some of the greatest achievements of our time are extensions of failure or “corrections” after failed attempts. At the Roundtable, which was not recorded and was only available as a live experience, Sarah discussed the “boundaries” of work and how we decide as individuals, teams, organizations, and cultures what “mastery” looks and feels like. And how a more forgiving, thorough, and imaginative view of mastery might improve inclusion and belonging in the workplace. 

Who is Sarah Lewis Anyway?

Working at the intersection of art, literature, African and African American studies, she burst into the spotlight with a popular TED Talk that’s received nearly 3 million views. Her counterintuitive, aphoristic prose explores the “power of surrender for fortitude,” “the criticality of play for innovation,” and the “importance of grit and creative practice.” Lewis is a Professor at Harvard, in the departments of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies. Beloved by academics as well as business innovators, designers, and artists alike, she has spoken at SXSW, appeared on Oprah’s “Power List,” served on President Obama’s Arts Policy Committee, and profiled in Vogue. Having held positions at Yale’s School of Art, the Tate Modern, and the Museum of Modern Art, among others, there is scarcely a major cultural institution that hasn’t borne her influence in some way. 

I first encountered Sarah’s work at the National Gallery in Washington, DC and her book The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery made such an impression on me it’s the kind of work that seeps into every aspect of your life and infuses and changes your perception forever. It covers choreographers, writers, painters, inventors, entrepreneurs figures as disparate as Frederick Douglass, Samuel Morse, Diane Arbus, and J.K Rowling and uniting them all in a cohesive and thrilling work about what it means to be human.

Some great quotes from The Rise:

“Outside of the creative process, play is a term that can hurt the concept it names. It’s nearly axiomatic that play is considered the opposite of much that we value heft and thoroughness.” 

“Grit is a portable skill that moves across seemingly varied interests. Grit can be expressed in your chosen pursuit and appear in multiple domains over time. It can be expressed through the pursuit of painting and then through the invention of the telegraph.”

Mastery requires endurance. Mastery, a word we don’t use often, is not the equivalent of what we might consider its cognate—perfectionism—an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how others view us. Mastery is also not the same as success—an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a curved-line, constant pursuit.”

This post was written by Christina Yu, Mursion VP of Identity & Growth. Get in touch with Christina here: [email protected].

by Wendy

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