It’s not the mountain that trips you, it’s the pebble.

blue-footed boobieMy husband Alex and I just returned from a perfect vacation in the renowned Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. If you haven’t made this trip, put it on your bucket list.

We swam with the giant sea turtles and iguanas, cavorted with playful sea lions, and snapped photos of the famous blue-footed boobies—it was pure heaven. We also met fluffy white Nazca boobies and red-wattled magnificent frigatebirds in full mating season, penguins that adapted to the equatorial heat by becoming smaller and using their flippers to shield their feet from the hot sun, lumbering ancient land turtles, spotted eagle rays, orange-red crabs, and all kinds of other wonderful sea, land, and sky animals. I tend to get miserably seasick. The trip required us to live on a small ship for a week, and to island hop  each the day on the motorized rafts they call ”pangas.”

Worried seasickness would ruin my one opportunity to see the unique ecosystem where Darwin reputedly formulated his ideas about natural selection and evolution, I took six types of remedies with me. Miraculously, I became seasick only once, and the simplest cures of wristbands and candied ginger soon put me back in working order.

Lava hike

I was similarly over-cautious as we hiked different islands every day, sometimes on rugged lava rocks, sometimes up and down gravelly hills, clambering in and out of the pangas to traverse all kinds of terrain. Made it back from all these exotic adventures without a scratch.

Then, wouldn’t you know: On my first day back in the US, in the familiar surroundings of my neighborhood, I headed out for a routine morning walk. And I promptly I tripped right there on the sidewalk.

I fell SPLAT, skinning my knees and hands like a five year old. No broken bones, thank goodness, but painful contusions that left me lame for an as yet undetermined amount of time.

Sea lion and iguana

I wasn’t tripped up by a the hills or lava rocks, or other large impediments that I had so carefully prepared for, but rather by a small bump or pebble—I’m still not sure what because I didn’t see it.  I was paying less than careful attention to my all too usual surroundings as I multitasked on the phone to let family members know we had returned.

The same phenomenon happens to each and every one of us in other aspects of life.

It’s rarely the mountains or the big problems. It’s almost always the pebbles—those small unanticipated impediments–that surprise us and knock us off course.

Take a moment to think about it. What pebbles are tripping you up today? Not physically, but mentally, emotionally.

Your fear of taking a risk?

Your shame at not knowing an answer and being unwilling to ask?

Your lack of confidence to take on a leadership role for which you don’t feel 100% prepared?

Your tendency to hesitate for the split second that lets others set the agenda or get the credit for work you have done? Perhaps not seeing and embracing the power or resources you already have available to you to achieve your goals?

Pebbles

Your lack of focus or, like me, focusing on too many things at once so that you fail to pay attention to the environment around you and trip on that pebble you could have, should have, seen right in front of you?

I had a painful lesson. But you don’t have to. Be present. Pay attention so you can see the obstacle in the path, even if it is a tiny pebble. If you do that, not only can you avoid stumbling; you might just be able to turn that pebble into a stepping stone to new heights for your life and leadership.

 

 Want to increase your ability to climb those leadership mountains without tripping on the pebbles? Take The Lead’s next signature online course — 9 Practical Leadership Power Tools for Women to Accelerate Your Career — starts July 16. Early bird rate ends July 1 so enroll now in this “life changing” course.

Is World Population Day of 7 Billion Scarier than Halloween?

Today, on Halloween no less, the Earth welcomed the baby who tipped world population over the 7 billion mark.

I probably wouldn’t have known much about the topic of world population but for a fluke as I prepared to graduate from the University of Texas Permian Basin the summer of 1974. To my surprise, I was told I needed three more hours of science.

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National Geographic video showing population growth

It had been a long 12-year road for me, what with three children to care for, a five-year stint teaching Head Start, and other detours along the way. Finally, I thought, I’d be done by the end of June.

Once I got the bad news, I looked for the easiest science course I could find, preferably one without the usual fourth hour for lab. Ecology, yes! The class was co-taught by Professor Ed Kurtz, now retired, who remains a great friend and a wonderful role model for someone who still “wears the shirt” of his convictions by volunteering for environmental and reproductive rights causes.

Yes, they were talking about world population back in 1974, when there were only 4 billion people inhabiting planet Earth. We’ve almost doubled in less than 40 years.

What’s more striking, it took from the beginning of time until 1800 for the world’s population to reach the one billion mark. The rapid growth since then is because we have given ourselves a great deal of death control–we’re living longer and lowered infant mortality significantly—and that’s good.  But we haven’t balanced that out with equal attention to birth control, food and other resources, and ecological conservation to sustain the growing population.

There have been many any successes to be sure, but the world will strain to support the 9 billion people who will probably be living here by 2050, if current trends continue.

Over the past few weeks, there have been many news reports on this Day of 7 Billion. One of the best was by AP’s Dave Crary.

But I especially want to share with you in full this piece written for RH Reality Check by Roger-Mark De Souza, Vice President for Research and Director of the Climate Program for Population Action International. De Souza personalizes the story. It’s clear that population issues are really about people, and that the status of women in society is central to determining the future.

Sex and Sustainability: Reflections for My Son Nick

“Are we going to talk about sex again?!” screamed my 12-year old son, Nick, as he ran down the stairs, away from me. That was five years ago and I had just sat down with him to have one of our father-son talks, this time about sex and sustainability.

Now Nick, a rising senior, is preparing for college at the same time as the global community is preparing for an important landmark of its own: the United Nations predicts that by October 31, world population will reach 7 billion.

The confluence of these two events gives me reason to think about the world Nick is inheriting from my generation, and makes me consider what I can say to him as he heads off to college.

This World of 7 Billion
I try to get my head around it. It’s a world of 7 billion people. With greater connectivity than I could have ever dreamed possible. A world of widening disparities and growing environmental degradation. A world with a changing climate. A world of crashing economic markets and changing debt ceilings.
It’s also a world of finite resources and growing demand.

Consider water. As the world’s population grows, the demand for water mounts and pressure on water resources intensifies. Unfortunately, the areas where water is most scarce are typically those with high population densities and rapid population growth. Population growth limits the amount of water available per person, and drives people into marginal regions – which are also water-stressed.

Consider forests: The top 10 countries experiencing the greatest loss of forest cover generally have large, fast-growing populations. Increased demand for fuel wood is driving a great deal of deforestation in the populous regions of East Africa and South Asia. Often, forests are cleared by migrant families that have been forced out of their crowded areas of origin.

Consider habitat loss: Global population is projected to grow to anywhere between 8 billion and 11 billion by the middle of the century, with much of that growth expected to take place in the humid tropics that harbor the planet’s richest biodiversity. Habitat loss is generally greatest where population density is highest. Urbanization also takes a toll: sprawling cities have led to the disappearance of numerous habitats. And city-dwellers consume more, increasing pressures on ecosystems.

Consider changing climate: An analysis by the organization where I work, Population Action International, identified 33 population and climate change “hotspots.” These fast-growing countries are extremely vulnerable to climate change, in part because they face water shortages and declining agricultural production. The average number of children born to each woman in hotspot countries is five, and the average population growth rate is 2.5 percent – a rate that, if unchanged, would result in a doubling of the population in just 29 years.

But continued population growth is not inevitable: In these hotspot countries, an average of one in four married women would like to avoid pregnancy, but is not using modern family planning. Addressing that “unmet need” for contraception would slow growth, reduce pressure on resources, and increase resilience. Investing in a woman’s right to decide how many children she can have, when she can have them, and ensuring that she can have them safely is fundamental.

Reflections for Nick
These challenges may seem remote to my son, Nick, growing up in suburban Virginia. But they will shape the world he inhabits in profound ways. So what can I share with Nick as he launches into this world of seven billion?

“Son, as you continue to develop into a young man who will assume responsibility in the world, recognize the following:”

1. Understand the complexity of the world as you feel it. The starting point for your career and your contribution must be to recognize the world’s complexity and find your place within it. The United Nations projects that when you are 56 years old, in 2050, world population may have reached 9.3 billion. The size, shape, and form of that population matters to you as it will affect your health, well-being, and security.

2. Recognize the value of women. I know that you already know the value of young women. I want you to know that the decisions these women make have a profound effect on the world. Ensuring that women can decide how many children they want, when to have their children, and the ways that they invest in those children is one of the most important moves we, as a society, can make. It is at the core of our lives. Recognize this and play your part as a man, particularly if you’re lucky enough to get married, and perhaps even be the father to a daughter.

3. Incorporate the needs of communities to ensure value-added. As you think of your areas of study and learning, be sure to respond to real demands in order to add value. Don’t assume that you know what others need. Discover the genuine needs both of individuals and communities, and then respond.

4. Size (and scale) matter. Your world is inherently more complex and connected than I could ever have imagined. It will only get more so. Determine where your impact can be most felt, and focus on the best way to have an impact at that scale. And, be sure to recognize how you can leverage innovation to maximize your impact.

5. Do the right thing. You know in your heart what’s right. Infuse that sensibility in your contributions to the world. Individual rights are fundamental to human well-being. Don’t confuse rights and wants. Make your contribution one that’s based in a rights approach, but make it practical and palatable. Go with your convictions.

As I share these reflections with Nick, the world reaches the seven billion population landmark, and my family reaches a personal landmark of launching a child out into this expanding world, I’m reminded of a question from my younger 16-year-old son, Miki. Standing at the front door as he signed for a package from the mailman, he screamed: “Dad, did you order these condoms with endangered species slogans on them?”

The conversation continues….

I strongly encourage you to read RH Reality Check’s series on the Day of 7 Billion and related topics. Share your thoughts about global population and its challenges here. Are you an optimist or pessimist about what the future holds? What do you think are the most pressing problems and best solutions? Is population growth scarier than Halloween or do you think we will achieve balance between population and the resources necessary to sustain ourselves?