Psychologist, Mom, Catalyst
WHAT’S YOUR MOTTO?
Be nice. Quite literally, I say to myself “Be nice” when I’m stressed. I do it because it reminds me of a value I really care about.
WHAT’S ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND?
Quite a lot! I am reading a few books at once. One is the new biography of Elon Musk. Also a book called Front of the House about how to run a restaurant really, really well. And finally a stack of magazines including the New Yorker, US Weekly, and Bon Appetit!
WHAT GIVES YOU GOOSEBUMPS?
When I get a note or call from a former student. I taught middle and high school before I became a professor, but whatever age it was that these kids were when I taught them, they will always be my students. It’s wondrous and humbling to see them grow up into amazing adults.
WHAT IS YOUR BAD DAY BACKUP PLAN?
My husband is my haven. Sometimes I ask him, “Is everything going to be okay?” And he says, “Yes, love, everything is going to be okay.” And it comforts me every time.
WHAT ARE YOU GRATEFUL FOR?
So much! There is an expression, oft-repeated in many forms: “From those to whom much has been given, much shall be expected.” I feel that the good fortune in my life—a great family, good health, mentors who lit the path for me, friends who are genuinely happy for my success and genuinely sympathetic for my failings—comes with a responsibility to do what I can to improve the world. Even if it’s just a little bit.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
I define success as using psychological science to help children thrive. That’s my top-level goal. It’s what guides everything I do.
BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
I had a college professor named Kay Merseth who sagely said to me, in a moment when I so desperately needed wisdom: “Everyone’s life tells a story. There are many stories your life could tell. You don’t need to find the right one, or even the very, very best one. What you need to do is tell a story you’re proud of.”
BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER GIVEN?
A couple of years ago, my husband sat me down to tell me I had to write a book. I refused. He persisted. I refused some more. He prevailed. I wrote down the best advice I have to give in the book I published this month: GRIT.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW THAT YOU’RE EXCITED ABOUT?
With a wonderful educator named Donald Kamentz, I’m co-leading the Character lab, a nonprofit I founded three years ago with the mission of advancing the science and practice of character development. This is the one bet I’m making for the rest of my life: that we can more intentionally, more effectively help children develop grit and self-control and gratitude and curiosity and emotional intelligence and all the many strengths of character that will help them lead fulfilling, giving lives.
HOW DO YOU PRESS PAUSE?
Hmmm….I’m not sure I do press pause very often. When my yoga teacher says it’s time for shivasna, I guess I try to do what I’m told and just do nothing.
WHAT DID YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD SELF LOVE DOING?
She liked making grown ups happy! She liked figuring out what made them laugh or smile.
IF YOU COULD HAVE ONE MAGIC POWER WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Wisdom! I think sometimes wisdom is just remembering all the hard-won lessons we’ve accumulated over a lifetime. Not forgetting what we learned, not losing what we discovered.
WHAT MAKES YOU FORGET TO EAT?
Book tour! I think that’s anomalous, though. I almost never forget to eat.
WHAT 3 THINGS WOULD YOU GRAB IN A FIRE?
Other than my two daughters and my husband? I don’t know. I’m not the sentimental type. I don’t hang onto things.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THINK YOU’VE EVER DONE – YOUR GREATEST CHALLENGE?
By far, writing a book. I mean, who writes a whole book? The thought was preposterous to me. Accomplishing that feat convinces me that we never really know what we’re capable of until we do it.
Other than grit, maybe grace. I’m trying to age gracefully. I’m trying to grow more empathic, and less churlish. I’m trying to remember that everyone is, in some very real way, doing their best.
FAVORITE WORK OF ART?
In our bedroom hands a big Chinese watercolor painting of the ocean, and a rock and some trees. My mom painted that as a teenager, and it reminds me that people have a life before they meet you.
I have a few, but About Alice by Calvin Trillin leaps to mind. It’s a long posthumous love letter from a husband to his wife. It makes me cry and laugh and think of my own true love—my husband Jason—every time I read it.