Category Archives: Current Events

The 2020 Olympics are Yesterday

By Lloyd Graff

I am a real sports enthusiast. Basketball, track, swimming, lacrosse. Bring it on. 

Yet I didn’t even know the Olympic Games were starting this Friday night. I couldn’t care less. 

Why is an avid fan, lover of sport, somebody who still reads the sports pages in the newspaper, so oblivious to the 12 million hours of Olympic TV coverage over the next 16 days? 

Because it is corporate, bureaucratized, and packaged. It is a Nike blur. It isn’t the games that started on a shoestring in 1896. It isn’t even the political games of 1972, when 11 Israeli athletes were murdered in Germany. It isn’t the indefatigable Bob Costas, living on NoDoz as he somehow stayed on top of 50 Sports and 500 events.

Now it’s NBC and its 30 affiliate networks, including Fubu TV, Peacock and the Golf Channel. And who cares if the US plays Iran in basketball at midnight this Saturday. Even the mullahs will forget to watch.

The one thing we MUST remember about these games is who is wearing what footwear. It no longer really matters if the United States or Russia or China wins more gold medals. The only important issue is Nike versus Adidas in all of its permutations.

This is why I am so upset that the American Ninja Warrior semi-finals from the Tacoma Dome were shelved for a week to make room for Ivory Coast vs Germany Olympic soccer.

American Ninja Warrior is what the Olympics used to be. The athletes are real people, genuine amateurs. They have been practicing in local gyms and on improvised home designed and built equipment. They have no sponsors, most of them don’t even wear shoes when attempting to navigate the obstacles, and the seasoned competitors often fail to get past the first round. The participants root for one another. Many of them have other careers. Their personal stories are filled with trauma and tragedy, which makes us want to follow them year after year.

It is packaged television, and the obstacles are contrived to send the most Warriors into the water, but many of the obstacles are designed by devotees of the show.

Neither Nike or Adidas is a sponsor. Contestants sometimes have green hair and carry a few extra pounds. Women compete head-on with men. Gender is not an issue like in women’s weightlifting at the Olympics. 

American Ninja Warrior is apolitical. COVID-19 is not an issue. 

Fubu TV and Peacock can play backstroke all night for two weeks. Give me reruns of American Ninja Warrior. The 2020 Olympics start Friday night, but they are yesterday to me.

Question: What event do you care about at the Olympics?

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Stuck in the Mitt

By Lloyd Graff

My plan was to write about the machining world. “Nuts and bolts tonight, dad,” Noah nudged me before I left work. “Leave the baseball,” was how he ended the sentence. 

When I got home, I read a little of the Wall Street Journal looking for inspiration. I accidentally fell into a column by Bob Greene, who once wrote brilliantly for the Chicago Tribune. The article was about giving a Rawlings baseball glove to a friend to connect him with his youth and cheer him up. It was a beautiful piece, and I immediately wanted to share it with friends and family. 

I was curious about what happened to Bob Greene, whose work is rarely seen these days. I Googled him and found a long article about the rise and fall of the brilliant Bob Green, my contemporary and a much better writer than I ever could hope to be. 

Greene has evidently had a tough personal life after reaching the top of journalism and writing several acclaimed books. His wife died, he has been accused of being a womanizer, and he is in pain about some of his most acclaimed pieces. An article he wrote after 11 Israelis were killed at the 1972 Olympics is still on many people’s refrigerators. It was a classic piece of personal journalism, the kind I often attempt to emulate. Yet Greene says he wishes he never wrote it.

Greene often writes seemingly heartfelt, sentimental articles, yet later talks about them with cynicism. He writes from his gut, then rejects them as he descends into anger and despair. 

Who is the Bob Greene I love to read? After reading this long article about the man whose writing stands out as something to be cherished and shared, I knew I should share it with others who I knew would also adore it.

I understand the Bob Greene question. Is he being honest in his work? Is he writing from the heart or just to make it publishable? Is Bob Greene an amazing writer or a phony–both? Can somebody be a jerk one day and a saint the next? Do I really care whether Bob Green is a miserable human being if he can write with such humanity that he can move me to tears?

After all, I don’t really know who Bob Greene is as a person. Maybe he has come out of a dark period in his life and he really is the person who gifted the Rawlings baseball glove, and then he bought one for himself. He writes that the glove is being shaped now with neatsfoot oil. 

We all go through tough periods in our lives and doubt our own sincerity. Bob Greene, I love your writing. I have loved it for 40 years. I’m going to buy a friend a mitt, too. Thank you so much for your 500 wonderful words.

Question: Do you care if someone is a jerk if they do great work?

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Ep. 125 – Hiring Ex-Felons, with Kathryn Shibelski

By Noah Graff

On today’s podcast I interviewed Kathryn Shibelski. Kathryn is a second chance hiring advocate. Her firm, KES HR Consulting, works with companies who are considering hiring incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people. The job candidates have often been convicted for drug offenses, white collar crimes, sex crimes, and even murder. 

Obviously, the idea of hiring people with criminal records could seem quite risky for a number of reasons, but according to Kathryn, second chance hires can thrive in the right work environment and even surpass the performance of employees with no criminal background.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite app.


Main Points


Strengths of Formerly Incarcerated People

In various areas around the United States there are programs in prisons that train inmates in trades such as machining. 

Kathryn says formerly incarcerated people are often the most devoted, loyal employees. One reason for this is their gratitude for the opportunity just to have a job. Many ex-felons have few options for employment, so its extra important for them to hold onto their jobs, both for supporting themselves and to fulfill parole obligations. 

Also, formerly incarcerated people often come into jobs with a unique set of skills. In prison people are forced to be resourceful. They have to solve daily practical problems using limited resources that people on the outside take for granted.

 

Other Reasons for Second Chance Hiring

Companies who employ second chance hires can receive tax breaks through the work opportunity tax credit. Also, Federal bonding programs protect employers against losses caused by the fraudulent or dishonest acts of at-risk bonded employees.

Finally, Kathryn encourages companies to hire second chance employees because it helps communities end a cycle of repeat offenses that often occur when people are released from prison.

 

Second Chance Hiring Obstacles

One of Kathryn’s main services is helping companies with on-boarding second chance hires.

Often formerly incarcerated people lack resources that many of us take for granted, such as a bank account, transportation to get to work, and a decent place to live. Companies who hire them have to be ready to help their new employees cope with these challenges.

One of the greatest challenges for companies to successfully hire second chance employees is getting their current workforce to buy in. Kathryn is a proponent of employers keeping an open mind to people with all types of criminal backgrounds, but she says that every company needs to choose for themselves which candidates they feel comfortable working with. Everyone at a company has to be on board for second chance hiring, not just the top managers. Often at least one individual at a company has had a bad past experience with a certain type of offender, and this may cause it to rule out many candidates immediately.

Another criterion companies need to consider is how long a candidate was incarcerated. People incarcerated for a decade or more often become institutionalized, making them prone to emotional issues.

Kathryn admitted to me that even she has her own personal difficulties regarding certain types of offenders, but she still firmly believes that everyone deserves a second chance to turn their lives around. 

When reasoning with people who are resistant to second chance hiring, Kathryn suggests to them to think about their own friends or relatives who have made past mistakes or had poor luck navigating the U.S. criminal system. Have they made it back successfully?

To get in touch with Kathryn and learn more about her services, the best way is to go to her LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathrynshibelski/.

Question: Would you consider hiring an ex-felon?

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Prison of Perfection

By Lloyd Graff

Major League Baseball is facing a major league problem. Its audience is bored and fading away.

For a fan like me, this is a minor problem. I love my team, the Chicago Cubs, but if they are awful and boring, I can switch to Netflix, reading, or a podcast for entertainment. But for the baseball industry and the gambling community, which make their very profitable livelihoods from fans like me, baseball and boring cannot afford to go together for long before it really starts to hurt.

From an entertainment standpoint, it is not too hard to figure out why the sport is shrinking. Major League Baseball has become the prisoner of its own perfection. A game with 20 strikeouts is becoming commonplace. Pitchers routinely throw in the mid 90s, and many are stunningly accurate. A top pitcher in today’s game is aiming his pitches not at the center of the plate, but at a corner of the strike zone, 4″ by 4″. 

Good scouting and computer records have identified hitters’ weaknesses. If you combine tremendous velocity with computerized analysis and superb accuracy, plus catchers’ well-honed ability to “frame” pitches, deceiving fallible umpires by subtle movements of their gloves, you end up with strikeout after strikeout.

Another addition to the pitching arsenal is “spin rate.” Again, the computer mavens are spoiling the game by analyzing the effect of spin and the movement of pitches, which shrewd pitchers and their coaches translate into manipulation of pitches, to accentuate hitters’ weaknesses. Add in sticky materials, which pitchers can hide in their scalp or uniforms, and you get even more pitch movement, which fosters batter failure.

Hitters have not solved the problem of pitcher mastery to bring more balance to the game, partially because of their tendency to overswing to pad their home run statistics, for which the teams have rewarded them by paying huge bonuses. 

Because taking walks is infrequently lauded by management, players are now swinging without remorse, hoping for a lucky long ball. The result is, again, more hitting failure. It used to be that a 200 hitter was banished to the minor leagues. Today, he may bat cleanup if he hits more than one homer per week.

Jacob deGrom has a 0.95 ERA in 2021, CREDIT: USA TODAY

Jacob deGrom has a 0.95 ERA in 2021

Add in dynamic relief pitching, which features pitchers who specialize in throwing 100mph and pitch only one inning. With starting pitchers generally limited to 100 pitches maximum, the bullpen becomes extremely important. The “closer,” who pitches the ninth inning, is often the highest paid pitcher on the team. Put it all together and you have the formula for “boring ball.” 

The leaders in the sport have just begun to figure out how baseball is killing itself with its precision and velocity on the mound. Pitchers are now inspected after every inning by the umpire, checking them for sticky stuff. It does not seem to be changing pitcher-batter balance yet.

Some folks are proposing that the pitcher’s mound be lowered or even moved back a few feet. Others want robots to call balls and strikes to combat umpire fallibility in the age of spin and velocity.

These changes are probably necessary to combat the hitter failure rate. Every sport needs to change with the times. Basketball added the 3-point shot, and football has made it harder to crush the quarterback because people want to see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, not some pretender. 

Sports needs to be fun, with a balance between offense and defense. When hitters rarely swing successfully, even fans who have loved the game for decades, tune it out.

Question: Are you losing interest in baseball?

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Playing Stupid

By Lloyd Graff

Kyle Schwarber, playing for the Washington Nationals, is on a roll. He has hit 15 homers in a 17-day span, the first major leaguer in history to accomplish that feat. His remark after his last two-homer game was striking: “To be honest with you, I want to play stupid, just keep going up there and take your at-bat. Don’t remember the one before, just live in the present. Just go out there and have a short memory.”

Watching the NBA playoffs a couple days ago, I watched Trae Young, the 22-year-old superstar of the Atlanta Hawks on his way to a 49-point performance. He was unconscious, just playing on fire. Toward the end of the hard fought game, he dribbled at full speed down the center of the court, 15 feet from the basket, he tossed the ball high off the backboard. A leaping teammate received it like the amazingly perfect pass it was and cleanly dunked it. 

You can’t plan a play like that. You can only improvise it when you “feel it.” Your teammate is in sync and “feels it” simultaneously. Could he have shot the ball and made it? Maybe. But the play he made was one play out of a game of terrific plays that I will remember and write about. He was “playing stupid,” totally in the moment, and focusing perfectly by not thinking. 

These moments are rare in life. Even more rare in work, but I think perhaps you can train yourself to cultivate them and identify them during and after they occur. 

Kyle Schwarber of the Washington Nationals at bat

For me, a signal is spontaneous tears. I usually don’t cry when I am sad or fearful. I feel the tears creeping out of my ducts when I somehow reach some precious connection, those seconds of sharing something rare and unique when two people touch one another. It’s that instant of insight, or synchrony that makes me feel human and special. It might be a memory, lost forever you thought, that pours through your body and empties out in precious teardrops. Speech becomes a stammer. You wish you could bottle it and be able to return to it whenever you need it. But you can’t, and you know it.

Noah and I were sharing a few special moments yesterday in a conversation across the big round table my father and I used to share. We were talking about our family, how hard it is to make lifelong friends, and a malady we both share. We both occasionally have simple partial epileptic seizures, in which our hearing gets uncomfortably loud for a few minutes. They often come at inconvenient times. I told him how I tried to fake my way through them over the years, and he related how he bluffed his way through one when he was walking down the aisle during his wedding.

It was a special moment of candor between father and son, when we thought we’d be talking about the relative values of used automatic screw machines. You don’t plan for those moments. They come from trust and honesty and something deep in your gut. 

You can’t reach for them. You have to be like Kyle Schwarber, batting lead-off, smelling the breaking pitch on the inside half of the plate, then swinging at the perfect millisecond to intersect bat and ball. You have to feel it in the most stupid, brilliant way, then savor it in your gut as you round the bases with fans cheering, unconscious in the perfect moment.

Question: When was the last time you were caught up in a special moment?

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Opening Up!

By Noah Graff

Yesterday evening my wife, Stephanie, and I stopped to get gas. As I fueled up, a man named Danny, on the other side of the pumps fueling his own car, struck up a conversation with me. You know that special breed of people who walk into a room, almost always smiling, beaming their positive energy onto everyone? Danny is one of those guys.

He commented to me about the crazy high gas prices in Illinois, currently in the $3.30 per gallon range. I told him about the gas prices in California, where I was last week, which are over $4.00. I was tired after a long day of work, but suddenly I was uplifted. We both commented how nice it was to be chatting with a complete stranger on a sunny summer day without wearing annoying face masks, and without concern about germs or concern that the other person would be afraid of our own germs.

Danny introduced himself and seemed like he was starting to put out his hand. But I extended my elbow and bumped his—now the modern introductory gesture. We laughed about how stupid handshakes really are. I remarked that the custom of bowing in Asia makes so much more sense, and no wonder Italy had had trouble containing the virus in a culture where it’s normal to greet people with multiple kisses on the cheeks!

Noah and Danny Meeting at the Pump

Pre-Covid-19, this would have been a fairly typical interaction for me. I love talking to strangers. I completed a personal goal of meeting at least one new person every day from May 19, 2018, to May 19, 2019. Meeting strangers is something that makes my life interesting and serendipitous. It also makes the world feel less isolated. Two strangers meeting can be like nuclear fusion—their combined energy becomes greater than their sum.

Today Chicago officially “opens up!” Soon after this blog is published, I am closing up the laptop and meeting up with a customer visiting from Japan. I’m taking him to Wrigley Field for the first Cubs home game of the season with seating at full capacity.

Good possibility I’m going to talk to some more strangers.

Questions: Do you like talking to strangers?

Are handshakes stupid? Will you switch to a new type of greeting?

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Making the Most of My Life?

By Noah Graff

What the heck did I do last month? What did I do last week? What did I do today? Do you ever ask yourself those questions? 

The last three years, I’ve written in a diary nearly every day. It takes me about 10 to 30 minutes to recount the day’s main events and then ramble about my reflections and feelings. I also try to take a selfie photo each day to go along with the diary entries that I type into my iPhone or computer.

I write because I want to make sure the memory of each specific day is not lost. Life keeps feeling like it’s going faster and faster, and sometimes I have trouble recounting what I did just hours earlier, let alone years ago.

I think I’m hung up on a fear that I am squandering my one precious life on this earth. It’s important to me to know that each day mattered. What would “mattering” entail? To me, a day that mattered would mean I created something, learned something, tried something new, or helped someone. Spending time with loved ones also makes my days count. 

Noah’s Diary, June 8, 2021

While writing this blog, I looked up what I did on June 9, 2018,—three years ago today. I was on my bachelor party weekend in New Buffalo, Michigan, a special day that I hadn’t thought about for a long time. I also read that on June 9, 2020, I almost sold a Tschudin grinder, did a great podcast interview, made dinner with my wife Stephanie, and watched a Chicago Bulls documentary.

In 2021, I also started writing down at least one new thing I learned each day. Yesterday, I learned from a colleague that a thread whirling live tool attachment for a Citizen machine could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. I also learned from a business partner that putting sugar in bread dough slows down yeast activity, because “yeast likes to eat sugar.”

I think my paranoia about squandering my time on earth may represent a longing for greater purpose. Maybe if I was fighting for a human rights cause, maybe if I was raising children, perhaps then I would worry less about my days being lived to their potential. If I felt like I was doing more things that left a tangible mark on the world, maybe I wouldn’t feel like I needed to document every day.

Do a lot of people ponder this stuff all the time? Would most people find my daily ritual unnecessary?

I have to stop writing now. It’s 12:30 PM, and I haven’t even documented June 8, 2021, yet.

Question: What makes a specific day significant for you?

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A Year of Misery and Vitality

By Lloyd Graff

It is finally a moment to look back on the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020 and think about the changes in America it has hastened. Many of them would have happened over time but were dramatically sped up by sickness and recovery. 

****

First, healthcare. The astonishing development of the mRNA vaccines to quickly spur immunity with minimal side effects will go down as one of the greatest advances in medicine in a hundred years. The Turkish husband and wife team in Germany and the Moderna scientists in America had both been working on their ideas for more than a decade when the first whiff of COVID-19, wherever it came from, showed up and immediately started the wheels turning.

The COVID-19 vaccines showed America that the entrepreneurial medical system with a profit motive could move faster than any government organized medical system. The Turkish couple in Germany heading BioeNTech almost immediately teamed with Pfizer in America, headed by Albert Bourla, a Jewish Greek immigrant, to get a vaccine into production and accepted by a timid medical bureaucracy.

A second important shift was telemedicine replacing physical appointments. This was in its infancy prior to the pandemic, but with lockdown and rampant fear it quickly became a viable substitute for a large percentage of office appointments. In business we have seen similar changes.

***

The Great Office Boom from 2010 to 2019 vanished overnight. The WeWork fad of shared office space quickly became a joke as the downtown offices of huge law firms and major corporations lay vacant except for venturesome mice and lonely janitors. Zoom tied everything together, business travel virtually ended, and hotels and restaurants lay fallow.

Will downtown offices, commuter trains, and business entertaining come back? Unlikely, I think. In Silicon Valley Google, Facebook, and others have quickly decentralized. People are leaving New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and heading for Provo and Austin. Will they come back? Unlikely, unless taxes fall, housing costs shrink, and city crime turns into mass friendliness. 

These are fairly obvious shifts, but they are so hugely important that I had to discuss them first. But there are also more subtle changes that I see. 

The used machinery business is good again. In fact it is better than good, unless you are dedicated to the oil patch. For the first time since the late 1990s, almost every metal working business in America is busy. Yes, we have inflation of steel prices and non-ferrous metals, and it is hard to find workers, but if you pay enough for either you can keep rolling. 

The new minimum wage is $20 per hour, or soon will be. A person can finally make a middle-class living as a machinist, and this will draw people to the field who no longer want starvation wages in the restaurant and travel business. 

Housing is hot again, with cheap interest rates and people on the move. Also, younger people can finally afford to get a starter house if they are willing to leave stagnant, overpriced cities for smaller, overlooked locations.

And, young people are starting to go into business for themselves. It may be a side business like baking bagels and selling them at a farmer’s market, or starting an interior decorating business to help people who are moving or help people staying in their homes, who want them updated to provide the office space they need.

Certainly one reason I think the back to work numbers seem light to the “experts” is fat unemployment benefits, but another reason is the multitude of new opportunities to begin side businesses or work quietly for untaxed cash. 

In our business, we have looked to retired people and entrepreneurial skilled people to fill holes for us. I am sure we are not alone. 

America is still an entrepreneurial country. I look for immigration, legal and illegal, to expand as a post-pandemic boom widens. The toll of COVID-19 has been terrible, but when we look back on the Post-Corona years, it will be astonishing to see the vitality unleashed.

Question: What positive changes do you see following COVID-19?

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Ep. 118 – Coping with Stress at Work with Darcy Gruttadaro

By Noah Graff

Today is the final episode of our series about mental health in the workplace.

 

Our guest is Darcy Gruttadaro, Director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. Darcy’s organization works with companies of all sizes, giving them tools to support the mental health of their employees. She says that having a warm and social atmosphere in the workplace is more important than ever to keep people relaxed during these stressful times. 

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast, or listen with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

 

Main Points

Darcy explains how her organization works with employers of all sizes to develop programs, tools, and resources to support the mental health and wellbeing of employees and their families. (2:30)

Darcy talks about how she got into her profession. She has family members with serious mental health issues. She was a lawyer and had worked with some hospital clients related to their psychiatric units, work that she found interesting and important. She moved to Washington D.C. to work for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), doing policy work mostly related to the public sector. She then joined the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, where she works with private employers to improve their mental health programs. (3:40)

Darcy says in the two and half years before COVID-19 hit in March of 2020, the number of companies taking an interest in the mental health of their employees was growing. However, when COVID-19 came into the forefront of people’s lives, the interest of companies in the mental health of their employees increased dramatically. (5:00)

Darcy Gruttadaro, Director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health

Darcy says that her organization provides employers with support around raising mental health awareness, eradicating stigma, and breaking down various barriers that stop people from getting help when they need it. It also works with employers to develop strategies to build a more mentally healthy company culture, so employees feel more safe getting mental help when they need it. Finally, it works to make mental health therapy accessible. She says most health insurance provides access to mental health care, but it’s important for employers to help employees navigate the mental health system, which is often complicated. (5:50) 

Darcy compares the mental health issues faced by people who are mandated to work at home to those faced by people mandated to work in factories during the current pandemic. She says since March of 2020, the CDC has been collecting weekly pulse data showing that nationally the number of people experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression has tripled. (9:30)

Darcy discusses data that shows many people prefer not to work at home because they find the social connection with colleagues in the workplace to be comforting. On the other hand, she says many people go to work feeling anxious about COVID-19 but hide their feelings from colleagues and employers because they think they will look weak or flawed. She says when people allow negative stigma to prevent them getting the mental help they need it can lead to suicide. She says openness to talking about mental health in manufacturing environments is not prevalent enough. (11:10)

Darcy says that depression impacts women at a higher rate than it impacts men. She says she thinks it’s likely there is greater risk for substance abuse among men working in physical jobs, who may be using alcohol or painkillers to cope with pain suffered on the job. She says the stoic culture of people in trades such as manufacturing makes it less likely that they will get the mental help they need, but she admits she is not sure what research has found in this scenario. (13:20)

Darcy advises that business owners and leaders not be afraid to show some vulnerability to their employees because it can make them feel more at ease with their own mental issues. Also, it helps for leaders to simply tell people they realize the difficult and stressful times everyone is going through. She says it’s important for people to get professional help as soon as possible, because the longer people allow mental health issues to linger, the greater toll they take. (14:50)

Darcy talks about traveling through Texas where she saw an entire crew at a construction site stretching together before work. She talks about a utility company that had workers do group meditation to quiet their minds, help them focus, and prevent injury. She says management taking time for employees to do self-care activities demonstrates to them it cares about them, which has positive effects on moral. (18:00)

Darcy says during our current stressful time period it is more important than ever for people at work to be social with one another because people by nature need social connection. She prescribes that managers reach out to employees working remotely via video teleconference to tell them that they know they are going through difficult times. Even if people role their eyes or poo poo the gesture, it still makes employees feel cared about. (19:20)

Noah asks Darcy her predictions about widespread mental health when the pandemic is over and things “get back to normal.” She says there will be some strong concerns about mental health for at least three years, particularly for kids or teens, whose lives were drastically disrupted in 2020. However she says that after this difficult period people may have also developed resilience to difficult situations and learned new coping strategies. She says it will be important for managers to remind employees how they have weathered the storm together but still need need to stick together. (21:30)

Darcy talks about mental health in several different countries. Canada has voluntary workplace mental health standards that employers are asked to follow, which California is currently trying to emulate. In the United Kingdom the Royal Family has taken an interest in creating organizations that support workplace mental health. (24:00)

Darcy says to her the word “happiness” means feeling settled, feeling like you’re contributing to the world, having purpose, and looking forward to every day (26:30)

Noah asks Darcy what she learned last week. She said she relearned how much work (and fun) it is to get a new puppy. (27:00)

To learn more about the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation go to workplacementalhealth.org.

Question: Do you prefer working around a lot of people, or very few people?

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Ep. 117 – Mental Recovery with Dr. Ari Graff

By Noah Graff

On today’s podcast we are continuing our season about mental health.

Our guest is Dr. Ari Graff, a psychologist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a nationally ranked rehabilitation research hospital based in Chicago. Patients come to Shirley Ryan to recover from severe illnesses and injuries. Dr. Graff’s job is to help patients mentally heal from the emotional trauma that comes along with being damaged physically.

The opinions in this podcast episode are solely those of Dr. Graff. They are not on behalf of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast, or listen with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

 

 

Main Points

Noah introduces Dr. Ari Graff, who happens to be his older brother. Ari has been a practicing psychologist for the last 14 years. He has a private practice doing therapy mainly with adults, and he also has been working at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab for 11 years. The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is a rehabilitation center for people who have suffered severe illnesses and injuries such as strokes, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and amputees. (2:30)

Ari is the psychologist of Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s outpatient clinic. Patients there are in the process of intense rehabilitation, often doing physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. (4:00)

Ari says he sees around half of the roughly 150 patients who attend the clinic throughout the week, usually seeing patients only once for an hour. Sometimes patients request to a see a psychologist, but often they are referred to him by their rehab team or a physician. He says often he is the first mental health specialist patients have ever worked with. Generally they are not expecting to speak with a psychologist because they have been focusing all of their energy on their physical recovery. (5:20) 

Ari says it surprised him at first how much impact just one hour-long session can have for patients. He says they get a chance to feel understood about what they are going through. They learn about what to expect from rehab. They also hopefully gain a better understanding of their own mental state. (6:40)

Ari says a common issue rehab patients have is that they don’t feel like they are in control. Becoming disabled is difficult for people to adjust to. One thing Ari tries to help them cope with is the uncertainty whether they will recover from their current disability.(9:00) 

Ari says he tries to make people focus on the things they have control over rather than what they can’t control. He encourages people focus on their diet, sleep, and ability to manage stress. He encourages people to try to understand their condition and limitations. He also suggests to patients to communicate with their doctors and health providers to understand the recovery process and to advocate for themselves. (10:00)

Ari says it’s important for him to educate patients about what to expect during the rehabilitation process. He says after a stroke or injury to the brain, the brain needs time to recover. Research says this recovery usually happens in six months to a year, so it’s important for patients not to feel frustrated when they are not back to normal quickly. He says it’s important to give people hope as well as realistic expectations. (12:00)

Ari talks about the mental recovery for people who have been injured on the job. He says those people might have anxiety about going back to work. It’s important for them to process their feelings about how they were injured and process feelings of blame for coworkers, as well as blame for themselves. (14:00)

Ari talks about people he works with who are recovering from severe cases of COVID-19. Some people suffer the effects of being on ventilator for a month or two. Some people are weak or immobile after being in bed for a long time. Others suffer brain injuries if not enough oxygen gets to their brain. People also suffer psychological trauma from the illness, particularly if they were not able to see their loved ones while in the hospital. (15:00)

Noah asks Ari if he has advice for people whose coworkers are exhibiting mental health problems. Ari says some companies have employee assistance programs that provide some limited mental health support. He says it’s probably tricky for a coworker or boss to help another worker seek mental health support. (18:00)

Dr. Ari Graff, Psychologist at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

Ari compares talk therapy with prescribing medication to help people with their mental health. He believes both methods of therapy can be helpful if administered the right way. He says people should not assume that prescription medication is being abused. He says that sometimes for patients he sees at the rehab center, opioids can be very helpful for them during a physical therapy session when their pain would otherwise be so excruciating it could hinder doing their rehab exercises. (19:00)

Ari talks about helping his patients manage their pain. He says that pain is not just a physical experience. It’s a cognitive experience, an emotional experience, and even a spiritual experience. He says research has shown that negative thoughts and emotions have the power to increase pain while positive ones can alleviate it. He uses therapy methods such as mindfulness and meditation, which can help people observe their thought processes about pain and then start to make shifts from a negative to a more positive and realistic thought process. (22:00)

Noah asks Ari if everyone could benefit from therapy. Ari says he thinks most people could get something out of therapy, but there are a lot of different types of therapy available, so people need to find their right fit. He says it is important for people to attend to their mental health the same way they attend to their physical health. (24:00)

Ari says to him the word “happiness” means contentment, fulfillment, and purpose. He says that most people desire a sense of meaning in their lives, not just joy. (26:00)

Ari says people in recovery need to know that they can find value in themselves, even if they have limitations. He says our culture emphasizes measuring people by how much they can produce and achieve, but people need to know that we all have intrinsic value. (26:30)

Ari explains mindfulness, which is an important method he uses in his therapy. He explains it as non-judgmental attention to our present experience. It’s a way to be, without trying to fix or do something in the moment. He says it is important for people to be aware that they can still find value in life—take some downtime for pleasure, interact with family members, etc., while still working toward their big goals. (27:00)

Ari concludes by saying that people should not see their medical problems only as a setback. He says the people who cope the best with their problems are those who look at their situation as an opportunity to learn or grow from. Instead of only seeing their injury in a negative light, its helpful for people to try to find the positives they can get out of it. (28:45)

Question: When has therapy helped you or your loved one?

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