Sunday, March 30, 2008

How yoga is going to help me through the recession

I flew to Orlando in February to meet my new niece. I was so filled with anticipation at meeting the littlest member of my family that I arrived at LaGuardia 3 hours early. I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and walked to the gate, passing a magazine stand on the way. The ominous messages about the recession were so numerous on the magazine covers that they were impossible to ignore. The recession, long-predicted, had undoubtedly arrived.

Slurping down my coffee, I wondered how I was worried about how I was going to get through this recession. A newly minted MBA with $100K in school loans, working for a retail company in the toy industry that is in the midst of a turnaround. Is there anyone who needs a plan B more than me?

After my initial wave of panic, I started to consider how my 8-year yoga practice may be able to help me, and in turn how I may be able to use it to help others like me who are worried about the latest economic forecasts. At business school, I taught a free weekly yoga class to help my classmates ease the stress that comes with the journey of an MBA. Could sharing my love for yoga now help people cope with the stress caused by this recession?

Yoga teaches a few main tenants that are helping me cope with the stress of an erratic stock market. Among the ones I most rely on are:

How to be comfortable being uncomfortable

Hip openers like One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) are meant to undo the stress we place on our hips sitting in Western-style chairs. The pose at first is uncomfortable and yet if we commit to the pose and sink into it, in time it becomes a welcome release. We find comfort in the discomfort, and thereby become comfortable everywhere, at all times. 

Sequencing makes all the difference

A yoga practice is based on shifting and balancing energies through a variety of poses. Once poses are categorized (balancing poses, standing poses, twists, backbends, etc.), the order in which we perform them makes a difference in the energies we imbibe. And the desired effect can be achieved so long as we are clear on the goal. For example, forward bends and restorative poses will bring a sense of calm and are excellent to practice before going to bed. If you’re losing sleep over the economy, these poses can help.   

Strength is born out of flexibility, patience, and practice

No matter how strong the trunk of a tree, if it cannot flex with the wind, it will ultimately split. The same is true of the human spirit – to be strong, we must be able to flex with the changing conditions. Flexibility does not have to be innate; it can be gained through practice. All we need is a little patience with our muscles as they slowly stretch, becoming more pliable, and eventually stronger for it.

During my daily yoga practice, I consider my plan B. I weigh my options in the event that the recession forces me to change direction, in one aspect of my life or another. I have developed a scary tolerance for ambiguity and change, thanks to my yoga practice. So until this latest storm blows over and our economy settles back into a predictable rhythm, I’ll be on my yoga mat every day, embracing discomfort, performing forward bends, and working on my flexibility.   

The above photo can be found at

Operating on happiness

This time of year, I think of my dad. He would have been 77 this past week. Occasionally, someone will ask me what my father passed away from and I end up pausing a bit, trying to think of how to summarize all of his ailments in one short sentence. Truly, I think he died from unhappiness. And that started me down the road toward my intense interest in studying happiness. 

Recently there have been a number of academic studies and pop culture books on the subject. I'm currently reading Geography of Bliss, the story Eric Weiner's year-long trip to learn what makes people happy in different parts of the world. And the results are surprising because everything that we strive for in the US apparently makes no difference. Money, stability, success in careers. Even love and long-term relationships. It seems that what matters most are dreams, and their pursuit. 

Now over 15 years since my dad passed away, I know what he didn't understand is exactly what Weiner didn't understand either before he set out on his trip. Happiness is not something to be had. You can't grab onto it so it's no wonder that it's such a slippery creature. Happiness isn't even a journey. Happiness, simply is an operating principle. Some companies choose lean manufacturing. There are a lot of people trying to clean up their lives and live in a more eco-friendly way. These are operating principles, too: At every moment, the participant considers how to make choices, every choice, within a framework, with an operating principle as a guideline for separating good options from less-than-good options.  

So if I think of happiness the same way I think of Green and lean manufacturing, and I believe truly that it is the best way to run my life, I would look at options and make the choice that does the most to increase happiness. Even if in the short-term the choice is more difficult or forces a new way of conceptualizing my life, the long-term result will be worth it. And I hope now, wherever my dad is, he knows that, too. 

The above photo can be found at

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It's all in the edit

In recent days I've been building a presentation by committee. And it's forced me to consider how to collect ideas from a wide audience, put them through a filter, a funnel, and then develop a unique, singular voice. If only I could draw, it would make a great visual: All the voice of the world at the top, been strained into a funnel with a neat, well-crafted set of ideas at the bottom.

I'm struggling with how to make the process less painful for all involved. It's a struggle to edit. As a retail company, we are forced, constantly, into editing because the size of the box is finite. It's true for newspapers, magazine, broadcasts, and museums. In some sense even for Google and - how much surfing is one person really willing to do on any one topic or product category - after a few pages of results, I'm done!

When I first moved to NYC, almost a decade ago, I worked for the Roundabout Theatre Company. Todd Haimes was then, and remains, the Artistic Director. And he's brilliant. The best there is. In an interview, he was asked why he never directed shows. He answered, "I have no interest in directing shows. My passion lies in bringing talent together to get the work done." He is a curator, an editor, of talent. He gathers, sifts, and funnels a multitude of great theatrical pieces and builds a season of shows each year that make a cohesive, powerful statement.

I thought about Todd as I worked on this presentation with a multitude of people voicing their opinions about what's important. Deciding what matters and what doesn't matter really is the hardest work on Earth, and the most important - through editing we define who we are, and what matters.

The photo above can be found at:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Shifting energies

Some days New York beats the hell out of the best of us. Like a job, no matter how much we love it, it can't love us back. I got a parking ticket (unfairly I might add - so I'm fighting it), I had a hard time getting around the city for a work project due to construction (which seems to be happening in every neighborhood), the wind was blowing so hard my lungs hurt walking outside, and then I got booted off a subway due to a suspicious package and once I walked to a new train station, a racial fight broke out in the car I was in (right next to me). And this all happened in one day.

I ate dinner with my friend, Brooke, and we talked about energies that seem to be shifting in the world. Sensing that something is happening in the world that is signaling change. Big change, and not bad change. Just a movement, something new on the horizon. Brooke is feng shui-ing her apartment. I have a Dummies guide to the art and though it sits on my bookshelf, I have not once picked it up to help with my current apartment even though my sleep cycles and energies have been completely knocked off kilter. 

Yesterday I started working on the corner of my place that deals with relationships. Previously, I had my junk box there. A recycled cardboard box decorated with some lovely wrapping paper. And in that box I would put all the stuff I couldn't find another place for, and eventually it became a place that I put all kinds of things that I didn't want to find a home for at the moment. A dumping ground. My love life. Brooke looked at me with something akin to horror. "You need to fix that."

So I did. We can't always force circumstances in our lives; it could be argued that we can never force circumstances in our lives. Rather than pounding the pavement and fighting for what we want, sometimes we need to prepare ourselves and call good fortune to our door. Now I just hope that good fortune is listening.     

The photo above is from

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Soundtrack for life

David Sedaris once wrote about how his Walkman helped him survive in New York - it gave him a soundtrack to live his life in, a way for him to drown out any of the noise around him on his walks. I feel the same way about my ipod. I suspect most people in New York with the signature white ear buds do, too.

This past weekend I had a great group of buddies from Darden in town. A bit of a reunion. Our semi-annual sixth month club has begun. I was talking about my birthday with my friend, Kelly, and telling her about how my birthday is really my New Year's. I was wondering how I would commemorate a new year. And Kelly suggested a soundtrack for my year.

I've been thinking about the project. Considering songs here and there. Some people put together scrapbooks (which I never even thought of doing), others keep a journal (which I used to do). I write in this blog, and now I'll be compiling yearly soundtracks.    

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Go to the mattresses through your roots

Starbucks, the king of coffee, is in the midst of learning a very hard lesson, and we should all learn right along with them. Dazzled by the all the glitz of selling media and other brand extensions in their stores, they let go of what made them great: the best cup of coffee in town. They took a humble commodity and made it a fashion accessory, a brand someone can hang his hat on. And while they were off doing exclusive album releases and making deals with Apple, the enemies were encroaching: McDonald's and DD being the two most noticeable ones in my neck of the woods. Howard Schultz said on Wednesday, "We are going to fight to the death and not allow any company to take our (coffee authority) position away from us." They're moving forward by going back.

Losing focus on what initially brought success is a dangerous trade-off. To be honest I can't think of a single example of a company that moved successfully moved away from its roots. I also can't think of single person that fits that mold either. Where we come from and where we initially place our stake in the ground is a critical consideration because everything else we ever become largely builds on that decision. It's the only way to be genuine. It's where our passion and creative sensibilities are born.

Thank goodness for the return of Howard Schultz. I am a fan of the company and I was growing a bit sad seeing the baristas fumble around to deliver an "okay" coffee drink. I used to be one of them - as a recent undergrad I worked at a Starbucks in Georgetown part-time to make ends meet. I was pleasantly surprised on Monday afternoon when I stopped into one of my local stores and was greeted with, "Here's your grande chai. Let me know if it's not perfect - I'll remake it for you." I think they're successfully finding their way back to their roots.

The photo above was taken by By Marcus R. Donner, Reuters.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Habitual rewards

My dear friend, Lisa, took me to brunch this morning for my 32nd birthday. I ordered some peppermint tea and the tag read "reward yourself". Lisa, who has known me for nearly ten years immediately said, "Christa, as if you need anyone to tell you that." She's right of course, I've made rewarding myself a habit, though that wasn't always the case, and as much as I love being nice to myself, it doesn't come without a tiny piece of questioning each time. 

I took the day off today to celebrate me. I got the idea from my friend, Ken, who also took his birthday off as a personal day this year. Another friend of mine, Alex, told me about a company that gives its employees their birthdays off as an extra perk. 

I took myself for a nice long walk through the park - a glorious, sunny day - and then to get a manicure and pedicure. After that, I took another long and leisurely stroll home. It was one of those days that I was so happy to have had, and would have been so sad to see end except for the fact that I know another self-reward is likely just around the corner.

Alex also was telling me today that as adults we don't celebrate or birthdays with the same gusto as children. And that started me wondering how this happened. As a kid, I would wake up with such an excitement that my big day had arrived. And while today I was thrilled to have the day off, I didn't have that tingly happy birthday feeling. So, as my birthday wish, simple though it may seem, I am searching for a way to get that birthday tingle back, a way to believe that self-celebration is not a luxury, but rather something that comes naturally.    

Friday, March 14, 2008

7 Wonders of the World

I was recently flipping through the April issue of Vanity Fair and came across an advertisement for MasterCard. It was advertising the a giveaway for a trip to see the 7 wonders of the world: the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, The Amazon, The Great Wall of China, Victoria Falls, The Great Pyramids of Giza, and the Great Barrier Reef. And it occured to me that in my travels, while I have seen many incredible things, I have not seen a single one of these place. This is a sad state of affairs.

Last night, I went to a work event and then dinner with friends, Dan and Lisa. Dan asked if I had any birthday wishes. At the time, I really didn't. Now I do - by the time my 33rd birthday rolls around I hope I've been able to see at least one wonder.

Ice climbing and starting a business

Bill Buxton wrote a great post this morning on Business Week's Innovation blog, In a conversation with his friend, Roger Martin from the Rotman School, the two friends discussed the parallels between starting a business and ice climbing. They compared the characteristic of people drawn to these two activities, specifically their appetite for risk.

The parallel drew out some interesting comparisons such as training, having the necessary tools and trusting in the process. I would also add that there is risk in everything - even in not doing something. We often consider the risk of starting a business, going ice climbing, etc. though we rarely mention the flip-side: how will our happiness, sense of satisfaction and accomplishment be affected long-term by deciding not do something that interests us?

Will we get to a point in our lives when these opportunities are no longer possible because of other choices we made, and then look back with some kind of regret and sadness that we didn't do something more bold that made us feel alive? While more difficult to conceptualize and put data behind, the point merits some consideration. In the long-run, I've found it's the chances we take, combined with the ones we let pass by, that make up a life.

See Buxton's full post at:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why good curation matters

Today I was reading Bruce Nussbaum's blog, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a journalist, blogger, and innovation guru.

Today he wrote a post that truly impressed me - very simply he opened the post discussing his changing role as a journalist, moving from being a Voice of Authority to a Master Curator.

I know that many times the content of a discussion, presentation, or art exhibit for that matter, overshadows the design and organization of the exhibit itself. Curating is as much an art as being a content creator.

If an event or exhibit is curated well, the content takes center stage, with the curating barely being noticed. If it's curated badly, the whole things falls into chaos. Good curating is very much like good management - if its competent, the content (the team's work) shines. So if we aspire to be truly great curators, great managers, then we need to aspire to go unnoticed.

The photo above can be found at

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Daylight Saving(s) (Ti)Me

I was giddy yesterday at 6:30pm. I have finally confirmed that yes, I have SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder. After months of cold temperatures, gusty winds, and a small amount of daylight hours, I begin to get into a funk that no amount of sitcoms or jokes from friends will shake. As my friend, Trevin, says, "After a while, it's best to just hibernate as much as possible."

All that changed on Sunday morning at 2am. Though I lost an hour of actual time, the increased daylight more than made up for it. I have nearly a full hour of daylight after I get home from work, rather than driving home in the dark. Yesterday, I ran to my apartment (literally), put on some comfy clothes, my sneakers, and ran back out to enjoy my "extra" sunshine. I couldn't believe the difference it made. 

So while it's been a long, cold winter that has allowed me time to reflect and contemplate where I am in life, I am thrilled that Spring is just over the horizon, along with the opportunity to change my contemplation into action. 

The above photo can be fond at:

It's all a matter of process

"I like to tell people that all of our products and business will go through three phases. There's vision, patience, and execution." ~ Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft

I've been thinking a lot about process lately. We are involved at several large scale projects at work, all of them highly cross-functional. Some of or projects have been successful or are on their way to becoming successful, and some have fallen apart. Regardless of outcome, the learning that is taking place, especially for me, is far greater than I ever imagined I would have at a job in such a short period of time. 

While success is always welcomed, I also find that I embrace failure just as well. My boss has joked with me that I can learn more from a sinking sip than one that stays afloat. When I look a projects of ours that haven't worked, I notice that one of the three elements that Ballmer outlined wasn't as solid as it needed to be. And it's important to have these three elements in that order: vision, patience, and execution.

For me, the toughest part is patience. Vision and execution I understand. Despite the fact that I practice yoga every day, that sitting still, that ability to take things one piece at a time, in turn, is difficult for me. Not impossible. Persistence in difficult times can some times seem fruitless. Though if we take the long view, I am beginning to learn, slowly, that it pays off if we are willing to stick around long enough to play out the hand. I just need to be more disciplined when it comes to patience. And that means patience with myself, as well as with others. And also, it means patience with process.     

If it works for Microsoft....

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Two sides of the management coin

 "To know when to be generous and when firm — that is wisdom." 

~ Elbert Hubbard

Last week was a little tough for me, and for the people around me. I've found that in my career I've work with two kinds of people - those who are generous or those who are firm. And very often I have come across people masquerading as one kind of person, while truly being another. Occasionally, I have come across people who can straddle line - generous and firm at the right moment. These are the people I have tried to emulate. 

Last week may have been the first time in the past 8 months that I've put my stake in the ground and called people to the carpet when something wasn't done to meet high standards. There was a lot of finger-pointing, a lot of excuses made. At the end of the day, it wasn't about blame and it wasn't about having a reason for what happened - it was, and always is, about responsibility. 

This ability to be generous and be firm is critical in the creative process as much as it is in any other setting. If too firm, the end product will have the life beaten out of it. If too generous, the end product won't be as good as it could have been with constructive criticism. The most beautiful pottery gets its shine from the care of the potter's hands and the fire of the kiln. The same should be true for the creative work we put out into the word - a little gentleness mixed with a little fire yields a truly extraordinary masterpiece.    

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A little fall of rain

There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. ~ Jane Austen

Right now I'm reading Frank McCourt's Teacher Man, and I've just finished watching the 5th season of The Gilmore Girls on DVD, both of which are conjuring up old memories for me. All this, coupled with the rain, and there's no way to avoid nostalgia, and maybe a bit of regret. 

While my student days were less than ideal for a whole host of reasons, I still miss the thought of being a student, of dedicating my days to reading, to being involved in the school community with an entire world of people my age just outside my door. Though I studied so hard, a part of me wishes I had worked even harder, that had been more concerned with reading the classics than making sure I was doing everything right. I wish that I could have worried less about money, making friends, finding my calling - I wish I could have worried less, period. 

As a kid, and particularly as a student, I used to dread the rain. I always felt the world knew more than I did, and by raining it was signaling to me that bad news was on the way. I hated sloshing through it with a backpack that was much too heavy, trying to shield myself with an umbrella that would invariably be blown inside-out by some nasty gust.

As an adult, I have come to love the rain, even wishing for it when we've had too many sunny days in a row. I love the sound it makes on rooftops and sidewalks, love the booming of thunder, and the rush of a strong wind. I love the idea of washing away the happenings of the day before, and the day before that. I love the cleaning feeling it leaves the world, just after it's subsided. These are days I hole up inside my tiny apartment and dream, and remember.

The above photo can be fond at

Friday, March 7, 2008

Messages out to the world

“One that would have the fruit must climb the tree.” ~ Thomas Fuller

I've been dating a nice guy for about two months - my first foray into Last night we decided to go our own ways and while I was a bit sad, there was a part of me that was also excited. I learned a lot from this very briefing relationship: one thing being how much I've grown emotionally in the last year, and the second thing being that putting out into the world what you'd like back in return is a very healthy and helpful thing to do. My friend, Steve, is grateful that I have now turned the corner to stop dating jerks - he's grown a bit tired of hearing about them - rightfully so. There's something to be said for growing up.

So while this guy didn't have the creative and adventurous side I was looking for, I learned how very important those two things are to me. My sweet friend, Katie, said that this world needs my creativity. And she's right - it needs everyone's creativity. It needs everyone to be exactly who they are and I need someone who not only nurtures that creativity in me, but also someone who has his own creative work going on that I can nurture in him.

I have found in the past few weeks that as I spent more time with him, my writing suffered, as this blog shows. He didn't inspire any kind of narrative in me. And I found I couldn't share any of my creative work with him. He would listen politely, because he is very polite, though couldn't reciprocate in any way.

Last night for a bit, I felt frustrated that it took me a few months to realize this fact, though I have to admit that the only way to know if the fruit is the right fruit for us, we must, as Thomas Fuller says, make the climb and check it out. No harm done at all; we can always climb back down and walk on to another tree that appears to hold more promise.

The above photo can be found at:

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Soil and seeds

I met with a group today who is interested in doing some consulting work with my company. We can't afford them, though I enjoyed the way they spoke about their projects. They think of them as soil or seed. 

Soil projects are those embedded in culture, building competencies and new skill sets. Seed projects are those that explore new opportunities or new systems. Though the metaphor is simple, it has a tremendous amount of power. A ground of fertile soil won't grow anything if seed isn't sewn, and the seed won't flourish if it's planted in concrete.

Companies are the same as soil and seed. No matter how many fantastic ideas we have, if we don't have a culture of innovation and comfortability with change. And if we have a strong culture without the creativity to create new ideas and concepts, the culture won't do us any good. 

There's just one snag in the soil seed metaphor. I am left wondering if one can generate the other. Can a creative culture inspire creative project ideas or can a collection of ideas inspire us to build a culture that brings those ideas to life?     

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tap Project 2008

Anyone who can solve the problems of water will be worthy of two Nobel prizes - one for peace and one for science.
John F. Kennedy

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF's Tap Project is a nationwide grassroots campaign to raise funds for UNICEF's Water and Sanitation Programs, which provides safe and clean drinking water to children around the world.  During March 16th-22nd, diners at participating restaurants will be invited to donate $1 for the tap water that they normally enjoy for free.  All proceeds will go to help UNICEF bring safe and clean water to the over 1 billion people currently living without.  Nationally, over 1,400 restaurants and 1,600 volunteers have signed up so far and still counting!

**Join the party on Thursday, March 13th, for Drinks to Celebrate the upcoming Launch of Tap Project 2008!**
Black Door
127 West 26th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10001

Suggested donation: $20 (at the door, smaller donations are welcome)

Watch the 2008 Tap Project Video at Look up the project on Facebook. You will also see it publicized in Esquire, O, The Oprah Magazine, In Style, Entertainment Weekly, People, The New York Times and many more place from cabs to bus stops!

Dine out at participating restaurants during March 16th - 22nd.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Build your own road

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it. ~ Alan Kay" 

My friend, Amy, has taken an adventure to Switzerland to work for the UN on a 6-month assignment. Amy is one of those people whom I met and immediately knew we'd be friends forever. She's one of the people in my life who is endlessly supportive and positive. She helps me keep my head on straight no matter what's happening. 

During a conversation several years ago, we talked about the different talents it takes to build your own road versus allowing other people, an employer, a university, etc. o build one for you. "What path are you on?" "What bucket do you fall into?" "What's the career track for that kind of profession?" All common questions, and ones that I never have an answer for. 

Only recently have I found that I have stopped looking for an answer - I'm not on one path, one track, and  don't want to be. I like that in my career I've been able to carve my own way. It's tough for sure, and some people get a bit dizzy when I explain the choices I made, changed industries, geographies, job responsibilities. My one goal was simple: I wanted to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible.   

In these uncertain times - politically, economically, socially - I've been doing my best to remain as calm and level-headed as possible. It's easy to fall into the trap of planning every move, taking strategy to the extreme. I'm fortunate in that at the moment the only person I need to take care of is me, and I treasure the freedom that my current situation creates. "Where are you going with this experience?" My answer: anywhere I want. 

A life in pictures

I've been impressed with The New Yorker's Cartoonist of the month blog. February chronicled the journey of Michael Maslin as he made his way as a cartoonist. After pouring through his favorite publications, The New Yorker in particular, he would submit idea after idea and would be rejected continuously. 

Early on he was offered a weekly gig with The Soho Weekly, and when he asked a mentor for advice, he said he's be crazy not to take it. Mr. Maslin politely turned them down. He was saving himself for the publication he truly coveted, The New Yorker. 

When your career's success requires someone else to accept your work, it may be tempting to take the first thing that comes along that carries any kind of paycheck. Especially in fields like art that are so competitive, there's a sense that you should be grateful if anyone takes a second look. Though just as it's important for consumer products makers to consider what channels they want to sell through, it's also important for artists to consider the best showcases for their work. There's something to be said for the old adage "you are whom you associate with." 

For Michael Maslin's full journey, visit