Friday, July 31, 2009
My friend, Dan, was one of the people who recommended Flat Rate Moving to me, and I texted him to ask how much I should tip them. We went back and forth several times about an appropriate amount. Finally, Dan said "In these situations I reason that they need it more than I do, so I round up." I emptied my wallet to double the going industry tip rate (which Dan also looked up for me on the fly, as well as surveying everyone in his office on the spot.) They deserved it.
I swept up the last of the dust bunnies, and grabbed a cab cross-town to Rob's. Given the gridlock traffic, I had a lot of time to think about giving more than the going rate for exceptional circumstances. Whether it's a tip to movers or the amount of time and attention to a valuable friendship, it feels good to give far beyond the usual.
So what if we always gave a little more than what was warranted? A little more care, energy, effort, passion, time, and money? What if we shared beyond what would ever be expected by others? Imagine how much further along we'd be. It seems to me that the only way we're ever going to have a life and a world that's exceptional is to give and give and give again. More than we're asked, and maybe even more than we think we're capable of.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
I thought I was anxious about the move because I would watch all my stuff being carted away - off to storage for two weeks - hoping I'll see it again in some decent form. Turns out I was anxious for an entirely different reason which I only realized while talking to my sister, Weez. I was worried I'd disappoint my movers. Did I pack the boxes incorrectly? Did I not use enough tape? Did I pack too much in them. Are they going to be cursing my name and playing catch with my belongings?
As Weez pointed out, this is ridiculous, especially considering that I triple taped every box, put my initials and box numbers on at least 3 sides of each box, and set them out in numerical order. (I feel my OCD coming out.) They had their engine seize and were late - they felt badly about it; I was worried about the packing of my boxes and I felt badly about it. We worry so much about disappointing one another; as it turns out, the cure to disappointment is forgiveness and understanding - something we can all do.
One of my movers looked around at my things and said, "this is it?" "Yep, minus the lamps - I'm giving those away to goodwill this afternoon." "Don't worry," he said. "We plan for everything - it will all be fine." Were my nerves showing?
And then my landlady, Ann-Marie stopped by, to inquire about the keys, my forwarding address, etc. She gave me a hug, kissed me on the check, and wished me well. Since I'll still be in the neighborhood, I'll be seeing them around. She and her husband, Joe, have been very good to me, and I appreciate everything they did to help me in my transition back to NYC two years ago.
30 minutes after their arrival, the move's almost done. The wondrous sound of packing tape are the background music for this post and it's music to my ears; maybe my triple taping wasn't enough. No problem though, the movers have me covered. The knots in my stomach are finally beginning to disappear.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Because my new apartment's renovations won't be complete until mid-August, my belongings are headed for the world of storage for safe keeping. I'll be staying with friends with only two suitcases and a backpack. I still think I've overpacked for two weeks. (Do I really need those pink espadrilles for the next 14 days?)
To give myself some peace of mind, I started making an inventory of what's contained in each box - just a general overview - in the event that my things get misplaced during the move. Trouble is that I thought I could remember what they contained after I'd sealed them. Turns out I haven't the faintest idea of what's inside about half of them. Now this could be because it's nearly midnight and I'm tired. It could be because I'm in post-packer's coma, and more than slightly incoherent after a long, long day of packing, cleaning, and tossing.
It would be nice to use a logical excuse here to explain my forgetfulness. Truthfully, I know why I can't remember what's in half these boxes - because it doesn't matter. I'm not a "things" person. Why do I need 25 brown Home Depot boxes packed to the gills and sealed with duct tape? I don't - and even though I sent a lot of my belongings out to retirement, I still have much more than I thought I did. And much more than I actually need.
Too late now, though. Flatrate Moving will be ringing up my Amex card around 10am tomorrow for a larger amount than I ever imagined I'd pay for movers. My bed is calling me for one last rest within this apartment that has been an incubator of creativity and exploration for me these last two years. It's been a fun ride. New adventures in a new space are already calling me, and being a person who is unable to turn down adventure, I must answer them.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Now years later, I volunteer with Junior Achievement of New York, teaching in New York City public schools. I should revisit his second book, Teacher Man, to refresh my memory and learn from his. His book would also be useful as I prepare to pitch a pilot project that I’d like to launch in a New York public school in January. That’s the beauty of writing out our stories and lessons learned – they invariably help someone else down the line. Mr. McCourt is a wonderful example to illustrate that it's never too late to tell your story; he published his first book, Angela's Ashes, when he was 66. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
The Daily Good post got me thinking about all of the incredible teachers I’ve been fortunate to have all my life. Though I went to public school in a rural town in upstate New York, I had teachers who believed in me and inspired me every day. It is a rare gift, and I never took it for granted. I’ve been thinking lately that I should break out my stacks of stationery and write them all letters to thank them for giving their lives to help people like me.
I went on to attend two wonderful universities, also with a slate of brilliant and inspiring teachers. Through my life I’ve had a few constants – my mom and my cell phone number immediately come to mind. And I always had the benefit of excellent teachers.
Teachers don’t get enough credit or praise. Their hours are long and yet some people discount teaching as a profession because many have their summers off. In truth, they put in a whole lot of extra time over the 9 months when school is in session, much more time than a lot of people in corporate jobs.
When I worked at Rollins College, Doc Rodgers, one of the theatre professors would joke that he was heading off to class to “shape young minds”. And while he always said it in jest, it’s absolutely true. Teachers take this responsibility of shaping young minds very seriously, and we should, too, by supporting them and thanking them for all that they've done and will continue to do on our behalf. Our futures depend on them.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Looking for a little sanity in your apartment search? Enter RentHop - an innovative new service that allows would-be renters to browse free, no -fee listings in the New York City area. I had the opportunity to speak with Lee Lin, co-founder of RentHop.
For the full story, click here.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
~ Scott Adams (Dilbert)
Both of these quotes were provided by my friend, Amanda Hirsch. Amanda is the author of Creative DC, a blog about living a creative life in DC. She found me online while looking for blogs about New York City. After clicking through to my resume, she found that we have just about all the same interests and graduated from the same university, the same year. (It's a big school so sadly we didn't meet way back when.)
It's these online connections to creative, inspiring people that keeps me writing. They make all this effort worthwhile. There are a plethora of interesting, engaging people out there, spread out all over the map. Writing online gives us a way to find each other.
And this brings me to the reason that Amanda's first quote really got to me. It would be very easy to just look around and see what the world needs, and then go make that. That's certainly a viable road to entrepreneurship. Trouble is that method doesn't necessarily get our internal motors running.
Running a business, heck writing a regular blog, takes an incredible amount of dedication and time. There are nights that I have to stay in and write, and I love that. When I'm writing, I don't feel like I'm missing out on doing something else. I'm passionate about this art form, and have made a conscious decision to become a better writer. That's going to take time. Point is, I didn't look around and say "what the world needs is another person to write about creativity." I'm interested in creativity and writing. They make me come alive - and me coming alive can go a long toward making the world around me a better place to be.
Finally, this point brings me to Amanda's second quote. There are a lot of times that a whole lot of nonsense flows from my keyboard. The wording is awkward. I can't turn a phrase properly. I have a tough time translating my thoughts into words that other people understand. I edit as much as I actually write. The creativity piece involves throwing down everything on the page. Forget about beauty and style and grace. Just get the thought down. Editing is the real art - knowing what to keep and what to toss away so that the necessary can speak.
Our world is built around creativity, mistakes, and art. From the buildings we occupy to the streets we walk to the businesses we frequent. These three things are inextricably intertwined. And while the result isn't perfect, it's beautiful and unique and interesting - exactly the way the world should be.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
I'm now nearly 7 months through my 1 year commitment to actively search for hope every day and write about it. I'm in the thick of it and the remaining months of 2009 seem to be just around the bend. This is the side effect of working in a retail-focused business: I'm always one step ahead of myself because the industry I work in demands it. Looking for hope is sometimes an easy task and sometimes a game of hunt and peck. Some days I struggle to find something hopeful and positive, and other days it seems that the world is awash with hope, so much so that it's hard to take it all in and stay still long enough to write about it. It's these latter days that I try to focus on most.
I've become a fan of daily email delivery of my favorite blogs. I get why tools like Google Reader are valuable; I just prefer to use my gmail inbox as my to-do list. (Thank you, David Pogue, for that insight on email in-boxes!) And I like the idea that my favorite writers are sending me little bits of wisdom directly, or at least I feel like they're sending them to me directly. Daily Good, a blog that posts a daily story about some piece of goodness in the world, is one of my favorites. Their stories always begin with a quote, and it's responsible for many of the quotes that populate my "food for thought" section in the right side bar of this blog.
This week Daily Good posted up the quote above from Martin Luther King, Jr. He could have easily made the quote "We must accept disappointment, but we must never lose hope." Still powerful, still emotional, still inspirational. Instead, he chose to talk about finite disappointment and infinite hope, and link the two together. In my 7 months of writing about hope, I have found disappointment. More than I would have liked.
Just this week, I decided I had accepted enough disappointment. I'd reached the finite limit that Dr. King spoke about and then decided that I could no longer wait to do what I really wanted to do. With the help of some friends who help me think clearly, who help to bolster me up when I get a little bit down, I made a plan to turn all of my attention to what I hope to achieve and away from what's disappointed me. The hope was there all along, even through the disappointment. I just wasn't seeing it. We can all do a lot more than hope for a change; there will be no grand arrival and entrance of change. It's always there - we need only reach out and grab a hold of it.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
I have a hard time letting things go. I have to watch movies straight through to the end, no matter how bad they are. I have to finish every book I start. Nothing causes me to lose sleep more than tasks hanging around for me to finish tomorrow; hence my tremendous lack of sleep in a partially packed apartment. Why is it so troublesome to let things lie around undone?
It could be that I've read too many stories about people who didn't quite get to see their dreams realized. It could be that I've read that quote from John Lennon "Most people die with the music still in them" once too often. I don't want to look back and be so far away from something I started that it's too difficult to pick it up again.
We get to these points in our lives where we must go left or right and it's very hard to double back once we've made a choice. Not impossible, but certainly difficult. I'm there now. A lot of my friends are there now. Maybe this is the dilemma we find in our 30's. We are making choices now that impact every other choice down the line. We're deciding who we're going to become, how we're going to make use of our talents, how the world around us is going to be different because we passed this way instead of that way.
And while I have a natural instinct of which way to go at this fork in the road, the choice in my heart is a tough one. It's got some risks baked into it. It's not the safe route. Some times I think the choice in my heart isn't even the sane route to take. Then again, when has making the sane, safe choice ever lead me to complete fulfillment?
Today I went to a baby shower for my friend, Alex. One of her college friends made a critical choice to leave behind the business world and pursue her PhD in art history, thanks to Alex's encouragement. She loved art history early on in college and had given up her dream to work in that field to take the safe business route. Before it was too late, she went back to what she loved.
Every one of her professors told her this choice was ridiculous, that she was truly wasting her life in art history, that she'd never get a job. One of them actually told her that a degree in art history and a quarter wouldn't even get her a cup of coffee. Now she works in New York and helps corporations and nonprofits build their private art collections. Turns out that a degree in art history has earned her much more than a cup of coffee. It helped her earn a happy life. The rewards of finishing what she started and following her heart.
Friday, July 24, 2009
I am obsessed with productivity. (On occasion, I have spent an afternoon watching an Ace of Cakes marathon on the Food Network. Guilty as charged - what can I say? I love cake.) 95% of the time, I'm doing something that I hope will help move my life forward. Reading, writing, connecting with others, visiting museums, exercising, meditating, running, cooking, and observing life. I am an expert scheduler and I strive to be a model of efficiency.
So why is progress so important to me? Why can't I just slow down and go with the flow? Why must I be constantly engaged? Part of it is that I am hopelessly nerdy and have been since birth. 'Why?' is my favorite question, and I ask it loud, proud, and often. It's a reflex. I have an overwhelming desire to be in the know, or at least to try to be in the know. The words "I'm bored" have never crossed my mind, much less come out of my mouth.
The other reason for my constant activity is something more serious. For better or for worse, I am constantly mindful of my age and of the time that's passing. Some people will say that those who are young don't appreciate their youth or their health. They think they'll be beautiful forever. I know it's all fading. Every day I'm looking for a wrinkle, a grey hair, a loss of ability. My WebMD checking can get a bit out of hand from time to time. I was born thinking like an old person, so much so that I am often surprised to look in the mirror and see someone so young.
My siblings and I lost a lot of our family members at a very young age, and those losses stick with us. They changed us. As teenagers, we became painfully aware that life is finite, at least in the form in which we know it. And while I could easily become consumed by the fear of time passing by, instead I focus on making every moment count.
There's a saying that goes something like "if you live a good life, you'll be able to enjoy it twice: once as you're living it when you're young, and again when you're looking back on it when you're old." Given my love of efficiency, this sounds like a great deal to me - I'll get two good lives for the price of one! That's well-worth the effort.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I spent a number of years touring around the country with Broadway shows. I worked on the business side, taking care of everything from contracts to financial statement to company travel. Though I learned so much and enjoyed the job, I got tired of always being on the road. I wanted to live in a community and have a life outside of my job. My sister was also having some health issues, and I was really feeling the need to be with her. So I made a little deal with myself: as soon as I had $50,000 in the bank, I could leave, move to Florida with my sister, and figure out the rest from there. That was January 2003.
When I got to Florida, I spent time with my sister, took a few classes, and had the occasional odd job. And just when I needed a really good job, one miraculously showed up and it set me off on an entirely new path that lead to a move to Washington D.C., then to business school, and finally back to New York City. I just followed my heart every step of the way and made sure my bills were paid. Those were my only two requirements.
So now here I am at a crossroads again, though I'm finding myself unable to strike up a little deal the way I did back in 2003. In my heart, I am feeling a very strong need to write full-time, and yet that leap is much more frightening this time around. Now, it could be that my hesitation is caused by increased financial obligations (business school loans) and that the economy is in shambles. It could also be that, well, I'm scared now and I wasn't then.
Today I had to remind my 33 year old self of my younger self, that brave, bold woman who was willing to take a risk, who was willing to bank on her ability to build her own path in life. How is it that I was so brave then and more timid now? It could have been foolishness or blind ignorance that made me so brave in 2003. It could be that I just wasn't capable of doing anything except following my heart. It's this later explanation that I'm banking on resurrecting.
Last Fall, I wrote a post based on an assignment that I did for business school. It's a letter I wrote to my younger self. Now what I really need is my younger self to write a letter to me. I thought maybe a letter from my younger self would shake me awake, would give me some courage, would remind me of who I am and who I'd like to be. So here goes:
How did you get where you are? I remember when all you could think of was writing and performing and creating. And now when I think of how your days pass by, I wonder what happened. Your path from A to B was not linear. There were twists and turns. My guess is that while you are surviving quite well right now, you are not thriving in all the ways you'd like to be thriving. You're starting to feel a little trapped and lost and frustrated. That's only natural when the heart has lost its position as your guide.
I want you to know that it's okay that this happened. It's okay that you needed to take care of some necessary evils like paying off loans so that you can be free to pursue your larger mission in life. Sometimes we need to take a step back in order to leap forward. Just make sure you know why you're taking that step back, how it's going to help you leap forward, and how long it will be before you leap.
You have big dreams - so big that you might wonder if they're just too big for you to accomplish. You might be losing a little faith and more than a little confidence. I want you to put your fears aside. I want you to remember how fearless you were climbing trees, racing around on your bike, running so fast that you felt like you might run right out of your own body. And remember how good that fearlessness felt. I want you to remember how good it felt to be free. Completely, hopefully free.
I want you to think of your mom and your grammy, woman who always, always knew you could do anything and told you so. I want you to remember that a lot of people put a lot of faith in you and your potential. You owe it to yourself to reach out for those dreams of yours, and you also owe it to everyone else. It is your obligation, not your option, to use your gifts and talents to leave the world a better place than you found it. Don't think about your dreams as things you may be able to do; remind yourself that these are things you're meant to do, that you must do. Because doing anything else except fulfilling your dreams is just wasteful. And you hate to be wasteful.
Your feelings will undoubtedly be hurt from time to time. You will face rejection and sadness and lose your way. When that happens, do what you always did when you were little. Take a look at those stars. Stare at them until you realize how many miracles you're witnessing, until you recognize that accomplishing your dreams is a small feat when compared to the tremendous work that someone somewhere put into architecting that gorgeous Milky Way. Surely, if someone could line up all those beautiful stars to create something so intricate and perfect, then you can accomplish a handful of dreams, no matter how big they are, right? Right.
Keep your chin up, and give the reins of your life back to you heart.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
To read the interview with Teju, click here.
I have two large closets in my front hallway that I have dreaded packing into boxes. I knew it would be a long, arduous process and therefore put it off as long as I could. Finally, I couldn’t sleep because I was so worried about packing them up so I just got up out of bed and started the inevitable sorting, tossing, and packing of their contents. Some of the memories they contain are painful, though most of them are happy. And thankfully, the contents are so old that my mind has gleefully erased most of the sadness, loss, frustration, and unhappiness that some of their contents used to trigger, leaving behind only the good memories in their wake.
I got my love for cards and letter writing from my grandmother, Sadie. She sent cards for every occasion from birthdays to Valentine’s Day to Halloween to First Day of School. I found a stack of them in one of the boxes crammed into the top shelf of my closet. I’d know that handwriting anywhere. My grandmother passed away 9 years ago, and still I miss getting those cards in her perfect cursive handwriting.
As I re-read the cards this week, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I kept them. It’s my own little piece of her that I can always have. I hear her voice through those cards and am reminded of how much she loved me and cherished me. It’s things like these cards that have become my most cherished possessions. They didn’t cost a lot of money and they didn’t take a lot of time to create. Their simplicity and heartfelt emotion are the only gifts I ever really needed.
Monday, July 20, 2009
For the full story of how Sara Blakely, founder of SPANX, got started, click here.
The one reading that he and his new wife, Daphne, had at their wedding is from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. The quote considers the very pertinent question “What does it mean to be real?”
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day…
As we grow older we develop new interests and relationships and dreams. Some we accomplish, others die away without coming to fruition for one reason or another, and still others have yet to be found. The end process of becoming is to be real. Authentically, imperfectly, beautifully an individual who will never be replicated nor replaced.
The process of becoming takes patience, with ourselves and with others. It can’t be rushed. We can’t skip to the end to see how it turns out. We can’t work backwards and engineer our way into the best possible ending. It can only be created forward. There will be unexpected instances that must be folded into the process, some will be welcome changes, strokes of luck and genius, and others may be painful and sad. They all matter and all contribute to the piece of art, the life, we get in the end.
Becoming real is not easy. It takes work and perseverance, compromise and sacrifice. And it requires that we take the long-view, always. There will be moments of great triumph and great loss. Those losses are the risks we take and the price we pay for actively living and participating in the world around us, the risks and price for becoming real. And those triumphs and happy moments, big and small, are what make it all worthwhile.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Trouble is that progress bars in most areas of our life are nonexistent. We don’t know how much longer a job or relationship or our health will last. We usually aren’t able to gauge how much longer it will before we reach a certain goal. There are bumps and twists and turns on every road. Some set us back, some help us leap forward, and some set us on a new course entirely. There’s no electronic board to calm us down.
We could consider that every day is its only small progress bar, and our only goal is to get to the end of the day having given all our activities everything we’ve got. That way no matter how much time we have left, we can be assured that we gave as much as we had, worked as hard as we could, laughed and smiled and enjoyed every minute like it was our last. The best case scenario is that we’ll get to do it all over again tomorrow, making a little more progress in our lives, and the worst case scenario is that we put our best foot forward right up until the end.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I didn't know what to do so I just began. First with this blog, then with Examiner.com, and now as a guest blogger on sites like Rypple and small call outs in publications like the Wall Street Journal and DailyWorth. Next week I'm joining a new team blogging effort, details to follow in a later post, and this Fall I'll be writing a blog for the Transport Group on their Fall production of The Boys in the Band.
My friend and mentor, Richard, has been listening to my writing plan for some time now and was the first to say, "at some point, the switch will flip and you'll find a way to make all this investment in your writing pay off." He's talking about a tipping point. Until this week, I didn't realize that the surest way to that tipping point in writing isn't only about hunkering down and pounding out the words on my Mac. It's just as much about connection and kinship with others. To get to a tipping point, we have to let others in and give others the opportunity to invite us in as well.
My writing tipping point may still be a long way off. I'm not there yet, but for the first time in two years, I think I might be getting to that point Richard talks about. At least I see it out there on the horizon. I'm just not sure how far away that horizon is compared to where I am right now. And that's okay. A little light keeps me going.
The photo above can be found at: http://phlogthat.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/img_7592.jpg
Friday, July 17, 2009
It's a romantic ideal that in a flash of insight we finally come up with a brilliant idea to overcome some challenge. Truth is it takes us time to wrestle a problem to the ground. Lots of ideas have to be considered, tried, tested, and tweaked to get us to an elegant solution.
While Linus Pauling was referencing his own work in science, his quote applies to many areas. Where we live, where we work, and who we spend our time with can take some trial and error before we strike just the right place and people. This is my third try at living in New York, and I think I got it right this time. There have been a lot of ups and downs over the 10 years since I first moved here. Finally, I found a way to make this place home.
Pauling's quote also holds up in entrepreneurship, too. I've now been doing interviews with a variety of entrepreneurs for five months and I've asked each of them for advice to others who are considering starting a business. All of them have said to give it a shot, recognizing that it takes a couple of years to really get a business off the ground. We might need to kick around a number of different ideas for businesses before we hit upon one that makes our hearts sing, that makes us want to dive in with everything we've got to make it work.
Having lots of ideas requires patience and persistence. We have to be willing to try and try again, and again and again. We need to be patient with ourselves and believe in the slow steady process that leads to true insight and learning. Flashes of quick genius happen once in a while. What is a much more of a sure bet is that if we keep trying new ideas, one will certainly rise to the top.
The photo above is Linus Pauling holding a molecular model. It can be found at: http://osulibrary.orst.edu/specialcollections/coll/pauling/pauling-qv09-198xi.050.jpg
Thursday, July 16, 2009
During the summer, the many outdoor events remind me of everything that New York has to offer and how many people there are to meet just outside the front door. This week, the New York Philharmonic performs their two annual free concerts in Central Park. In all the years I've lived in New York, I've never seen one of these concerts until this year. My friend, Brandi, left New York this week for greener pastures in DC and a group of us got together for the concert to bid her a fond farewell which none of us are happy about. Brandi goes to this concert every year, and wanted to make sure to catch this one, her last as a New York City resident.
Brandi arrived first, getting us an excellent space in the middle section. From that vantage point we were in the middle of a wonderfully positive energy. The Park was packed, and during the evening I grew more and more grateful for the great diversity housed in this tiny island. Even on our small blanket, different groups of friends joined together from different walks of life to enjoy the event.
In the middle of the Park, I was reminded just how many people live in New York, and how unique each of their stories are. I could hear the laughter from every corner mixing with the music. People were sharing the details of their days. Reminiscing. Talking about what they hoped for and dreamed of. Some people were celebrating and others explained their gratitude for the amazing weather and the opportunity to be together. Flashbulbs were going off all around us as people snapped photos to remember the occasion.
The New York Phil's concerts represent New York at its best. The many voices coming together, paths converging. Before we left the park, I took a look around, happy to live in a place that constantly changes and yet always feels like home, a place where anything and everything is possible. As the closing fireworks went off, for a moment I actually believed that I could reach out and touch them if I really wanted to. It's the happy side effect of being a city that makes you feel like you can fly.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
For my interview with Amanda, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m7d15-Interview-with-Amanda-Steinberg-Founder-of-DailyWorth
Your own clear, strong voice can be elusive. Writing helps me find mine every day, and that provides a benefit for every other area of my life. I've connected with people I'd never have met otherwise. I've developed friendships, mentorships, and a vast network as a result of my writing. It's been a true blessing in my life. Through writing, I found my voice and that helped me find like-minded people.
Someone recently commented to me that bloggers are arrogant and self-indulgent people who just want to talk about themselves. I'm not sure when we turned the corner from wanting to share our experiences to being arrogant and self-indulgent. If we follow that train of thought that means every person who ever wrote a memoir, opinion column, or created any piece of art in any medium that somehow conveys their life experiences is arrogant and self-indulgent. And consider how many stories didn't get told, and therefore didn't get shared, and therefore didn't help anyone because other people like the one I spoke with about bloggers discouraged others from finding their voice. It's sad.
I'd argue that anyone who thinks their life isn't worth blogging isn't living an interesting enough life. Whether they choose to do that or not is of course their business, though the reason for not doing it should never be that they aren't interesting enough. People are a lot more interesting than they give themselves credit for.
A friend of mine has been pretty badly bullied at work by a senior leader. During a recent focus group about this leader, he found that many other people felt the same way. Until this focus group, he felt alone in his predicament, wanting very much to keep his job and also wanting to stand up for himself. He got that chance through his focus group, though only found his voice because others around him found theirs too.
In a way, the person I spoke to about bloggers is a bully, too. A bully is anyone who dissuades someone else from taking up an activity that helps them realize who they are and helps them find others like them. Or they're at the very least incredibly unhappy, miserable people. I watch the Today Show while I'm getting ready in the morning, and this morning there was a segment on bullies. It's becoming all too common these days for adults to encounter bullies. They inflict fear on others because they live in fear themselves.
Finding your voice, and your pack, is about releasing our own fear and not allowing others to make us be fearful. You owe it yourself. The joy of life is found by connecting with others, sharing with others, and helping others to find their own happiness. Don't let someone else take that joy away from you under any circumstances. Share your story, spread your wings, and make the most of the days you've got.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
There’s a key difference between new knowledge that informs our current work, or the work we’d really like to be doing, and developing a brand new passion. A brand new passion takes a lot of dedication, time, and very often, money. After business school, I wanted to really understand and participate in social media, and I really wanted to focus on the craft of writing. It’s taken me thousands of hours over the course of two years to get a handle on those things. Well worth the time and effort because those are passions of mine. They define me in a very significant way.
There are a million interesting things in this world to learn so it’s no wonder that there seem to be no end to distractions. Given my propensity for distraction, I’ve recently done two things that have been helpful ways to keep my focus:
1.) Take on only 1 or 2 goals, not 5 or 6, in any one area of life.
2.) Write those 1 or 2 goals down and post them up in place you will see regularly. I’ve found that the inside of the front door is a good one so that way I read it every time I come into and leave my apartment.
Limiting distraction and maintaining focus is difficult work. It requires constant vigilance. But it's critical to happiness and meaningful accomplishment in our lives. I have a friend who is forever getting involved in more research projects, prolonging his doctoral studies. Another friend of mine has been collecting degrees of a wide variety and in the process making her feel more unhappy and lost. There's a balance we have to strike between expanding our horizons and keeping our eye on the ball. In general, I find the golden rule is to expand my horizons only to the point that my interests are reinforcing and supporting one another. So far, so good.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Last night, the show Drop Dead Diva had its premiere on Lifetime. Most pilots are awful. Beyond awful. This one is inspired, funny, smart, and tragic. Best of all, the back story is one of striving and thriving - a great example for all of us.
My friend, Brooke Elliott, is the star of Drop Dead Diva. I met her in 2002 when I joined the touring company of Beauty and the Beast. She is the funniest person I know. Some people tell funny jokes. Some people have crazy stuff that happens to them and their recounts of those crazy events are funny. Brooke is just funny, about everything. I can be in the most horrid mood, and the way she says hello sets me into giggles. It's a wonderful, rare quality.
Two years ago I moved back to New York after business school and reconnected with Brooke. We had been in touch over email over the years, but hadn't seen each other regularly since I left Beauty and the Beast in 2003. By 2007, Brooke had left musical theatre and was focusing on crossing over to film and TV work.
Brooke's story is one of the most hopeful and compelling I know. When she left musical theatre, a lot of people asked her if she was going to get a day job while she pursued TV and film. Her answer was simple, "No, I'm going to book an acting job. I'm an actor." No frustration, no anger, no naivety. She was going to practice her craft and make a living doing it. That acting job she was going to book is now Drop Dead Diva. And as so many critics have said, "Brooke Elliott is drop dead terrific."
Her success comes as no surprise to me. It was just a matter of time before Brooke had her own show. With talent, grace, and determination so immense, the world was going to find her sooner or later and give her the credit she so richly deserves. After all, you are who you wanna be. It's advice we could all stand to hear a little more often.
If you missed the premiere of Drop Dead Diva, catch the replay of the full episode at http://www.mylifetime.com/on-tv/shows/drop-dead-diva/video and tune in to Lifetime on Sundays at 9pm Eastern.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
For the full article, please visit:
In this morning's New York Times, I read about Howcast, a new company with a noble, elegant mission: "Howcast shows consumers engaging, useful how-to videos and guides wherever, whenever they need to learn how." Its sole goal is to help people help themselves with just about anything. The range of content is immense: some are very serious, even life-saving, informative clips (how to treat someone for shock) while others are flat-out hilarious (how to fight off a vampire). The platform is easy to use and has a clean design. The videos are short and succinct. Best of all, community members can add how-to videos of their own, so if you have an expertise that you want to share with the world, now you have a clever platform to do it.
Some of my favorites from this morning's hunt through Howcast:
How to Survive a Bear Attack - I was laughing out loud
Fantastic collection of Yoga poses - their sports and fitness collection is extensive, from how to dribble a soccer ball to how to roast the ultimate marshmallow
Websites an resources on how to learn a foreign language
How to get your home ready for a dog
The search function is robust; I found the info I needed quickly. The load times of the videos were much shorter than I expected and the resolution is high. There are also wikiguides on topics should you choose to read the information rather than watch a video. And while other sites require account creation with a username and password, Howcast can sync with a Facebook account, allowing users to participate immediately to comment, vote, and favorite videos. Whether you're looking for useful, timely info or a source of smart entertainment, Howcast provides it anywhere you are, exactly when you need it. DIY really is the new luxury and Howcast helps you get it.
Follow them on Twitter @howcast.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Packing up for a move is a curious activity. It begs the question, "what things do I really want to keep." I packed up a few big bags this morning and hauled them off to the Salvation Army. Even though I do my best to combat clutter of any kind, things still accumulate. For me it's mostly papers, magazines, and materials that relate to my writing that clutters up my apartment the most.
As many times as I've moved, I still get a little sentimental about leaving an apartment. Though my new space is much better than the apartment I currently live in, this apartment in particular has really meant something to me. I started my post-business school life here. I went through a job search, found my voice as a writer, and began my path to entrepreneurship right from this couch I'm sitting on. I watched President Obama's acceptance speech and his inauguration here. I mended a broken heart and fell in love with New York again inside this tiny studio. The stock market crashed and the economy was driven to the brink as I watched CNN. Friends and family came to visit. My little niece, Lorelei, took her very first Manhattan step over the threshold of this apartment. It kept me safe, sane, and calm in the midst of a very busy city.
Any home is a lot more than just four walls and a roof. It's a place where memories are built. Where great moments, big and small, take place. Everything in our lives stems from where we lay our heads at night so it's only natural that there would be a little emotion in saying good-bye. After all, when we move, we are passing through a door that will close behind us for good. It's a place to which we will never return and the only choice is to move forward.
So while I'm looking forward to being totally packed up and moved into my new four walls, I want to make sure I take the time to look back, just for a moment, and count the blessings that my current four walls housed. As Stephen Sondheim said, "This is where I began, being what I can."
Friday, July 10, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
It's amazing what happens when we let fear dissipate. A weight lifts from our shoulders. The world is a little brighter. There's a little more hope in our hearts. Best of all, we are able to be more ourselves without fear. We can see all the possibilities in front of us.
So how do we let go of fear? Like most other ailments, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So here are some ideas on how to banish fear and also how to keep it at bay, along with an example of a fear I've worked through.
1.) Identify the fear. Give it a name.
I always thought I had a real fear of not having money. But then as my earning power increased, I found I was still afraid. It took me a while to realize that my real fear was not being able to provide for myself.
2.) With the true fear identified, consider what would happen if we had to handle the fear head-on tomorrow.
Once I realized that I was afraid of not being able to provide for myself, I thought about what I would do if I suddenly found myself living my fear. I made a list of friends and family who might be able to help me. As I worked through my list, I realized what an amazing support group I have.
And then I considered all the times in my life when I had been very close to living my fear. I thought about how I'd previously gotten myself out of tight budget situations. In college, I was always on the verge of being completely broke. I would get an extra job or pick up a few hours at my current jobs. I even participated in psychology experiments run by grad students at my university to get an extra $25 or $50. I was very good at cutting my expenses down to nearly $0 if need be. I got used to super-cheap food, and I went without every possible frill imaginable.
3.) Talk to others about the fear. Articulated fears are much less scary than those that swim around in our minds.
This one was hard for me. For the majority of my life I was really embarrassed about my financial situation. And then I met a bunch of people in college who also had a hard time making ends meet. They were more at ease about it than I was and they always had some odd job leads that were very helpful.
4.) Set-up a plan to keep the fear at bay, and remember that a fear can be a wonderful motivator to promote good habits.
Because I was worried about not being able to provide for myself, I made an action plan of how to get myself into a situation that made my fear irrelevant. I put myself onto an aggressive savings plan so that I'd have a cushion to fall back on if something went wrong. I also became an expert negotiator for my salary and for variable priced purchases like cars and rental apartments.
My fear about not being able to provide for myself also made me very empathic toward those who truly can't provide for themselves. I knew that fear and sadness and embarrassment they felt. I'd felt it, too. And spending time with those people made me realize how extra ordinarily lucky I am, even at times when I didn't have much at all.
I also realized that I wanted to have more control over my earnings. The roots of my entrepreneurial spirit were started in my desire to provide for myself, to take my future into my own hands. And while I wish that I hadn't allowed fear to plague me for so long, in the end I learned to make the most of it while it was here. I lived through my fear many times over and the sky didn't fall down. Maybe what I was afraid of was fear itself.
For the full article, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m7d9-Social-Earth-Video-launches-today
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
For the full article, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m7d8-The-life-in-our-time
In many instances, it’s easy to share. All we need is a bit of motivation and some generosity. Write a check to a charity, show someone how to do something you already know how to do, share knowledge by posting on a blog. Sharing is a small, often painless and free, gesture. Anyone from any socioeconomic level, of any age, in any geographic location on Earth can do it.
What Benjamin Disraeli is talking about is more substantive. It requires more commitment, more dedication, more patience than sharing alone. Revealing your own gifts and using them for the benefit of others is done over and over again every day in every corner of the world. To help someone else realize their own potential, to cultivate someone else’s knowledge and creativity, to give them the confidence to go out into the world and make an impact is something that needs much more time, intention, and attention.
The payback for helping an individual or an organization help others is immense, much greater than if we only share what we’ve got. There’s a multiplicative effect. We help someone help several others who in term each help several others and so on. Consider it a pyramid scheme of generosity, something the world desperately needs now more than ever.
Of course the best of all possible scenarios is that by sharing what we’ve got, we inspire others to share. Think about teachers, writers, and artists, and how they inspire the imaginations of others. Consider how small acts of kindness inspire the “pay it forward” mentality. While giving and sharing are important actions for each of us to take, we also need to encourage and teach them to others in our lives.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
I read an article in my alumni magazine about the book Plain, Honest Men by Dr. Richard Beeman. It describes the summer when a group of people gathered to write the Constitution of the United States. They made it up as they went along. They focused on writing a document to create a more perfect union, not a perfect union. In one summer, they formed the base laws that would govern a nation for centuries to come, a nation that would be the beacon of hope for people around the world.
Walt Disney wanted to build a place that captured creativity and inspired everyone who walked through its gates. From that park, he built an empire of innovation and entertainment that has caused the many millions of people who visit to wonder and dream. Walt Disney, and a team of believers, built the original Disneyland in 1 year.
Legacies are built one moment, one decision, one vision at a time. They require heart and passion and commitment. Time is the asset, not the constraint, that builds lasting impact. Michael Jackson, the fathers of our country, and Walt Disney are proof that there is a whole lot of living that can be done in a very short span of time.
For the full interview, please visit: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m7d7-Interview-with-Don-Mathis-CEO-of-Epic-Advertising
Monday, July 6, 2009
4th of July weekend is always an inflection point in my year. Somehow a switch flips in one area of my life or another and off I go. This year was no exception, except that I feel much more confident in this year's 4th of July inflection point than I ever have any other year.
I've been batting around an idea for a social enterprise for a number of months. I've gone down a few different avenues and always ended up scrapping the plan. I had an idea of what I wanted the end result to be; I just didn't know how to get there.
A few weeks ago I went down to DC for my friend Eric's engagement party and was able to catch up with my friend, Liz, whom I used to work for in DC. She is one of the most talented researchers around and she has tremendous first-hand knowledge about urban education, exactly the area that I want to focus on for my social enterprise. I pitched my idea to Liz, and without blinking an eye she had a plan for my idea - how to execute it and how I could find funding.
Over the past couple of weeks, I've worked on a rough draft of the idea and passed it to a few people for review, one being Liz and another being my close friend, Amy, who has done work similar to what I'd like to do with this social enterprise. With their help I am revising the draft of my project, and their excitement over it has made me even more hopeful. I actually believe I can make a go of this.
Next I passed the draft on to a Twitter friend who is writing a book about social enterprise. He liked it so much that he asked if he could send it on to several friends of his for their input. Of course I whole-heartedly encouraged that!
While I've been so interested in entrepreneurship for some time and dabbled in it in one way or another at different points in my career, for the first time I am gaining the courage to take that plunge and never look back. So what's different this time around? The motivation isn't money or job security or what else the company might be able to earn for me. It's motivated by this unrelenting idea to make a difference for urban public school kids who need this program. It's a combination of timing and resources and passion for an idea. I know I can do this more than I've ever believed I can do anything. My answer to life's most urgent question just couldn't wait to be answered any longer. It's just time.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Sam Odio, founder of Divvyshot, identified three holes in the photo sharing market:
1.) Direct integration with the photographer's computer photo library
2.) Ability for multiple people to contribute to one photo album
3.) Maintenance of a photo's original resolution to preserve photo quality while sharing
Like many entrepreneurs, Sam took pain points, things that frustrated him, and crafted a solution. That solution is Divvyshot. I recently had the chance to interview Sam about his company, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his feelings about the current economy.
To view the full interview, please visit http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-2901-NY-Business-Strategies-Examiner~y2009m7d5-Intreview-with-Sam-Odio-Founder-of-Divvyshot
Spoken like a true insomniac. I don't know for sure if Simone de Beauvoir had insomnia, though I do understand her sentiments about New York as she made her way across the U.S. in 1947. Her diary from that year long trek from one U.S. coast to the other became the book America Day by Day. Her first step that journey was off a plane and into New York.
There does seem to be an energy here in this city that I have not found in other places. Maybe it's the subway rattling underneath the pavement or the soaring buildings that mask the city in a unique pattern of shade and light. I think though that it's the people that are attracted to New York that give it its famous zing.
The trick to living here and staying sane is to take advantage of the energy while not wearing ourselves out, to find activities to fill our time that give us as much energy as they require. I've struggled with this idea at various times in my 11 year love affair with New York. While I've moved in and out of the city 4 times since first coming here in 1998, this last time I hit upon the magic combination: a stable income, lots of green space just outside more door, and confidence in who I am. I spend equal time with friends as I do alone. I found an activity I love, writing, that has nothing to do with how I pay my rent. All this combined has made for a magical life. Now all I need is a dog - and he'll be arriving at my apartment this Fall.
Even when I wasn't living here, New York was the center of my world. New York was really it for me. It always was; I just didn't always know that. It's the place where I feel most alive, where I feel most my true self. It's the place where I can dream and imagine and wonder. It's the place where I can appreciate and love the life I have, while also aspiring to be something more.
As it is with so many relationships, it took time away to realize what I had here in this tiny set of islands. New York is a place of constant improvement, continual opportunity, and hopeful exuberance. You really can be anyone here, all it takes is time and commitment and on occasion, a little patience. Lucky for us, Simone de Beauvoir was right: our need for sleep is less here, making accomplishment, and thereby happiness and fulfillment, all the more likely.
The photo above is the New York City skyline at night. You can find this photo at: http://nycwrites.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/nyc_manhattan_night.183194354_std.jpg
Saturday, July 4, 2009
When Ken was a teenager, Evita had just opened on Broadway and the song "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" was the mot popular song around. Ken's mom used to crack herself up by changing up the words to "Don't cry for me Sargent Tina..." She'd sing that all the time, making everyone around her laugh.
Ken was at the nursery yesterday with a friend, choosing a tree to honor his mom. They were specifically looking for a crabapple tree because of their beautiful flowers and found one they really liked. Variety: the Sargent Tina Crabapple. Maybe a coincidence...
Ken and his friend, Linda, get back to Ken's house and plant the tree in the yard. They place the last shovelful of dirt around the tree and head back inside the house. Just as they get into the house, the song Hold Me Kiss Me Thrill Me was on the radio. That song was the only song Ken's mother requested for her memorial service when she and Ken were choosing the music while his mom was in hospice. Coincidence, I think not...
Losing people is hard, though experiences like Ken's remind me that we don't ever lose the ones we love. They just cross over, and they'll be there when we cross over, too. We'll be with them again, and while it's hard to accept that they don't exist in the form in which we knew them and loved them, their love is still very much a part of our lives, always. Their love is truly all around us.
The photo above depicts the blossoms of a Sargent Tina Crabapple and is from http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2072/3534629428_bef4ba6e37.jpg?v=0.
Friday, July 3, 2009
My family came through Ellis Island around the turn of the century. After viewing the many photos and artifacts, I imagined how frightened and alone by ancestors must have felt. They didn't speak English when they arrived. They got laborer jobs during the day and went to night school to learn English like most immigrants who entered the U.S. at the time. They braved extraordinary conditions and an unknown future so that my future could be brighter. They sacrificed and scraped by so that I might have an opportunity that they would never know.
Walking around the base of the Statue of Liberty, I was struck by how beautiful she is. She must have been stunning when viewed from the crowded boat that carried my ancestors to shore. It is very easy to see how she could fill someone with hope, especially when that someone was in search of something better than the life they left behind.
Most interesting is that the Statue of Liberty is built in two parts. The internal structure was built first, and then the external structure, the structure that everyone sees, wraps around it. It's what's inside that allows the structure to stand so high above the New York Harbor, welcoming anyone and everyone who ever wanted a shot at a new life. It's what's inside that has sustained Lady Liberty for so long.
I wish my ancestors who passed that way, with their resolve, determination, and ambition, were still with us. I'd like to thank them for their courage because that courage makes my life possible. It's hard to imagine how I could ever be afraid again knowing the horrendous conditions that they endured with dignity and grace.
While my beginnings were humble, I have had the great luxury of so many advantages that simply were not possible for my relatives. I live the life that they imagined and pursued. Surely, if my ancestors, in their dire state in a foreign land, believed they could attain a brighter future for themselves and their families, then of course I can do the same. Of course, we can all do the same.
As I left the island, I considered the tremendous sense of responsibility that lay at my feet, built upon the backs of my brave ancestors. A sense of pride welled up inside of me as I walked the ground where they walked, all of us one foot in front of the other, racing toward a better, happier life. That life, is mine. And to them I am grateful beyond measure.
The photo above was taken by my friend, Allan. I'm standing inside the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island in front of a mural of photographs depicting the diversity of America.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
The exhibit is the output of work my friend, Amy, and her colleagues did in support of the UNHCR's Convention of the Rights of the Child. The Convention puts forward that children have the right to actively participate in the decision-making that effects their lives and communities. It has been ratified by nearly every country in the world. The U.S. is one of the few who have not adopted it.
What struck me about the thoughts of the children featured in the photo exhibit is how easy they were to understand. They had all the same concerns we have - being liked, companionship, future opportunity, learning, a desire to be safe. On my way home, I considered how children might see these streets of New York I walk along every day, what they might think as they walked through my life.
I considered how the child I used to be would view the adult I am now. What she'd be happy about and what she'd like to change. She'd want me to be having fun, freely voicing my thoughts, and making a difference. She'd want me to be excited to get up out of bed in the morning and out into the world. And she'd never want me to sit still. Ever.
I like to think that I carry the little child I used to be in my heart and mind as I go through my adult life. I'd like to think that though I've grown older, I've kept that young, optimistic, idealistic view on life. I'd like to think that what I see now is what I've always seen: a world full of opportunity and hope, a world where I can make a difference.
The photo above can be found at: http://www.refugeechild.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/090406.jpg
For the full interview, please click here.