Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - In Love with Love

"Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along." ~ Rumi

This year I've been very fortunate to bear witness to come of my very favorite people finding the loves of their lives and getting married. Some people will say that they hate going to weddings alone because it makes them feel badly about their own romantic situations, or lack thereof. Though I do wish I had been at these weddings with the love of my life there with me, I never for a moment would say that it made me feel badly to go to these weddings on my own. If anything, they left me feeling more hopeful and joyful about love.

Tonight I had the great honor to attend Leah and Peter's wedding. They are friends of mine from college. I've ever been to a wedding where there was this much love so abundantly present; there was no way to pack even one more ounce of love into the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity without it bursting. It was a beautiful thing to see, and even more incredible to feel love in that magnitude.

As an institution, I find marriage slightly terrifying and as a result have shied away from it in the past. It's only this year, and actually only in the past month, that I've been able to see that a marriage based on love and respect and kindness is quite possibly one of our greatest hopes for happiness. To see two people bring their lives together with so much courage and faith in one another is awe-inspiring. As Rumi says, it's not about meeting our love, it's about finding the love that has been with us all along.

Peter said it so beautifully to Leah in his vows: "I have been sailing home to you all my life." And that line did it for me - that sentiment helped me make the leap, leaving fear behind. No wonder my friends who have gotten married this year haven't felt scared about marriage. No wonder they could put their trust into someone else so completely. Love is about finding our way home, about providing a home for the heart of another. In its most authentic form, it is about being on a journey toward someone who has been journeying toward us. Here's to love, and those brave enough to take up the journey.

The photo above is not my own. It can be found here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Shifting Ground

"A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory." ~ Arthur Golden, from Memoirs of a Geisha

Lately, my life seems to be a little like an earthquake. I feel like I am always standing on shifting ground. Just when I think I get one part of my life settled, an aftershock throws me off balance. There are some amazing lessons to be learned when we are standing on uncertain ground. And while working through these circumstances is difficult, I am certain that once the dust settles I will be a far better person in every respect.

With shifting ground:

1.) You learn what you want, and what you don't want.
Things I want: a career that contributes to building a better world, freedom to use my time with more flexibility, to be out and about in the world as much as possible, a close family, close friends, a feeling of connection to my community.

Things I don't want: to wake up in the middle of my years and find that I didn't do something because I was scared or because I was worried it would take too long to complete, to "dream" more than I "do"

2.) You learn who you want, and who you don't want in your life.
People I want: those with commitment and determination. Those who do what they say and say what they do. People who show up, and love fiercely and fearlessly, and take big chances on big dreams. Those who hold at their core honesty, bravery, and empathy. People who know what they want and have the confidence to go for it. People who change the direction of the wind. Kind and generous and those who want to be at cause with the world. People who listen more than they talk.

People I don't want: those who can't make up their minds. People who are inconsistent. People who constantly look at what others can get or do for them. People who lack follow-through and commitment. "Idea people" who don't have the ability or inclination to bring those ideas to life through the honest work of their own two hands. Those who spend an hour with me talking about themselves for 59 minutes and asking me how I'm doing for 1 minute.

3.) You learn to live with less material wealth, and greater purpose.
Last night I spoke to my dear friend, Amy, who is my inspiration when it comes to creating a purposeful life. She told me about a book called The Soul Of Money by Lynne Twist. It's helping Amy to make the transition from the career she has, which carries a big paycheck and is not what she wants to do, to the career she wants, which has a less certain income stream and a tremendous amount of satisfaction. Twist advocates for our ability to build a meaningful, satisfying life with our own inner resources. It's an idea we can all get behind - to be motivated by a personal mission, a reason for being, and not a bonus and an annual performance review rating. She shows us that wealth of the heart and mind is at least as importance as the wealth in our bank accounts.

Shifting ground is treacherous. It is filled with doubt and uncertainty. It shakes us to our core, and in the process we find out what sustains us, what makes us glad that we woke up today, what motivates us to build a better tomorrow for ourselves and for others. This is uncomfortable work, though it's the only way I can see to make the valleys of this journey through life worthwhile.

Disappointment is going to show up at our door at one time or another. People are going to let us down. And how we handle these disappointments, and what we learn from them, in many ways helps us to define who are and who we mean to be. They are teachers, twisted and odd as they may be. The way to learn from the disappointments is to hang on to those who build us up, the circumstances that make us strong, those who can support us in our darkest hour. They make all the difference, and help us climb back to those peaks.

This uncertain ground will pass. The aftershocks eventually die down. Life does get back to normal. And when it does, I know I'll find that my ground has shifted in a favorable direction.


The image above is not my own. It can be found here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Pendulum

"One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life." ~ E.M. Forster

Yesterday a friend of mine was talking to me about the idea of leadership as a pendulum. "Imagine that the leader is up here at the top of the pendulum. Even the slightest movement made by the leader causes huge swings down at the bottom. Leaders need to be conscious that when they make seemingly small changes, the repercussions for others are enormous."

I had never thought of leadership this way and wondered how I might be able to apply that to leading my own life. It's easy to play out the idea of what big changes can do to our lives; what happens with the slight changes, the ones we don't put so much thought into? How do they add up and what kind of toll do they take, for better and for worse?

First, for worse: I've been trying to remember to breath. That's right - remembering to breath. Earlier this week I was starting to think about everything I need to get done in the next month. I've made so many commitments - places to be, people to see, tasks I need to complete - that I began to feel overwhelmed. How could I get this all done in the time I had?

Thinking about all of this I was holding my breathe. I closed my eyes and I let it go. I kept reminding myself while I had a lot on my plate, 99% of it was fun stuff, things I wanted to do. We have to take one day at a time, one moment at a time. If we think about swaths of time that are too large, we naturally get overwhelmed. Bite-sized pieces - that's the key. Small steps.

Now, for better: what are the small things we can do in our lives that make a big difference? This week, I've been taking a few minutes before I go to sleep to close my eyes and empty my mind. Last week I was having some bad nightmares. I wasn't sleeping well. And it was effecting my energy and my outlook. It was eroding my hope. This week, I found myself being a bit more bold, able to articulate my point-of-view calmly and succinctly, especially under very stressful situations. All that I needed was a clearer, calmer mind, and that 5 to 10 minutes of meditation before I went to sleep made a big difference.

The next time when I see big swings happening in different areas of my life, I'll raise my eyes up to the top of that pendulum. I'll take a look at the small changes I made, or the small changes I can make, that yield big results.

The image above is not my own. It can be found here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Choosing the way

"To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness." ~ John Dewey

October has shaped up to be a fantastic month for me. A few dips here and there, though for the most part it's been about exploring new opportunities, meeting new people, and getting a better handle on how my life is moving forward. In other words, I am deep into the first piece of John Dewey's statement: "finding what one is fitted to do".

Tonight I had dinner with my friend, Richard, and we were talking about this exploration. I suppose one of the reasons we've become such good friends is that we are natural explorers. This is true of so many of my friends, nearly all of them have gone down many different paths, learning a lot along the way, and eventually finding their groove. I'm the late bloomer in the bunch. It took me a long time before I realized how that I could build a life around the idea of a securing a quality education for every child, how adamantly I believe in Frederick Douglass's idea that "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." I am a product of this idea and I am now at a point where I've been in the world enough to be able to fight for this principle in a thoughtful, compelling way.

So now the trick is the how, John Dewey's second piece of the puzzle: how (and where) to secure an opportunity to do what I am fitted to do. On the one hand, I am fortunate that my passion has many different avenues for me to pursue. I could go back to a nonprofit that has a mission to help children. I could teach. I could do research in this area. I could pursue an advanced degree (and there are several types of degrees that would be suitable). I could go into government work. I could simply volunteer as I have been doing for many years. I could write. In actuality, I could do all of these things, and likely will. On the other hand, how will I make a choice among all of these options? What is the right way forward for me?

One thing that has amazed me is that it's the first part, figuring out what we're fitted to do, what we're passionate about, that takes the most time and effort. Once that piece is firmly planted in our minds and hearts, and we begin to share it with others, opportunities to do what we love abound. People rally around us, support our dreams and efforts. Somehow, the way opens once we know what way we want to take.

This abundance didn't hit me until I was speaking to Richard tonight. I was telling him what I was interested in and why. I am in the midst of researching doctoral programs in public policy and there is one in particular that just feels right, that lights a fire in my eyes and heart, the same way that the Darden School was the absolute right fit for my MBA. There are others that seem fine as well, though I just can't seem to feel as excited about them as I am about this other program. And then a little panic set in. What if they don't take me? Then how will I ever get this work done that I now know I am fitted to do?

I thought about this on the subway ride home, actually I worried about it. And I played it through in my mind. What if this program didn't want me? What if the other programs didn't fit quite right? What if this degree just wouldn't be possible for me to get? I felt this way when applying to Darden, too. The only other program I applied to was Tuck, and after visiting Tuck, I knew that wasn't the right fit, so Darden quickly became the only place I could or would or wanted to go. On my drive back to DC from Charlottesville, after my interview and visit to grounds, after I had fallen deeply in love with Darden and the prospect of being a student there, I wondered what I would do if I didn't get in. I decided to do one of two things: I'd join the Peace Corps, also a lifelong dream of mine, or I'd move right back to New York where I knew I eventually wanted to make my home. That's it. Very simple.

As luck would have it, I was accepted at Darden on December 1st. I distinctly remember jumping for joy, accepting over the phone, and breathing a great big sigh of relief. I got exactly what I wanted. So now, I'm at that same point again. What will I do if this one program that seems perfect for me doesn't take me? Now there are many more options for this new road - maybe I'll teach full-time, go back into nonprofit work, start my own business, write, and continue to be an active volunteer. Maybe New York City government will prove to be the way for me. Yes, I confirmed, I have lots of options.

I emerged from the subway a few hours ago with a lighter heart. John Dewey would smile knowing that there are so many opportunities I could secure to go about doing my life's work. After all, he is the one who said we climb mountains so that we can see other mountains. From where I now stand, there are so many peaks in my landscape that a valley is scarcely able to be seen. With so many routes to happiness, the work for me now lies not in the finding but in the choosing. And that in itself is reason to smile.

The photo above is not my own. It can be found here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - What We Love

"Let the beauty of what you love be what you do." ~ Rumi

So often we spend our time wondering what we should do with our lives that will make us successful, useful, and financially stable. What will bring us the greatest amount of happiness is always secondary to these other considerations when we think of our careers. We think "what can I do as a career so that it will give me the freedom to pursue what I really love down the road or after hours." Today I thought a lot about how much more good we could actually do in the world if we approach our careers from a place of love first and everything else - success, money, utility - second.

This is especially on my mind today because another group of people I know lost their jobs. The news completely blind-sided all of us. It's with a heavy heart that I went about my business today, wondering how I'd feel if I were in their shoes. How would I react? What would I say? Would I view the news as a great opportunity or an unfortunate circumstance? And then the question that caused me the greatest discomfort - who's to say it won't be me tomorrow? "Down the road" could very well be right now.

This idea of impermanence keeps running through my mind. In my new apartment building, there was a fire on the 10th floor on the other side of the building. When I heard the news, I panicked for a moment. Last night I kept waking up because I could not get images of black smoke out of my mind. That awful scent seems stuck in my nose. I remember too clearly rounding the corners of those stairs in my old building, clinging to the railing, crouching and scrambling and praying, as I was passing by apartments that were burning just on the other side of those walls. I remember how lucky I was that I left that building when I did. A few more minutes and it would have all unfolded very differently.

This little fire on the 10th floor of my new building was successfully extinguished before causing too much trouble, though it's as if the Universe is flashing a great big reminder at me just as I'm getting comfortable in my new surroundings. "Remember the important things in life aren't things. You cannot afford complacence." I wanted to reply, "Yes, thank you Universe, I hear you. I'm working on a new plan for my life right now and I'm getting all the details ironed out. Now could you please stop playing with fire in my presence? And by the way, it's rude and cruel to be so threatening."

All joking aside, I'm trying hard to live every moment of my life from a place of love, love for my self, and my community, and the people I care about. I want to take Rumi's idea one step further and let the beauty of what I love be not just what I do, but also who I am. It's easy to put on disguises; it's easy to tell ourselves this is who I am at work or school or with this person or that person or when I'm alone. What I'm striving for is to be one kind of person all the time, to make "down the road" today, to make my after-hours activities my every hour's activities. In short, I'm striving for authenticity. And it seems to me that the surest way to authenticity begins with always with knowing what and who we love.

The image about is not my own. It can be found here.

My latest post on Examiner.com: Interview with Founders of Code Blue

Two weeks ago, I had the great fortune of spending some time with the founders of Code Blue, a recovery drink that is made for people who need to feel refreshed without caffeine, added sugar, or preservatives. In one amazing little can you’ll find an elixir that hydrates, replenishes, detoxifies and reduces inflammation. Oh, and it tastes good, too! Sweetened with agave nectar, Code Blue has a proprietary formula that contains prickly pear, Sustamine (an amino acid that promotes muscle hydration and electrolyte replacement), B12, B6, vitamin C, and potassium.

Not convinced that any drink can do all that and taste delicious? I wasn’t either so I sat down with the founders, Michael Sachs and Jeffrey Frumin, to have a little tasting of my own. Now I’m hooked!

For the full article, click here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Stories We Tell Ourselves and Others

Today was not a good day in the ordinary sense. I had a conversation that disturbed me on a very deep level, one that really made me question who I am and what I'm about and what I mean to do in this world. Luckily a friend of mine set me in the right direction - he helped me see that this conversation is a very good thing for me. It's helping me to realize the next step in my life in a very clear way.

After work I went with my friend, Col, to the West Village's The Bitter End to see The Moth, a group that does a themed open-mike night of storytelling. After my day, I needed to laugh and lose myself in someone else's stories and The Moth provided just the release I needed. 10 brave souls took to the stage, after their names were drawn from a hat, and discussed their stories that revolved around the theme of disguises. They told us about experiences where they had to pretend to be someone they're not to accomplish something - to earn a paycheck, to meet someone whom they wanted to meet, to realize who they truly are. They were all poignant and hilarious, and Sara Barron, the MC, is a brilliant comic.

Traveling home, I kept thinking about the stories from The Moth that revolved around people who put on a mask, sometimes literally, and then put down that mask to be who they really are. For some, it took an unhappy situation, like the one I experienced today, to make them truly embrace who they are. They had to be forced to pretend to be someone else before they could actually find their own true voices. And in their own true voices, they were able to tell their own stories, their own truths. It was exactly the lesson I needed to transform a tough personal day into a day of learning.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Sonic Yoga

It seems that I just cannot resist the pull of being a student again. Some people can't wait to get out of school and spread their wings. The moment I graduate, I'm trying to figure how to continue to be a student. Call it an addiction. Weez, my sister, tells me that my end goal in life is to figure out how to be a professional student. She, as usual, is right.

In 2004, I took a weekend course through Yoga Fit that gave me a very basic teacher certification. This was before Yoga Alliance became the true gold standard. I have taught free classes to friends and colleagues though now, after many years of practice, I have decided that I want to be more dedicated to my practice and to join the community of fully-certified teachers. For the practice that has given me so much, it is now my turn to provide the comfort of yoga to others through teaching. I've been trying out a lot of different studios in New York - we are blessed with many! - and doing research on different teacher training programs. While they have been amazing finds, none of them felt quite right to me until today when I stepped into Sonic Yoga in Hell's Kitchen.

The gracious and masterful Johanna quickly put me at ease, put the entire packed classroom at ease. I knew I found my home. Sonic Yoga is not fancy; it's homey, comfortable, and filled with so much positive energy and warmth. People laugh in class; it's one of the few places in New York where you are encouraged to not put on a show, but to just be exactly as you are.

Today's lesson was about surrender, letting go of the stories we tell ourselves, freeing ourselves from situations in life that just aren't working for us. Johanna asked us to continue to repeat one of the following three mantra throughout our class - "I surrender", "I don't know", or "not my will". She asked us not to choose the one that felt the best to us, but rather to choose the one that bothered us the most. "I don't know". Those words haunt me. At one point during the class, they made my eyes tear up. I'm tearing up now just thinking about this. My life is on very uncertain ground right now. While I know what I want and have an idea how to get there, I am having to give up a lot of the stories that have sustained me in order to make the change.

I am now in the process of turning away from things in my life that just don't fit. And I don't care what anyone says - the process of good-bye is hard. Even when we know we need to let something go for our own good, it still hurts. There are dreams that have to be put to rest. There are people who aren't good for us. There are situations that we must remove ourselves from. I'm now in the process of deciding what dreams, people, and situations those are. And while I have my eye fixed on the horizon of the new life I am so excited about, it means surrendering some aspects of my life now that I love. There are no certainties in life; there are many things that we don't know, that we can't know. We must learn to be comfortable with not knowing.

Throughout the 90 minute class, I would repeat to myself "I don't know". I kept reminding myself that I can do this; I can surrender, even if it hurts. Keep a stuff upper lip and just muscle through. And then Johanna said, "you don't like those words, do you?" "No," I thought, "I don't." And then as if inside my head, Johanna said, "that's okay. Acknowledge how hard this is, how much it bothers you. And then keep going." So I did the only thing I was certain I could do. I could keep going through the asanas. I could keep moving, even with tear-filled eyes, even with a heavy heart, even while saying good-bye, I could keep moving toward my beautiful life ahead.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Teaching at Hunter College

"Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater." ~ Gail Godwin, American novelist

"If you have stage fright, it never goes away. But then I wonder: is the key to that magical performance because of the fear?" ~
Stevie Nicks

Today marked my first college class teaching. My friend, Jamie, teaches an introductory political science and an elections class at Hunter College. He asked if I would come in and guest teach on the topic of social media and popular elections. With a great amount of nervousness, I accepted and went this morning at 10am to teach 2 sessions.

I have a secret - I have an awful case of stage fright. I've been known to get sick to my stomach several times before making a presentation or acting in a performance. I have a few techniques I have tried over the years and only one really seems to work: quit whining and just do it. It's amazing that once I get to the stage or the front of the room, I'm completely fine. It's the anticipation of performance that brings on the butterflies.

And so it was at Hunter. I had made copious lecture notes and rehearsed in my apartment. I was wringing my hands a bit, and worrying. Would I add any value? Would the students think what I had to say was relevant? What if I couldn't answer a question? And here's the truly terrifying one - what if there was no reaction at all from anyone? What if all I heard was crickets amid a sea of empty, expressionless faces? Ouch.

True to past experience, none of these things happened. The classes were engaged, interested, and interesting. I learned as much as they did in the course of the preparation and the class itself. Teaching is exactly like theatre with an added component of more front-loaded research, and theatre and research I know I can do. What surprised me most is how much I loved teaching a college class. Truly loved it. The time flew by, and when I was finished, I wanted to teach another session. Yes, the PhD-route is certainly the right one for me. Now I know that for sure.

In preparation for the class, I have had the great fortunate of amazing professors as clear examples. At Darden where I got my MBA, professors teach the case method. No lecturing allowed. The professor's job is to draw students out, to engage them immediately, and keep the dialogue flowing non-stop for close to two hours. This is no easy task and for two years I had the privilege to sit with masters of this teaching method like Ed Freeman, Robert Spekman, and Alex Horniman.

I have also been watching and studying Michael Sandel, a professor at Harvard who teaches a wildly popular class entitled simply "Justice". For the first time, the class is being shown on-line for free at http://www.justiceharvard.org. Every Thursday a new class is uploaded. Sandel, like my Darden professors, is a master teacher that manages to engage and facilitate discussion in a very large lecture hall. Watching him made me re-consider teaching as a profession, and reignited my interest in going back to school and getting a PhD. I must remember to send him a thank you card.

I have just created an account on slideshare.net and uploaded the presentation I gave this morning at Hunter. I build presentations as guides for a discussion and not stand-alone documents. I'm glad to walk anyone through the presentation if they're interested!

Friday, October 23, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Vermonty

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." ~ Henry B. Adams

While Mr. Adams meant for this post to be about professional teachers, I'm learning that we are all always teachers, just as we are all always students. Every moment that we're living, we're teaching. What we teach to others says an awful lot about who we are and the significance of our lives. Just as we get what we give, we learn what we teach. What we teach is our contribution to humanity, and this is not something to be taken lightly.

What I try to be mindful of in every moment is that every action we take, every word we say has true lasting effects that we will never know. That applies to every stranger we meet, as well as everyone in our personal and professional lives. That means every personal interaction, as well as every anonymous interaction. There is no excuse for leaving out please, thank you, and a smile. There is no excuse for not doing what we say we will do. Being polite, courteous, gracious, and follow-through will get us farther in this world than anything else.

Years later, others will still be thinking about what we said and did and how we treated them. I'd prefer they think well of me than ill of me. And sometimes that requires swallowing my pride a little bit, and not saying exactly what I think all of the time. Publilius Syrus got it right when he said, "I have often regretted my speech, never my silence." I've learned that lesson many times over, the hard way. A little filter is good.

I'm not saying that this is easy to always remember or do. I try to get it as right as I can as often as I can. Sometimes I fall short and in the aftermath I feel a bit badly. I just double-down my efforts and try to do better going forward. At the same time that I accepted that we're all lifelong teachers and students, I also gave up the pursuit of perfection - both realizations have helped enormously.

When I got into my apartment building elevator a few weeks ago, a man I've never met before stepped in after me. I had just gotten home from a rough day, and I wasn't feeling particularly cheery. I could have looked down at my feet, lost in my own sad thoughts. Instead I looked up and smiled at the man in the elevator.

He smiled and asked me, "are you from Vermont?" I laughed.

"No, I'm not," I said, "but I spent a summer there doing a theatre internship when I was in college."

"Oh," he said. "Are they nice there in Vermont?"

"Very," I said.

"You just look like a very nice person. And I always associate being very nice with being from Vermont. You look very Vermonty."

"Well, thank you," I giggled.

"See - that's what I mean," he said. "So polite, those people from Vermont."

He hopped off the elevator and bid me good night. A small interaction considering all of the interactions I had that day. I don't know his name. He doesn't know mine. I may never see him again. But weeks later, I'm still thinking of him. I smiled to myself. Vermonty - that's a last impression I can live with.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - A Room (or Two) of My Own, Eventually

Tonight I went to a session offered by Mindy Diane Feldman, a Penn alum and SVP at Halstead Realty, on the ins and outs of buying an apartment in Manhattan. It is a complicated, cumbersome process and the current economic downtown has heightened the complexity considerably. The session lasted almost 3 hours and we just barely scratched the surface. It is not an undertaking for the faint of heart! While many of the other alums left feeling a little dejected and depressed how complicated the process is, I felt lifted up. I felt like I was armed with a little information that would help me to move in the right direction of finding a room (or two, or three) of my own on this tiny little island that I love so much.

Some of my friends are surprised by my desire to stay in New York after this September. I can understand the confusion. I had the opportunity to just pick up and go somewhere new after losing my last apartment and most of my belongings. Realizing how much I don't need in the way of material belongings, why would I ever want to be tied down and own my own tiny place?

I don't have a clean answer. All I can say is that the thought of leaving New York never crossed my mind. In fact, I feel it's even more important now for me to know my neighbors and my building and my neighborhood by owning an apartment. I am so tired of starting over. I've done it every year since I was 18 years old. I've had enough moving and transience in my life. A temporary dwelling is no longer appealing to me. And while I'd love to work abroad on an assignment and travel extensively, I finally found the city where I feel most at home. After so much looking and so much loss, the comfort of calling someplace a real home brings me a tremendous sense of peace.

I won't even attempt to cover the 3 hour session in this blog post. I can't even list all of the highlights in a reasonable amount of space. Here are the top 5 pieces I found most useful in my decision to begin working toward buying my own place:

1.) There are huge differences between co-ops, condos, and "condops". Each has its positives and negatives and determining which one is the right one for us takes extensive research and soul-searching.

2.) Unlike with rentals where I find most brokers to be a little tough to handle, when we buy a place, particularly in New York City, our real estate broker is our very best ally, resource, and champion. Interview them. Ask A LOT of questions, and go exclusively with 1 broker (and tell them that you're doing so.) If they know that you've committed to them, they will be committed to you. They are the lynch pin to helping you go from being a renter to an owner.

3.) There is actually a triumvirate of allies that are critical to buying an apartment in Manhattan: the real estate broker, an established, private residence real estate attorney, and a financial broker. The real estate broker is the pilot of the entire transaction and the other two are the co-pilots.

4.) The savings process and the purchase process are long affairs. Mindy opened the session by asking who was interested in buying an apartment in the next 3 years. That was the shortest time horizon she asked about. With today's climate and for the foreseeable future it takes much more money than it ever has before to buy an apartment. It is a serious investment of time and money. At first I thought it was foolish for me to go to this session because I am several years away from being able to purchase an apartment. Mindy helped me realize that planning now, years out, is the best thing I could possibly do!

5.) I'm one of those people who is always out in the world looking for opportunity. With the economic downturn and the real estate crash, I've been wondering if I should buy now, even if I'm not really ready. Deals abound so shouldn't I take advantage of them? Mindy's answer was an emphatic "no". A home is not our retirement or our 401K. It is an investment on a very different level. There is a psychological, emotional, and financial investment wrapped up in one and it needs to be treated with greater care than any other investment we make. To buy when we aren't ready, financially or emotionally, is a huge mistake. Gaming the economic situation is not a good idea. Buy when you're personally ready.

Given the value of this session, I highly recommend getting in touch with Mindy should you be interested in learning about the apartment buying process in Manhattan and determining if it's the right thing for you. She can be reached at 212.317.7887 or mfeldman@halstead.com.

My latest post on Examiner: Interview with Phyllis Neill, Founder of WeMentor Social Media Marketing

Meet Phyllis Neill. Phyllis and I met almost a year ago via Twitter and we’ve been social media pals ever since. After running her own business and working a full-time day job for nearly a year, she has taken the entrepreneurial plunge. Her business is WeMentor Social Media Marketing - http://www.wementorsmm.com/. She develops social media strategies for businesses.

Previously, I featured Phyllis in this column with her business SheMentor, a service that focused on executive coaching for women. Phyllis spoke with me recently about her new business, balancing a day job and a start-up, and her company’s change in focus. My thanks to her for sharing her insights and advice.

To read the full interview with Phyllis, click here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Mountains

The dots continue to connect in my life. I've been working on a children's story for the past month and that's led me to renew my interest in children's literature. I've gone through a set of books by Blue Balliet that are set in the Laboratory Schools in Chicago. That school was founded by John Dewey, one of the greatest influences in public education to date. He also happened to found The New School where I am considering the PhD program in Public and Urban Policy. His approach to education resonates so deeply with me and I've been doing a lot of independent research on him.

Today I came across a book entitled John Dewey and the Philosophy and Practice of Hope. In it there is a curriculum for teaching a class on hope which would make an excellent addition to my curriculum for Citizen Schools. It is taught at UNC Charlotte by Stephen Fishman, one of the book's authors along with Lucille McCarthy. John Dewey has a lot to say about the subject of hope and many students took Professor Fishman's class for the same reason I'm writing a year-long series about hope on this blog - to feel more hopeful.

As it turns out, Dewey's whole philosophy about life was based on hope. Max Otto, philosopher and close friend of Dewey, recounted John Dewey's philosophy of hope as illustrated in a dialogue he had with a student:

Student: What's the good of [philosophy]?

Dewey: The good of it is that you climb mountains.

Student: And what's the use of doing that?

Dewey: You see other mountains to climb.

Today, someone said to me that if she could just accomplish this one thing she wanted to do that would be a victory. She could check that off her list; with that victory she would "win". This sounded so odd to me. Isn't the point of a victory to let you do even greater things down the line, similar to the mountains that Dewey talked about with his students.

At a Darden alumni reception tonight, I was reminded that this is the ultimate goal of education, too. We get an education not for the accomplishment we get with the degree, but rather because of the doors that it opens, because climbing that mountain of books and papers and exams allows us to see and climb other mountains. Mountains we never knew existed. And it gives us the confidence to make our way in the world.

A victory, a diploma, a "win" isn't an ending at all - it's always a gateway to something bigger. This is reason enough to always keep going, to always keep moving forward. Obstacles become just challenges. Hard times become opportunities for learning and strength and growth. Disappointments and loss help us realize what's really important in our lives. Those mountains are more than just things to climb and accomplish. They are our very reason for living.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Use Design to Change Fist Stick Knife Gun

Over the past few weeks I have had a series of fortunate coincidences. I know the universe is always talking to us, that we are always in receipt of messages that connect us and bind us together, that point toward the way we are supposed to take. In my heart I know this, though given my surprisingly thick skull, those messages some times have difficulty reaching my brain. That surprisingly thick skull of mine often has to be clobbered over the head several times in order to "get it".

The series of some of the fortunate events has unfolded as follows:
1.) A few weeks ago I had my very rough draft of Innovation Station, an after-school program, accepted by Citizen Schools, an outstanding organization that exists to help average folks like me put together a curriculum we're passionate about to teach in public middle schools.

2.) Just about the same time that Citizen Schools accepted my proposal, my former boss, Bob, sent me an invitation to attend an event on design thinking hosted by the Rotman School of Management. Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo and one of the featured speakers at the event, just released his first book called Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. It is a powerful "blueprint for creative leaders" in a variety of sectors. Hmmm....sounds like a brilliant jumping off point for an after-school program about innovation, doesn't it? (I'm attending the Rotman School event and writing about it for Examiner and for TJCC; I hope to meet Tim and get his take on Innovation Station.)

3.) This week I have come across dozens of articles about the renewed focus on after-school programs, both from a funding and legislative perspective. Here are some examples: Home Alone, Peering at the Future, The Uneducated American, Paterson Proposes Cuts to Close Deficit.

4.) Last week, my friend, Wayne, took me to the annual meeting for Children's Health Fund, an organization that got its start at a grassroots level in one tiny area of Harlem and has grown to an international organization with the mission to advocate and assure healthcare for every child, everywhere. I want to do the same thing for education and their model and messaging is such an inspiration. They work with Harlem Children's Zone, an organization started by Geoffrey Canada that is a holistic system of education, social-service and community-building programs aimed at helping the children and families in a 97-block area of Central Harlem.

5.) About a month ago, my friend, Dan, told me about a podcast that featured Geoffrey Canada. I just picked up his book Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America. I can't put it down and I think I just found my calling. I googled Harlem Children's Zone tonight and discovered that the two schools where I will be teaching for Citizen Schools are in the same area as the Harlem Children's Zone.

6.) My friend, Amanda Steinberg, and her company, Soapbxx, designed the Harlem Children's Zone website.

7.) The PhD program I've been looking at within The New School was recently highlighted by Bruce Nussbaum, a journalist whom I greatly admire. He writes about design and innovation. He is a professor at Parsons, one of the other schools within The New School. He has been writing a lot about design thinking, social entrepreneurship, and Tim Brown's book. He believes that Design Thinking can transform systems like healthcare and education. So do I. So do a growing number of people. This is about to get very exciting.

As I was getting off the subway tonight and heading home I had the distinct feeling that there is no turning back for me now. I finally get what the universe is trying to tell me. I will not be able to sit still knowing that what I have to offer in the way of business, product development, an appreciation for design, and a passion for education as a tool to build a solid future, so clearly matches an unmet need in the world. This is the mash-up of work I was meant to do.

This journey was a long one. My life's work has been in front of me all along, since I was a kid facing a lot of the struggles that too many kids face. I just didn't know that it should or could be the work of my life. It took me the better part of 33 years to figure out what I was meant to do with my time here. And now that I know, the fear has dissipated completely. The anxiety about my future evaporated and has been replaced by only excitement and a feeling of purpose. Goethe would tell us that there is magic in commitment. He was right. I know that now.

I had lots of wrong turns, lots of dead-ends, and lots of disappointments. Nothing ever felt right, though I had a ton of fun in the exploration process. I wouldn't change any of it. I'm just grateful and glad that I won't have to die with the music still in me, as John Lennon lamented about so many people. Finally, finally, finally I know I'm on the cusp of my life's work. It's stretched out before me like a beautiful winding road, and it's time for me to hop aboard and get going. In those poignant, truthful words of Theodore Geisel, my mountain is waiting.

The beautiful image above is not my own. It can be found here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Sunsets and Moments

The brilliant women over at Owning Pink made one of my recent posts to their blog their homepage this morning. I'm honored and humbled. Thanks to Keith for inspiring this post. From the comments on the original Owning Pink blog, it helped a lot of people. It's an amazing gift to be able to write things that help others - especially since this writing helps me so much.

"On Saturday afternoon as I was walking back to my apartment, I came around the corner and saw this amazing sunset, one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. I raced upstairs to my apartment, grabbed by camera, and jumped out the window to snap a photo of it. And you know what? It didn’t work. No matter what settings I changed on my camera, I just couldn’t get the photo of the sunset to look the way it actually was. My eyes saw something so much more beautiful than my camera could capture and hold.

So all I could do was stand there on the roof, basking in the glory of all those colors. As the sky turned darker, the sunset got more and more beautiful. The colors evolved and mingled and every moment was more incredible than the moment before. Our lives are like that, too, so long as we just let them unfold in their own time, in their own way.

With every experience, our lives grow richer, each one adding its own little dab of color. I know that all of the things I’m working on now are little dabs, and they might not seem like they belong together just yet. I know that they will find a way to work together, and that eventually the art of my life will emerge. That will happen for all of us. It’s not a matter of if, just a matter of when. Our only job is to show up every day, for ourselves and for the people we love, and let life unfold moment by moment.

Today someone sent me an amazing video from Radio Lab about moments. http://blogs.wnyc.org/radiolab/2009/08/14/16-moments/

I love it so much that I’ve played it over several times now. It features the moments of every day life, mostly things we take for granted. As I watched the video I became even more aware that these little moments, the things we don’t or can’t capture and hold, are the building blocks of our lives. While mostly simple and ordinary this is the stuff of our days. It reminded me that there is always time and cause for celebration.

In what ways can you slow things down, just a little? What is there to notice? How might it change the way you live, love, and celebrate?

Watching it all unfold,
Christa"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The future's arrived

"The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet." ~ William Gibson, author of Neuromancer

The future is a funny thing. It can surprise us. It can frighten us and delight us. When it unfolds, we understand its logic though in the moment it seems to completely confuse us. It's true of the larger world's future and of our own personal futures, too.

As Weez, Lorelei, and I were heading to the Glass Garden at the Rusk Institute today, I was telling them about my plans for school and work and every other aspect of my life that I could think of for the foreseeable future. It all seemed to make so much sense, even though only several weeks ago nothing really seemed to make sense at all. It seems that so much is falling into place, as if I had these little pieces and the slots they fit into all along; I just wasn't sure how to configure them until now.

When I think about the next year of my life, all of my projects seem to be falling into the time line in a startling beautiful pattern. It's as if the future is already here, that it has been here for some time. It just took me a while to see it for myself. A few things in my life needed to be cleared away, things that were distracting me. At the time, I didn't even know those things were distractions. I didn't even know that they needed to go but the world knew. My future knew what I needed to keep moving forward.

Lately my body has gotten into the unfortunate habit of waking up at 4am on the nose every morning so I try to make that time useful. When this happens, I stare out the window at the water towers. I have a glass of milk. Some times I do some easy yoga poses and I think about my future. I try to think of an image that calms me down and lulls me back to sleep.

Recently, I've been imagining myself as a high diver in the form of a Maxfield Parrish painting. I face this beautiful forest as I stand at the very edge of a cliff. I raise my arms and face up to the sun, I bend my knees, and I jump. Rather than falling to the Earth, the wind catches me and I float under a sky of beautiful colors. I've been thinking of the forest as all of the experiences I've had to date and the beautiful colors of the sky as my future. Those colors have yet to fully take shape, though their very beginnings have certainly arrived.

The painting above depicts "Mountain Ecstasy" by Maxfield Parrish.

The Journal of Cultural Conversation - Power of 5

The latest post on TJCC:

A few weeks ago, I went to the 92Y to hear Dr. Muhammed Yunus speak. He is considered by many to be the founder of the micro-credit movement and he’s one of my heroes.

By his own will and ability to inspire hope in others, he has lifted thousands up out of poverty, or rather helped thousands lift themselves up out of poverty.

He glows with good energy.

To read the full article please visit: http://www.thejcconline.com/the-power-of-5/

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Grey Matter, White Matter

I've been thinking a lot about aging this week. During my yoga practice I noticed that my lower back had some weird pain, just a small twinge, when I flatten out my back and lift up. I've never had that pain before and I don't know what could be causing it except maybe that I'm not as young I used to be. Not that I'm old by any stretch. Not by a long shot. I just have to actually be conscious of my health now.

This weekend, my niece is visiting me. She is 21 months. I'm having a blast chasing her around. Today we went apple picking and I got to experience that joy all over again with fresh eyes. I forgot how much fun it is to be out in the fresh air, picking apples, and running up grassy hills. When we got back to my apartment tonight, I went into the bathroom to wash my face and noticed that I look shockingly younger. And it's not that I have some magic moisturizer. I think it's just the glow of happiness that we gain by being around a little ball of energy.

Earlier this week, I heard Jean Chatzky speak. She's been thinking a lot about aging lately, too. And she's been doing some research involving neuroscience. Specifically neuroscience that relates to aging. As it turns out when we are very young, our grey matter is growing, too. Literally, the number of neurons is increasing, making us, well, neurotic. So all those crazy thoughts and emotions and mood swings we have in our teens and 20's are to be expected. Blame it on the growth of grey matter. After our 20's, the growth of grey matter slows and the growth of white matter, the part of our brain that connects our neurons, grows well into middle age. So this process of becoming older and wiser is not a nice metaphor to make us feel better about aging. It actually has some serious science behind it. As we age we become less neurotic and more able to see connections between thoughts, ideas, and experiences.

What keeps coming to the forefront of my mind is how do I keep my body young and my brain moving forward at the same time. The greatest question of our time, I suppose. How do we make sure to keep our outlook fresh while also preserving the wisdom we've worked so hard to attain? How do I keep the energy of youth and take comfort in having an old soul? Perhaps it's just a balance - holding my youth in one hand and my age in the other. There is a time for age old wisdom and a time for a new outlook. The trick is to know when to utilize each.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Journal of Cultural Conversation launches a re-designed site

Hello contributors to and supporters of The Journal of Cultural Conversation (TJCC)!
Just wanted to let you know that the new site is up - we're still working out a few of the kinks, but we're absolutely thrilled about the new look and feel. We'll be posting this weekend and will be somewhat revising our posting schedule moving forward - but will keep everyone informed on the site.

Come visit us at http://thejcconline.com and join the conversation!

As we're getting the word out, and if you feel so inclined, we'd be so appreciative if you'd spread the word about our new home - even a Tweet would help :)

Again, thanks so much for all of your support. We'd love to hear any and all comments and feedback on the new design and content. We're really excited!

My Year of Hopefulness - Where the Wild Things Are (and Were)

"One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." ~ Andre Gide, Nobel laureate in literature

My sister, Weez, and her family are visiting me for a week. My brother-in-law, Kyle, is a painter and given the cold weather we're having in New York City, this vacation is all about museums. For several weeks, he's been scouting cultural websites to see what exhibits are currently open. One of the exhibits that caught his interest is at the Morgan Library, and includes original sketches, watercolors, and book notes from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Being avid fans of children's literature, we stopped in there today to have a look.

I have loved
Where the Wild Things Are since I was little. I loved it because of its use of theatre and imagination. Max and his make-believe adventures made me believe that I could travel to distant and strange lands, too. Now as a writer, visiting this exhibit brought a whole new back story to the book. Originally the story was about wild horses, not the Wild Things we have come to know and love. Sendak abandoned the project for many years before completing it. During his first attempt he wrote that the story felt forced so he had to put it aside for now. He kept returning to it again and again to see if the story might flow more easily on another attempt. Eventually, he found an open door. My favorite margin note is "focus on Max." Despite his mastery of storytelling, he had to deal with all of the same anxieties so many other writers deal with: not knowing what comes next, starting a story, dropping it, and picking it back up again at a more suitable time, and the feeling that his focus was sometimes a bit off.

As much as I love Sendak's writing, his thoughts on his writing were even more interesting to me. The exhibit reaffirmed for me that writing is a physical workout in many respects. It's something that must be practiced consistently, even when the writing doesn't come easily. There will be periods of frustration when the words just don't flow the way we'd like them to and that's okay. Focus and commitment is something we must continually strive for, and some times we will need to write ourselves a prescription for them, a reminder of what's really important. And that's okay, too.

It's so easy to think that genius in any form belongs to the few, the gifted. Realizing that people whom I admire so much, such as Sendak, are just ordinary people like me reminds me that there is a little genius in all of us. Within everyone's imaginations, there is a brilliant story, our own
Where the Wild Things Are, that is brewing. The land of the Wild Things is always right here beside us. To get it down, we just need to commit to showing up at our computers or at our notebooks with a wide open heart, a good set of ears, and an abundance of patience and determination in equal amounts.

The image above is an illustration by Sendak from Where the Wild Things Are

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Standing on the Hinge

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." ~ Victor Frankl

I just finished the book Here If You Need Me, a brilliant memoir by Kate Braestrup. Kate is a writer who became a minster shortly after her husband's death. Being a minister wasn't her dream; it was her late husband's dream and because he didn't get the chance to achieve that, she offered up her own vocation for him. She is the chaplain to the game wardens of Maine, the group of brave public servants who conduct searches for people who are lost in the deep Maine woods, the person who falls through the ice, the hiker who ventures too far for too long. Their work can be dangerous and frequently ends with a tragic discovery. They need a good chaplain and they have a superb one in Kate.

The book is a fast, inspiring read. Of all the anecdotes that stand out in my mind, the most vivid in my mind is her description of her job as standing on the hinge of life. Kate is the one who waits with the families as the game wardens search for their loved ones that are lost or missing. She counsels the wardens after tragic circumstances are discovered. She stands with them in these uncomfortable, difficult moments that will come to define their lives. These are the moments that define their befores and afters.

All through the book I kept thinking about this metaphor, this hinge of life. I kept thinking about how many hinges I've been on lately. These moments that define my own befores and afters. Each one presents an opportunity for choice - we get to choose our attitude, our way forward, our outlook, and the learnings we take away from each experience.

September 2009 could have left a very deep scar on my heart. Instead, I had to make it a time of great learning and exploration. I had to make those days count by allowing them to teach me what's truly important to me. They became a time of great commitment for me. Instead of being wracked by fear, I realized that I had nothing to fear because I knew I would be fine no matter what happened from here on out. I survived the perfect storm.

September was one big hinge for me and gave me the chance to recognize quite literally that the important things in life aren't things. It taught me that I want very deep, meaningful relationships to be the core of my life. I set myself on a course to eventually write full-time. New York most certainly became my long-time home. On October 1st, I knew with certainty what I wanted from my life with a clarity I've never had before. And it feels great.

Hinges are difficult. They are filled with great expectations and great hesitancy. They are points of no turning back. Unless we're people like Kate, we only get a few opportunities to stand at the hinge of our own lives. Life doesn't offer up learnings and choices of that type of poignancy every day. And thank goodness because they can be incredibly stressful times. Though when we get the chance to stand at the edge of our lives and decide in a very profound way who we are and who we mean to be, it's an opportunity we should approach with a grateful and open heart. After all, we will not be able to pass this way again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Children's Health Fund

Tonight my friend and colleague, Wayne, took me to the annual meeting for Children's Health Fund (CHF). Knowing my interest in and past experience with nonprofit organizations, he knew I would be interested. What he didn't know, and frankly what I didn't know, is that CHF would be a perfect match for my interests on a variety of levels.

Personally and professionally, the mission of CHF to provide and advocate for quality medical care for every child resonates with me. Due to a drastic change in my family situation when I was a young child, my family lived below the poverty line and without health care for a good number of years. As an undergraduate, I did my senior economics thesis on the quality of healthcare for children below the poverty line living in West Philadelphia; the paper was based on my work-study job assisting one of the lead pediatricians at Children's Seashore House (now a part of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia). Additionally, I am considering the Public and Urban Policy PhD program at The New School because of my growing interest in inner-city education, and inner-city education requires caring for the whole child, healthcare included. There are certain points in our lives when the stars perfectly align, and tonight felt like one of those nights.

I had the great honor of hearing Karen Redlener, the Executive Director, and her talented staff speak about the 2008 accomplishments of CHF. 70,000 children received medical care through 210,000 patient visits and 613 medical professional received training through CHF's programs in 25 cities across the country. In a time when so many organizations, for-profit and non-profit, are pulling back and remaining cautious, CHF is stepping up their game.

Jane Pauley, one of CHF's dedicated board members and someone I greatly admire, explained why CHF is continuing to push forward and grow their goals as opposed to cutting back. In this recession, fear is everywhere. And while it might at first seem inconceivable that any organization could maintain their funding during this recession much less grow it, CHF keeps looking up and reaching higher.

Why, you ask? The sound barrier. Jane Pauley told the story of the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Previously, when pilots came up against the intense shaking caused by approaching speeds close to the sound barrier, they would pull the throttle back. A fatal mistake. Chuck Yeager did something different - when his plane approached the sound barrier, shaking badly, he pushed the throttle forward, went faster, and broke the sound barrier altogether. He is literal proof that if we press on, despite adversity, there are great rewards to be had when we come out the other side. CHF and Chuck Yeager are of the same mind.

Healthcare has been front page news every day this week; it's been at the top of the Obama agenda for months; it was a major issue in the 2008 Presidential campaign. This is healthcare's moment; this is CHF's moment. For over 20 years, Irwin Redlener and Paul Simon, the co-founders, along with their dedicated, passionate team have been working tirelessly on behalf of children and their right to quality healthcare. The debates are raging on Capitol Hill and across this country. The plane is shaking, and we cannot pull the throttle back. We are so close to breaking through, so close to having quality, affordable care for every American. CHF is continuing to stand its ground with dignity and grace, fortified by the simple belief that all children everywhere have a right to be healthy.

We need them to succeed in this mission. By the end of 2009, 1:5 children in the U.S. will be below the poverty line. 1:5. Of all the facts and figures we review every day, that might be the scariest I've heard. We can't afford to have 20% of our nation's children grow up poor and unhealthy. Think the healthcare of others isn't your problem? Think again. Their future is our future. And they need us. All of us. Someone has to stand up for them if we are to have any hope at all in the future of our nation. CHF is giving it everything they've got, and they need more. They need us. To find out how you can help, visit the Children's Heath Fund website.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Healthcare Future I'd Like to See

Yesterday was my first visit to my new general practitioner. My doctor retired about a year ago and I wasn't crazy about him anyway so I needed to find a new one. A friend of mine referred me to his doctor. The wait for an appointment with him was a bit long, though my friend assured me that he was the best. I can wait a bit for the best.

I went in to get my annual physical and to have my breathing checked. (The Red Cross had mentioned to me that after the apartment building fire, I should have my lungs checked just to make sure that everything is clear.) I expected to be in the waiting room for about 30 minutes for a routine physical that included about 5 minutes with the doctor. Instead, my doctor picked me up in the waiting room, exactly at my appointment time, with an extended hand and a smile. We spoke for about 20 minutes as he put my medical history into his computer in his office. I had the opportunity to ask him questions and tell him about any health concerns I have.

Then we went to a room that adjoined his office where he measured my weight, height, blood pressure, etc. He checked my breathing, my internal organs, and gave me my flu shot. The doctor. I will be the first person to stand up for nurses and say that they are underpaid, under appreciated, and overworked. And I will also say that it was very refreshing to have a doctor performing the mundane tasks of a check-up.

I told him about my upcoming trip to Costa Rica to make sure I didn't need any additional vaccines. Turns out that he volunteered in the hospital in the center of the small town where I will be volunteering. What are the odds? He gave me a name of a restaurant his friend owns that I should visit, told me about a few museums and a theatre I should go to, and gave me the contact info for a nearby spa and beach that are also worth checking out. Then he handed me a card with his cell number and email address and told me that I should contact him at any time with any questions or concerns I have. "And please let me know how the trip goes," he said. And he meant it. I thought I stepped into a healthcare time warp. A doctor was actually taking his time and showing concern and compassion for me as a person, not just me as a patient.

This gives me great hope for healthcare. This is proof that it is possible to deliver quality, empathic care, even for procedures like routine physicals. I recognize that I am one of the fortunate people in this country to have high-quality health insurance and access to top care. What I didn't realize is that it is still possible in this day and age to deliver care with great concern.

Too often we are held at a distance from our medical doctors. We are seen as case studies and medical files and a combination of numbers and statistics. My doctor's visit was different. It was compassionate and delivered with real care for the whole person. In other words, it's exactly what medical delivery should be, not just in this country for those with a high income, but for everyone, everywhere.

The image above is not my own. It can be found here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Blessing of Mistakes

"A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery." ~ James Joyce, Irish novelist, from Ulysses

The passing of time can be a frustrating thing. We may spend time on one activity that leads us to a dead-end when we could have spent that time on something that would have lead us to a success. It's easy to become overwhelmed by how many ways we have to spend our time; so many in fact that we might feel that no matter how much we love what we're doing, we could always be doing something that would make us even happier. The odd paradox of choice, as Barry Schwartz calls it. Too many opportunities leads us to too many opportunity costs.
These increased opportunity costs are beginning to effect the way we view failure and mistakes.

Rather than valuable learning tools, we might be tempted to view them as a waste of time. Why should I try and fail and learn when there are so many other things I could be trying and possibly succeeding at? And yet we know that failure is a part of this life. We have to fail. We have to stretch ourselves well beyond our comfort zones, well beyond even the most optimistic view of our own abilities. If we don't push our limits and fail, then we'll never know exactly how much we can achieve. Unrealized achievement that was within our grasp had we pushed a little harder is far worse than failure.

I think about failure a lot. In terms of jobs and relationships and pursuits I've considered, even in places where I moved and tried to make a home. Sometimes I feel badly about all my failures, and then I consider so many of my brave friends and family who just refused to let fear stand in their way. My friend, Phyllis, who just today wrote to me and said she left her job to focus on her own business full-time. "I'm secretly scared sh*tless," she said. "
I think that’s probably fairly normal for anyone who quits a well-paying job in this crappy economy." I agree. And I'm so proud of her and inspired by her actions.

My friend, Allan, has a good paying job, albeit a little boring for him. He had the opportunity to continue with a new assignment there - one he could certainly do if he could just resign himself to not liking the job. Instead, he's taking a risk and going back to school for a graduate degree in mathematics, his greatest passion.


I have a few friends who are getting married next year. And guess what? They're all scared, too. They're afraid of failing, of being hurt, of hurting someone else. They're afraid of letting other people down, of wasting someone else's time. They're afraid they aren't enough. When I asked them if they really thought this was a good idea, to be getting married, they all said yes unequivocally. "Marriage," one of them said to me, "is the greatest leap of faith there is. We can be afraid of failure. We just can't let it prevent us from going after happiness."


What if we could think of failure as a blessing? What if we could seek out failure as a great teacher? And what if we opened up our hearts and minds and accepted and forgave our own failures and the failures of others, too? Would that kind of acceptance and forgiveness make the failures easier to bear and the successes that much sweeter to earn?

The image above is not my own. It can be found here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Walking with Faith Through Egypt

"For we walk by faith, not by sight." ~ 2 Corinthians 5:7

I went to the Egyptian Galleries today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I've been doing a little bit of fiction writing and needed to collect some research on Egypt. I suppose I could have could just looked it up on-line though it was a gorgeous day, I wanted to walk through the park, and there is not substitute for seeing the treasures of Egypt right in front of us.

The Egyptian Galleries are well-known as one of the favorite attractions for kids to the Met. The fiction piece I'm writing is actually for a young adult audience so I must admit that a little of my motivation was some good eaves dropping. Kids, of course, were fascinated by the mummies. "There's a dead person in there?" I heard numerous times. Followed invariable by the parents saying "yes" and the kids responding "cool". (For the record, that was my response in my mind, too.) They also loved the myriad of figurines, depictions of dogs, and all the fancy gold jewelry that literally glowed within the display cases. I easily saw a dozen kids striking a pose that matches the many Egyptian etchings that lined the walls of the galleries. I wanted to do that too, though I knew it wouldn't be as endearing an act for a 33 year old as it is for a 10 year old, so I held myself back.

To write fiction, we have to hang out with our characters, walk around with them, see the world through their eyes as well as our own. In this action, there are bits of dialogue that surface. We learn about the experiences of our characters the same way we get to know a new friend or someone we've just started dating. A little at a time, we learn where they've been, what they've seen, and where they hope their lives will go. I just walk beside them silently, recording everything.

There's a lot of faith involved in writing fiction. At the top of a blank page, we're never quite sure where we'll end up by the time we reach the bottom of that page. We have to be generous and patient and let the story unfold naturally, taking comfort that it will go exactly the way it's supposed to. It's a mystical process.

Our lives are kind of like fiction writing, too. We might have some kind of basic outline for what we'd like to do and where we'd like to go, though the details of how we color in the lines is largely spontaneous. We meet new and interesting characters along the way, we veer off in many different directions, take advantage of one opportunity and then pass on another. We travel, we experience, we remain open to things that are new and strange and beautiful. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I see that living life really is exactly like writing fiction. We fumble around in the dark, not knowing exactly what is in front of us, forging ahead with only the faith and belief that the road we're on is exactly where we are meant to be. All we must do is be present. The story, and our very lives, will unfold around us.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - A Little Too Comfortable

My friend, Alex, is renowned for her cards. I'm not talking about holiday cards or birthday cards. I always have a beautiful envelope show up in my mailbox with her curly handwriting on it when I expect it least and need it most. A new job, a new apartment, a tough time as showcased on this blog. This week I got a card from her that I loved so much I hung it up at my desk at work. It makes me smile every time I look at it.

The quote on the front of the card says, "Friend, you are a divine mingle-mangle of guts and stardust. So hang in there!" It's a quote from Frank Capra. He also famously said that "A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something." While on the surface, Alex's card may just seem like a sweet gesture from a good friend, I also think there's something else baked into it. She's really telling me to just get on with it. It's a message I need to hear, and if anyone can tell me that in a kind, supportive way, it's Alex.

Tonight I had dinner with my friend, Katie, a fellow Pisces. She mentioned something about Saturn being in Pisces and causing all kinds of havoc. Apparently, the effect is cumulative and ends on October 31st. Essentially this means that universe has been whacking us around for a bit and decided to send Saturn out of our sign with a bang, explaining why just about everything in my life got flipped upside-down in the past month. Now, I'm not quite sure that I believe in astrology to this extent but goodness does it explain a lot!

I've also been feeling an increase in energy this last week and feeling the tides of change sweeping in. Before Saturn's wallop, I was getting too comfy in my daily routine. Everything seemed to be "good enough". And I'm not a person that can live with "good enough" for too long. I needed to be shaken awake and I have a hard head so it takes quite a bit of effort to change my mind.

To Alex's point, I need to embrace my inner mingle-mangle of guts and stardust. I needed some new dreams and new drive to reach them. And that requires a little more risk than I've been taking lately. It requires a little more bravery than I've been exhibiting. Sometimes we need to be on a burning platform (please pardon this pun in light of my burned out apartment building) before we leap into the sea of possibility. So here I go - I hope those adult swimming lessons pay off.

On Tuesday, I'm attending an information session for a PhD program that I've been considering and re-considering for some time now. I've been putting it off for about a year. I'd sign up for info sessions and not go for one reason or another. One of my business school professors who I respect beyond measure has been encouraging this route since the middle of my second year at Darden. I always thought up a reason why I couldn't do it. That leap was too scary. Me, a PhD candidate? No, I can't possibly do that. I don't have the money / time / attention-span.

Then I remembered a quote I read some time ago about time and the passing of it. "Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use." It's from Earl Nightingale. My best possible use is in writing, speaking, teaching, traveling and growing social change initiatives. I can't thin
k of another way to be more productive. And all of these things are made infinitely easier by going the PhD route. Or at least I have a hunch that they are. My creativity is knocking at the door, and I at least need to open the door and give her the opportunity to plead her case. I at least need to hear her out.

The image above is not my own. It can be found here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Tony

“Abundance comes not from stuff. In fact, stuff is an indication of non-abundance. Abundance is in the sacred; it's in the connection of love. We will find abundance through hard times when we find each other.” ~ Rebecca Adamson

I fell in love with Tony 8 years ago at first sight. To date, it was the most immediate reaction I’ve ever had to anyone. Two and a half years later, after about 1,000 ups and downs, we parted ways romantically, not because we didn’t love each other but because Tony didn’t love himself as much as I loved him.

I rarely talk about my romantic life on this blog, mostly because I keep those relationships extremely private. This one though has taught me so much that I know will help others and so I’m taking a risk here and putting a little more of my heart into my writing than I have ever done. Tony taught me a lot, more than anyone else I've ever been in a relationship with, and these lessons should be re-told.

To date, he is the only person who sends me text messages around 4:00am exclusively. I never reach him or hear from him during the day or even at a reasonable hour in the evening. We just don’t work that way. He’s a night owl, a serious night owl. Usually I don’t get his text messages until the morning on my way to work. Last night I happened to be awake when my phone buzzed, and of course it was Tony.

“I’m still not happy in my career. The only difference is that I’m not hating me anymore…just what I let myself lose.” Now, I don’t think he’s referring to me at all when he talks about what he lost. I think he’s talking about time and effort and energy lost to a career he doesn’t like and really never wanted. He just never thought he deserved anything better. By not liking himself for so long, Tony lost a lot of his life.

I smiled when I read his message this morning. Not because Tony lost a lot of years of his life – that I will always think is tragic. I smiled because finally, finally, finally all the love I felt for him, he now has for himself, and that’s all I ever really wanted for him. He is a good, good man with a good, good heart. He’s kind and generous and brilliant. And for so many years, I wanted him to see himself the way that I saw him. No matter what I did, nothing worked. So I let him go. In the end, there was no other choice. When he looked in the mirror, he didn’t see what I saw. Now, he does.

I wrote back to him, “T – I am so happy for you. You are on the right path. And it’s never too late to make a change. Xo” I meant this – every word of it. I’d like to believe that somewhere along the line all the love I gave him helped him in his journey. I’d like to believe that me being in his life helped him flip the switch from self-loathing to self-loving. I’d always like to believe that love, when given freely and in abundance makes a difference eventually. That love, unrequited or not, is never for naught.

I thought of him all day today - of so many good times and so many not-so-good times. I thought about who I was then and what I wanted then, and how much that has changed. I thought of all the things about him that made me smile, and those things still make me smile. What's amazing about my journey with Tony, though so long ago, is that all the hurt I felt upon leaving isn't there anymore. Somehow all the hurt faded, and only the good stuff remains. Even the bad times just don't seem so bad when placed side-by-side with all the happy and wonderful times we had. I hope he feels the same way. Our hearts and memories are funny, malleable things, and for that I'm grateful.

Tony showed me how much love my heart could hold. This is a powerful lesson. As much as I fell in love with Tony, just as he was, I fell even more in love with his potential. I used to regard falling in love with potential as a waste. Today, I changed my mind on that thanks to him.

Potential might be more worthy of love than anything else. Potential is hope. Potential is something to look forward to. Potential keeps us looking up and working toward a better tomorrow, toward bettering ourselves. My love for Tony’s potential was not a waste at all; it’s a remedy that he eventually used to build a better life for himself.

He gave me so much and now I finally feel like I was able to return the favor. Even though it didn't work out for us in the long-run, I regard my time with me him as precious. I am nothing but honored and privileged to have been a small part of his healing.

The image above is not my own. I love it though, and found it here.