Returning to Real Life

Ok folks, tomorrow we test how we carry our well-simmered serenity back into our real lives. For many of us, whatever vacation we’ve had over the last few weeks is coming to an end tonight. We will return to whatever real life looks like for each of us. For some of us it is work, school or the hustle and bustle of keeping up with our kids’ activities. Some of us have even harder fights still, recovering from difficult surgeries or living with serious health conditions. We each walk our own path, but we all must react and respond to challenges day in and day out.

Many of us are striving to succeed with our New Year’s resolutions. A new beginning gives us the clean slate we seek, where we’ve forgiven ourselves our trespasses. We visualize our ideal selves and while we know perfection is not possible, we strive to finally achieve the goals we’ve been dreaming of for so long. As we aim to meet these objectives, we remember that often times, less is actually more and simple, repeated execution will bring us within striking distance of true success.

One key component to the formula of our new beginning is appreciating the small wonders that occur in our lives everyday. Carving out small moments for ourselves to take the proverbial breath will be crucial in accomplishing our objectives. Taking some time to figure out what truly matters to us, as opposed to all the things we do simply because it’s what our culture expects, will be a solid foundation upon which we build a fruitful 2018.

I thank all of you, my faithful readers, for sharing my own dream with me in 2017. At a workshop I attended last year with my work sisterhood, we spent 45 minutes writing down everything that was getting in the way of the achievement of our most important aspirations. It was there that I built the framework for this blog. The fulfillment I have experienced over the last four months has been nothing short of magnificent. Your dreams are real and achievable.  Best wishes for a spectacular 2018.

 

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Embracing the Gifts of Other Cultures

“There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them,’ my mother explained shortly before she left me. ‘If you can remember me, I will be with you always.”
― Isabel AllendeEva Luna

During the past few years, I have become very interested in the holiday called Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The Disney movie Coco has only increased my fascination with it. This past Halloween, I read as much as I could about the traditions and origin of the celebration. The days coincide with the Catholic holidays on November 1st and 2nd, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days. But Dia De Los Muertos, in countries throughout Latin America, combines their people’s beliefs about celebrating the storied lives of their own beloved families.

The reason I became so enamored of this celebration was because I did not feel as though my own culture did the deceased justice. While All Souls’ Day exists, I did not experience a true spiritual reunion with those family members who have passed; there was remembrance but not quite enough festivity or connection. When I learned of the traditions associated with Dia De Los Muertos, I finally felt as though I had found that crossover between life and death for which I had been searching.

The movie Coco did such an amazing job because it takes you on a small boy’s journey to understand his past and then shows you how that recognition will shape his future. But it also breathes life into a true cultural wonder. I am so appreciative that we have a world full of traditions other than my own that are so truly spectacular as you make efforts to understand them. This is a holiday I want to bring into my own home to show my children that there are understandings in the world that go far beyond our own and that it is up to us to seek and learn them.

The following article from the Chicago Tribune describes the ofrenda that is made to the souls which cross over to visit the living. It is filled with significant offerings to those on their journey home.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-day-of-the-dead-altar-diagram-spanish-english-20151029-htmlstory.html

Next year, I will do my absolute best to pay tribute to a holiday that I did not grow up with, but that I want to pass on to my own future generations. I will pass them on with true respect. But more importantly, I will pass on the stories and the legacies of the lives of my ancestors. I will pass on their triumphs as well as their fears. My children will know what a great journey this, being human. And they will understand the connection they have with all the people in this world around them. They will know to celebrate diversity and to embrace the brilliance of all cultures around them.

Check out http://presleyspantry.com to discover how to make these amazing sugar skulls. The following link also shows great photos of the festivals themselves.  https://www.everfest.com/magazine/dia-de-los-muertos-photos-2016

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Diversity of Thought

Diversity is a subject to which I give a great deal of thought. I am involved with several groups through my company which are in existence to empower and give voice to people who don’t always feel that they are included or are perhaps ashamed to be their authentic selves at work. These are groups which celebrate those often in the minority with regards to race, gender and sexual identity.  As part of the women’s group, I have gained strength and empowerment I would not have otherwise had, and the impetus to finally begin to write this blog.

Through my musings on diversity itself, I have come to further conclusion that this concept goes far beyond the inclusion of the minorities listed above. Bias shows up everyday in far more ways than we’d like to admit. I️ think of it as snap judgements born of our desire to rank ourselves above others. And when you actually start paying attention, we do it all the time.

Both our personalities and our experiences shape our beliefs and thought processes. That’s nature and nurture playing games with us all day long. It is within that space where true conflict sits. It’s also the domain from which true connection blooms; when someone comes from the same place as we do, i.e. “That person really gets me.” But it is also the abyss where prejudice resides as well.

Part of being mindful is being aware of the thoughts, feelings and judgements that pop up in our heads and understanding their somewhat fleeting nature and the roots from which they grow. Past that, it is our responsibilities to check ourselves when we get out of line, even if only in our heads. Everyone has a story. We can not allow our bias to get in the way of collaborating with others to solve real problems. When we truly open our ears, to even those who entertain thought processes far different from our own, we grow. And our growth as human beings collectively is our only true hope for enriching humanity as a whole.

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Finding True Love through Authenticity

Living authentically is truly a difficult path. One reason that it is so challenging is because it takes so long to even discover oneself. At the age of 42, with most likely half of my life spent, I am still discovering surprises about myself. Things that used to be important to me now pale in comparison to matters that I consider are of far broader scope. Foundations I had built an entire life upon still shatter beneath me below the very ground I walk on today.

One obstacle along life’s road can often be all the forces around us trying to pigeonhole us into cultural norms. The circles we frequent, the families we grew up in, those we surround ourselves with, the influences that helped to shape our very being, can place shackles on us even in ways we don’t often fully recognize. It is the reason so many of us carry secrets tucked away in dark places. The shame of admitting to those things is frightening and so we keep them down and only showcase our infallible outward selves.

But I have experienced no greater connection with others as when the secrets come out and we admit to being the weak, imperfect, struggling human beings that we truly are. There is no greater turn off to me than someone pretending to be perfect out of a need to elevate oneself and push others down. We are all flawed my friends and we need to support those around us by turning on the light beam of forgiveness. It is warming, it is supportive and it is necessary.

As human beings, we all strive for deeper connections; we can not live a happy, fruitful or secure life without them. As we defeat noxious behaviors like shaming others to make ourselves feel more significant, we begin to destroy self-importance and boost each other up despite our shortcomings. True love then becomes not just a notion projected by films of Prince and Princess-type romanticism. But true love will emanate in all possible forms with all possible genders through self-love, love of others, forgiveness and authenticity.

 

 

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I Would Ask the Teachers

To my friends and family who are (or were) teachers: I need your assistance. But first, I will give a bit of background for context. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature with a minor in Education. I sometimes view myself as a “sell-out” who chose the corporate ladder over teaching America’s future. But I have forever been and always will be fascinated by education, curriculum and the public policies that surround both.

Today I was part of a discussion where education and the US labor force were examined. People were talking about how students are spending too much money on a college education, coming out with a great deal of debt, having to take low paying jobs and never being able to make those college payments. It was suggested that more people should learn trades instead of going to college because they wouldn’t have to spend the money, they would get paid more in their jobs and they would therefore help the labor market.

This proposal struck a dissonant chord with me because it was very much presented as an either/or scenario. I have always been a proponent of an education which is broad-based, non-specific and liberal arts in nature. I understand that this can cause an economic problem. But must we base our educational foundations strictly on the needs of the job market? My personal experience has been that one can receive a liberal-arts education and learn the basics of a job through on-the-job training. I also am thinking that learning trade-specific activities, during that liberal arts education, would produce exceptional human beings at graduation.

I am fully aware that I experienced an exceptional liberal arts education during my college years. But I am also acutely cognizant that I came out of college non-functional in many facets of real life. Throughout all of my education, I never learned how to balance a checkbook, how to cook a nutritious meal, how to buy a car, how to fix basic car issues, how to put hammer and nail to wood, how to survive a night in the wilderness, basic self-defense or the things that are so essential to a successful human life. Beyond that, I didn’t receive training on the sixteen personality types and how they interact with one another until well into my leadership career. Those lessons would have helped me immensely as early as junior high.

I understand that my question proposes a scenario which is quite impractical. I know that to teach all of these subjects would probably require 7 days per week in school during 12 months straight. I understand rewriting the American curriculum in totality is an ambitious undertaking. But it has been a while since I’ve looked at curriculum studies and I am very interested in comments on these questions, by both educators and non-educators alike. Am I too much a dreamer? Is it really impossible to develop both a trade-based, everyday skills-based and a humanities-based curriculum all together? What if we start earlier, as early as grade school perhaps? Thoughts and comments are truly welcome.

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Life Finally Recognizes the Empath!

Over the past week I have had the absolute pleasure of meeting two extraordinary women through my endeavors in National Women in Business Month.  Both ladies own successful women-owned businesses; both are driven to bring out their clients’ true and full potential.  Both of their websites can be found here:

http://reneegambino.com/

http://storystrategies.net

What was so wonderful about engaging with both of these women was how validated I felt after hearing their approaches. They both talked about driving revenue from a completely different angle than I am used to hearing, but one that I have always personally relied upon. They talked not about reviewing logic and fact, but about what I believe truly matters in life.

I have always considered myself an empath and for years suffered as a result. At the beginning of my career, I was often coached for being too emotional. I was told to use more logic in decision-making. As a person in everyday life, I felt both everyone’s happiness and sadness around me and absorbed all of it like it was my own. It had been exhausting because I did not know how to harness it for the positive.

Both of the women that I met this week described how 90% of people make decisions with their emotions. They both described how many companies struggle because they have people at the top of the house that just don’t know how to connect with people or use their humanity to impact the bottom line.

In my recent years at work, I have been recognized and applauded for being able to connect emotionally with my team. The result of that ability has been extreme loyalty from my team members and harnessing their resilience and ability to overcome tough times. I truly feel like the business world is changing for the better, for the future by embracing what truly matters…human beings.

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Thank you for the Opportunity

For the last twenty years, I have dreamed of becoming a writer. The reasoning initially had been exploratory. I had been told along the way that I was good at it and experienced people’s happiness when I spoke my written words. I seemed to be able to put into phrases what people were feeling and actually made them feel more connected to the world.

The idea of author comes with many idealist visions. I often imagined myself sipping a latte on a vintage couch in a warm coffee shop in Manhattan, listening intently to fragments of conversations looking for my next smash best seller idea. I pictured myself at a writers’ retreat in the Hamptons, basking in early autumn sunshine on a quiet beach, realizing the meaning of life and bringing it valiantly back to humanity.

When I finally stopped overthinking, over-analyzing and agonizing over how I was going to make my splendid debut, I started this blog. What I never anticipated was how much I would enjoy simply sitting at my laptop and sharing my ideas with people who would be gracious enough to listen. What has been spectacular is people actually connecting to the writing, engaging with it and looking for more.

The true reason I write, underneath it all, is to build a platform upon which to join with others to make the world a better place. My mind has been opened over the years through countless books asking me to look at life from a different perspective. Everyone has their story and every story has several sides. Thank you for starting this adventure with me and being the audience with whom I connect. I hope you feel strongly enough to share and help me build that platform.

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Keeping Humor Alive in Baking

I think it’s time I loosened up a little in this blog. Most of my posts thus far have been quite serious and reflective, which clearly is important in life. But I think one of the absolute most important things in life is keeping a good sense of humor. My husband makes me laugh incessantly day in and day out and it has always been one of the top qualities that I look for in anyone that I am close to. Humor is absolutely crucial to leading a fulfilling life.

I myself contribute significantly to the humor category in my own special way. While I might not be quick and witty in certain situations, I certainly make up for that in other ways. Something I’ve been doing all my life has been putting craft projects out there that might have the initial intention of being serious art but inevitably translate into humorous outcomes. Many of the friends that have been with me for years and years can confirm this. And I could probably have one blog completely dedicated to these creations if I could locate all of the photos.

One of my hobbies as over the last few years has been cake making. While I have had several cakes come out in a mostly presentable manner, I had to resurrect the Cat Woman cake that I made for my daughter’s 5th birthday shown here:

To the untrained eye, it has some solid cake elements. The fondant looks decent and Cat Woman’s face looks quite attractive. When one looks deeper however, one wonders why Cat Woman has been attacked and held down by a purple serpent. Most people do not want to point this out however due to general polite society. They simply say, “Wow…nice…” in an excited yet confused fashion. In actuality, I could not make the fondant body support the big head and had to cover the mistake by pretending she was holding a whip. But looking back on the situation, I’m so happy that I created this and so many of my art projects that have brought endless laughter to countless situations.

We can’t take ourselves too seriously in this endeavor called life. A good laugh can get you through many a crisis and I have plenty of humorous art projects to share. Look for more as the blog continues…

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The Lure of Reading

“We read to know that we are not alone.” -C.S. Lewis

I remember how lonely I was when I first moved to New York by myself. I was never one to move or stay somewhere just because I had a friend in that location. I know that sounds counter intuitive, but I always thought I would challenge myself to dive into the unknown alone, and friends would naturally follow. I cheated myself out of many possible good times by that self-induced edict but hindsight is always 20/20.

While I was settling in to my first apartment about 30 minutes outside of New York City, I enjoyed traveling here or there on weekends to visit any number of friends across the country. I also enjoyed every second that I explored so many inches of NYC by myself. But the weeknights or weekends I did not travel were eerily quiet. I needed something to quiet my fears and quench my mind.

My favorite trip outside of that apartment was going to the local Barnes & Noble Bookstore. It was as if when I opened those doors all the knowledge in the entire universe was right in front of me for the taking. It wasn’t like in college where the professor chose the books for me to read. I could read about anything and everything I wanted to know about. An education of my own design was imminent and I was voracious in sucking out the marrow.

Those books, those characters and all the knowledge that came with them were my friends during a time when I needed them most. They have shaped me into the person I am today and I am forever grateful. I can only hope to give those larger than life connections to anyone who reads this blog.

Which books have been your best friends?

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Imagine

“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one” -John Lennon, Imagine

I have always been someone who sees the world not as it is, but as it could be. That can be a good thing and it can be a very bad thing. I’ve always been envious of the realists in that regard. For me, on the inside, life can be constantly stressful; I’m forever trying to fix things. With a tweak here and a tuck there, everything could be perfect.

In all of the anti-anxiety manuals, they tell you to let go of all that you can’t control; they tell you to stop trying to make everything into the ideal. Buddhism says that suffering ends when you accept things as they are, not as they should be. And sure, all of those tenets are very helpful in making me feel more relaxed and less stressed out.

But seriously, even though I would love to be stress-free all the time, what good does that do humanity as a whole? This planet, while so wonderful on so many levels, still needs a ton of work. We need to keep learning, keep challenging and keep CHANGING the world for the better. We all know there is hope. But with hope must come ACTION. And if we all believe and challenge ourselves to make it happen, we CAN create the perfect world. It’s all up to us.

Imagine that.

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Don’t Underestimate Me

“You’re not that smart, you just work hard.” -Sister Mary Ann to me in the first grade.

On the website, www.simplypsychology.org, Saul McLeod discusses Carl Rogers’ (1959) belief that self concept has three different components: the view you have of yourself (self image), how much value you place on yourself (self esteem or self-worth), [and] what you wish you were really like (ideal self). I could go on for days about all of these theories. But today I’d like to stick to the effects of someone else’s ill-conceived comments on a youth’s self-concept. At the age of six, I was quite impressionable. And as a serious student of an all-girl Catholic school, I took everything I was told as the be-all/end-all answer. Apparently, I was not smart.

As I mentioned in a previous post, therapy has taken situations like this and placed them into context for me. Thankfully, I have carefully thought through this experience many times and instead of believing it, I have turned it into an opportunity to discuss how important it is for us to believe in our own abilities as human beings, and not allow ourselves to be forced into someone else’s schema of how they see and order the world around them, especially in academia.

As I listen to those around me, I am constantly hearing people categorize themselves. “I’m a math person, not an English person.” “I’m a science person, not a language person…” and so on. Just because certain subjects may take us more time to understand than others, does not mean we have to consider ourselves completely incapable of learning them. It happens in personality too. Just because we don’t always enjoy extroversion over introversion, doesn’t mean we can’t adapt in certain situations.

The world is tough enough as it is without us placing all sorts of chains on ourselves. People are forever going to try to fit you into their order of understanding. It is crucial that you don’t let them and allow yourself to flourish into the amazing person you were meant to be. You can be everything, if you only let yourself be.

 

 

 

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Thoughtful Leadership

“You know, great powers don’t get angry, great powers don’t make decisions hastily in a crisis.” -John R Allen

During my career, I have been lucky enough to lead teams and truly make a difference in individual’s lives. And as with any such opportunity, there have been critiques. I have sometimes been criticized for taking too long to make a decision. In certain circumstances, people have longed for swift judgements, which from their perspective, were extraordinary clear. But I recall, in all of those circumstances, there would be those severely adversely affected by such a decision. Not everyone on a team knows the intricacies behind their colleagues’ stories.

People with limited understanding of one side of a situation will blindly call for swift “justice,” as they understand it.  But they have not thought through completely the lives of those on the other side. And it is not always their job to do so. But it is clearly the decision maker’s job to fully and carefully evaluate all sides and all options.

True leadership is thoughtful leadership. It is not leadership seeking attention, leadership seeking power or leadership with a selfish agenda. A leader must not make uninformed decisions at lightning speed so they can be viewed as decisive and resolute. People who make such decisions do so only so that their egos can be inflated by the short-term praise they win.  But the long-term effects of those hasty decisions are potentially devastating and permanent.

As a leader, you are entrusted by your people to be thoughtful. They expect you to be fair. They need you to think through all intended and unintended consequences. You should be educated in the rights and wrongs of historical events. The President of this great country continues to make reckless, impulsive, careless decisions which will severely alter the lives of so many so that he can continue to build a shallow resume filled only by ego-driven motivation.

We must continue to think and resist.

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Words Matter

 

 “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The events in Charlottesville and the subsequent “free speech” protests and counter-protests have made me both very angry and very pensive.  I understand that our country was built upon free speech.  I am a huge supporter of that foundation and also know how crucial it is to society at large. But I can’t get past the fact that anyone would actually want to use that freedom for such hatred.  I also can’t believe that our president wouldn’t immediately condemn it.  Of course, it should not be surprising.  On the day he was elected President, I could not fathom how someone who had clearly voiced such ignorance and hatred could actually be elected to lead this country.  I have such a respect for that office and a tremendous respect for good, strong, thoughtful leadership as a whole.  Thinking incessantly about both of these tragic events has brought me back to one crucial tenet of great leadership:

WORDS MATTER

As someone who loves to write, “words matter” is quite obvious.  But the greatest leaders of our time have always been able to craft speeches that inspire the rest of us to act for the good of humanity.  Unfortunately, the most vicious leaders in history have also been able to use their words to instigate horrifying acts of violence.  The most horrid leaders in world history knew that when their audience was downtrodden and had lost complete hope in their futures that the time was right to strike.  On top of that opportunity, their messages resonated with people who had no educational background in the woeful mistakes of history or the importance of empathy in social interactions. The maelstrom that resulted gave those monsters unprecedented opportunity to take power and spawn evil.

We must ask ourselves as thoughtful, educated human beings, what beliefs are behind spoken words?  What intent is behind those phrases?  What will people bring about as people gather around them to listen.  If someone is charismatic and well presented, people will often ultimately want to hear what they have to say.  But someone’s ability to twist words and concepts into a web of future tragedy is exactly what we must fight. Group think is a powerful tool.  And group think is manipulated by crafty speech.  As someone with a background of driving revenue, I’m the first to admit that any concept can be spun in a way which only behooves the spinner.

All of us, as human beings, need to realize that we should choose our words wisely, whether we are in the simplest of conversations or the grandest of public dissertations.  We need to take the power of words very seriously, and use them for good, not evil. And when evil springs up amongst us, we must use our power of speech to denounce it.  Our future, our children, our society and our freedom are all dependent upon it.  I am forever grateful to all the keen ears of history who listened and were able to hear evil in the most beautiful of sonnets. Those heroes subsequently used their voices to carry eloquent speeches that drove good to ultimately prevail.  We must all use our voices now as silence is perhaps the worst word of all.

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