Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring Has Sprung

First the clocks spring ahead, then there’s the first day of spring. Everyone around here gets all excited when there’s one of those great sunny and warm spring days and then it snows again. But this isn’t about the weather; it’s about groaning and moaning when the weather disappoints. It’s about hoping for something different and maybe missing what you already have. And it’s about accepting what is and making the best of it.

Everywhere I hear: “I am so over this” – and while of course people are referring to the weather when they say this, I suppose they could have lots of other things in mind also.  I’m so over my job – how often have you heard that – and in this economy doesn’t that seem a bit selfish? I’m so over my family – sure there are squabbles but hey, they’re family (and what’s that they say: blood is thicker than water). I’m so over my car - what’s the difference, wheels are wheels? I’m so over my kids – take 2 seconds to think back when you were a kid and how your parents said the same thing.

Stop and reflect on what you do have – health, a roof over your head, food in your stomach, a good pair of shoes – in reality, they’re all pretty good. It’s certainly more than many others have. Those pictures from Japan certainly puts things in perspective – I’ll bet those people would trade what happened to their lives in the blink of an eye for bad weather. The plight of homeless people should give pause – they’d probably trade the streets they sleep on for bad weather. People in ambulances speeding to an unknown destiny – they’d trade their misfortune for bad weather.  A flat tire – would you really trade the car for having to walk (in bad weather)?

Truth is, whatever we have, it’s never all good or bad and there will always be something we think is better (hence that old fable about the grass being greener on the other side of the road). But these are natural thoughts that creep into our minds in the quiet times between responsibility and obligations. It’s okay to want but I suspect it’s not okay to allow your ego to push want beyond good sense. In reality, all the things we have are good enough, especially if we look at them honestly, use them wisely, share them judiciously, take care of them responsibly and cherish them humbly. And if you look at all you have with clear and unselfish eyes, you probably can’t help but be satisfied with and even proud of, what makes up your world. If not – look around, and then think again.

Arte Nathan
My message this week is about pride – in yourself, in what you have and in what you’ve accomplished.

It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.  -Agnes Repplier

Agnes Repplier (1855 –1950) was an American essayist born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her essays are esteemed for their scholarship and wit.
How can you be proud of who you are and what you do if you’re not happy? Not unhappy – that would mean you were the opposite of happy but rather not happy – meaning you just couldn’t find happiness. Everyone wants to me happy - it’s important for your sense of well-being and self worth – but that’s easier said than done. First, you have to like yourself and that means being comfortable with who and what you are. Second, you have to love the things you do and the reasons you do them – that means you approach them all with enthusiasm, commitment and energy.  And third, you have to exude a pride in all of what you are and do – that means you’re complete in your heart and body and mind and soul. It’s critically important that you find all of this happiness in yourself because what you find elsewhere is not as important. So stop looking around and start looking inward – and realize and rejoice in all that you are. 

That’s pride.

Stay well!

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Wold of Wonders

A World of Wonders

As kids we learned about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria as depicted by 16th-century Dutch artist Marten Heemskerk. Other than the Great Pyramid, the rest are mostly unknown in the modern world.

And then there’s the Brooklyn Bridge – this has been referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World; it was built in the late 1800s and epitomized inventiveness and industriousness and innovation in a growing modern world. Unlike the other Seven, this wonder was built when mass communications were starting to spread news about things farther and faster than ever before. Google this, or watch the Ken Burns documentary sometime for a fascinating story about this amazing accomplishment.

So, here I was in Brooklyn last weekend and decided to do what thousands of tourists apparently do – walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Not knowing what to expect, I put on my coat, took the subway and followed signs for the “walkway”. The farther we went, the more crowded it got; when we finally got onto the bridge there were two lanes – one for foot traffic (like us) and the other for bicycles.  And those thousands of people were all there. The lane for foot traffic had people going in both directions and since everyone was walking two or more abreast it was like swimming upstream. And forgetabout veering into the bike lane – those people had another agenda and it didn’t include watching out for, or trying to avoid, people who were walking. But once we got the hang of walking and avoiding all the other people on the bridge, we were able to focus on the view: the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, the East River, and the six lanes of traffic below – these all competed for our attention – and the view was spectacular.

But that’s not the point. Think about how creative and innovative John Roebling (the original designer) and his son Washington and Washington’s wife (they finished the bridge when the elder Roebling suddenly died) had to be to complete the construction of this wonder (that’s a story in itself). Think about the naysayers who didn’t believe that something so new and inventive and spectacular could be designed and actually built. Think about the fact that men and women worked tirelessly without computers and machinery to build it.  Think about the fact that dreamers really did rule the world back then. Even with all of our stuff today – technology and engineering prowess and globalization – there aren’t a lot of projects like this on the world’s drawing boards. We should all remember to dream big, to collaborate well, to work smart, to try hard, to care a lot, to do good and to never ever give up.  Who knows: one day you may create the next wonder of the world. I gotta believe there are countless Brooklyn Bridges in the future – all it takes is the freedom to move, the strength to stand, the power to dream, the courage to innovate and the will to continue.
My message this week is about innovation and the impact it can and does have on the world around us.  This week’s quote honors women’s history month and celebrates St. Patrick’s Day.

“To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.” 
-Bernadette Devlin

Bernadette Devlin, a radical feminist and Catholic activist in Northern Ireland, was a founder of People's Democracy. After one failed attempt to be elected, she became the youngest woman ever elected to Parliament in 1969.

Innovation sometimes takes giving everything you have to accomplish your goals.  That’s right – everything, as in all you’ve got with nothing else left to give.  If that’s the case then you have to decide what your dreams and goals are really worth to you. If a goal is worth achieving then you should be prepared to have it consume all of your time, energy, knowledge and skills; you should commit all of these and whatever else is needed to reach that result; you must be willing do everything to succeed. The results of this kind of effort could and should be something very creative and innovative, something that you can be proud of, and something that benefits your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors, something that can really make a difference. If you want to gain anything that’s worth having then you should be willing to give up and lose everything to make that happen. That kind of commitment can help lead to serious innovation today!

Stay well!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Mighty Wind

Red umbrellaThe Mighty Wind...

It’s been a long time since I’ve had or used an umbrella. And let me tell you, these weather-related accessories are important when you live in the Big Apple. So how hard can it be to get one that works? I mean, you go on the Internet, type umbrella into your search engine and in seconds there are literally hundreds to choose from.  Sounds easy until you start to see all the dead umbrellas lying around the landscape after the last wind and rain. And let me tell you, those umbrella carcasses make a big impression.

But it’s not just the umbrellas lying in the gutters and against the gates that you start to see when your eyes begin to focus on things like this. While I understand the mountain of trash that goes out for pickup regularly (after all, there are a lot of people living here), it’s all the things that get discarded along the way that are a more interesting (and potentially troubling) commentary on society. It’s one thing to buy cheap stuff that’s never going to work – between the advertising BS and trying to save a buck we all get trapped owning stuff that’s somewhere between useless and worthless – but it’s another to get hoodwinked by unscrupulous advertising and sales techniques.

What can you do?

•    First, stop being so impulsive and go back to really checking things out like you used to before the Internet became a shopping habit. There really is no substitute for checking things out thoroughly, asking others about their thoughts and experiences with things and then looking for the best rather than the cheapest thing.
•    Second, don’t accept poor quality in anything – either in the answers you get, products you buy or the service you expect. The more we accept mediocrity the more we enable poor quality to exist. Maybe we should post more feedback (good and bad) online – the Internet’s reach can certainly be leveraged to modify unscrupulous attitudes and behavior…and these just may force quality improvements in lots of things.
•    And third, use the Internet (and any other source of information) to learn more – about the way things should be made, how they really are made, the advantages of one thing over another, the feedback that’s already out there and the comparisons that should always be made before you buy anything.

My parents used to say “you get what you pay for” and “buyer beware”; these are still true today – maybe more so – because there’s so much available and much of it can be pretty complicated. But you don’t have to be the victim; you don’t have to be the one who tosses something away because it just wasn’t good enough. Stop buying poor quality stuff or falling for it because you were attracted to a trend or a catchy phrase or because you got lazy and didn’t do your homework – these are the kinds of excuses that fill landfills and gutters. In the end, I suspect a mighty wind may overwhelm a good umbrella – but the gusts haven’t been that bad here lately; certainly not bad enough to result in all the broken and discarded ones I’ve seen on the street lately. Take a little extra time today to look before you leap when it comes to purchasing any of the stuff you want or need at home, work or play. And then maybe the people making stuff will become more scrupulous and honest in how they promote the things they want you to buy.

My message this week is about integrity and how it can, but shouldn’t be, blown about in the wind.
“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”
-Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928) is an American autobiographer. Angelou and other female writers in the late 1960s and early 1970s used the autobiography to re-imagine ways of writing about women's lives and identities in a male-dominated society.

Nobody said life was easy.  Every day there are so many things that happen, and not all of them go the way you want.  In fact, if you were to add up all that you’ve done, you might find that more things have been less than successful, more have been more frustrating than not, more have left you wanting, and more than you’d hoped have set you back.  But in the end, you still have to keep going, you still have to pick yourself up and look at the positive side of things, you still have to see the glass as half full or more. You can’t use the unfairness of things as an excuse to give up because you and all the other people who rely on you need you to keep going. If you’re defeated, then you let all those other folks suffer defeat too – and you never want to do that. Keep telling yourself that while you may encounter defeats, you will never be defeated!  That’s how the strong keep getting stronger.

Stay well!