Friday, April 29, 2011

Something Old, Something New

Magic KingdomSomething Old, Something New

When’s the last time you saw something completely new and different. Most of our lives are spent seeing and doing the same things, over and over. They may be habits, they may be routines, they may be old friends, they may even be a favorite pair of shoes. You grow accustomed to the look and feel of these things and they help fill the days of your life. But something completely new? Not so often.

Last week I went to visit a good friend – a guy I’d known for more than 40 years. We’ve stayed close and shared many things even though at times we’ve lived a continent apart. While there I went walking in his little New England town and when I got to the main corner on Main Street, I waited for the light to cross. And when I had the green light I started across in the same old way all of us have crossed every street throughout our lives. And out of the corner of my eye I noted (but didn’t really recognize) that others were walking diagonally.  It was so different, so outside my frame of reference that I just blocked it out as a figment of some part of my imagination. But when I got to the opposite side and had to again cross to where I ultimately wanted to go, I didn’t move when the light changed – I watched. And what I saw was so completely different, so absolutely foreign to everything I’d been taught and done for 60 years, that I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. I was the only one heading in a straight line – everyone else was happily, contentedly and determinedly (is that a word) walking on the diagonal. I actually waited for three light changes to confirm and realize what I was seeing. And if I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have believed it.

And that’s the story of our lives. New things are hard to see and recognize and believe because they’re not how we’ve always done something or we’re comfortable with the things we do and don’t really want to change or we just can’t think outside the box like that. But that doesn’t make what we do right or what the new things represent wrong. They’re just different and if we want to grow and be challenged and improve the world around us, then change is a good thing. And in order to change, we’ve all got to be open to the new things we see and experience. And then consider whether those new things would, could or should be good for us. I know that’s not easy – hey, I had trouble stepping off that curb and finally walking on the diagonal to get to the other side of that New England street - but I did and boy am I proud of that. And now look at me – I can’t stop telling anyone and everyone about this new thing I saw and learned. I feel like a kid in a new class or in a new store or with a new bike. I can’t wait to try it again. And I will now be on the lookout for the next new thing that comes into my peripheral vision. And I highly recommend that you start looking too.

My quote and message this week are about trying hard to achieve new and grand things:
Arte Nathan 
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”  -Walt Disney

Imagine starting as an illustrator, coming up with a character that’s a mouse, making animated movies, and ending up with a magic kingdom. Sounds like fun. Seemed impossible.  Not.  It’s Walt Disney.

Will you try to do something impossible today? And will it be fun? Impossible doesn’t mean it’s really impossible – it might just mean that it’s something nobody’s done before or that it hasn’t been done exactly like that before. It’s great to look at everything you do and see if you can improve upon it or make it more of what people really want and expect or do it in colors and styles that are a bit different. It’s exciting to change things just enough that it gets everyone’s attention or makes them look at something in a new way or to have them see or feel or taste it again for the first time. We can’t all be a Walt Disney and create a whole new genre but each of us can do things just a little bit better. And if everyone did that with everything every day, think how exciting and fun life would be. So look for something impossible that you can do or improve upon today and make it great and grand and exciting and have fun doing it!

Stay Well!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Glory of Spring and Renewal

The Glory of Spring and Renewal

I don’t know about you, but for me this time of year is especially meaningful. Spring is definitely in the air and the blossoms on the trees attest to nature feeling pretty sure that the seasons have changed. And the holidays that are celebrated at this same time each year should make us all reflect on what’s meaningful and right. And now the child in all of us sits facing the sun and enjoys the real first days of brightness and warmth and renewal.
  • Passover is a Jewish holiday and festival. It commemorates the story of the enslaved Jews being released from Egypt. Passover begins on the 15th day of the lunar month of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, which is in spring in the Northern Hemisphere and is celebrated for seven or eight days. It is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays.
  • Easter is also celebrated at this time of year - the date is set by Passover, the Jewish holiday when the Bible says Jesus was crucified. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Sunday. The Apostle Paul wrote that Christians are new creations as result of the Resurrection and that Christians are thus raised to new life. The glory of spring does provide many of the symbols that Christians use, such as lilies and eggs, to represent the Easter experience.
  • For pagans, on the other hand, their spring holiday is very much tied to what's happening in nature. The spring equinox is one of four high holy days of the year for them. They believe spring is definitely a time for second chances and renewal.
  • For Buddhists, spring is significant mainly for its connection with events in the life of the Buddha. The Buddha was born, became enlightened, died and achieved Nirvana, a supreme state free from suffering and individual existence, all in May.
  • Hindus celebrated Holi, a holiday representing the victory of good over evil, March 14.
  • Muslims don't have a major spring holiday. Their most important season is Ramadan. Its date changes from year to year according to the lunar calendar. This year it will be in October. In this faith, the door to repentance is open all the time.
I’m not suggesting that these holidays are the same. But it’s interesting how most of these major holidays have so much in common. Just like it’s interesting how most of the things that each of the religions teach us are similar. And while it’s true that the events of all of the major religions are based on stories that have been handed down from one generation to the next for centuries, they were often not reduced to writing until hundreds of years afterwards and were thus subject to local interpretations.

So what might this teach us? Maybe that in spite of our differences, there’s enough that’s the same that we should look to build on that similarity. Maybe we should look to find the common ground between us rather than focus on historical reasons that separate us. Maybe we should look to resolve our differences so that we can live and work together in harmony and peace.

There are so many examples throughout the world where nations and communities and peoples are split because of religious preferences. As the world becomes smaller and more connected because of mass communications and the global economy, doesn’t it make sense that we should look to find the ties that bind rather than those that separate. If spring really is a time of renewal, then maybe we should renew a common goal to make sure that there’s a world to renew a year from now. Tolerance, patience, understanding, openness and a willingness to live and let live are goals we all should think about adopting during this spring of renewal.

Arte NathanMy quote and message this week is about passion and how it can be used to bring us and what we do, together and make us all stronger.

“All glory comes from daring to begin.” 
-Eugene F. Ware

Eugene F. Ware (1841 – 1911) was a soldier of Iowa, a lawyer and public man of Kansas, and an author both of that state and Missouri. His political career consisted of two terms in the Kansas Legislature and three years as United States pension commissioner. He was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Society of the Mayflower Descendants.

Glory is a good thing: full of beauty, wonder and magnificence. All around there is beauty – in the things we see and do, the sounds we hear and the work we accomplish each day.  Wonder can be found in the ideas we have, the way people work together and the boundless expanse of energy and time. And magnificence can be seen in our relationships at work, home, play and in our communities, the way people come together to get things done and the trust and respect that exists between and among colleagues. All of these can be found in normal circumstances (or not) – but think how much better they would each be if you approached them with passion. Passion can turn each into so much more. Passion helps make regular things great. Passion can help make the impossible seem possible. So dare to begin approaching those things that bring glory into your life with passion today. And see how much better they all can be.

Happy Holidays and Stay Well!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes

Well, it’s April 15th and one of the two things “they” say you can always look forward to happens today: Taxes. Glad that’s done! Now what do I have to look forward to: Death. Not!

As I wrote out the check to send in with the forms that I’m not sure even my accountant understands, I could hear the President and all the other talking heads in Washington proudly proclaiming that they’ve managed to reduce future budgets and thus our taxes by one trillion dollars. I don’t know about you but I have no way to (1) understand what one trillion is or (2) how they think that will happen or (3) what that would ever mean to me and you and everyone else. 

It seems that their plan is to reduce Medicare and social security and that should somehow do it. I guess if that’s true, then after they get finished with making sure we’re less healthy and secure, the next options will be further reducing the monies spent on fixing potholes; really, do you think they could spend less on all of this infrastructure stuff? Hey, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind paying whatever they say is needed to keep this boat afloat, but don’t insult our collective intelligence by suggesting the only pain we all have to share is the one that will make us less healthy and secure. C’mon Barack, why do you think we all took that leap of faith and voted for you???  But I digress…

If the only other things I can be assured will happen are taxes and  death then I’m terribly disappointed. I mean, what about a new days dawning, buds on the trees turning each spring into a beautiful bloom, babies yet to be born that will add to the family tree, friends whose friendship gets stronger every day of every year, new ideas and  business plans that come together and succeed, new styles of shoes to be worn to play, the next great home cooked meal, love that grows and warms the heart, the new puppy that replaces the aging pet you loved so dearly, the chance to rest and get ready for tomorrow?

Each of us has a glass that is half full of all that life offers and holds, and we can and should look forward to the results of our efforts to fill it further.  And that’s why we should never settle for death and taxes being all there is. That’s why we should get up each morning with the burning desire to do more, be better, try harder and care a lot. That’s why we can’t squander any of these precious moments by being less than attentive, respectful, trusting, understanding and loving.  And that’s why we should demand more of, and from, the people who we entrust with everything from planning taxes to running the things we need and use. That’s why we should never settle for “the only things we have to look forward to are death and taxes”. Get engaged, demand more of yourself and others, expect more than just enough to get by. You’ll be glad you did, and we’ll all be better off for it.

My message this week is about loyalty – to family, friends, colleagues and all the other things you believe in.

“Win one for the Gipper!”  Knute Rockne

Knute Kenneth Rockne (1888 – 1931) was an American football player and is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in college football history. He was the coach of the Notre Dame team in the 1920s and George Gipp was his star player. The story goes that Gipp fell ill and when dying he asked Rockne to promise that, when things were going badly for the team, he should inspire them by asking them to 'win one for The Gipper'. Rockne did, and the team won; later Ronald Reagan played the part of Gipp in the 1940 film about this called Knute Rockne: All American.

During 13 years as head coach, Rockne oversaw his "Fighting Irish" to 105 victories, 12 losses, five ties and five national championships, including five undefeated seasons without a tie. You can’t have a winning streak like that without a great deal of loyalty from those on and for your team. Great leaders know that people have to follow them willingly in order to be successful. And people will follow or ‘win one’, only when they’re inspired and feel like they want to and will be recognized for doing so. This simple truth is one that you need to learn if you want to be successful and great.  Always remember to do this if you want loyal friends and colleagues ‘win one’ for you.

Stay well!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

In the Eye of the Beholder

In The Eye of The Beholder

Most people know when they like something but they often can’t explain why. This applies to stuff they wear, cars they drive and food they eat. But do we really have to like all the things we have? Does it matter what others think? Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?

I know a lot of people who design, create or write stuff and it’s interesting to watch how the things they create go from thought to finish. It starts with what they like and what they perceive others may like and then goes through an iterative process of refinement and finally there’s some type of trial and error to determine the final product. Colors, textures, tastes and function must get blended in just the right amounts if the result is to be accepted and successful.  

But what happens to all the things that don’t make it through this process – is there some bone yard that contains all the ones that someone decides we won’t like? I mean, just because someone doesn’t think the rest of us will like something doesn’t mean that those won’t be seen as beautiful in the eye of some other beholder. And if those people who make those decisions think that, do you think they can they explain why? Sure we all have our own tastes – likes and dislikes based on however many years we’ve had in trying and using things - but in reality most things are good enough for most people. And therein lies the rub – good may no longer be good enough.

We have so many options and new things are getting designed and introduced all the time.  We get used to one thing and another comes along that we just can’t live without.  Marketing on TV, in magazines, on the Internet and via Twitter and Facebook all inundate us with what somebody thinks we should really want and need.  So, in those, is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?

Or maybe I am just confused – the beauty that lies in the eye of the beholder probably has nothing to do with material things. That kind of beauty doesn’t taste or spin or lie flat; that kind of beauty is found in friendships, beautiful sunsets, majestic mountains, masterpiece paintings and simple functionality. That kind of beauty is owned and nurtured by the inner beings in all of us. That kind of beauty is in everyone’s eyes.  And that kind of beauty attracts the beholder in all of us.  Take time today to know what’s real and what you really like and know why.  Then enjoy those things with all your heart and soul.

My message this week is about taking responsibility and ownership for the things that are important to you.

“The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn't the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.” 
-John Lennon

John Lennon was one of the Beatles.  Enough said.

The sixties were a time of hope and transformation. Hope for a better world. Hope for a better outcome. Hope to be able to do things better. And hope that nothing would stop us from achieving our goals. And transformation from the way things always were to the possibility of how things could be. Transformation from fear and despair to the possibility of a better future. Transformation from a time when the future was suspect to the possibility that anything might be possible if we believed in it enough.  

We learned that all of these possibilities were linked to hard work and responsibility. We not only hoped for the best but also learned what it took to make those changes happen.  We yearned for this transformation and didn’t rest until it happened. We believed the world was ours – and we took that belief seriously. You should realize how important it is to glimpse the possibilities that exist today and take responsibility to make them a reality tomorrow. That was the answer then and it’s still the answer today!

Stay well!

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool's Day

DaffodilsApril Fool's Day

I’ve always loved April Fool’s day. It’s fun to tell a tall tale with a straight face, to see if you can sucker someone into believing something and then proclaiming ‘April Fool’. Not this year. One of my closest friends passed away this week – far too soon – and now that the implausible has become real, I have no heart for the tall tale. I’m now far more interested in what’s real, what’s alive and what’s important.

Looking around at the daffodils pushing their way towards the sun (in spite of the last snow that will surely come). Hearing the birds sing in the trees (knowing full well that a howling wind will yet try to silence them for a short time longer). Seeing kids running without jackets (while their mother’s keep an eye on the darkening sky).  Knowing that life is precious (and that it inevitably ends). The awareness of these and so many other of life’s dichotomies makes a joke seem inappropriate.

A life cut short is nothing to joke about – but one lived to its fullest should be celebrated. A friend’s love is no joke – especially if it’s unconditional and uncontrollable. The loss of anyone who is near and dear is no joke – but the memories can last a lifetime. Telling someone how much he or she mean to you is no joke – and telling them often is a blessing.  Having a friend through thick and thin is no joke – not having someone to share the highs and lows with is sad. Life is short – and that’s no lie; making the most of each and every day means you never have to look back and think you could or should have….

I guess it takes one of these events to start thinking about what’s really important; it shouldn’t but we get caught up in things and then get confused. We need to learn – over and over – that a life lived well, promises kept, friendships honored, commitments fulfilled, goals achieved and feelings clearly expressed should be the rules and not the exceptions. Because they’re real and can enrich our lives. Because they help us feel alive and can enhance our experiences. Because they’re important and add real meaning to our lives.

My buddy and I talked long and often about life, death, commitment, honor and ethics – and never more so than in the past three months. We looked at this impending departure not only as a sad ending but also as an opportunity to continue to share. We knew it was coming so we faced it openly and together. It wasn’t easy but it was honest. It wasn’t altogether fun but we found a way to laugh together. It wasn’t what we wanted but (and in this I can only speak for myself at this time) I have no regrets about things I should have done or said. I wish we had more time but I don’t feel like we wasted the time we had. I wish that I could end this by yelling April Fool – but I can’t. And that’s no joke.

My message this week is about doing things with others:

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in life has a purpose.”  
-Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. (1926 – 2004) was a Swiss-born psychiatrist, a pioneer in Near-death studies and the author of the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying.

How effective do you expect to be today? And how much do you think you’ll get done alone as opposed to teaming up with others today? These two questions go straight to the heart of being successful and achieving your goals – because if you really want to get things done right then it’s always better to leverage all your available resources. The trick is you have to know when you need help and you have to realize and accept that two heads are always better than one and you need to know how to work well with others to get things done in a way that makes everyone feel good about themselves and the things that are accomplished. There’s so much great energy and synergy to be found in “teaming” and rarely a reason to avoid this joining of resources when they’re available. So if you’ve got some ego about this: lose it. Get in touch with yourself and realize that this teamwork thing definitely has a purpose. Do that today and see how it helps you and everyone around you to be more effective in achieving your goals.

Stay well!

And especially, hug a friend today.