Friday, March 30, 2012

Flexibility

FLEXIBILITY

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch likes to say,” New Yorkers think fast, talk fast and walk fast”.  And nowhere is this walking fast thing more evident than on the sidewalks during rush hour (which seems to go from 7am to 9pm daily). 

First, you have to keep your head up and eyes open and always keep moving – that gives you the chance to see something or someone coming.  Second, you have to use your feet, hips and shoulders in tandem to provide the greatest maneuverability – not unlike hockey and basketball players as they quickly move from one place to another.  And lastly, your reflexes have to be sharply tuned – you just never know when someone is going to come out of a doorway or driveway, or sharply around a corner.

When I first got here, I was almost paralyzed by this activity. I’d either stop  against a building and wait, or just stop in mid-stride and give way to everyone else (giving way has its own set of impacts for those behind you).   Imagine walking down a busy street, buildings on your right or left, and you come past and beyond them as you approach an intersection.  First, you have to check the light ahead to see whether to stop or go (or, more appropriately – speed up or slow down), and then you have to use (or at least sense) your peripheral vision to avoid the people going both ways across your path, and lastly you have to combine confidence with competence so that others sense you know what you’re doing.  And even then there are lots of opportunities for bumping!

But now that I’ve been here a year I’ve got this sidewalk thing down – almost as good at avoiding collisions as when I’m behind the wheel of a car. But this learning hasn’t been without its many close calls – after all, muscle memory takes time to sink in. And while this is just one of the more visible and visceral examples of adjusting to change, it really is emblematic of this adventure I’ve been on here in NYC. Because it’s something that applies to life in general: having to be flexible enough and aware enough to get along with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. It’s an important lesson that needs to be learned and used all the time if we want to be good at or successful at anything we do. And without this skill, we just bump into others in the worst ways possible.

Whether navigating a busy street or a busy life, a game of skill or the game of life, a causal relationship or relationships at work, a trip to the store or a trip through you daily tasks – knowing how to flexibly get through a crowd is a skill that’s needed. Take time today to make sure you’re as good at this very basic skill as you can be. Because the bruises and scars you’ll get if you’re not may never go away.

My message this week is about being responsible for the things you do:


Arte Nathan"Only people who die very young learn all they really need to know in kindergarten.”

-Wendy Kaminer


Wendy Kaminer (born 1949) is a lawyer and writer. She has written several books on contemporary social issues, including A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight From Equality, about the conflict between egalitarian and protectionist feminism.

You really need to know everything about the things you own.  And when you think about all the things you own – your house and everything in it, your cars and all their extras, your toys and the things you use when you’re not working, your friendships and all that’s needed to maintain them, and the things you are responsible for in everything you do – there’ a lot to know and continually learn about.  And just when you think you know it all, something new is discovered or published and you’ve got to go back to the books or the internet to make sure you don’t fall behind.  No matter how old we are, there’s a tendency to either think you know enough to get by, and that too is a trap to be avoided.  If any of us stop learning and growing, that’s when we start falling behind.  And that’s never a good thing.  So forget what they say about everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten, and commit to continuous learning today!

Stay well.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Maestro


the subway
The Maestro

The other day I was sitting on the subway when I heard someone ask “what time is it”.  Guy next to me looked at his watch and before he could answer the first proclaimed “its doo wop time”.  And right then he and his 4 friends broke into a great rendition of an old Cleftones song.  Wowzer!!

I’ve been here in New York City more than a year and these subway performers have faded into the background of my attention lately.  But I listened to these guys sing and dance their way from one stop to the next and was moved to give them a donation for their efforts.  And then I started to notice all the others who I’ve ignored this winter,  maybe  because it’s Spring and I’m not wearing a hat pulled down over my ears these days…. or maybe the weather has them singing more loudly than before.  So it was with a bit of surprise that I noticed a guy playing a saw; no kidding, the kind you manually cut a board with.  He had a bow like a violin and was bending the saw as he accompanied a song playing on an old cassette player.  I had to stop and look twice at this.  And because he had several CDs I noted his name – Maestro Moses Josiah.  Look him up on the internet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EvctS7KRDQ!

The subways here are filled with people – from singers to proselytizers - who apply for and are approved to sell their wares or entertain in stations and on trains.  Sometimes they’re just a lone soul selling verses from the Bible or singing a-cappella, other times they’re a group of old musicians better suited for Bourbon Street in New Orleans, sometimes there’s a steel drum and other times there are many voices and instruments, sometimes they’re young and other times they’re old.  But every time what they’re doing is their job – the way they make money, the way they make their mark.  Because where there’s a will, there’s a way.

And the human spirit will most always find a way.  That guy who quit Goldman Sachs and posted his reasons on the Op Ed page could end up here singing a mournful tune; or better yet, he should have taken note of these enterprising people and thought twice about outing the fools he worked with.  Fact is, there are fools everywhere, and rather than suffer them in silence until you explode, it might be better to confront them with your questions and concerns.  Sure, it’s easier to avoid those kinds of confrontations, but every time you do, another fool gets away with their foolishness.  The best job you’ll ever have is probably the one you already have – the key to success is to make it, and your colleagues, and their work, better. By talking rationally, sensitively, confidently and directly to others you can make them better.  And in the end, you’ll make yourself better too.

The Maestro and all those other performers communicate with thousands of people every day – sometimes it’s direct, and other times it’s just a subtle reminder about something.  Whatever your act, act appropriately, responsibly and effectively today.  You, and everyone around you, will be glad you did.

My message this week is about the art of communication:

Arte NathanWhen you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. 

-Maggie Kuhn


Maggie Kuhn (1905 – 1995) was an American activist known for founding the Gray Panthers movement in August 1970, after being forced into retirement by the Presbyterian Church. The Gray Panthers became known for advocating issues targeted at the aging population, including nursing home reform.

Anyone listen to you today?  Better yet, did you listen to anyone today? Both are important – in fact, listening is way more important than talking.  Because in life you’re most likely doing things with others, and listening is the best way to learn what they think, or what they’re doing, or maybe even what won’t work in a situation.  And even if you don’t expect it, you should always expect others to be listening to you just like you should be actively paying attention to what others are saying.  And when you hear something, don’t just ignore or dismiss it – think about what you hear, consider it, and see if it doesn’t make your thinking or actions better.  When groups of people – whether they’re formal teams or not – get together to do something, listening is the thing most critical for their success.  So say what you mean and mean what you say today because someone might actually be listening.

Stay well.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Coin a Phrase

Building skylineCoin a Phrase

Yesterday was March 15th – a date infamously known as the Ides of March.  Most people don’t know any more about this date than that they just have to “beware the ides of March”.  So for those who are curious, here’s what it means:

The word Ides comes from the Latin word "Idus" and means "half division", especially in relation to a month. It is a word that was used widely in the Roman calendar indicating the approximate day that was the middle of the month. The term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months.

And then the term Ides of March became best known as the date on which Julius Caesar was killed in 44 B.C. He was stabbed (245 times) to death in the Roman Senate by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus.  And from this William Shakespeare penned the “beware the ides of March” line in his play Julius Caesar.

There, now you know all about the background to this infamous date.  But it doesn’t seem nearly important enough that just about everyone knows and uses it.  And that leads me to my next point: there are lots of these folkloric phrases and sayings that have little or no meaning or importance to what we do and how we live today, and yet just about everyone knows them too.  How about these: a shot in the arm, the acid test, back seat driver, bad hair day, between a rock and a hard place,  brownie points, cold turkey, doom and gloom, double whammy, fancy pants, get your goat – you’ve heard and most likely used many of these and more, more than likely without knowing exactly what they mean. But every one of these has its own history, and meaning, and they’re all accepted phrases that have become cemented in our lexicon. And isn’t that just hunky-dory.

But at the end of the day, catchy phrases may help us sum up some point we’re trying to make, but they aren’t the things that clear communications, successful careers, strong relationships or high hopes are made of.  To make those kinds of things requires more intelligent thinking and planning, and more articulate communications, and real follow-up tied to measurable expectations.  Life is a whole lot harder than just being able to slip a pithy phrase into the things that need to get done.  And while it might be easier to just say these kinds of phrases, in order to be really successful at anything requires you put in the whole kit and caboodle; in other words it's best to just say what you mean, clearly and fully.

Maybe what I’m describing is a pipe dream, but I believe that this pie in the sky stuff needs to be brought back down to earth.  There really are no shortcuts to getting where you want to go or being what you want to be – it takes hard work, an open mind, and a willingness to go that extra mile if needed.  So before you fly off the handle at this message, cut to the chase and start saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

My message this week is about doing what it takes to get things done:

Arte Nathan“Sometimes questions are more important than answers.” -Nancy Willard

Nancy Willard (born June 26, 1936) is an award-winning children's author, poet, and novelist. In 1982, she received the Newbery Medal for A Visit to William Blake's Inn.

What questions do you have today?  Most people have far more questions than they do answers.  Sure, sometimes you have answers for questions from your friends, colleagues, family and acquaintances – because they mostly ask you things you know about.  But what we really need to come up with are questions about all the things we don’t know about – and there’s certainly no shortage of those.  It’s the smart ones among us who admit what they don’t know, and who are then curious and confident enough to then ask about them.  The internet makes this kind of thing easy, but how often do you stop and ask someone something?  Doing so doesn’t mean you’re ignorant; in fact most of the time that impresses others because it shows your interest to learn from them.  Life is all about learning and in this world there’s so much we don’t know that you’ll probably never run out of questions once you start.  The most successful people we know are those who fearlessly inquire about things because they understand that sometimes questions are more important than answers. So jump on the bandwagon and start asking good questions today!

Stay well.
 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Friends

  



  Friends

As you know, we’ve been here in New York City for more than a year; and because it’s always been a temporary thing, cultivating new friends has been difficult.  It’s like: hey, where do you live, or: how long you gonna be here??  The answers to those questions usually don’t encourage the kind of deep and long-term friendships that ultimately develop any benefits.

So it’s at times like this that the old friends we have are so much more important to us.  Last week one of my old friends stopped in NYC on her way from Europe back home to Florida.  And we got together.  And we laughed and re-connected just like there had been no lapse in our friendship.  And then she took out her iPad and showed me pictures she’d taken at a dinner the night before with 3 friends – one was from Central America, one from Africa and the last from Europe.  Those friends don’t get together often, but they got right back into the benefits of friendship.  The pictures were filled with smiles and obvious good cheer, just the kind you’d expect from a group of… well, friends.  I asked: how long’s it been since you’ve seen any of these people?  And she replied: too long!  And that sums up the world in which we each live.

We’re online lots of the time, we’re traveling at other times, and we’re busy all the time. So it’s not easy, but certainly important, to make time – somehow, somewhere, some way – to keep and maintain the friendships we develop.  And with Skype and the Internet it’s easier today than ever to stay in touch.  But let’s not mistake staying in touch with those tools, or clicking the like button on Facebook, or the occasional tweets we send, or checking in on Foursquare, as substitutes for the face-to-face and in-person connections that we should and need to have in real life.  That kind of up close and personal getting together, doing the things you do with friends – like the dinner party in the pictures my friend showed me – those are the real benefits of friendship.  So don’t wait too long, or let it go too long, before you have a real moment together with your friends. 

My message this week is about being creative and innovative in this game of life:

“I do not know the word 'quit.' Either I never did, or I have abolished it.” -Susan Butcher

Susan Howlet Butcher (1954 – 2006) was an American dog musher, noteworthy as the second woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1986, the second four-time winner in 1990, and the first to win four out of five sequential years.

If you’re ever going to create something, anything, then you better have a “never quit” attitude like Susan Butcher.  Check out Susan or the Iditarod Race on Google to see what she went through to be the champion of that event so many times.  Lots of people throughout history have had this kind of attitude and all of them were hugely successful in their endeavors.  Winning at anything, like creating anything, takes dedication, perseverance, guts and a ‘never quit’ attitude.  And if any successful people couldn’t succeed, it wasn’t because they didn’t give it their all.  Do you give your all to the things you do – both big and small – and do you make the total commitment needed to be a creative and innovative winner?  Life is complicated, competition is fierce, and only those who don’t quit come up with the big ideas and wins.  Do what it takes today to be that kind of winner.  Forget the word quit today – abolish it from your vocabulary – and then go out and work at being successful!

Stay well!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Leap Year

ballerina on pointLeap Year

We have a whole extra day this year, like every 4 years, to make a celestial correction.  To me, this is like Physics: I don’t understand it and I just have to accept it.

Thus: In the Gregorian calendar, the current standard calendar in most of the world, most years that are evenly divisible by 4 are leap years. In each leap year, the month of February has 29 days instead of 28. Adding an extra day to the calendar every four years compensates for the fact that a period of 365 days is shorter than a solar year by almost 6 hours.

C’mon - how did somebody figure this out in 45BC?  I can’t keep track of time or days even though I wear a watch and carry a PDA – I guess when there were no watches or PDAs people had time to count and keep track of things like this.  Imagine the person who had to keep track in order to note that the years were about 6 hours short of a full 365 days.

And of course if there is something this important (at least it must have seemed important way back then), there are bound to be some funky folk traditions:
  • In the British Isles, it is a tradition that women may propose marriage only on leap years.
  • In Denmark, the tradition is that women may propose on the leap day (Feb 29th), and that refusal must be compensated with 12 pairs of gloves.
  • In Finland, the tradition is that if a man refuses a woman's proposal on leap day, he should buy her the fabrics for a skirt.
  • In Greece, marriage in a leap year is considered unlucky.
Of course there’s nothing funky at all about this: it’s just another one of those curiosities that we learned to live with as kids.  Like don’t put your tongue on a piece of cold metal in the winter. Or first seeing the big harvest moon or the northern lights. They were all part of the things that just were there and we accepted them because they’d always been there. Remember reading the Farmer’s Almanac like it was gospel and looking for an early sighting of woolly bear caterpillars or Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow as a prognostication of winter.  Life is full of these kinds of things, and when added to all the more real lessons we learned in school (public and religious), they shaped our lives.

And wherever you go throughout the world these same traditions hold true.  How they all got disseminated before the advent of the nightly news programs or computers is another curiosity for another day. For now, let’s just realize and feel good that there are many more things that bind us together than keep us apart.  There are more reasons to love and care about each other than there are to hate. And there are countless reasons to get up each day and passionately do what you do. Maybe these are the lessons to be learned and remembered on this extra leap year day.

My message this week is about learning to be close to others:

Arte Nathan"Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together."  -Vista M. Kelly

When’s the last time you sat and watched a snowfall. It really is pretty, and while you mostly focus on all of the individual flakes as they fall past your window, it’s only when you look down from afar that you fully appreciate how they all fit together. Same with making a snowman – getting a little snow, making it into a ball, and then rolling it along the ground to collect more and make a bigger ball that then joins with others to become the snowman. These are nice metaphors for putting things and people together and seeing how they all add up to more than the sum of their parts.  Teams are like that – all the individual talent becomes greater when it’s working together.  Sure it takes a bit of coordination, and everyone has to agree to play nicely together – but when it’s right it’s great.  Sort of like many voices singing in harmony - it’s heavenly and inspiring.  Find ways to stick together with those you’re with today, and see what you all can do.

Stay well!