family, happiness, harmony, sunshine, thankful, time

Step 202: Making Moments

Yesterday, the fam and I headed out to New Smyrna Beach, Florida. We splashed around in the salty surf, hung out on the sand in our sun dome – so much better than an umbrella, collected seashells, and looked for jellies washed in by the waves (my niece, Lorelei’s, favorite beach activity). Perfect temperatures, both air and water, made for a relaxing, care-free afternoon.

My sister, Weez, snapped pictures of us and as I looked at those photos I was reminded of how special days and moments like these will be treasured for many years to come. My nieces are growing fast. I imagined how we’d think about these days when the girls are older, how we’d long for these very moments as life trolls on. I was glad and grateful to appreciate them in real-time, for what they are now and what they will mean in the days ahead.

That awareness is something I’m working to harness. We have special moments all the time; we just don’t always know they were special until they’ve passed. I’d like to catch them by the tail as they whiz by, in the hopes that I can hang on to them for just a little bit longer.

The image above is a picture of New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

change, choices, courage, discovery, encouragement, frustration, gifts, gratitude, loss, opportunity, yoga

Step 201: Obstacles as Path

“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” –Alfred D. Souza

I keep thinking about the idea of “the path of least resistance.” I don’t know what that path looks like. I work and work and work, and eventually a pathway opens, but never constitutes taking the easy road. This quote helped me put this idea in perspective. When I think about the things I’m most proud of in my life, they all resulted from overcoming obstacles. It wasn’t always a fun journey, but the results were worth it.

I’ve written about Ganesha, the Hindu god of obstacles, and how much I learned about him during my yoga teacher training. Some people have interpreted his role as a remover of obstacles. That view is mostly right. It needs the addition of “removed of obstacles on our life’s path.” Sometimes, as Alfred Souza so eloquently states, obstacles need to be placed in our way to help us realize our path.

There’s no shame in having obstacles; there’s no need for us to bemoan their presence. They can be our reasons to be grateful. They show us our strength, and if we can recognize their gifts and their reasons for being, we can often find our way around them.

family, happiness, simplicity

Step 200: Getting to Simple

“Power is the ability not to have to please.” ~ Elizabeth Janeway, American author and critic

Simplicity is hard work. It involves letting go of preconceived notions, the opinions of others, and every would, could, and should that we encounter daily. A lot of people, products, services, and companies want to complicate our lives; they want to keep us on our toes and on the go for their own purposes. Gaining and maintaining simplicity requires power and willpower.

I am in Florida this week with my family and we’re enjoying a lot of simple fun. Hanging out with the kids, going to the beach tomorrow, easy meals, morning cartoons, and afternoon siestas. Every day this week will feel like Saturday. A few times I’ve caught myself making to-do lists and panicking that this, that, and the other thing need to be done. And they do – but not right now. Chores can, and will, wait.

Even when I get back to New York City life, I’m going to give it my best shot to keep it simple. Complication is easy – it’s everywhere, comes in every flavor, and can be taken up at any time. Simplicity is the harder road, the more challenging goal, but in the end I think it’s the way to more happiness. Just check out the grin on my face above.

The image above is my niece, Lorelei, giving me a kiss to wake me up from a nap I was taking in the car.

creativity, determination, frustration, learning, Life, loss, luck, mistakes, presentation, producer, television, trend

Step 199: Why I Hate Reality TV Shows With Elimination Rounds

I have a hard time watching reality TV, especially when elimination rounds are involved. I get nervous for the contestants as if I’m on the show myself. I never knew why until my brother-in-law recently shared his view on these shows: “You don’t get judged on the body of your work; one mistake and you’re gone.” This is a horrible lesson to reinforce in our society.

Real success comes from trying a lot of different ideas, taking risks, and learning from failures as well as achievements. To support the idea that one false move means you’re down for the count is just plain dumb. Real life isn’t like that, making the idea of this kind of “reality” TV anything but.

My brother-in-law had an idea: why don’t we let all of the contestants stay until the end and have the judging be on the full season of work, not just one dish, one task, or one song? Have the weekly winners actually win something extra. Let people learn from their weekly mistakes, and actually see what they do with what they learn. That would be a reality TV show worth watching.

career, choices, decision-making, education, teaching, yoga

Step 198: Decisions, Iriquois-style

I heard Jeffrey Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation, speak at the World Innovation Forum and he explained his company’s decision-making philosophy with respect to the environment: they consider how their decisions will impact the world in seven generations (roughly 70 years.) Seventh Generation took a page from the law of the Iroquois. After Hollender’s inspiring talk, I created a similar decision-making rule for myself: when making important decisions, I think about how I’ll feel about my choice 7 years from now.

This has brought up some interesting effects that may seem small on the surface, though are huge underneath:

1.) I had a hard time figuring out how to fit my yoga teacher training into my schedule. I had to make trade-offs with some other projects like Innovation Station and finishing my first e-book. Ultimately, I decided that the yoga training could lead to a service that I could offer independently, giving me more flexibility to pursue so many of my interests. 7 years from now, I will be very happy I gave entrepreneurship a shot with Compass Yoga.

2.) I went to Greece a few weeks ago and soon after I made those travel plans my sister asked if I would visit for a week only two weeks after I returned from Greece to help her out with her kids while my brother-in-law was out-of-town. I usually wouldn’t ask to take my vacation days from work so close together. I’m in Florida now having a blast with my little nieces. 7 years from now, I will be so grateful for this time – I am already grateful for it now. Work will manage without me just fine.

3.) When the opportunity to teach at LIM College presented itself, working the class into my schedule was difficult. I could have just passed on the chance to make things easier at work. However, I’ve been wanting to teach a college level for the past few years, and that opportunity can be tough for a young professional to come by. So even though it was difficult to re-work my schedule, I knew that if I didn’t accept the teaching assignment 7 years from now I would regret it.

4.) Now 34, I’m considering how I spend my work life. For some time, I have wanted to turn more of my career toward the field of education in some way. It would be easy to just continue down the professional path I’m on, even though I know it’s not my passion. I make a good living at a popular company. 7 years from now, I know that I will wish I had made the move to education much earlier on. So even though making a career change can be challenging, particularly in this economy, I have to go for it.

This decision-making philosophy is helpful, but not easy to implement. It requires trusting my gut much more often than my head. The heart can take the long-view; the head can’t. In recent years, my head has won more often than my heart. The practical side of me has taken a bit too much control. I need a better heart-mind balance in my decisions. Thinking 7 years ahead helps me do that. I’m grateful to the Iroquois and Seventh Generation for the lesson.

The image above can be found here.

education, learning, teaching

Step 197: Teaching as Service

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

The syllabus for my LIM College class is coming together. We’ve worked through some required reading choices, made some structural decisions, and began the search for final project ideas that the students will work on in teams. I’m an exceptional student, and I’m learning fast that there is not a direct correlation between student skills and teaching skills. Previously, I thought there was a strong linkage. Teaching, unlike studying, takes us to the very edge of our learning every time. We can only teach what we truly know and embody.

I have a lot to learn about how a college operates, how staff and faculty work with one another, and how to make a mountain of information palatable and intriguing for college students. I have no doubt that I’ll get there – it’s just going to take loads of muscle power on my part.

As I left my meeting at LIM this morning, I thought about the correlations between teaching and leadership. I have always believed that being a leader is not telling people what to do – it’s about paving the way for others to spread their wings. It’s about providing resources, support, and a knowledgable, empathic ear. It’s about helping people be the very best they can be.

Teaching, as I see it now, is the same thing. Give students some knowledge, resources, and a structure that fosters their own creative thinking. And again, that empathic ear is as useful in the classroom as it is in the boardroom.

As a new adjunct faculty member, I’m a student as well. I’m learning how to craft a syllabus and then bring it to life. I’m learning about new teaching technologies as my class will be done half in the classroom and half online. From the other side of the table, I’m now crafting and analyzing grading systems, workloads, objectives, and then figuring how to map objectives and tie them into weekly lesson plans.

I’m a doer – the strategic thinking phase of a project, I will admit, is not my favorite. I want to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I need to tinker and test and try on these teaching shoes. I’m anxious to get into the classroom, meet the students, and begin.

On my way out from LIM this morning, I saw the Henry David Thoreau quote on their bulletin board and I took a deep breath. It’s okay, and actually a privilege, to be at the beginning. And the more time (within reason) we spend at the beginning, the better the end result will be. Every task, just like every fruit, has its season. Thank you for the reminder, Mr. Thoreau.

relationships, silence, values

Step 196: The Angry Truth

”The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off.” ~ Gloria Steinem

I laughed out loud at this quote and then I thought, “You got that right, Gloria.” The truth may lead us to liberation, though first it does make us uncomfortable, particularly if that truth goes against a long-held belief. And what if you’re the truth-sayer of your friends, family, co-workers? What if you and the truth have come to an agreement that it will present itself and you will give it a voice? Do you turn into someone who sets others free, and first makes them angry?

I have this role. Of course I have biases, lens, that filter my view of the world. Everyone does. I am very conscious of the fact that I don’t say the truth, but my truth. I call things as I see them, though I admit that may not always be how they are from every angle. And I encourage other people to say their truth, to gives their points of view freely and openly. The truth, however biased, teaches us something – about ourselves, about others, and about the world. I’ve noticed that my closest friends share my truths. We found each other by speaking our minds. The truth leads us to our pack.

That said, speaking our truths is a tall order. Someone, always, will disagree with us and be angry about our point of view. Even the most saintly of human beings, Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, dealt with this same difficulty. No one who speaks the truth is immune to some type of backlash.

Take the tall order. Freedom isn’t free – it takes guts to find it for ourselves, and even more guts to help others find their own freedom. The alternative is that we all stay kind of content and trapped. That sounds like a serious degree of hell to me. I’d rather speak up and deal with the consequences.

business, entrepreneurship, yoga

Step 195: The Speed of Impossible Tasks

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Compass Yoga feels like this to me right now, but my history of finding a way through keeps discouragement at bay most of the time. I struggled a bit to find a yoga studio that provided comprehensive, affordable teacher training with a flexible schedule. A very logical service to provide seemed unattainable as I flipped through the glossy pages of Yoga Journal. Sonic Yoga made that type of training possible for me – it just took me a while (and lots of internet searching) to find my way there.

Then I started to think about how I could us yoga to help the world and attract students, either private or in small groups, that wouldn’t require me to open up my own studio. I took a page from companies like Print for Change and Design 21 who donate a part of their proceeds to nonprofits. I do the same, giving the tax deduction to students and giving them the option to choose what charity to fund.

I put up a website – which I thought would also take a while to craft and was actually done in a weekend. WordPress, and my experience with this blog, made that task easy, or at least relatively easy. Now I’m working on a plan to market myself as a teacher by applying to do some speaking engagements, writing for well-known yoga sites, and offering some free classes to nonprofits in public spaces. The progress is slow – actually at this moment it’s crawling along though moving forward. Sloooowly and steady. After all, that is what yoga teaches us: the beauty of slowing down.

I get frustrated when I think about just how slow it’s going, despite the many hours of work cultivating and following leads. I think about how I’ve transitioned quickly into new parts of my career, to new cities where I’ve lived, to new hobbies and projects I’ve taken on. My life, for as far back as I can remember, has been about speed. Starting and running a business is more about what’s right than it is about what gets me the quickest win.

It seems impossible to me – this idea that slowing down will actually serve me better in the long run. I constantly battle the idea of “if I don’t do these 10 things right now someone else will.” I have SBP – small business paranoia. Though when I force myself to stop racing, when I stop trying to be one (or 100) more step(s) ahead, I can think more clearly and the task at-hand doesn’t seem poised to crush me under its hefty weight. It’s just sitting there, a mountain of work, waiting for me to carry away one stone at a time.

There are a lot of stones. Some of them are really heavy and I’m going to need to ask for help to lift them – yet another thing I am not so good at. I do see the benefits of taking my time with this new venture. The question is did I really learn to master my mind to exist, at least for a little while, in stillness.

The image above can be found here.

books, leadership

Step 194: Dragons, Fires, and Hornets, Oh My!

I live in a cool building. Residents leave books, magazines, and nicknacks of all kinds down in the lobby on two community tables. Recently, I picked up several books down there that I’ve been wanting to read, one being The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. I’ve been seeing Larsson’s trilogy all over the place – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire are the other two. I haven’t a clue what the books are about; I just love that a man is writing about women actually doing something in the world that’s perceived as risky. And I like the book cover art.

I did read Larsson’s biography on the inside cover. He was the editor of Expo Magazine and a leading expert on anti-democratic activity. He delivered the manuscripts for all three books at once shortly before his death in 2004, having never written a novel before. 6 years later, they are all the rage. I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere.

Inspired by Larsson’s titles, I did a little hornet nest kicking of my own. Yesterday I went to hear an executive from a Fortune 500 company speak. This executive, while known outwardly as an innovator, has recently been quoted as calling product development in the digital space “chasing shiny new objects.” That phrase makes me giggle. The world isn’t going digital, it’s gone digital. I fear for the people working at this company. In 10 years, despite its current dominance, I’m predicting that it will cease to be a relevant player because of its leader’s short-sightedness on how important digital is to its customer-base.

The Q&A session arrived, and I wanted to ask about the mobile technology projects that were recently and publicly cancelled by the company. When I was younger, I never hesitated to ask questions. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tempered that impulse a bit, packaging my many questions of my youth in one pointed, more mature question. I asked very calmly about the leader’s thoughts on digital and received the response, “Well we definitely have to win there. I will just DIE if our competition beats us to that space,”she said through a very toothy grin.

If that Q&A session was an episode of The Office, the next frame would show me staring at the camera with a deadpan, bored look on my face. Newsflash Your Executive Excellency: the competition has already beaten you to the space, placed major PR bucks against their new digital products, and you don’t even know it. Your team has my sympathy.

My question had a bit of an agenda, and my agenda, as my pal Kelly would say, was morbid curiosity. It is amazing to me how many people in leadership positions think they’re too busy to be forward thinking. Having a vision, which means knowing where they are, where their competition is, and where the subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in the market are taking place is THE job of leadership.

Though the executive’s answer was hardly fulfilling, I’m still glad I asked. Calling in the Dragons, fanning fires, and disturbing the hornets involves some risk, but I think it’s better to call a spade and spade and understand it for what it really is rather than pretending that bad decisions are justifiable when better decisions are available. I wonder if that’s what Larsson is getting at in his trilogy, too.