Leap: Back to Basics

From Pinterest member

This photo from Pinterest put a smile on my face.

When I was little, we didn’t have air conditioning in my home. Instead we had a giant square fan that roared as it blew air (mostly hot air) throughout the first floor of our home. My sister, Weez, and I used to sit in front of it and let the sounds of our voices shine through it. They’d reverberate back to us with a distinctly robotic sound which made us giggle.

As Spring begins to sweep the country, it’s time to think about looking back into our beginnings. It’s time to think about what really delights us, what makes us feel alive in the simplest and purest form. It’s time to get back to our roots because everything else we value in our lives today comes from that humble start when we were a blank slate, when life was a white canvas just waiting for color. Make sure you’re still the artist you set out to be.

child, childhood, children, clarity, encouragement, failure

Beginning: My 4-Year Old Niece Taught Me That There is Always a Reason to Try

Lorelei and I at her Fall Festival. She got her face painted like a butterfly.

I spent the Thanksgiving holidays in Florida, and got a lot of time with my 4-year old niece, Lorelei. She likes to play the game I call “Touch the Ceiling” where she asks me to reach way up on my tip-toes and then jump to see if I can touch the ceiling. I’m 5’2″ and the ceilings in my niece’s house are at least 10 feet if not more. My vertical is decent but it’s not that good.

I laughed the first time she asked me to do that and told her that I couldn’t touch the ceiling because I was too short. “Well, you could always try,” she said to me. This back and forth happened multiple times over the holidays. Lorelei would ask me to do something like figure out how to fly up into the sky, put both feet behind my head, and open up a seemingly un-openable bottle cap. Each time I would say I didn’t think I could do it, and each time she would tell me I could try. And she was right – we have nothing to lose by trying.

After this exchange happened a few times, Lorelei got me thinking about all of the times I say to myself, “Oh, I just don’t think this is going to work.” And then I remember her wise and wonderful counsel – give it a go and maybe I’ll surprise myself. And what’s the worse that will happen? I won’t make it, and that’s okay, too. At least I gave it a shot. Failure isn’t as bad a we make it out to be. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that this advice will serve me well in the new year. I hope it helps you, too.

(Thanks to Yoga Freedom’s prompt yesterday through Reverb11. The question “What lesson or piece of wisdom did you learn from a child this year? Did it surprise you?” inspired this post. And thanks to Jeffrey Davis for suggesting that I participate in Reverb11 through Yoga Freedom. So glad I took that advice!)

change, childhood, choices, commitment, goals

Beginning: Striving By Settling for Change

<a “Something has always come along to shake things up just when I am feeling settled. Maybe this is the fate of a striver, someone always trying to be ‘twice as good’.” ~ Condoleezza Rice

A few months ago I read the book Extraordinary, Ordinary People by Condoleezza Rice. It tells her own personal story prior to her very public life by paying tribute to her parents. Despite the fact that I was confused by nearly every foreign policy call she made while servicing in President Bush’s administration, I was enormously impressed by her personal story and the candor with which she told it. She’s also an incredibly likeable person.

Shake it up, baby
Of all the sound bites in the book, this one about the life of a striver has stuck with me. I regularly go through this same roller coaster. Just when I think I’m settled and I’ve got it all figured out, my reality gets turned on its head. This has happened to me enough times that I have learned to just roll with changes, big and small. And while this constant change may appear unsettling on the surface in actuality it’s made me so grateful. Because I know that everything will change, I appreciate each moment, good or bad, more fully. I’m reminded of my mother’s mantra, “This too shall pass.” Everything passes.

On disappointment
Another happy side effect of the acceptance of change is that disappointment has less of a sting. My friend, Sara, recently asked me how I manage to work on so many projects at once. For better or worse, I was raised to be productive. My father’s one ask of us is that we never do anything to embarrass him; ironic given all the times he embarrassed us. Still, that stuck with me and to me meant that if I attempted to do anything it had better be done well. It was made very clear to us that we are here on borrowed time and that we were expected to make a contribution to humanity.

My father’s life was tragically cut short at age 61 with most of his life’s work left unfinished. The lesson of how fleeting life is sticks with me; I think about it every day. The most enlightened point-of-view of this lesson is that I have very little time to feel badly about disappointment. I have to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again. In many ways, to keep going is the only way I know to deal with disappointment.

A belief in karma
I’m a walking contradiction, and truth be told I like it that way. A big believer in free will, I’m also just as passionate about the concept of destiny, karma, and a predetermined path. One of my favorite quotes came from Steve Jobs when he told a group of graduates that life could only be understood in reverse because it’s only in reverse that all of the seemingly disparate pieces of our lives fit together. As I work on the direction of Compass Yoga, I realize why I need all of my life experiences, good and bad, big and small.

Welcome, Change!

In an effort to make all of these experiences worthwhile, to make them mean something in the grand scheme of life, I’m glad to put myself in the camp of strivers. In the end I want to be able to look back on my long life and realize that it was twice as good as I ever thought it would be. This is a tall order given that I have very high expectations. And if change is the linchpin that makes that dream possible, then I welcome it with open arms and often.

childhood, dreams, imagination

Step 216: Dreaming Impossible

“When we are dreaming alone it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality.” ~ DH Camara (as quoted by Bridget Ayers on Twitter)

As kids, we dream. Somewhere along the way someone told us to do things like “grow up”, “take responsibility”, and “get a REAL job.” Those people make me mad. I have a hard time understanding why dream must be mutually exclusive from growing up (whatever that means), taking responsibility, and having a real job. Who decided that dreams are by their very nature immature, reckless, and fake?

Reading several books about Pixar and one about bring games into everyday life strengthened my resolve to dream and bring others into my dreams. These books also strengthened my conviction that a company and a career can attain wild success and have fun as a core ingredient. I might even go so far as to say that to have a company, career, and life that attains wild success, fun must be the main ingredient. Today I decided that every day going forward I must play more, no matter where I am or who I’m with.

I don’t mean that I intend to goof off as much as possible in the hope that money falls from the sky and into my bank account. I want to roll up my sleeves and get to work building, creating, and playing. Walt Disney built Disneyland in a year, from empty blueprints to people walking into his first park. People told him countless times it couldn’t be done, until of course it was done. “It’s fun to do the impossible,” he famously said. I agree.

Pictured above: a young Walt Disney and his most prized creation. Ironically, when Walt first arrived in Hollywood he thought he was late to the animation party because Felix the Cat had gained so much fame. Little did he know that he wasn’t poised to develop characters as famous at Felix, but to set the new standards for the entire entertainment industry.

childhood, children, comedy, television

Step 212: 4 Things That Made Me Laugh This Week

As a kid, I loved the movie Mary Poppins. I still do. The scene of Uncle Albert and Bert on the ceiling (played brilliantly by Ed Wynn and Dick Van Dyke, respectively) brings a smile to my face every time I think of it. Imagine the energy of laughter so strong that we literally rise up to the ceiling. Can laughter make us fly, at least figuratively? I think so.

This week ended up as one filled with laughter, some true funny ha-ha laughter, some laughing at dumb luck, and some of the shaking head, “I can’t believe this is happening” variety. None of it literally got me to the ceiling, though on several occasions I doubled over and my face hurt. I consider that a week well-lived.

1.) The Del Close improv marathon. My pal, Amanda, scored us some tix and a rockin’ place in line to see The Colbert Report writers perform. Though they stated clearly that they are writers, no performers, I found them hilarious. (During the days of George Bush, I used The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as my daily dose of news. I chalk it up to survival instinct.) The Del Close Marathon runs this entire weekend with a slew of shows nearly round-the-clock. Check out the schedule and pricing here.

2.) Comedy in marketing. I snapped the photo above outside of The Plant Shed, a store in my neighborhood. According to the sign, customers received a hug with every purchase. True statement? No idea, but it made me laugh. A course in comedy should be required for every marketer. Johanna, one of my yoga teachers, uses comedy in her classes all of the time because when people laugh, they breathe. And we all need to breathe, whether passing by a store, taking a yoga class, or just getting through our daily lives. Yes, sex sells. I would wager that comedy sells more.

3.) Kids say and do the darndest things. My niece, Lorelei, cracks me up on a regular basis. One of her favorite games is to have someone cover her up with a blanket and then wander around saying out loud, “Where’s Lorelei?” Then she jumps up from under the covers and you must pretend that she surprised you. I have no idea why we found this so funny, but we rolled around laughing about it for many hours and the game never got old. Spend more time with kids and you’ll laugh more often.

4.) Phineas and Ferb. I am a great believer in cartoons. I can be found in apartment watching them on a regular basis. I grew up on the Muppets, and I classify smart comedic writing for children that also amuses adults as high art. (I took a comedic writing class at UCB about two years ago. I was awful – I’ve never had to work so hard to write something decent. Out of 8 sketches, only 2 were even passable.) Comedy is hard. Smart comedy is a rare gift. Smart comedy for children that makes adult laugh is rarer still. Thanks to my brother-in-law and niece, Phineas and Ferb are my latest animated obsession. They must have a movie coming out – this kind of comedy cannot stay confined to the small screen. I watch every 20 minute episode laughing out loud. They are two brothers (with a pet platypus named Perry) who dream up crazy day-long stunts to keep themselves occupied and experimenting over summer vacation. They are wicked smart with big hearts. They believe the sky’s the limit. You should too because, well, it is.

That kept me amused all week. I didn’t get to the ceiling, but I’m not ruling it out as a long-term goal. What’s got you giggling lately?

career, childhood, dreams

Step 46: Closing the Heart-Mind Gap

“The greatest distance in the world is the 14 inches from our minds to our hearts.” ~ Agnes Baker Pilgrim

On Friday, I had my annual physical and for the first time the doctor performed an EKG. I had these little electrodes placed all over my body. Even the slightest movement, even clearing my throat, caused my heart rate to change. Its beat is the center of our existence, and yet we spend very little time actually considered the needs and wants of the heart, or rather our minds spend a lot of time dismissing the heart’s needs and wants.

How do we close the gap? How do we help our lives sing out from the heart while being informed by the tremendous cognitive abilities pulsing inside our enormous brains? I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s excellent book In Defense of Food. Pollan points out that we actually already know how to eat; we don’t need any scientist to tell us. What’s happened is that we’ve allowed “nutrionism” and food science to lead us astray. He advocates for getting back to our roots to help us re-learn how to eat well. I think the same method could be used to close our heart-mind gap.

A few months back I wrote an article for about getting back to age 9 to discover what will make us the happiest in our careers. The trouble is that once we get too far beyond age 9, we allow too many people to tell us what is best for us. We let others tell us what to do with our lives so often that we actually begin to believe them. When we’re 9, all we can do is imagine what kind of life will make us happiest. That’s the only focus of a 9 year old. As a 33 year old, I want to have that same maniacal focus on happiness that my 9 year old self had. I deserve it. You deserve it. We all deserve it.

In a recent job interview, someone remarked that my professional experience was “weird”. (I ended up opting out of the interview process as a result.) By “weird”, he meant that I have always done what I wanted to do. In my career, I just follow my heart rather than some plan defined my someone else as a “good way to go”. My friend, Susan Strayer, brilliantly advocates for following your heart in her incredible book The Right Job Right Now. Susan asks her readers to look up and then look in to find out what they really want to do with their careers. It’s the only career book in my personal library and I consult it regularly to keep me leading my career with my heart.

I’m not saying it’s easy to get back to being 9. There are some things I do to put me in that frame of mind. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it helps me and I hope it helps you, too.

6 Ways I get back to 9:
1.) Play on the swings in the park near my house
2.) Spend time with kids – getting back to 9 by osmosis
3.) I paint with watercolors, sing, and dance with wild abandon on a regular basis – even if it’s just in my apartment by myself
4.) I watch cartoons – who says there’s nothing good on TV? Sesame Street is my favorite show.
5.) I spend time in nature. As a kid I grew up on an apple orchard in a rural area of upstate New York. Getting out into nature reminds me of running around the woods with my sister, Weez.
6.) I read children’s books and fairy tales. Those words and feelings of the young characters still resonate with me, and remind me to celebrate all that I felt when I was that age.

The image above is not my own. It can be found here.

books, childhood, Christmas, dreams, gratitude, Randy Pausch, writer, writing

My Year of Hopefulness – Thanks for Making My Childhood Dream Come True

Last year I wrote a few posts about Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. I first watched him give the Last Lecture on YouTube through tear-filled eyes and had to take myself for a long walk 3 months later when I read about his passing. His Last Lecture, devoted entirely to his pursuit of childhood dreams, reminded me of how important our earliest dreams are and how they shape us in adulthood. Randy Pausch reconfirmed my belief that childhood dreams, those daring, bold expressions of our deepest desire before we ever realize we have limitations, are some of the most valuable things we own. We should celebrate them and go for them with gusto, no matter what our age is.

This morning, I watched Lorelei, my two year old niece, open her gifts with wild abandon. She threw her head back and laughed with each one, regardless of how big or small it was. She liked the wrapping paper and boxes as much as the gifts inside. Watching her, I wondered how she would remember our Christmases together when she gets older. I want to do everything possible to make her childhood a blissfully happy period of her life, a time when great dreams were formed inside her beautiful heart.

Children change us, whether those children are our own, in our family, part of our friends’ families, or children we work with in our communities. We rediscover a sense of wonder and magic through their eyes, and Christmas magnifies that wonder. They use that same wonder about the world to formulate the ideas that will become their childhood dreams, and if we spend enough time with them we’ll find that they can help us formulate new dreams, too, while also reminding us of everything we dreamed of as children.

When I made up my list of childhood dreams, one of the big things I wanted to do was to be a published author. I thought that meant convincing a publisher that I was good enough for print. I never imagined there would be free (on-line) tools that would make this dream possible to achieve regardless of whether or not any publisher believed in me. I did spend a good amount of time worrying that no one would ever read what I wrote. In the past two and a half years writing this blog, I realized this incredible childhood dream with your help and support, and I wish I knew how to thank you all enough.

This Christmas, I am deeply grateful to all of you who have come to this blog to read about my journey. Your comments, emails, text messages, conversations, and face-to-face opinions and advice mean more to me than I could ever adequately explain. You made one of the great dreams of my life come true – you made me a writer. I hope you’ll stick with me, and that my writing will continue to be helpful to you. I hope we’ll be able to build some more dreams together. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, this year and always.
The image above is not my own. It can be found here.
childhood, children, education, school, teaching, volunteer, yoga

My Year of Hopefulness – Doing What We’ve Never Done

All week I’ve been trying to write curriculum for my after-school pilot program. I’m not a trained teacher. I’ve tutored and I’ve volunteered in classrooms. Mostly, I’ve just been up there at the wipe board (apparently the blackboards and chalk of my youth are long-since gone) winging it.

Rather than writing curriculum, I’ve been staring at a very blank white screen on my laptop, complete with blinking cursor. And that little tiny voice, the one I just dread, decides to show up at the most inopportune time to make me feel even worse. “Who are you to be writing curriculum?” it says. “You don’t know how to do that.” And as much as I want to turn down that volume, the voice grows louder, adding more doubts, more concerns, and more insecurity to my already frazzled mind. I have no idea what I’m doing. There’s no denying that.

At 11:00 last night, I closed down my laptop without having written a single word. “The voice was right,” I thought. “Who do I think I am? An untrained “teacher” writing curriculum. I can’t do this.” I did what I often do when I’m frustrated with my writing. I read. The latest issue of Yoga Journal just arrived in my mailbox so I cracked it open and began reading from page one.

There is a belief in yoga, and I believe in Buddhism as well, that the Universe will provide us with the exact teaching we need exactly when we need it. Kaitlin Quistgaard, the Editor of Yoga Journal, wrote this month’s editorial note about how to show up for life and begin something we want to do even if we aren’t sure how to do it. “It seemed like a life lesson designed to show me the value of doing my part, even if I don’t know what to do,” she says of a recent incident she had. This sounds like valuable ammunition against that little voice that was doubting me. I keep reading.

A few pages later, I come across an article by Julia Butterfly Hill who talks about finding your purpose and growing with it. Hmmm…sounds like another good one. The whole article is one beautiful quote after another. “Who am I supposed to be in my life?…what do you want your legacy to be?…We approach everything backward…we live in a production-driven society rather than a purpose-driven society.” And here’s my favorite line that I’m considering having made into a t-shirt: “We don’t have to know how to do something before we begin it.” Though I’m a product developer, paid to produce, I am much more concerned with living my life with purpose than with things.

So that’s it – that’s all I needed to know to silence the little voice nagging at me. It’s true – I don’t know how to write a curriculum. I don’t know what material will resonate with the kids I want to teach. I don’t know how to actually do anything related to this project. I do know that I am a fast learner, and that I was born not knowing much of anything except how to breath, (and even that breathing isn’t something we do consciously!) I do know that I want to live in a world where every child has the opportunity to learn anything and everything that interests them. I want them all to grow up happy, healthy, safe, and excited about the possibilities that lay before them. I want them all to have a chance at a good and decent life. And that’s more than enough purpose to keep going.

The photo above can be found here.

childhood, children, family, friendship, love, relationships

My Year of Hopefulness – New Life

Today my friends, Alex and Shawn, welcomed a new baby boy into the world. 7 and a half pounds, 19 and a half inches of new, beautiful, perfect, healthy life. Alex and Shawn will be amazing parents. They’re the funniest couple I know. Their love story is one of my favorites. Having met their freshman year of college, they’ve gone through so many life changes, together and apart. After more than a decade together, they remain intensely interested in the other’s interests and they support one another endlessly in all their pursuits. Spending time with them has always made me feel optimistic about the fate of love and marriage.

And now they begin this new piece of their history with a new member of their family. I went to Providence a few weeks ago for the baby shower, and they were both so happy. Though neither of them seemed stressed or worried or afraid. This was just another great event in their lives.

With everything we hear in the news about the difficulty of remaining in love, raising kids, and keeping a marriage strong and healthy, it’s easy to feel like it’s just not possible to have all three. And then I watch Alex and Shawn and realize that marriage and family and love are what you make of them. Too often we imagine that they are entities unto themselves that we have no control over, as if our own feelings of love live outside of us, independent of the rest of our lives. What’s amazing about Alex and Shawn is that their love resides firmly at the center of their lives, while also giving them the confidence and freedom to pursue their own independent ventures, too. It’s really something to behold, especially when you consider how young they were when they first met.

I can say with certainty that their son is one of the luckiest little guys in the world. He has these incredible parents who will provide such a prime example of what love can and should be. I can’t stop smiling when I think about how much happiness he will know in his life. All kids should be so lucky.

The photo above can be found here.

art, child, childhood, photographs, social change

My Year of Hopefulness – Do You See What I See?

Today I went over to the U.N. to see a photo that my dear friend, Amy Marsico, worked on. The photo exhibit is entitled Do You See What I See? It captures the thoughts and emotions of displaced children living in refugee camps in Yemen and Namibia. The powerful images and the words of the children reacting to those images ranged from loneliness to hope to intense memories of the experiences they’ve been through in the camps and in their home countries.

The exhibit is the output of work my friend, Amy, and her colleagues did in support of the UNHCR’s Convention of the Rights of the Child. The Convention puts forward that children have the right to actively participate in the decision-making that effects their lives and communities. It has been ratified by nearly every country in the world. The U.S. is one of the few who have not adopted it.

What struck me about the thoughts of the children featured in the photo exhibit is how easy they were to understand. They had all the same concerns we have – being liked, companionship, future opportunity, learning, a desire to be safe. On my way home, I considered how children might see these streets of New York I walk along every day, what they might think as they walked through my life.

I considered how the child I used to be would view the adult I am now. What she’d be happy about and what she’d like to change. She’d want me to be having fun, freely voicing my thoughts, and making a difference. She’d want me to be excited to get up out of bed in the morning and out into the world. And she’d never want me to sit still. Ever.

I like to think that I carry the little child I used to be in my heart and mind as I go through my adult life. I’d like to think that though I’ve grown older, I’ve kept that young, optimistic, idealistic view on life. I’d like to think that what I see now is what I’ve always seen: a world full of opportunity and hope, a world where I can make a difference.

The photo above can be found at: