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Monday, January 31, 2011

How You React is Your Decision

Photo by Murray at New York Daily News
Here on the East Coast we are having a very snowy winter. During a recent snowstorm I was walking late at night in Brooklyn when I saw a woman who must have fallen on the sidewalk. No one else was around, so I asked if she was OK. She only partially answered. Then I asked if she wanted help up. She at first said no, then yes. I helped her up, and she continued to stand on the slippery metal grate. I told her to step into the snow, where there is more traction. She hesitated, and then stepped into the snow. She didn't seem to need anything else or have any motivation to get out of the cold. I felt my duty as a good Samaritan was done, and continued on my way.

I realize that I don't know anything about this woman and she may have had excellent reasons to stay in a heap on the sidewalk. However, in my short interaction with her, I sensed that she had a victim mentality. She almost wanted to stay sitting on the sidewalk, where she could dwell within self pity. She almost refused my offer of help to get out of the situation. She almost stayed on the slippery surface where she could fall again, and only reluctantly stepped into a more secure place.

Unpleasant things happen to all of us. How you react is your choice. Do you attempt to fix the situation? Do you accept offers of help? Do you take action to reduce the possibility that it will happen again?
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Friday, January 28, 2011

Know what makes you remarkable

Celebrating a winner of a giveaway (photo by Michael Sladek)
I was recently in Kansas City for this year's gathering of Lutheran Youth Workers. Over 500 people attended the event. They had all sorts of options about how to spend their time: workshops, massages, time with friends, spiritual renewal, connecting with vendors, exploring the city or simply relaxing at the hotel. Nothing was required, but once or twice a day, almost everyone attended the general sessions. After hearing a speaker and a musician, the end of each general session included announcements and giveaways. I was nominated from among our leadership team to deliver those announcements and giveaways. I gave prizes to the person who stayed up the latest, who had climbed the highest mountain, who had coached a sport the longest and other such categories. Between sessions, people who spotted me in the hotel would say, "Hey, I want to win something." I would ask, "well, what category could you win?" The entire time that I was there, no one had an answer. No one was prepared to tell me how they were uniquely remarkable.

I realize this was just a funny little game to win prizes, but I believe everyone is unique and remarkable and has something to offer the world. And I believe that it is specific enough to differentiate you from 500 others at an event where most of the participants have the same job as you.

What makes you remarkable?
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Know who your people are and spend more time with them

Event logo by Michael Sladek
Who are your people? You know the ones I'm talking about: The ones that instinctively understand you. The people who help you to define who you are. The friends you meet who you instantly feel like you've known forever, and then over the years end up knowing them "forever." Some people are just your people. I spent time with some of my people last week at the Extravaganza in Kansas City. It's an annual gathering of about 500 Lutheran youth workers. I lead part of the event, along with an amazing team of "my people". Although we work long and (sometimes inconvenient) hours, I am renewed by having touched base with my people, some of whom I have known for more than two decades. The best part is, I could feel that the whole hotel was full of people who were reuniting with their people.

These are certainly not all of my people, yet they hold a unique value for me because of how long and how deeply we have known each other. I also love this event because it really is about the people. We hold this event in various cities all over the country, but many of us never leave the hotel. It doesn't matter where we are, it matters that we are together, sharing a top-notch event. 

Know who your people are and spend time with them. It's good for your soul.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why None of the Oscar Nominees are Lucky

Getty Images: Paul Hawthorne
I am happy for all of the newly announced nominees for the Academy Awards. I respect their talents and wish them well. But I don't think any of them are lucky. Luck implies that they were somehow born with something different, selected for greatness by an unknown hand of fate, and that they had nothing to do with their success. Every highly successful person I have known or learned about has had quite a bit to do with their success. They identified the things that they were passionate about and worked hard to add the necessary skills. They stayed focused, often saying no to other opportunities. They learned the self-discipline to keep working on distant goals.  They marketed themselves as someone who was great at what they did, which lead to better and better opportunities. And then suddenly, they burst onto the worldwide stage, fully formed from all of their hard work, and the rest of us call them lucky.

Luck lets the rest of us off the hook: if we are not great, it's because we are not lucky, not because we didn't prepare. However, I believe that we are all created for greatness, and that greatness will look different for every single person.

All of these nominees prepared for years and were ready when the opportunity came along to create something truly great. And now they are being recognized for it. Let's respect all of their hard work, dedication, vision and creativity by not calling them lucky.

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." - Seneca, first century philosoher
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Your Surroundings: Part 7

I put the word surroundings into the search on my blog and discovered six entries. (If you'd like to play along at home, go to my main blog page, scroll down to "Search this Blog" in the left hand column, and type in "surroundings.") Today's theme is somewhat different: watch out for potential challenges in your surroundings. It's just as important as watching out for opportunities. Someone I know often claims that inanimate objects attacked him. It's funny the first or second time, and then you start to wonder how he didn't see that huge puddle of melted snow before he stepped into it and got his foot all cold and wet. Barring some sort of visual impairment, which he doesn't have, it seems that he just does not pay attention to his surroundings to a level that it feels to him as though inanimate objects are actually moving into his path and "attacking" him.

Whether it's a puddle of melted snow or a more serious challenge in your environment, pay attention. Many challenges can be avoided or weakened if you pay attention to your environment and make necessary corrections to your course of action. When you encounter a challenge that couldn't be avoided, at least you are aware of it and can be prepared with knee high rubber boots before you step into a puddle of melted snow.
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Friday, January 21, 2011

Roosevelt's "Fellowship of the Do-ers"

videoTheodore Roosevelt is more than just a face on Mt. Rushmore. Watch my (home made) video to see what I learned about how he overcame physical challenges as a child, and learned a life lesson that took him all the way to the presidency. This is part of my series of videos called "Inspiration from Famous People in History." You can view them all (including this one, if you're having trouble connecting to it here) on my website's video pages.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Revisiting a Parable: The Tortoise and the Hare

The Tortoise and the Hare
From Childhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories
It's not a Biblical parable, but there is much to be learned from the parable of the tortoise and the hare. I think we are all familiar with the basic message: sprinting and then having to rest doesn't result in a win. Slow and steady wins the race. Does this apply only to marathons? Lately, I have been thinking about the ways in which this applies to other parts of life: physical, mental, spiritual. For example, consuming a bunch of caffeine or sugar to spike your energy and then crashing isn't as productive as maintaining energy throughout the day (and getting enough sleep!). Not studying the whole semester and then "cramming" for a test does not result in long term knowledge. But what about putting God (in whatever form you worship) on the back burner and then praying feverishly in times of need? Does the logic still hold? Well, God isn't always logical but there are some similarities. First of all, God will be there any time. You don't have to check in every day to earn the right to pray earnestly in times of need. But what about the rest of the time, when there isn't a crisis? God is still available and waiting for you. Those are the exciting times: whether you call it prayer, meditation, a morning practice or something else, daily connection with a higher power slowly changes you, helps you answer your unique call, and gives you strength and guidance for the day. Slow and steady wins that race.
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Monday, January 17, 2011

The tourist who didn't see a famous person in Times Square

David Hyde Pierce in Curtains
Photo by Joan Marcus
Many people seem to believe that their surroundings do not provide what they want or need. Is that the case, or are you just not noticing what's there? As I passed a tour group in Times Square, I overheard a man ask when they were going to start seeing famous people. His tone implied that this was very important to him, and that he was frustrated that the famous people hadn't yet made themselves available to him. Just then, David Hyde Pierce passed quietly around the group, presumably on his way to the Broadway musical in which he was starring. As a well trained New Yorker, I didn't say or do anything to draw attention to the celebrity. None of the tourists noticed David Hyde Pierce, probably to the great relief of David Hyde Pierce. I was left to consider all sorts of things:
  • God or the Universe (I don't believe in coincidences) delivered the exact type of person that the tourist wanted at the exact moment he asked for it.
  • Someone in the general category of celebrity walked by. We can't always manifest the exact person or thing that we pray for or focus on, but some form of fulfillment presents itself.
  • The man was so busy asking his leader when his leader was going to point out a famous person that he missed a famous person. Always look for your own solution, even when someone else is helping to guide the way.
I don't know whether this tourist ever saw a famous person on his trip to the Big Apple. If not, perhaps the problem was not a lack of access to what he wanted, but a lack of ability to see that what he wanted was passing by on the sidewalk.
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

An ode to the library

These are my library cards. One of my favorite "perks" when I am out of town working at a theater is a local library card. I love to read and know that an electronic reader will soon make more sense for me than physical books. I actually look forward to being able to carry all my books with me at all times, stored conveniently in my electronic reader, yet I will miss the trip to the library. I love the search for an interesting book, the smell of the pages and the hushed silence in the room. I love the librarians who seem to know everything about their little corner of the world and can direct you to the perfect reference on any subject of local interest. I also love the way in which the library connects me to the community. Although I am only in a particular town for a few weeks, I belong just a little bit when I have a library card.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

When was the last time you learned a new skill?

I am playing a role in a musical in which the character plays the ukelele. I did not know how to play the ukelele, so I was excited to get started. What's more fun than learning a new instrument? I played the piano and then the flute as I grew up but never stringed instruments. Once I started to practice, I was actually surprised at how slowly I made progress. My fingers didn't want to make the chords, at least not in a way that sounded in tune.

When was the last time I attempted to learn an entirely new skill? I'm not even sure.

So often, we do what we are good at and just do more of it until we are either great at it or living on autopilot. Everything from daily tasks to the central tasks of our career were at one point things we had to learn. As we get older, there are less and less occasions in which we absolutely must do something totally new, for which we have very little preparation or skill. We either build on what we already know or pay someone else to do things we don't know how to do. However, learning to do something completely new provides the opportunity to become humble about your skills, aware of your own learning process, connected to new parts of your brain, excited about obvious improvements, able to share a new activity with others, and eventually able to add a new "special skill" to your resume.

Who knows, maybe someday I'll join a ukelele band in Brooklyn (I hear there are many. In fact, I've seen one that played exclusively Gilbert and Sullivan tunes). Right now, I am a long way off from ukelele bands giving concerts. I'm just trying to get the fingering for Gmajor7.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Redesigns, makeovers and other compelling changes

I just gave my website a face lift. When I announced it on Facebook and Twitter, I got 47 visits in the first hour (much higher traffic than a normal weekday hour). 95% of the content didn't change, just the appearance, and it drew people in at a much higher rate than any new bit of information.

There is something compelling about any sort of makeover. People are drawn to the story of reinvention. How many TV shows are there about home makeovers, personal makeovers and weight loss makeovers. (I don't know the answer to that, as I don't have a TV, but it seems like a lot). What are you doing to reinvent yourself? How will you create a better version of you this week? This month? This year?

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Monday, January 10, 2011

An organizational tip for travel

People often ask me how I live out of a suitcase. It is very difficult to live out of a fully packed suitcase. That's why I don't do it. I travel with a collapsible cloth bin. I keep clothes in the suitcase and other things (toiletries, books, electronics, shoes) in the cloth bin. The bin is sufficiently large and yet folds flat into the bottom of my carryon. Containing everything in the bin not only helps me to not lose things, it creates a more organized living space.

Even when you are not traveling or living in someone else's space, contain the little things that create clutter in your living space. A more organized space allows you to be creative in your space, with a better energy flow. Plus, you won't waste time looking for things. What you're looking for is right there in the bin.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Take Advantage of Opportunities in 2011 [Video]

Many people have a lifelong dream of seeing the ball drop on New Year's Eve in Times Square. As much as I love events of worldwide importance, Times Square on New Year's Eve has never been my dream. In fact, I have resisted opportunities to go because of the crowds, the cold, and the extreme time commitment involved. However,when I was invited to a New Year's Eve office party that overlooks Times Square, it seemed like the perfect situation. A bird's eye view of the action without actually being in the crowd. We could hear the entertainment, see the ball drop, and even catch a few pieces of confetti as they floated through the air.

I knew I didn't want to see the ball drop from the crowded streets of Times Square, so eventually life presented an opportunity to participate on terms that worked better for me. Life offers what you need if you pay attention. It may not be the exact way you predicted, it may not be absolutely perfect, but when an opportunity presents itself, take advantage and do what you need to do to make it fit your terms.

In 2011, I hope that you will be more attuned to unexpected opportunities and take advantage of them.

For a peak at my view of the action, check out this video. (If you can't see it here, visit http://www.vimeo.com/18339472)

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