Saturday, November 8, 2008

Rise up and reach down

Last week I heard Ursula Burns, President of Xerox, speak. Like President Obama, she calls herself an unlikely candidate to the President of a company like Xerox. She was raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, went to school at Brooklyn Poly, and has never accomplished a single thing on the life to-do list she created as a young student. What she has done is become a shining example of achievement and the use of adversity as a tool for advancement rather than an excuse for set-backs.

Of all the topics she discussed with us this week, there is one quote that stands out in my mind. Like me, she is a fan of author Anna Quindlen. She heard Quindlen speak a few years ago and reminds herself of Quindlen's favorite quote that she uses to close every talk. When asked about her motto in life, Quindlen says, "Rise up and reach down." Strive to get ahead, and take others with you.

In these times when so many people are concerned about their jobs, their financial stability, and their future prospects for success, it can be tough to imagine rising up. At the moment, they're just trying to tread water. But rising up can mean something more than just advancing our careers. Rising up is what we did on Tuesday - regardless of the candidates we voted for, simply going out to vote is a form of rising up. Going to the leadership at our companies with innovative ideas to save on costs, delight and support customers, or diversify our offerings - that's rising up, too. Speaking out, getting involved, lending our time, funding, and support in our communities - that is rising up.

There is something to be said for being part of a rising tide that lifts all boats. If I am successful, that is a win for every demographic that I belong to: women, Generation X, people who put themselves through school, my alma maters (Penn and UVA). Ursula Burns calls it "winning because of everything I am, not in spite of it. My race, my gender, my demographics are certainly involved in how successful I am because they make me who I am."

Barack Obama's victory on Tuesday was a victory for community organizers, Democrats, blacks, those of mixed races, youth, social media users, those who value and exhibit eloquence, people who seek to educate themselves to improve their lots in life. Everything that he is, "a mutt" as he called himself yesterday in his first press conference since his win on Tuesday, made his victory possible. And with his signature humility and ability to unite people from every walk of life, he took us with him. He exemplifies Quindlen's and Burns's ideal of rising up and reaching down. We would all do well to live by this example.

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