Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Be Helpful and Keep Swimming

My former boss, Bob G., sent me a great article that recently appears in Business Week. Marshall Goldsmith writes with some advice on what to do at work to deal with all the bad behavior that is happening at companies all over the country. In a nutshell, he is encouraging us to be helpful. It reminds me of that idea that "whatever you seek for yourself, strive to provide for another." So if you want to be happy, look to make someone else happy. If you want to be safe, provide safety for someone else. 

Goldsmith's shortlist:
Help more, judge less
Go out of your way to help others who are down
Encourage people to focus on the future
Be aware of your own emotional reactions

If we thought 2008 was bad, just wait until we get through 2009. As Randy Bachman said, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." And I say this not as a threat or to scare anyone. The point is that we WILL get through this. We will be different people, a different nation on the opposite shore of 2010 and beyond. And in between there is this large, vast, and deep ocean, potentially without a bottom. 

My friend, Cindy, swam in the Hudson River as part of the New York Triathalon last fall. At one point in the swim, all of the participants found themselves surrounded by jellyfish. An odd, but very realistic, occurrence. And the fastest, clearest way out was through the mass of tentacles. No lifeline was coming. All they had was the support of the swimmers banning together and pushing ahead one stroke, one kick at a time. They all got stung but they all came out of the river okay. We're in the economic equivalent of the Hudson on that day. Just keep going, and together we'll make it.    

Friday, January 30, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Power of Intention

This year, I'd really like to get my writing out in front of a larger audience. On January 20th, I was inspired by President Obama who believed in himself, believed in us, and called us to take action. He empowered us to change our lives, change our country and our world. "If it has to be, then it is up to me." I took this to heart as I watched him take the oath of office. First, I jumped around and did a little dance for joy, and then I set about looking for a part-time blogging gig. 

With the enormous need for content generation, there are a lot of blogging opportunities out there. Most of the ones I found are non-paid, though I found one fairly quickly with, an on-line newspaper with city-specific news that spans a number of areas from art to food to business, and everything in between. It pays its reporters, Examiners, by click which is a fair and reasonable system and in New York, they had a need in their Business Section. Perfect. Exactly what I want to write about. So I pitched to them my angle on entrepreneurship, specifically social entrepreneurship, and the power it has to transform society. They liked the pitch and several days later I got the job. My first posts will appear this week and I'll put up a short post on this blog every week to reveal the week's topic and give a very brief overview of what will be up on

After applying for the post, I put the last few stamps on 8 letters I had written to social entrepreneurs whom I admire. At my friend, Richard's, urging I composed the letters rather than taking a class on the subject. "Just go out there and talk to people doing the work," he told me. So I walked out my door to the mail drop box on the corner, said a little prayer, and dropped the letters in. Three days later, I received an email from Pat Christen, the CEO and President of HopeLab, a organization in California that built the video game, Re-mission, to help kids fight cancer. She invited me to come visit when I'm in the Bay Area and we're in the process of setting up a date and time. (Pam Omidyar, the co-founder of HopeLab, will speak at TED next week.)

These two experience taught me about the power of intention. It is fine to hope for fortuitous events, turns of good luck, and the realization of a dream. But after we acknowledge that hope, it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. My mom loves the saying, "God helps those who help themselves." Hope does, too. If we want change, particularly social change, the journey is best started by looking in the mirror and asking ourselves the question, "What am I willing to do to make a difference?"  

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Microsoft Could Learn from Google

I've been a Microsoft customer for post of my life. Even though I moved over to Mac about a year ago, and have never looked back, I still bought Microsoft Office for Mac. After looking for closely at Google Docs, I am beginning to think that I may never need another Microsoft product, ever. 

Google runs most of my life - email, this blog, my blog reader, almost any internet search I do, and I'm even thinking of switching to T-Mobile so I can get the Google phone. I've shied away from Google Docs until recently. I'm not sure why. I guess it was just habit to open up Excel or Word, save to my hard drive, and then back up to my external hard drive. 

I've recently signed on with to be one of their business reporters - I'm very excited about the gig and have ideas popping up all the time. It's one of the nice things about being a writer - everything that happens to you, good, bad, or indifferent, is potential material. Most of the time I'm not home, so having documents on my hard drive isn't efficient. I have to write down my ideas on some scrap of paper or email them to myself and then type them into my Excel schedule when I get home. Inefficient and a time waster. And I hate wasting time.

Google Docs is the answer - whether I'm at home, at work, or out and about with my mobile, I can log in, type my ideas right into my writing schedule, and be done. (Well, except for the actual writing.) And they're there for you to connect to, any time, any where. Compatible with windows. You can share the documents with others, if you'd like. And it formats well - very well. I mean why doesn't Excel automatically align column content with the width of the column? And 99% of the time isn't the top row a header row? 

Google observed behavior and made a great product to boot that's easy to use and highly accessible. Microsoft, you have a lot to learn, and Google can teach you.    

My Year of Hopefulness - More Teaching with Junior Achievement

There are few days that I felt as nervous as I did teaching my Junior Achievement class in the South Bronx. It was the first Friday of December 2008 and I received the day off from work to teach Economics to 7th graders at Middle School (MS) 223. This school is just down the street from St. Anne's, the church featured in Jonathan Kozol's books describing the Mott Haven neighborhood. Mott Haven is one of the most violent, drug addicted areas of this country. It is ground zero for the war on poverty. 

In MS 223, I felt like I was making a difference to kids who needed role models but what struck me so suddenly was that those kids and teachers had a tremendous impact on me. 20 minutes away by subway from my safe, beautiful Upper West Side neighborhood I found a completely different New York. Many of the students I met that day have never been outside of their own neighborhood. They know that there is something more to the world than the South Bronx but they don't know if they'll ever get to see it save for watching it on TV. That one cold day in December changed the way that I looked at this city, and it changed the way I saw my life playing out. 

I was thrilled to get an email at work today from Junior Achievement about an opportunity to teach Corporate Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility at the High School of Economics and Finance. While not in the South Bronx, it's a subject matter that is very dear to me because of my link to the nonprofit world. It's steps away from my office building and for an hour a week for seven weeks this Spring, I will get to teach high school students about a subject that I am passionate about. It's opportunities like this that really make a difference - as much to my life as to the lives of the children I'm teaching. It's this sharing of knowledge, and the recognition in someone else's eyes that something you just said clicked for them, that makes our days worthwhile.     

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - United Way Linkages Program

I have had the great fortune to move easily back and forth between the nonprofit and private sectors. I started out in nonprofit just after I finished undergrad, then went to the private sector for a few years, back to nonprofit, then to business school, and back to the private sector. This movement between the two sectors has been a great source of strength for me. Firsthand, I have been able to see how the two inform one another, and I learned that while many people draw a hard line between nonprofit and the private sector, it's unnecessary. The skills, competencies, and structures are so similar it is sometimes tough to tell one from another. 

This ability to draw the connection between the two was the strength I pointed to in my United Way Linkages application. The United Way Linkages Program trains prospective nonprofit board members and then serves as a matchmaker between members of the program and nonprofit board of United Way charities. I was thrilled to learn today that I was accepted into the program and begin my training at the end of February. 

This is one more stop on the train that is leading me to start my own business based in the nonprofit world as part of the growing number of entrepreneurs who are looking toward social entrepreneurship. This is the last piece I need to close the loop - I have worked at nonprofits, large corporations, and small companies, though don't have any board experience. This training will help me to begin to fill that gap. Another bonus is that it will be a good networking opportunity for me and I will meet other, like-minded business people with this same interest of serving on a nonprofit board. 

In a week when Wall Street and Main Street announced thousands of layoffs, plunging earnings, and more doom to come, this news today about the Linkages Program helped me lift up my eyes and see what's out beyond the horizon. It helped me to look my future right in the eye and smile. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Eat, Drink, and Be from Mississippi

The Hachette Book Group has a fantastic line-up of book releases this year. I just finished Eat, Drink, and Be From Mississippi by Nanci Kincaid. I wanted a book that would lift me up and make me feel more hopeful, and that's exactly what Nanci Kincaid delivers. 

We are presented with a family in Mississippi that is very typical of what we might think of as a traditional small town, southern family. By the end of the book, we are witness to the formation of a new family, mostly self-chosen, 3000 miles from Mississippi that personifies the "resurgence of collective possibility". 

Family is a funny thing: in the traditional sense, it's an entity created by luck of the draw, people who are tied together by biology, and sometimes grow together and sometimes grow apart. Kincaid explores a new kind of family - one that people choose, either consciously or subconsciously. They fight as much as traditional families, and they also love fiercely. They believe in one another, even in the darkest hours. They are drawn to one another.

Through the whole book, I thought about this idea of having a calling, of being drawn to someone, or something, without any true justification. Could be a career, or a certain city, particular people, or a cause you care about. It overtakes you -- no one tells you that you must dedicate yourself to this person, place, or ideal. You are just compelled to. 

This is cause for great hope for all of us. Some of the characters in the book took a good long time to find their calling, others found it very quickly, and others thought they found it and then realized that they actually belonged some place else. It's never too late, or too early, to find our place in the world. And sometimes that place shifts, and the best we can do is know that the Universe knows better than we do. One things is for certain: if you are open to your calling finding you at every turn, then eventually it will.    

Monday, January 26, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Marcus Buckingham Workshop Session 2: Where Are You Now?

A few weeks after we went through the introductory session of Marcus Buckingham's on-line workshop, I finally sat down to go through session 2. Why such a gap right? Schedules, yes, but there was a larger reason to. Fear - fear of finding and discovering something new and different. Fear of change. 

Sometimes it's easier, at least in the near-term, to bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything's fine. That no improvements can or should be made. Change is painful, though it's so necessary in the long-run. Progress requires giving up the familiar and that brings with it a certain amount of anxiety. No time for dallying now - we had to jump in and get on with it. Change is coming so we might as well greet it politely at the front door rather than waiting for it to huff and puff and blow our house down. 

Session 2: Most people believe that when we consider our performance in life that we will become better people if we focus on improving our weaknesses. Marcus has a fundamentally different view. His advice is to build on our strengths and manage around our weaknesses. A meager 12% of people spend the majority of their day playing to their strengths. He's willing to give you from 8am - 11am, 25% of your day to play to things we aren't good at. And then the rest of the day must be spent on strengths.

In our society, we believe that if we study and learn about negatives, we will glean some miraculous insight into the positives. We study disease to learn about health, depression to learn about happiness and joy. There have 40,000 studies done on the topic of depression and only 400 on joy. The equation and our focus on weakness and negativity is sadly and badly tipped in the wrong direction. "You study "bad" and invert it, you don't get "good". You get "not bad." And "not bad" is not good enough. It won't give us energy. It won't make all our hard work worthwhile. And it certainly won't make us happy. 

There are a lot of people out there right now who hate their jobs. Even though they're grateful for the income with all the layoffs going on, they hate what they do. And that's the key. The three questions to ask ourselves when examining our jobs are:

1.) Why is this job important to me?
2.) Who am I going to be working with?
3.) What am I actually going to be doing?

When the "what" goes wrong, it effects the "who" and the "why". So in these times when we may be looking for a new job, the question to ask is the "what" question.  To help answer that, it's best to take a look at what invigorates us and what drains us, and then go for what invigorates us.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness -

The wonders of Twitter - the connections I've made on there never cease to amaze me. If you're not using it, hop to it - the conversation that is happening out there is invigorating and worthwhile. My latest good luck on the site was meeting an incredible woman, Phyllis, who runs a company called Shementor

In this economy, I have been feeling badly about my career - its security, my heavy school loan debt, future prospects for new opportunities. It seems that everywhere we look we see doom and gloom. Enter Phyllis - a bright, vibrant personality who is about building women up and giving them hope. We've been messaging via Twitter for a few months, following each other's tweets, and just today I finally took a look at her website. I have been missing out BIG TIME!

Recently named as one of the 101 Women Bloggers to Watch, Fall 2008 WE Magazine, Phyllis's mission is to build a community through her website to support and strengthen women managers and women who aspire to be managers. Here are some of the great assets available on the site: a free e-course, read her blog posts, executive coaching, and her frequent posts on Twitter.   

This is a call to action for every woman in business out there, employed or not, manager or not, satisfied with their career or not: we all have important things to learn from Shementor that will improve not only our careers but our lives as well. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Friends Save the Day

I am always so grateful for the compassion, loyalty, and helpfulness of my friends who see me through tough times, who help me solve problems, and who generally make me feel good about being me. I know they're great people, kind and loving and concerned. 

Today I am wrestling with an especially tough problem and there they were: hopeful, helpful, and supportive. It's humbling to be surrounded by such bright, positive people who believe in me, hands down. They have an incredible way of helping me see clearly, even if it all looks bleak to me at first. And it's not that they always agree with me. Many times they don't. But they help me gather my thoughts and look at my resources a bit differently.

Perspective is helpful - it provides hope more than anything else ever could. With perspective, the world looks brighter.   

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Another Small Act of Kindness

Yesterday, I returned home from the airport at 1am after being awake since 4am the morning before, dealing with quite possibly one of the worst days of my life in-between. I arrived at my apartment door frustrated, deeply saddened, and full of disappointment. I looked back at the cab that had dropped me at the curb outside and he waited for me to make sure that I got into my front door okay. Can you believe that? A New York cabbie concerned that some no-name lady got into her apartment building without trouble. His small act erased my sadness. 

I fell asleep last night considering all the ways that I could make that same small effort and truly transform someone's day:
holding doors open for others
petting someone's dog and saying how cute the dog is
letting someone who looks frustrated go ahead of us in a check-out line at the store
even smiling - just smiling

There a lot of gloom and doom in this world, especially these days. We can all do a part to let a little sunshine in, and while we're at it, let the sunshine in for others, too. 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Don't Be Less

Just when I thought life at work couldn't get much worse for my friend, John. Goodness....I couldn't make this up. I don't think the best fiction writer on the planet could make up the following story. My thanks to John for allowing me to share his experience with this blog's readers:

On Thursday morning, John woke up at an ungodly hour to catch a flight for an all-day business meeting. He arrived back to the airport later that evening with his boss and found that their flight was delayed 3 hours. His boss thought she'd take the time to provide him with some feedback on his performance. Here's the abbreviated laundry list that she expounded upon for 1.5 hours:

Too motivated
Communicates too well too often (Her quote to him, "Jesus, I'm not your texting buddy." My advice to her - then stop replying for one thing, and don't complain when you're in the dark on details, which is true just about every day.)
Has too good a relationship with senior management (a.k.a., "I feel threatened that people like you so be less likable)
Too ambitious
Takes too much responsibility and ownership for work
Too collaborative with people outside of department

Ouch - I don't even know where to begin on how pathetic and foolish this feedback is. Essentially John is supposed to be less of a person than he is because it makes others uncomfortable to be in the presence of someone who is talented and hardworking. This is gross - I'm so furious by these comments that I can barely speak. 

Being a pro, or numb from exhaustion, John took the entire conversation in stride and stood his ground, politely. His only response: "This is so odd. No other company that I have ever worked for, or even heard of,  tells its people to be less collaborative and less motivated." And that's it. He let it lie. Didn't agree, didn't really say much of anything. He was too shocked and confused. 

Here is my advice to John and anyone else in this situation: you are NOT to compromise your integrity. Ever. For any reason. You are not to be less of a person to make others feel better about themselves. Their laziness and lack of motivation is their problem, not yours, so don't take it on, politics and "business as usual" be damned. Your job is to shine as brightly as you can and add value to the people and the environment around you. That is your only obligation, ever. Smile, hold your head up and be proud of yourself. And write down all the things you are and are not. Keep the list handy and refer to it often. 

If President Obama has taught us anything it is that the time for change has come. Throw off the yolk of being what to do when by people who want you feel less empowered so they can feel more powerful. The feudal system died out centuries ago and there is no chance of resurrection. This is the time of the individual, and don't let anyone tell you differently. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - True Colors

Disappointment of any kind is difficult. If we have believed in, or loved, or respected, or trusted someone who then does something to betray our belief, love, respect or trust, it is hard to find any bright side to the situation. We may feel like we are bad judges of character, too naive, too trusting. 

There is a bright side though. There always is - it often just takes more work and effort and faith to find it when we're in darkness. What if we never knew what another person was really like, good or bad? What if we never trusted someone enough, never trusted ourselves enough to get close to people and learn what they really stand for, how they really think and feel? It would be a lonely life. 

The trade-off for not feeling lonely and being close to others is that on occasion, some of those people, a small minority of them, will fail us. Some people that we think well of will let us down. And some times in a few very rare instances, that connection to that trusted person will be irreparable. This price is worth it though when we look around at all the people we have trusted and loved and can appreciate how full and rich our lives are as a result of those people.

And there is one additional bright side to betrayal as well: it opens the way for us to make room for others who will come into our lives some time down the road. I think of it as clearing out the cobwebs, getting my priorities back in line. We no longer need to invest in someone who disappointed us - we can just let them go.

I was talking this through with my friend, John, who has a less-than-satisfying job. He realized just today that a boss he has been slaving away for has hung him and his team out to dry to the company's leadership. And what's worse: his boss is proud of this. I guess he feels more powerful for having done so. John feels terrible though the good thing that he discovered is that he knows who his boss really is now. He had been staying at this company because he felt a sense of obligation to this boss; now he is free from that obligation. It's a hard truth to face down, though clearly necessary. 

My mom has a great saying that she picked up from my grandmother and I am reminded of it every time I hear bad things happen to good people like John. My mom and grandmother say, "God writes straight through crooked lines." Even if you don't believe in God, the sentiment holds. Things happen in our world to send us on one course or another. Our lives flex and change. Joy is found when we can smile through that flex and change and be grateful for the the truth, even if that truth is painful. Joy's not easy though it is always attainable as long as we can find reason and something to learn in every situation. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Gift of Obama

There are many articles that will be written today regarding the inauguration of Barack Obama. January 20, 2009 will be referenced for decades to come as the day that the US turned the corner and found light in all the darkness. It was the day when we all came together to lift the heavy burden of the dismal economy, multiple wars, a crumbling environment, a healthcare system in tatters, and an education system that needs serious attention. It will be known as the day that we began to rise up and over obstacles that for so long have shackled us to bad policies and petty grievances. It will be remembered as the day when our inspiration and creativity was alighted again and never to be put out. A miracle of hope and faith and belief that we can and we will lift ourselves out of the muck, and reach down to help others out, too.  

I will remember it as a day when my confidence soared because I watched a man who believed in himself and in all of us so that he could overcome centuries, literally centuries, of deep discrimination, prejudice, and injustice. The son of an African immigrant, a continent largely forgotten by our foreign policies, received a top-flight education and ascended to our country's highest office and honor. And he did this with the small contributions of help and time and dedication by hundreds of millions of common people just trying to get by. He rallied us to make us believe that each of our individual voices could and should and would make a difference if we could all get going in the same direction. He won the Presidency by winning our hearts and our minds and our spirits.

Today we received a great gift - a talented, trustworthy, empathic leader whom we can look to for guidance and support. He believes in us as much as we believe in him. And it's with that mutual respect that we will be able to turn our country around, eventually. Lend your voice at

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Perfect Union

Can you feel the excitement and anticipation and trembling from joy in America and around the world? Everywhere you look, no matter who you speak to, there is this wonderful sense of hope. I am watching scenes from Washington D.C. on the news and so wishing that I was there with everyone to share in this moment. Thank goodness for television and the Internet that will let us bear witness no matter where we are tomorrow.

We are in the last hours of the Bush administration. Tomorrow night at this time he will be back in Texas, his long eight years as our President having come to an end. My mother has a saying that I have had to repeat to myself almost daily for 8 years, "This too shall pass." She's right - it did. It was arduous and painful, but it did pass. I would feel a bit bad for the man if he hadn't so completely decimated our country and left it in such a state to hand over to Barack Obama. Now I am just grateful to finally big him farewell. 

Four years ago, I was living in Washington, D.C., working for an environmental nonprofit. I was crying on that inauguration day. I had just finished reading "Dreams of My Father" and tried very hard to convince myself that Barack Obama was elected not as a Senator from Illinois but as our President. Four years later, it is an awesome thing to realize that that wish has been answered. 

Last night, NBC replayed the SNL Presidential Bash episode. In all of the excitement about Obama's election, I had forgotten what a long-shot he was for most of the past two years. He an unlikely choice - inexperienced, too young, not accomplished enough. Now he is about to become the most popular President in history because he gave a voice to people who had been silenced for so long - the young, the disgruntled, minorities, middle and lower-middle class, the poor, and those who never had any kind of interest in politics or candidates. He not only got them to listen, he got them to rally. He got them to all go in one direction. And all the while, "experts" and "insiders" doubt him publicly. He believed and he made us believe. And he got us to not only believe in him, but more importantly to believe in us. 

If there is one lesson that his election has taught us it is the incredible belief that possibility is only limited by leadership and empathy. In my early career I was trained that hope was useless - only hard work ever got anyone anywhere. Barack Obama changed that for me - he showed me that hope is a powerful motivator, a powerful tool that can help someone create something from nothing. He awakened in me a new sense of commitment and creativity and conviction. He made me feel lucky and proud to live in these times. 

Congressman John Lewis gave a very powerful interview with Brian Williams tonight. Congressman Lewis describes his feelings about the Obama inauguration and what it means to him having marched on Wachington with Dr. Martin Luther King. 6 minutes long, elegant, and emotional. And his quote that most stands out to me is, "To see this event, this achievement, it was all worth it."

My Year of Hopefulness - How Can I Best Serve

"How can I best serve?" It's a question that a lot of people are asking on Inauguration Eve. The whole nation is looking up, wondering what is possible, and how they can make what's possible not only probable but certain. I hope they continue to ask that question long after January 20, 2009 passes, and more importantly I hope we will all take action. I'm hopeful that people all around the country are not only making a pledge, but also recording and sharing their pledge publicly to hold themselves accountable for fulfilling it. To see what celebrities are pledging to do - and the range is surprisingly large with some promising to reduce their use of plastic and others promising to volunteer in their communities on a weekly basis - visit  

For my pledge, I am publicly admitting for the first time that it is my wish to open a design firm that creates products to improve the lives of those in the developing world. I am inspired by the work of organizations like The Full Belly Project and One World Health who took skills from their lives in the private sector and used them to help other people improve their own lives. This year I will spend time devoted to learning more about this field, traveling, and serving in my community. 

I thought I needed to go back to school to learn about this new field and my friend, Richard, told me he thought I could learn more by just getting out there and doing it. Today, I dropped 8 letters into the mail, addressed to social entrepreneurs whom I admire, and asked them if they'd be willing to have me visit them and talk to them about their organizations. These letters were also Richard's idea. So we will see what comes of them. 

This time in our history is about knowing who we are, hat we stand for, and where we can have the greatest, most meaningful impact. My best self doesn't live in a grey cubicle at a large corporation churning out product for the wealthiest 10% of the world population, a population I have little interest in developing product for. Someone has to do this job, and I'm grateful for the opportunity, though in the long-run it's not for me. I've been feeling badly about this realization in the past few weeks and I have been more than a little angry with myself for it - maybe I'm too difficult, maybe I'm too contrarian, perhaps I lack commitment, or maybe I'm just too stubborn and egotistical to work for someone else. 

And then I read an article about David Kelley, the founder of IDEO and the Standford, and the same day came across another story about Danny Meyer, the restaurateur. Both of these men realized that after a while they didn't fit the corporate mold so they struck out on their own. David Kelley's exact quote is, "I had an intuition I couldn't survive corporate America. I hated the hierarchy and just wanted to work with my friends." After reading that, I stopped feeling so badly about my latest realization regarding my career and my personality. With David Kelley and Danny Meyer, along with countless other entrepreneurs, I am in good company. 

This whole journey we take in our careers is to learn how we can best serve, how we can make the most significant impact, how we can make this world better for us having been here. I realize that I can't start my own business tomorrow, and maybe I can't even start it next year given the tough economy, but I can begin to move toward it, small step by small step. I can be conscious of making choices and decisions that support this long-term goal and am grateful that I do have a job now that helps me afford to live while also providing me time to work on my future career. So while I've been lamenting the fact that I don't yet work for myself, I recognize that this is all part of a larger plan. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

More love for Apple

Amidst all of the anxiety around Steve Jobs' temporary leave from Apple, there is a lot of reason for rejoicing about the company. I gush so much about the company you'd think they were paying me. This latest anecdote is precisely the reason I bought a Mac a year ago. 

I must have placed a bit too much pressure on one of the corners of my laptop. The casing cracked a little - hairline but I noticed it was steadily getting worse. Mind you, this crack was entirely my fault, not Apple's. I bought the Apple Care Plan that extends my warranty an additional two years. I called Apple, they made an appointment for me at the Fifth Avenue Apple store, and I took my Macbook over there. 

They took my appointment 10 minutes early and sent me on my way in 5 minutes. I had to leave Mac behind to get fixed. I felt like I was leaving my child at the doctor's office. I returned home and did some email on my old IBM (and by old I mean 3.5 years.) Clunky and clumsy and past its prime, I really missed Mac. I'd be without him for 5-7 days.

Much to my surprise, Mac was ready for pick-up in less than 24 hours. Perfectly repaired. For free. With a smile. Steve Jobs and anyone associated with Apple has many reasons to be proud of this company. I'm a customer for life because Apple is a company that believes in service above all else. Their service and concern for customer delight are head and shoulders above that of any other company. 

I hope Steve Jobs quickly and fully recovers from his recent health issues. In the meantime, he should rest assured that the company will be just fine, left in the capable hands of his team members who take such great care of customers.  

My Year of Hopefulness - All the ways you can serve

I am thrilled to see that MLK Day is being made into a holiday that celebrates and promotes service. (And it's shocking to me that all Americans do not have that day off - I hope that will change.) Seth Godin published a list of ways to give back that day, and every day for that matter, that covers a wide spectrum of time investment. By no means is it definitive - it gets the creative juices flowing. There a lot of ways to give and a lot of organizations who need the help. 

From Seth's list, I love the idea of creating a Wikipedia page for charities that we care about that may not be so well known. That's what I plan to do. I will also dig in and do some research on social entrepreneurship in the hopes that my transition to that field and to building my own business is not all that far away. I know that it's possible to do well and do good at the same time, with the same efforts, and I'm going to find a way to do that. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Pick Your Head Up

I read Fast Company cover to cover every month. By chance, it usually arrives in my mailbox after I've had a particularly rough day. Just seeing the cover restores me. Like a giddy child, I run to my apartment, throw down my bag, and dig in to the info bursting from those pages. It helps me celebrate my inner social geek. 

This month, Robert Safian wrote his Letter from the Editor to introduce the main topics addressed this month: how Barack Obama and Shaun White are tapping and energizing the elusive youth market, influential women in tech (a million thanks for this inspiring story!), and celebrating Darwin and his On the Origin of Species

The most powerful part of Robert's letter is captured in the last paragraph. With strong emotional appeal, he elegantly and sincerely describes what he and his team strive for every day and why they do it. "Our goal at Fast Company is to get you to pick your head up, at least periodically, and consider what happens when the sun comes out again." With much thanks and appreciation, I am grateful to Fast Company for doing just that: they give me hope about my career, even if times are tough now, they give me faith with their inspiring stories of entrepreneurs, and they spark my creative thinking. If you aren't a subscriber, you should be no matter what your field or interest. It's the best $10 you'll spend this year.   

Friday, January 16, 2009

Andre 3000

Have you heard of this guy Andre 3000? I haven't. Outkast, yes. Andre 3000 - nope. Wouldn't know him if I saw him. And I didn't know his name in the midst of a group of people today at happy hour. For so long, I was used to being the youngest member of a group. That switch has flipped, clearly. I wish I could say that I'm not as hip as I used to be. Trouble is I was never hip. Ever.

The conversation then switched to movies. I had mentioned that I just saw Crash on DVD and loved it. For this I was slaughtered by nearly everyone in the group. They hated the movie - they thought it was narrow-minded and too precious. "No one talks like that or thinks like that." "Could you make a more predictable movie?" Yikes. I was not in friendly waters.

So then we switched to books and someone said they were in the middle of A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I just finished. Finally - someone I can relate to! I said how much I enjoyed the book and also loved The Kite Runner (same author). Nope - I was the odd one out again. "That would never happen." "What an unrealistic story." "Too perfect an ending for my liking." Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. And then they all left in a rush. I guess my taste in music, movies, and books cleared the room. 

Needlesstosay, I was happy to get away from those people and back to my cozy apartment among my books and music and movies that I love. (And incidentally, ones that many others love as well - Crash won 3 Oscars including one for best picture and both A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner were best-sellers before they even went on sale to the public.) With that crowd, no wonder so many people didn't come out for happy hour. They knew better given the company. Have any of these people read a newspaper, traveled outside of New York City, or even just learned to be polite? My guess is no. A resounding "no". So while I felt bad about myself on the subway ride home, I was also reminded that we all have to howl if we want to find our pack. Clearly, that bunch is not my pack. I better spend my time elsewhere, and that is helpful information to have. 

My Year of Hopefulness - Is Anyone Listening?

Did you ever wonder if anyone, anywhere is listening to you? For the most part, we have no idea how or how much we effect other people unless they are close friends or family. And even then, the effects can go on delayed and unspoken. I promise you though that your actions and words, whether kind or harsh, generous or greedy, heart-felt or hollow, have an impact. 

Someone wrote to me today to share his recent experience. He had read my New Year's resolution to be more hopeful and generate more hope for others. I was worried about putting this message out into the world. Is it melodramatic? Is it just too precious? Is it even possible, necessary, worthwhile, or important? Just as this man was composing a message to me, he heard the news that US Airway Flight 1549. He sent me a message to say that he was inspired by my resolution to do something for those people being rescued from the plane. He grabbed a bunch of wool sweaters and headed down to the river to distribute them to passengers who had no coats and were standing in the freezing cold. 

This post is not meant at all to pat myself on the back for a job well done in the inspiration department. It's just meant to encourage you to put your message out there, no matter what others may think, no matter what you're worried that others may think. Your voice, your story, your actions could change someone's outlook. And if we're going to have any hope of building a better world, we need to start with changing people's outlook.   

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Stage Fright

Today, the theatre group joined, Temporary Shakespeare Company, had its first performance. We did a reading of Comedy of Errors for corporate employees at my company. All morning, I was reminded of how it felt to be on stage and why I didn't pursue that avenue. I have horrible, horrible stage fright. Always. Without fail. 

Today, the stakes were even higher because I played a sorceress in front of people I work with, obviously in a very different capacity. Somehow, standing on that stage with all these other people taking the same risk made my stage fright dissipate. I didn't shake, I didn't feel sick to my stomach. We jumped off the cliff together. And the audience, our co-workers, caught us. 

And maybe that's all it takes to make us let go of our fear, whether on stage or off: a group of people willing to let go of their fear, too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Change of Behavior

In my quest to cultivate more hope for myself and for others, I have recognized that there will be set-backs and that those set-backs will create opportunities for learning and reflecting. I had one of those moments today. Or rather, a friend of mine relayed a story to me that set my hope back a bit. 

John, my graphic design friend, deals with a tough work situation. Right before Christmas, he was really in dire straights. He was very discouraged by an abusive and unappreciative boss, and given the economy his prospects for leaving are bleak. To his surprise when he returned after the holiday break, his boss was different. Kinder, more appreciative, more team-oriented. For a week and a half. And today his boss flipped the switch. 

For a week and half, John was more hopeful about his job. Maybe things would be looking up for him and his team. And then it all unraveled and John felt like it was December 18, 2008 all over again. 

The lesson here is that no behavior change, positive, negative, or indifferent, is immediate. No one comes back to any situation with a completely new attitude. Behavioral changes take time and patience and practice. In all likelihood, John's boss's behavior is not going to change overnight, or over Christmas for that matter. I only had one piece of advice for him: take the long view. 

For him, this is a stable job in a tough economy and it's a good resume and portfolio-builder. This tough time will pass and we will be better people for persevering. At least that's what I tell myself - it's what I have to tell myself. Sometimes hope, unbridled, unreasonable, unreliable hope, can be the only thing we have. And sometimes, that's enough. It has to be enough because it's all we've got.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - An Affordable New York City

My pot-smoking neighbor is back in full-force. Gross. I have opened up my front hall closet two days in a row to a waft of marijuana. So, I sent my landlord a very nice email explaining that problem was occurring again and that I may consider finding a new apartment. He swears that he has spoken to her again and that the problem will not happen again. Still, I am skeptical so I decided to take a look around the neighborhood and see what's available. 

First, I discovered that I am overpaying for my studio. I signed the two year lease at the height of the market in the summer of 2007 and I needed to live in my neighborhood to park my car on the street and make my commute as easy as possible. Now, a year and a half later, times have changed. Rents have dropped dramatically, even in my ritzy neighborhood. I can get a place twice as large as my current apartment for less money. Amazing!

And there is availability everywhere with free months of rent promos, waived fees, and apartments held with no extra cost. The New York City rental market may actually morph to be like rental markets in other cities. That is to say it could actually become reasonable!

Now this is cause for much rejoicing and much hope. Yes, we'll get to save a bit more money but the exciting piece for me is that New York City has the great potential to save its edge. For years now students, writers, artists, musicians, activists, and entrepreneurs - people who make our world an interesting place to live - have been driven out of the city by rents that are too high. You have to have an MBA, or be a doctor or lawyer to afford a place in a decent neighborhood. It's crazy! With these lower rents, a more diverse population will be able to afford a wider variety of neighborhoods. And we will all be the benefactors of that diversity.

Just when I thought all was lost and that I'd never be able to afford to buy in New York, I'm realizing now that eventually it might be possible. That alone is a great reason for hope. 

Just Begin

I marvel at how much time it takes people (and I am as guilty of this as anyone) to get going on a new idea. Have we done enough research? Have we thought through every possible scenario? Do we have enough money? What if it doesn’t work out? These are only a handful of questions we might ask ourselves as we consider a new venture, relationship, job, or even a hobby. How do I even know where to start? As Mary Poppins said, “Start at the very beginning.”

To this end, I have two things I’d really like to accomplish in my career this year: I’d like to become more familiar with the social entrepreneurship field and I’d like to get my writing out to a wider audience.
Today, my first blog post on a site other than this blog is being published. I joined the blogging team at the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, an organization that promotes literacy and adult education as tools to fight poverty and promote social change. I’ll be publishing on their site twice per month and my writing will focus on social change and poverty alleviation efforts.

To get involved, visit the site at The organization also has a group on the Ning social network that you can join:

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Dress for Success

My mom keeps everything, and I mean EVERYTHING! She has magazine that are older than I am. It drives me nuts, though I there's also something endearing about it. She feels comfortable surrounded by her things. And in these times, who among us couldn't use a little more comfort?

It was with great surprise that my mom emailed me yesterday and asked for a name of an agency that donates business clothes to women who are looking to get jobs in offices though cannot afford appropriate clothing. In some ways, it pains my mom to give away her things and here she is finding a way to make that task less painful by giving away extra clothes to people who need it most. I pointed her to Dress for Success.

I was thinking about this and considering this lesson in my own life. I enjoy waking up early, though I don't enjoy having early morning obligations. However, I'm so excited to volunteer with God's Love We Deliver that I'm willing to be there at 6:30am once a week. What better use could I have for any early morning that packing up meals for people who are in need of them?

It's a good lesson for me to consider. We all have things we don't necessarily like to do, though they may be necessary to do them. The trick is figuring out how to do them in a way that gives joy rather than in a way that causes discomfort.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Social Entrepreneurship and iTunes U

By trade, I am product developer. I design and build product for American consumers, mostly wealthy ones. While I was in business school at Darden, if I could have chosen any career, this is what I would have chosen. In fact, it is what I have been doing my whole career in a variety of industries - I was building programs, theatre productions, communication plans, and fundraising concepts. However, up to that point I didn't give much thought to the idea that what we do is just as important as how we do it and whom we do it for. 

Just after my graduation I moved back to New York City sans job. By the end of June I had a good job offer to start in July in the field of innovation, exactly what I wanted, and was free to spend a fair amount of time bumming around my old haunts, wandering, and reacquainting myself with a city that I had not lived in full-time since 2001. One afternoon I found myself at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. They were running an exhibit called Design for the Other 90%. At the time I did not realize that this exhibit and my strong belief in community service would start me on a course that would begin to dominate the way I view my future and my career.

Now a year and half out of business school, a light bulb has gone off for me. I have spent all of this time thinking that I needed a really brilliant idea to start an entrepreneurial venture, and that starting my own business mean a complete about-face from all of the work I have done in the past. In actuality, becoming a social entrepreneur is an amalgamation of all the work I have done to this point, and mixing it up with personal passions of history, culture, and volunteering. As Steve Jobs says, "Looking back, we are able to connect the dots of our lives." And that is exactly the process I currently find myself in. 

I have been doing some research to find a class to take on the subject. Columbia has a few, as does Pratt, the New School, and NYU. Though none of them have exactly what I'm looking for. They either treat the subject as part of a nonprofit management masters, a business class, or as part of the sociology curriculum. One woman from NYU suggested I take a class entitled something like "How to become a female entrepreneur." Can you imagine? It was essentially a class on how to write a business plan. I was telling my friend and mentor, Richard, about these classes and his response was, "I don't suggest that. You would be completely bored." He's right.

And then I remembered an earlier post I wrote on this blog about iTunes University. Apple collected a wide variety of classes and lectures from the world's top universities and put them on-line. For free. And sure enough, Stanford's Center for Social Innovation had an entire series posted with exactly the material I was looking for. Did I mention that it was free. And it's mobile so I download the lecture into iTunes, put them on my ipod, and away I go. I spent the afternoon walking around, doing my errands, and being inspired by the ideas and experiences of the brightest minds in my chosen field. 3 birds (exercise, errands, and learning) with 1 stone. 

I also learned that I don't need a degree to do this work. (Good thing since I can't afford one!) I have and am currently amassing the knowledge and experience I need to do this. And rather than take a class or apply for a fellowship in this field, Richard encouraged me to sit down and write letters to the social entrepreneurs I admire most. Ask them if I could visit their organizations and spend half a day with them learning about their work. A handful of plane tickets and my time will teach me a whole lot more about this field than a once-a-week class for four months in a lecture hall. It's also cheaper and places an emphasis on networking with people doing the work I aspire to do. I may have just found my mountain...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - A Thousand Splendid Suns

It has been a long time since I've found a book that is so powerful, so compelling that it makes me stay up until 4am to finish it. That's exactly what happened with A Thousand Splendid Suns. As a writer, I find I learn much more from reading than I could ever learn in a class. Khaled Hosseini weaves a beautiful, heart-breaking, heroic tale about life in Afghanistan. It was hard for me to imagine how he could ever write a follow-up as emotional as The Kite Runner. He did it - A Thousand Splendid Suns is a perfect novel. 

As a woman, it was especially moving to read the story. It made me realize how very lucky I am to be an American, to be educated, to be free. I spend each of my days living the life I want to live. Not all women, particularly those in Afghanistan, as as lucky. And it is luck that separates us, me and the women of Afghanistan. Otherwise we are the same - with dreams and aspirations and opinions and beliefs. A Thousand Splendid Suns made me grateful, and t made me feel like I owe it women everywhere to live a life of my own choosing. Freedom is a gift that should not be wasted. 

I love novels because they take us out of our own environment. They force us to live a different life, by different rules, with different choices and consequences. They transport us. There is one scene in the book where a women is being led to her execution in order to protect a friend. At first, I tried to reason every way she could get out of the situation - how she be free and still protect her friend. At first blush, I was horrified at the character's choice, and then as I lived with her memories, with her circumstances, I began to see that I would make the same choice she did. I understood. I empathized. 

I don't know of a social tool more powerful than story. Hosseini is a master of weaving fictional characters into history, allowing them to share the emotional and human fall out caused by societal actions. He makes a strong case for justice and truth and reason and hope - the very things our world needs more of.