Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - One tiny step toward faith

"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." ~ Matthew 18:20

I stopped going to church a long time ago. I felt let down by organized religion, constrained and burdened by being called a sinner no matter how good I was. I found faith on my yoga mat, in nature, in people - no church-going required. Lately, I've felt the need to find a place where I can go to be only with my spirituality, to feel that I am close to something divine, a place big enough to store my troubles while I sort them out.

Tonight, I stopped by the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine because it's beautiful and I like the way the choir sounds. I went to the 4:00 Evensong. They didn't sound quite as good as they did during their rehearsal last week, though I still felt some kind of comfort being there with other people who were also there to listen to the music. I was able to pray and ask for help and strength for the coming week, and felt lighter when I left than when I entered.

Just outside the cathedral, the white peacock that lives on the grounds was strutting around the church green. I had previously only seen him from a distance. He's beautiful, with a long, flowing tail, and a crown of slight feathers. I whistled a very soft whistle, and to my surprise he came running toward me.

A woman next to me, looking at the peacock, asked, "?Como se dice en ingles?"

I speak a tiny bit of Spanish and replied, "peacock."

"!cómo extraño! En español, decimos pavo." (How weird. In Spanish, we say "pavo".)

I nodded, not knowing what else to say and a little embarrassed by my very limited Spanish vocabulary (which ironically I was working on just a few hours prior to my visit to the Cathedral.)

She continued, "Que la iglesia no es hermosa? Es como en el cielo existe." (Isn't the church beautiful? It's like Heaven in there.)

I agreed with her, "Sí. Es como el cielo."

I wondered how she knew what Heaven looked like. She seemed a little kooky and I was reminded of that show Touched by an Angel that I used to watch with my mom when I was a kid. The woman smiled and left me alone with the peacock.

I don't know if this is the start of a new chapter of faith for me. I do know that it was nice to be in the presence of something larger than my own existence for a while, a place that gave me a small glimpse of what Heaven might be like.

My Year of Hopefulness - The World We Live In

"Every aspect of our lives is, in a sense, a vote for the kind of world we want to live in." ~ Frances Moore Lappe

This is one of the best quotes I've read in a long time. Think about the hundreds, even thousands of small choices we make every day. Where to shop, how to commute to work, where to live, work, and play, how to treat strangers and co-workers and family members and friends, where and how we spend our time and with whom. Every one of those choices has an impact on the world, and therefore shapes it.

It's easy to feel that we're so small and that the problems in our world are so large that we couldn't possibly make a difference with our daily choices. The truth is we make a difference with every step without even knowing it. We have so much ability to change our existence and the existence of those around us. We do it every day; we're already impacting the world right now, so why not recognize that and make the choices that lead us toward making the world the kind of place we want to be?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Camilo Jose Vergara

Today, I ventured over to the New-York Historical Society, a museum next door to the American Museum of Natural History. It is dedicated to history and story telling, particularly those stories that involve New York City. There is a beautiful photography exhibit by Camilo Jose Vergara currently on display, Harlem in Transition, 1970 - 2009. The exhibit depicts Vergara's 4 decades of photographing Harlem. He began taking pictures on his lunch breaks from a large advertising agency located on Park Avenue. He often went back to visit the same sites over 40 years to document the change and transformation, and plenty of change has taken place in that neighborhood.

The roller coaster ride of Harlem is very apparent in the collection. From beautiful buildings, dilapidated, and rebuilt even beyond their original splendor to the images of people who arrived in the neighborhood and left one way or another, it is a story of rising, falling, and rising again. It covers places of worship and commerce, the art and politics, the people and addresses that are distinctly Harlem. It makes no apologies or excuses, nor does it forgive or forget. It simply and honestly tells the story of Harlem.

What struck me most about the photographs is the color that radiates from them. There's a photo that depicts the urban gardening that used to be in Harlem and another showing the graffiti used to warn residents of the harm drugs and drug dealing bring into the neighborhood. There are photos of statues of prominent black Americans that instill pride and inspire everyone who walks by them. There are birds-eye views of the grand boulevards and photos of life on the streets as if we are seeing the scenes at ground level.

This exhibit takes us north from the Historical Society into that neighborhood, that mindset. It shows us the struggles and triumphs of Harlem residents, past and present. Vergara says of this collection, "This urban documentation project breaks with the ways historians, planners and other scholars traditionally approach urban space. My method of documentation is based on presenting sequences and networks of images to tell how Harlem evolved and what it gained and lost in the process. The premise behind all the work that I do is that 100 pictures are one hundred times more powerful than one picture. The more you track something, the deeper and more eloquently it speaks."

And eloquence is the best descriptor of this exhibit and the proud people who share its story. It's on view now through July 12, 2009 at the New-York Historical Society. To see more of Vargara's work, visit his website:

Friday, May 29, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Small moments

Lately, I've been trying a trick on the subway to make my commute to and from work more enjoyable. Trains are packed during rush hour and invariably I end up next to someone with some annoying habit. This morning, it was this woman who was obsessively turning the pages of the newspaper and folding it over, covering the pages of the book I was reading. I normally would have gotten very irritated with this woman. Instead, I looked at this as an opportunity for character study.

I stopped reading my book and just studied this woman. What was she wearing? How is her hair done? What part of that paper is she actually reading? Then when I got to work, I wrote down everything I could remember about her, along with some ideas for a backstory of who that woman is, what she does, and where she's going. Eventually, she'll turn up in some piece of writing I do. This trick is honing my observation skills, and reminds me of how much I love being a writer - every moment and inertaction, good, bad, or indifferent, has potential to be material.

I'm learning that life isn't about the big moments, it's about the many small ones that comprise every one of our days. My life is about my subway ride to work, my lunch time walks with my friend, Jamie. It's about seeing my friends for dinners and movies. It's about being on skype with my niece, Lorelei, and having her recognize my face. It's about the books and blogs I read, the person I give directions to as they pass by me on the street. It's about buying my groceries, and calling my mom, and getting a coffee as I walk around my neighborhood. It's about laughing with my sister, Weez, and enjoying the warmth of sun on my face on a Sunday afternoon.

And this 'little moment philosphophy' is true of writing as much as it is true of life. I've often longed for a time when I am writing as if some great voice from beyond is speaking to me, and every word I write shows up on the page as if it were meant to be there. The truth is writing, for me, is a daily grind. I sit down and look at a very blank page every day. I sometimes sit down and have no idea what to write about or how to phrase my thoughts coherently. What matters is that I show up and keep trying. Every day, my only goal in my writing and in my life is to get just a little bit better than I was yesterday. Somedays I do a brilliant job of this and other days I fall short. On average I'm making small amounts of progress.

I'm learning that small, steady progress is much better that huge leaps forward and backwards. There's a lot to be learned and explored during small moments. They're my favorite parts of relationships and friendships; they're always the things in my life that I treasure most.

Sometimes people ask me "what's your greatest accomplishment" or "what's your greatest failure". I don't have any greatest anythings. I have a lot of small things I love and cherish, I've had a lifetime of moments that taught me something, and when you add up all of those small things, their collective power is extraordinary. And I wouldn't trade those thousands of small moments for a handful of aha's, no matter how great those aha's are. Small moments, and lots of them, suit me just fine.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness: You get more of what you already have

I've recently been reading the work of Gretchen Rubin, a lawyer turned writer and happiness researcher. She started a blog call The Happiness Project in preparation for her book of the same name that is due to hit shelves in January 2010. Because of my own interest in the subject, I've started following her writing regularly.

Last week, Gretchen published a post about life's cruel truth: you get more of what you already have. It got me thinking about how we always want something our of reach, something that's different than what we have, though not necessarily better. And it's never enough. We want more money, more notoriety, more free time, more love, more, more, more. As Gretchen points out, though we keep striving for something new and different, we end up with more of what we've got.

Luckily, this principle can work in our favor as well. I've found this year that by seeking out something hopeful every day, I'm finding much more hope than I ever thought I'd have. Once I had a little bit, I was able to gather more. I'd notice hope all around me, just by the being more aware of its presence. It's always been there - I just wasn't paying attention. It's lmost as if a little hope is a magnet for more hope. Happiness, love, friendship, luck, and karma work this way, too.

Turn the tables, and we'll find just as many examples that work against us. Anger begets anger. Sadness begets sadness. And so on for things like frustration and disappointment.

So the choice is ours for the making: do we want to feel hope or despair? What is it that we want to attract to our lives? It is possible to think ourselves into luck and good fortune. It's just as easy to turn the tables and make a mess of our lives. Yes there are always outside influences beyond our control, but our lives are largely what we make of them.

One of my mom's childhood friends tells a great story about a trip she and my mom took to New Orleans when they were in their early 20's. A fortune teller on the corner asked them if they'd like to have their fortunes read to them. Without missing a beat, my mom responded, nicely, "No thanks. I make my own fortune." That statement holds more truth for all of us than we realize.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The NY Philharmonic at Saint John the Divine

When I was at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Saturday, I noticed that the NY Philharmonic was playing a free concert at the Cathedral on Memorial Day. On Memorial Day I ventured up there around 7pm and was shocked at the line that wound all the way down 110th street to the East as far as I could see. The Cathedral's big, but it's not that big so I cut my losses and headed for the sculpture garden where I could sit in the grass, take off my shoes, read my book for an hour, and enjoy the music as the sun set.

I was one of the first people to arrive in the sculpture garden, though it filled up quickly. I looked around to see that everything I love about New York was on that lawn with me: the diversity of color, race, creed, age, social-economic level, and orientation. Men and women, families, friends, and single people, several languages all rising at once as we all waited for the main event. Though we couldn't see the show, we were well aware when David Robertson, the conductor for the evening, took the stage. The applause was thunderous.

I marveled that I should be so lucky to be in a city where this kind of event was free, practically held in my own backyard. It was comforting to see the cares of the world melt from people's faces, to see them lay down in the grass, staring up at the stars that started gathering, focusing all of their attention on the music. For that hour that the Philharmonic played, I couldn't think about anything except each note as it whizzed by me with so much emotion and passion. It has been a long time since I stopped thinking about any cares and worries - I was grateful for the break.

The concert reminded me of how much we need art and music in our lives - how critical it is to our happiness, health, and well-being. I used to make my living working in the arts, and on occasion I miss it. I miss being part of something that takes us to another world. Thankfully, there are organizations like the Philharmonic that can transport us all away from our lives, even for just a little while. The only requirement is that we show up and listen with an open mind and open heart.

The image above features Maestro Lorin Maazel as he conducts the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in September 2006 in New York. (Stephen Chernin/Associated Press)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Mayo Clinic & Social Media

Incorporating the world of social media into an existing business can be challenging. And scary. You want to get involved and building community, but where do you start? How do you start? Which tools and materials are the most relevant for a specific business? The number of choices is overwhelming and growing all the time.

If you have a start-up, it's easier to bake social media plans right into the initial marketing and communications strategy. Established businesses have a tougher time -- they've made significant investments in brand building and customer loyalty that didn't involve social media. A few efforts in social media that lack authenticity and the business will be hung out to dry by every power that exists in social media land.

I was tooling around on slideshare recently and found a presentation by Mayo Clinic that described their journey into the uncertain world of social media. With a brand this powerful and with so much debate swirling about patient privacy, Mayo Clinic took a risk by testing social media's potential to increase their impact and reach. A few of the key points touched upon in the presentation are key for any business interested in a similar pursuit and they're good reminders for all of us whenever we take on a large project in unfamiliar territory:

1.) Start small. Mayo Clinic could have came into the world of social media guns a-blazin', hopping on to every social media service available. They didn't. They first assembled a space on their website that tracked all of the stories about them showing up in traditional media, and gave people a way to respond to those stories through comments on their own site. The branded this site 'Medical Edge'. Smart - they got a lot of great feedback and leveraged written material that already existed.

2.) Use what's free and available from others first rather than building your own platform from scratch. Mayo Clinic took advantage of the iTune platform to first create radio mp3s. Then it graduated to podcasts, more and longer podcasts, and then eventually built its own platform at Rather than jumping right in and building their own platform, they wanted to see if there was even any interest in this type of material and they experimented with length and topics. Might as well learn on someone else's platform before you build your own.

3.) Use what works. For some organizations, a blog and a Twitter account are the best vehicles for building community. Others find that Facebook Groups work really well for them. For Mayo Clinic, it's videos. That shared experience by real people who are a part of the Mayo Clinic global community provided the most bang for the buck. And with a Flip video camera, the interviews became very easy to record, edit, and post - first to YouTube and then to their own sharing platform at

These small tips added up to big impact for Mayo Clinic, an established brand that found a way to make social media work for them by taking small steps forward. They are flourishing in the world of social media and can be found participating in multiple outlets. They went slowly, and took the time to discover which path suited them best. It's a wonderful framework to consider. Find it at

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - A Life in Three Acts

With such beautiful weather in New York today, I headed to the park to continue reading Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. At the start of chapter 16, Michael Davis opens with the line "sometimes life in like the movies, a story in 3 acts." I've been thinking about that line, particularly with respect to my post from yesterday about being in a state of flux with a dash of confusion.

Davis reminded me that in act 2, there is always a series of challenges that the protagonist has to work through. I wonder now at the ripe old age of 33 if I'm at the tail end of the first act or have just entered the second act of my life. This slight act of separation, some might call it delusion, helped me think a little more clearly today. I'm able at this moment to step away from my life a bit, and just observe what's happening in context of a broader set of possible outcomes.

It also helps to know that in every great story there are always twists and turns, that few if any read like fairy tales of sweetness and light. There are fairy tale moments, though they tend to not be the ones that are the most interesting or insightful. The trade-off for learning and insight is often a bit of struggle and discomfort. It involves rising when all we feel like doing is laying low. It asks us to be greater spirits than we believe we can be.

Surviving and thriving through act 2 requires us to take a deep breathe, several if necessary, put our heads down, and get to work, on ourselves and on the exterior circumstances that effect us so that we can sail into act 3, riding high, wiser and more certain of our direction. It helps if our co-stars, friends and family, can help us - a protagonist rarely appears in act 3 triumphant as an island. Guides and assistance often appear as the plot lines intertwine with growing complications, exactly when we need them.

A story takes a while to unravel, to reveal itself to the audience, and to the protagonist. There will be moments of confusion and tough choices to make. It's all part of the drama and the comedy; it's all part of life.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

Yesterday, I found myself leaving the emergency room of St. Luke's Hospital. I had developed a "subconjunctival hemorrhage" and a slight amount of "petechiae". This is a fancy way of saying a very small blood vessel popped in my left eye and I had a few tiny red freckles around both of my eyes. I was panicked that I was experiencing the beginning of a very serious medical condition. Turns out that all of my blood work and diagnostic tests came back completely normal. I'll just look a little weird for a week or so.

I called my mom to update her and let her know that nothing was seriously wrong with me. I wandered down the street, into the children's sculpture garden of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. As I was explaining to my mom that I was just fine, I found myself tearing up. Maybe they were tears of relief, or fear, or maybe it was frustration with the week I had just finished. Over the past few days I have discovered many more of my friends have lost their jobs. I'm beginning to wonder how I've been so fortunate to escape that situation in this economy. I work very hard, though not any harder than my friends who have been let go from their positions. I'm beginning to think that luck has a lot to do with it.

I sat in that sculpture garden for about 20 minutes and had a good cry. The sun had come out, the wind was blowing, and I felt lost. I'm worried about the uncertainty we're all facing, despite the fact that I have managed uncertainty so many times before. I feel like the ground is shifting beneath our economy, and there is no sign of it settling down any time soon. I was angry for my friends who have been let go from their jobs - hard working, talented people who were seen as a line item on a company's excel spreadsheet, an expense rather than a resource and an investment. I felt shaken.

I had never really looked at that giant sculpture next to Saint John the Divine. It's a collaborative piece of work based on Noah's Ark and the triumph of good over evil. The Cathedral has been closed for some time for renovations and recently re-opened. I was weary from my hospital visit though felt drawn into that incredible cathedral. I wandered in and it was nearly empty. The choir was practicing and I felt drawn to sit in the center of the space, letting that beautiful music wrap around me like a warm hug. Though I am not a religious person, I felt that God was very close to me at that moment, that he knew what I was going through, and wanted to help.

I let my eyes tear up again, I was cemented to that seat, transfixed by the music. After a little while I got up and walked around the edge of the cathedral, stopping to look at each of the small chapels. The light shone through them so brilliantly. I had never seen stained glass that colorful and perfect. By the time the choir stopped, I got to The Poet's Corner, a small area that pays tributes to literary greats such as Mark Twain, Herman Melville, and Gertrude Stein. They each had their names and birth date engraved into a stone, along with a quote they famously wrote.

One quote particularly caught my attention. Theodore Roethke said, "I learn by going where I have to go." I thought about this quote all the way home. It reminded me that I have places I need to be, where I've committed to be, and there are things for me to learn there and to take somewhere else. Today, I just need to do what I have to do. The acts of hope and faith are a daily process. Just keep showing up.

The image above can be found here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Harmonious Work Environments

I love to talk and on occasion someone says something to me that's so striking that I cannot let it pass without writing about it. A friend of mine recently had her supervisor tell her that she creates a work environment that is too harmonious. I was so stunned by this comment that all I could do was laugh. And once that laughter subsided, I found the very core of this comment to be highly disturbing.

The American workplace right now, particularly in large corporations, is a tough place to be every day. Layoff rounds seem never ending and are referred to with a dizzying array of synonyms: "right-sizing", "restructuring", "displacement", "down-scaling", and the list goes on. At the end of the day a lot of very talented, bright, dedicated high performers are losing their jobs. Morale is low and bad behaviors abound as a result of fear, angst, and disappointment.

Layer all of these bad sentiments into my friend's situation. Despite the fact that morale is very low at her company and the environment there is like a pressure cooker these days, she has found a way to bring some sense of harmony to her team and her projects. And the feedback to her is she creates too much harmony?! If she were ineffective at her job and unable to get anything done, I could possibly understand the feedback though that is not at all the case. She's one of the highest performers in her department, due in large part to her ability to create winning strategies that are widely supported by others.

By saying please and thank you, and recognizing the hard work of her team she is being criticized by her boss who is unable to create any kind of good will due to his bad attitude and propensity for bullying. With all the anxiety in the world, we should welcome the contributions of people who can restore a sense of order and calm, particularly in the workplace. In the case of harmony, there can't be too much of a good thing.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Prepare to be lucky

I'm in the middle of reading Street Gang: The Complete Story of Sesame Street. My sister, Weez, bought it for me because she knows how much I love those little monsters. I'll write a review of the book as soon as I'm finished reading every last wonderful word of the book. There is one line in particular that I read this week that I have been thinking of constantly.

In the early years of Sesame Street and the Children's Television Workshop things just seemed to work out, even in the most trying circumstances when there was little logical reason for hope. Joan Ganz Cooney often quoted E.B. White during that time. E.B. White is quoted as saying "If you're going to be in New York, be prepared to be lucky."

This saying can be construed a few different ways. E.B. White could be that if we want luck to find us in New York, then we need to always be prepared. Do our research, be ready to articulate our dreams and beliefs, have a plan for what we want to do and where we want to go and how we're going to get there. White could also mean that we have to be open to luck finding us. We need to have an ardent belief in luck, that it is inevitable that good fortune will smile on us.

That saying has helped me keep my head up a little higher this week. It's kept me looking up at the stars, even though my spirits have been down in the dumps. This is a lucky town if only we are willing to open our eyes and minds and hearts to give that luck a place to land within our lives.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Fear #8 of entrepreneurship

One last fear to conclude this series: "People will laugh at my idea."

Acceptance. Appreciation. Someone who "gets it." We all crave this. Erma Bombeck famously said, "It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else." And sharing our business ideas with others means sharing our dreams with them. It's a scary proposition.

Consider this: About 10 years ago a couple of guys named Larry and Sergey wanted to start an Internet search company called "Google". You think people didn't laugh at that idea? The name, the proposition, the lack of business experience of the founders. While very smart guys, we had no reason to think that 10 years ago they would transform our lives to the extent that they have. Let's consider each of the fears I've laid out over the last 8 days in turn as it relates to Google:

"I won't make enough money." Really? I'm sure Google started out small. Now, the founders are two of the wealthiest people on the planet.

"No one will want the product of service my company produces." Today, Google is so widely used that it's become a verb in the American lexicon.

"I'll fail." Perhaps, but look at the upside. The Google founders kicked around ideas, some successful, some not so successful, as they learned the tricks of the trade of entrepreneurship. You can, too.

"Someone will steal my idea." Go right ahead. There are plenty of other search engines, email services, on-line cloud computing applications that existed before and were created after Google. No matter. Google is still at the top of their game, and improving all the time, even though other people stole their idea.

"I don't have enough time." Start small. Build up from zero. With each extra bit, you'll leverage what you learn, and figure out how to work smarter. Googlers did, and still do.

"Everything that goes wrong will be my fault." Google screws up all of the time. They invent some applications that don't work so great. So they ditch them and try something else. Don't let set-backs get you down. Use them to learn, grow, and move on.

"Starting my own business will be lonely." The founders of Google can't get people to leave them alone. I'm sure they'd do just about anything for a moment of peace and quiet. And I'm sure they won't get one any time soon.

"People will laugh at my idea." Can you imagine a funnier name for a company than "Google"? It reminds me of those weird little eye balls you find in craft stores. It wasn't even a word 10 years ago. Now, you can't go anywhere on the planet without people recognizing the name and fun, colorful logo. So let people laugh - just don't let that laughter chase away your dream.

"Well," you might say, "Google is an exception to the rule." Maybe. But consider that Larry and Sergey weren't in any better shape 10 or 15 years ago than you are today. They weren't famous or fabulously wealthy. They were very smart, normal people in graduate school. They had an idea and they worked like heck to make it a reality. No magic. Just dedication to an idea and very hard work. They aren't any different than you or I, except that they could put aside all of their fears and began. Let's take their lead and do the same.

The image above can be found at:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Fear #7 of Entrepreneurship

"Starting my own business will be lonely."

Some times I wake up in a cold sweat: I'm dreaming about being at my desk, starting at my computer's blank screen with nothing to say. And no matter how hard I think about it, I have no words. I can't think of a single thing to write down. That cursor blinks and grows larger and larger at the top of an empty Word document. The fears of a writer!

Starting a business elicits the same kind of fear. When push comes to shove, it's us and our business on one side and the rest of the world on the other. We have to keep ourselves motivated to get up everyday, sit down with ourselves, and get to work. No one is giving us a to-do list or setting goals for us - it's all up to us.

We live in a privileged time - reaching out, making connections, and finding support are just a few clicks away no matter where we are. Hop on Twitter or Facebook. Join any one of the thousands of smaller social networking sites on Ning. Meet-ups are around every corner. And these are just the beginning!

Experts, supporters, partners and customers are within arms reach thanks to all of these new and free communication tools, and they want to help us. Make them a vital and vibrant part of our business, and that fear of loneliness will be a thing of the past.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Fear #6 of Entrepreneurship

"Everything that goes wrong will be my fault."

Looking failure in the face is tough. When we go it alone, or even when we join a small company, there isn't anywhere to hide. We have responsibility, lots of it, and we will invariable make mistakes. And then we will have to own up to those mistake, many times on our own.

When we are #1 and only on the workforce, we then need to admit mistakes and failures to ourselves - the toughest audience out there. And it's painful, and sometimes embarrassing. We find it much easier to forgive others than to forgive ourselves. And no one holds mistakes over our heads like we do. That little voice will pop up from the back of our minds continuously to remind us of our failings and flailings. And it takes a lot of determination and effort to turn down the volume of that voice.

What we need to be mindful of is that there is a tremendous upside to responsibility. We can make changes that we feel are right and necessary. We can focus on ideas and tasks that we deem important and worthwhile. Our mistakes are ours, and our victories and wins are as well. It's taking the good with the bad, the yin with the yang. No matter whether we work for someone else or we work for ourselves - responsibility inevitably will find us. We can run but we can't hide.

If I'm going to make mistakes and own the outcomes, I'd much prefer that they be my own so that I can learn as much as possible from them. Mistakes are an investment and a sunk cost of doing business. We all make mistakes; the trick is to not make the same one twice and the best way to assure that is to make sure that I'm the one who made it and owned up to it.

The image above can be found at:

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Fear #5 of Entrepreneurship

“I don't have enough time.”

Running a business, particularly as a side venture in addition to a day job, is time-consuming no question. There will be trade-offs. I’ve found that a good deal of organization and keeping initial goals small helps to temper this fear of not having enough time. Starting a business can be an overwhelming project, though breaking it down into small bite-sized action items makes the idea less daunting.

Here are some ideas to make the time management portion of your new business more manageable:

1.) Develop an action plan, a task list, and a timeline to stay on track with small goals

2.) Celebrate achievements small and large, especially at the very early stage of starting a business - developing the first draft of your business plan, meeting a contact that has the potential to be a partner, deciding on the name of your company, etc., launching your website. Every accomplishments is worth at least a little celebration.

3.) Get some help – could be an intern, a family member, a friend, or a potential business partner to give a few hours of their time. Sharing the load can take some of the pressure off.

4.) Fun organization tools abound at places like Target, Container Store, and Staples. Use them to keep you motivated in your quest for organization.

5.) Set a realistic time frame. There’s a lot of pressure in the world to move as fast as possible all the time. Running a business is a long-term commitment and slow, managed growth wins the race.

6.) Remember that the time will pass any way, regardless of how you spend it so why not invest in an idea that you have and see if you can make a go of it? The worst that can happen is that you’ll still have your day job, you will learn a lot about yourself and what you want out of your life, and you can always switch gears and work on a different idea if the first one doesn’t work out.

When I was in college, I was feeling overwhelmed by some paper or exam. One of my roommates gave me a very small two inch picture frame. To this day, it still sits on my desk to remind me that all I have to do at this very moment is enough work to fill that two inch frame. And once I finish with that first small task, I can move on to another. That two inch frame doesn’t reduce the amount of work I have – it just gives me a perspective that’s a little bit easier to deal with.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Fear #4 of Entrepreneurship

"Someone will steal my idea."

Last night I went out with my friend, Steve, who is one of the greatest inspirations in my life. He's one of the hardest working, most courageous business people I know. He's my go-to guy when I have a new business idea and need advice. For a long time, he's been encouraging me to start my own business. I was telling him about my business idea and asked him how he decided to communicate his business plan while also protecting his idea.

"Chances are, Christa, no one is going to think your idea is worth quitting their own job over. The idea that starts a business is 10% of the work and executing it is the other 90%. It's very hard, if not impossible, to do that 90% alone."

With that kind of perspective, the fear of someone stealing my idea seems completely irrational. In addition, consider that Apple was not the first MP3 maker, Zappo' not the first on-line e-tailer to sell shoes, Google not the first search or email service. These companies redefined their playing field, largely by banking on delightful execution and maniacal focus on customers and employees. Their ideas were around long before they were ever created. They brought their own special mark to an idea; that special mark brought them success and is something that cannot be stolen.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Fear #3 of entrepreneurship

"I'll fail."

A hallmark fear for anyone starting anything new - whether it's a business, a new job, getting a degree, starting a relationship, moving to a new city. Every time that we adopt a change in our lives, we open ourselves up to the risk of failure. The flip side of that possible failure is a tremendous upside for growth, learning, and improvement of our current situation.

Failure has a very negative connotation in our culture, and it's often unwarranted. Failure means to discover what doesn't work. Knowing what doesn't work puts us one step closer to knowing what does work. And once we know what doesn't work, we can correct it and move forward. Peter Skillman of Palm is famous for advocating for early failure. Try something. If it doesn't work, switch gears, and take another run at it.

Whenever I am afraid of failing, I consider what I would have to do to completely protect myself from it. And the answer is often that I would end up not doing anything. That's no way to live. Our time on this Earth is too brief, too precious, to stand still for every long. Life is about experience, and with every new experience comes the risk of failure.

Like death and taxes, failure is a part of life. It can be a wonderful teacher if we cast in that role in our lives. Whether it changes our lives for better or worse is largely up to us - it all depends on what we do with the lessons it teaches us. Do we use them as valuable information or do we take them on like a yolk, a source of discouragement and despair? How we look at and use failure says a lot about how we live our lives.

Friday, May 15, 2009 An interview about entrepreneurship with David Priemer of Rypple

A few months ago I came across an article on Rypple, a company that builds on-line collaboration tools. I was very impressed with the simplicity and elegance of their mission and interface. They identified that there was a hole in the market for a tool that could help people identify where and how they can improve their job performance. For those who are pro-active, believe in the process of continuous improvement, and dread performance review time, this tool is a godsend! For the full interview, click here.

My Year of Hopefulness - Fear #2 of entrepreneurship

"No one will want the product or service my business produces."

This is the #2 fear of entrepreneurship for me, the second in a series that I'm doing after being inspired by Gary Novosel, Founder of The Food Medic. In our interview, he gave a piece of advice that really resonated with me: if you're afraid of starting your business, write all your fears down, and then put them aside. So here we go, fear #2 - no one will want what I'm trying to sell.

Isn't that the age old story of rejection - people won't like me, I won't be good enough, or, the worst - I won't be relevant. What I say and think and do will not matter and no one will care. Ouch - painful ideas and thoughts that we work very hard to suppress, and yet at least at one moment of weakness in our lives, we've all felt them.

One of the fun things of starting a business and making a product or service is continuous improvement. The enemy of good is perfection - so don't wait perfection to get the idea out the door. If you do, that product will never see the light of day. You'll tweak and tweak and tweak, until someone else beats you to the punch and puts together a similar idea.

And what's the very worst that can happen? People won't by what we make, we'll get feedback, change the product, and try again. Not so bad, right? Or maybe it's just not reaching the right audience, or a wide enough audience. Or maybe it's an idea that just needs time in order to b adopted by the market.

I was thinking about this fear all day today, wondering how I'd write this post and put it in perspective. As I rounded the corner toward my apartment this evening, a bunch of little kids ran up to me to drag me to their lemonade / cookie stand. For $0.10 I could get my choice of a cookie or a glass of lemonade, or for $0.20 I could get both. These kids did not have one bit of fear telling me about their business and the cost of the goods they were selling. I envied them.

I walked toward my apartment, happily eating my chocolate chip cookie, and honestly, it was the best cookie I've ever had. Entrepreneurship is alive and well among kids, so couldn't we just model our own behavior after their fearlessness? It's at least worth a try.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Putting fears aside

In yesterday's post, Gary Novosel of The Food Medic gave the advice that all entrepreneurs should write down all the fears about starting their own business, and then put them aside. I really took his advice to heart as I have a lot of fears about starting my own business. As I reviewed my list I realized that it's longer than I thought it was and that there are probably a lot of people who share the same fears.

To overcome fears we have to look our fears in the face and not blink. I really want to start my own venture, and the best way to answer these fears is to write them out and then write a remedy for each of them. Since these thoughts may be helpful to readers who are also interested in starting their own businesses, I wanted to write them as a series on this blog with the hope that I can replace fear with hope:

Fear #1: "I won't make enough money."

Start small and grow slowly. Whenever we begin something, we naturally wish for success in a big way. What seems more sustainable to me, and will likely generate more happiness, is a steady flame rather than a flash in the pan.

If we can keep a steady job while starting our own business on the side with our free time, that releases some financial fears. The trick is to be present at a job when we're there, and present working on our business in our own time. I hear from a lot of entrepreneurs that they are frustrated that they can't spend all their time on their business because they have to keep a day job. Finding a few nuggets of our job that inform our own business idea eases that frustration.

My friend, Dave, is interested in a portfolio approach to his career - a lot of different ventures that each earn a small amount of money and keep him interested and engaged. Entrepreneurs place a lot of pressure on themselves to earn all their income from a single business idea. That might work, or we might find that we're happy earning a portion of our total income from a business venture, at least in the beginning.

Concern about earning enough money from my business laid to rest. Fear #2 for tomorrow: "No one will want the product or service my business produces."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Food Medic

Today I am thrilled to publish a recent interview with Gary Novosel, Founder of The Food Medic. The Food Medic is a website that provides information of good nutrition's ability to combat disease. On the site, Gary provides information on the health properties of specific skills, what foods have great benefit to combat specific diseases, and delicious recipes that are easy to prepare.

All of the interviews I do for really motivate me to work on my own business ideas. Gary's story is one with real heart, so much so that I even found myself tearing up when he talked about several life-changing experiences that prompted him to start The Food Medic. He's also written a cookbook to capture many of his insights and delicious recipes, appropriately titled The Food Medic Cookbook.

Gary's journey is a wonderful lesson in the power of kismet and following your passion! He also has great advice for people who are interested in starting their own businesses. Check out my interview with Gary on by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - When Good Ideas Surface

Yesterday I had coffee at Grounded with my friend, Dave. We're both aspiring entrepreneurs who are figuring out when is the right time to make the leap, and considering what ventures would be best to start first. We talked about building a life that's filled with a lot of different, small ideas and whether or not that's better than getting all of our income from one single source. We considered how many of our extremely talented and motivated friends are looking for work due to the layoffs caused by the current recession. And then we hit upon an idea that could make use of many incredible people are out there looking for a job. Silence.

"Yeah. Maybe we should think about that. Maybe we could do something like that," we said.

As we finished up our coffee and walked to the subway, we decided to write down some thoughts and send them back and forth to see if we could get our idea to work. What surprised me is that the idea seemed so good and so timely that we were both sort of stunned into silence. Is this the way with all good business ideas? Does it seem so obvious, so practical that we have to sit with it for a while and make sure it's real? Could we be dreaming that we just got this idea in a coffee shop in Greenwich Village? Maybe it's all too cliche. But then again, we'll never know unless we try.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Stay on Path

At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden yesterday, Mom and I kept seeing these small wooden signs that said simply "Please Stay on Path". As we talked about my life and career, we considered what my path might be and how I can shape it to encompass all of my interests and passions. We thought about all the different ways that we get distracted, what causes us to lose focus, and how we can regain our bearings.

Staying on path at the garden is much easier than it is in life. It's easy to lose direction, to veer off our course, some times without even realizing exactly how it happened. Some opportunity seemed like something we wanted to follow or we had an experience that made us consider a different way forward. Sometimes these side trips are life changing for the better and sometimes our interest in these new pursuit fades as quickly as it appeared.

And then there's the question of flexibility. We get new information all of the time and we want to make sure that we have enough flexibility to incorporate the relevant info into our plans. Think of it like our bones. We want our bodies to be flexible, though the strength of our bone structure makes all of our activities possible. Without the rigidity of our bones, we'd never go anywhere! A life road map provides the same kind support.

I've found very often that I make much better life choices when I am running toward something and not away from something. It's the difference between looking forward and looking back, and making choices depending upon which of these actions has more say in our decisions. I like a good balance of both. I want to be informed by my past and not ruled by it. I want to be hopeful and excited about my future without sacrificing the wonderful things about the present.

There's nothing that says a path has to be a straight shot. Mom and I wound through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, explored the different routes, and trusted in a healthy dose of meandering. Our map helped to make sure that we didn't miss things we really wanted to see and that we headed only down roads that interested us. We had our priorities of what we wanted to see, things that would be fun if we had time, and things that we'd prefer to skip. And we took time to smell the flowers along the way. We enjoyed being surprised by things around the bend. We let our senses guide us on some adventures to things we had missed on the map. It's a beautiful metaphor for how to live life.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Mother's Day

I took Mom to brunch and to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens today for Mothers' Day. It's easy for her to hop on a train, I pick her up at Grand Central, and away we go. Though I love my family get-togethers it's also fun to have my mom all to myself once in a while - something we had precious little of when I was younger.

All day I considered how Mom has shaped my life, how much I've learned from her, and how much comfort she's given me over the years. We drive each other crazy from time to time also, though I think that's more just the nature of mother-daughter relationships. I wouldn't swap lives with my mom - she had a tough go of it for many, many years. She came of age in a time when women were starting to be treated with equality, though she endured many unfair circumstances that had nothing to do with her ability and everything to do with her gender. I know she lives vicariously through my accomplishments and I try to live up to that honor every day.

After dropping Mom at Grand Central so she could catch her train home, I hopped onto Facebook to see a note from my friend, Heidi, that she was spending the day celebrating the great lady who now watches over her from above. I reflected back on my day with Mom, thinking about how excited she was to smell the full scent of wisteria and see the azaleas in bloom at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I'm so grateful for this time we have together - it's one of the biggest reasons I came back to NYC. After my Mom's cancer in 2006, I realized with a sad and painful awareness that she wouldn't be with me forever, that someday I'd have to celebrate Mother's Day the same way my friend, Heidi, did today.

For now though, Mom's alive and kicking (or at least she will be kicking once she gets her new knee on June 1st) and time is of the essence. As we went up the escalator from the subway, my mom gave me a hug and thanked me so much for the day.

"You spent a lot of money, today, Christa."

"That's fine, Mom. I'm happy to be able to do it. It's only money."

And I meant it - it is only money, and I can always make more of it. I won't always be able to get more time with Mom so we need to savor it while we can. Happy Mother's Day to all!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Time for Me

I am an over-scheduler. I am so worried about missing out on an opportunity that I routinely wear myself out with my scheduling. My sister, Weez, continually tells me that my weekends are busier than my workweek. She's right. I've never learned the art of sitting still.

I marvel at my friend, Ken, who is so capable of carving out time just for himself to do whatever he wants depending on his mood and energy level. I'm so concerned with living up to expectations, put on me by myself and others, that I have a tough time scheduling Me time. And it's critical - it's something I've got to work on getting better at, particularly with my aspirations to start my own business at some point.

The calendar on my Palm is my best friend - it keeps going to the right place at the right time, always prepared. What I need to focus on in the next few months is using it as a tool to get more Time for Me. While I can be flexible if something wonderful arises, I need to make sure I am setting aside some time every week that is not scheduled - some time that is free to take shape based upon what the world has in-store for me and what I'd like to accomplish independent of any other opportunity.

It's the 9th of May and I'm wondering where the first 4 months of 2009 went. I shouldn't be wondering how that happened - my life should feel full but not stuffed. I should feel engaged with life but not overwhelmed by it. And I have the power to change that by putting aside the time to let myself relax, breath, and just be present, right here right now.

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Awareness

"The art of awareness is the art of learning how to wake up to the eternal miracle of life with its limitless possibilities." ~ Wilfred Peterson

Today, I was painfully unaware. I tripped out of my shoes twice on my way to work, had to go back into my house after getting halfway down the block because I realized I forgot my wallet, and by 4:00pm I wondered where on Earth the day went. I was hopeful this morning that a night of sleep had lifted my fog. Not today.

Bringing awareness to our lives amid tough circumstances is difficult. People insulate themselves from pain by building their own little world to live in. For a short time, that's helpful. But as Ani DiFranco said, "Self-preservation is a full-time occupation," and we can't live in our own world on a full-time basis. If we want to survive and thrive, we eventually have to join the rest of the human race, aware of circumstances all around us, most of which are far beyond our control.

So how do we wake up without being scared half to death? The world is tough, especially now, and being aware can be terrifying. How can we curb the anxiety induced by being completely conscious of what's going on around us? Even the idea of limitless possibilities can be overwhelming.

Here's what I do to get back my awareness while also keeping myself calm:

1.) I focus on my breathe, my heartbeat, and the movement of my joints - things I typically don't pay attention to. Recognizing the effort it takes to keep these things going makes me feel stronger.

2.) Consider that while there are limitless possibilities for my life, there are only certain things that I am good at and that I enjoy. If I overlay these two things over all the possibilities available to me, the list shrinks dramatically to a manageable number of options.

3.) Remember that many options are better than none.

4.) The flip side of awareness is ignorance, and ignorance is the thing I hate most in the world. I'd rather be aware and scared than ignorant and thoughtless.

5.) Those in history who have truly had an impact on the world are those who are keenly aware. My desire to have an impact is incredibly strong, and if the way to impact is awareness then I must take that road. My wish to make a difference is stronger than any of my fears.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Our after-effect

Whenever I think about Penn, I imagine it to look like it did when I was there as a student. And every time I go back, I am always surprised to see how much it has changed. The place I imagine in my mind isn't in the world anymore. Change happened without me.

My friend, Jamie, and I took a stroll along Battery Park at lunch time this week and a woman stopped us. She looked a little lost. "When does this park end?" she asked us. "I haven't been in this neighborhood for 20 years and it looks completely different. This park wasn't even here then!"

When we leave a place, we have a tendency to fix it in our minds. Even though we change and grow, we expect places we've been and people we've known to stay the same. It's too much for us to imagine that life goes on without us.

Today I went to the funeral services for my Aunt Lorraine. She was a lovely lady that never forgot a birthday, an anniversary, or any other important occasion that involved her family members and friends. She lived a happy, long life, and I'm so glad that we had the opportunity to have her with us for so long.

On my drive home from the funeral, I kept looking at the clock, registering in my mind that all these minutes were unraveling, that I was traveling mile after mile, and my Aunt Rain wasn't here with us anymore. Time went on, and we'll all go on to make new memories even though she won't be with us. And she's going on without us, too.

I shed tears over the injustice of it all, of having to let go of people we love as a natural course of life. Change and time cannot be stopped. One day will fold into the next, whether or not we're around. What changes because of our existence and the interaction we have in specific places with specific people is the how. How will one day become the next for me because I had my Aunt Lorraine as a role model? How does she live on in all of us even if she can't be with us? And how do we want the world to go once our time has come and gone? This is really the only work that needs our attention.

The above images is from

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness: Creative entrepreneur accessorizes jewelry with business

My friend, Laura Cococcia of Laura Reviews, did a terrific interview with an entrepreneur who proves that you can keep a day job while starting your own successful business. Johanna Ferguson began Rilee and Lo, an on-line jewelry retailer after noticing that she couldn't find one place on-line to buy interesting, unique jewelry by individual designers at a reasonable price. She found a way to do what all successful start-ups do - turn a pain in the market into an opportunity.

This interview by Laura really inspired me to think about my life, and my work, in a very hopeful, positive way despite the downturn of the economy. I'm so pleased to have her as a guest blogger today! She is the author of “Laura Reviews,” a blog forum that features unique book reviews and article commentary as well as original author interviews. Cococcia is a freelance writer for various publications and a contributing author to Hungry Chicago (2009) and One to One B2B. She works full-time for Google, Inc. in its Chicago office and can be reached at

Johanna Ferguson was frustrated.

A consummate jewelry aficionado, Ferguson often found she’d have to go to multiple stores and Web sites to find the right jewelry pieces and designers to suit her styles. It took extra time and effort to simply do something she loved.

In August 2008, Ferguson solved her own problem. She launched “Rilee and Lo,” a one-stop shop that features jewelry from famous and emerging designers.

Ferguson explains the simple philosophy behind Rilee and Lo. “Jewelry can be worn whenever, with whatever, and can update your look and mood in a second,” she says. “We believe jewelry is the centerpiece of an outfit and should never be an afterthought.”

Ferguson also tends to be swayed by her mood when selecting pieces – hence, the birth of the Rilee and Lo personalities. Rilee represents the rocker glam persona, veering toward an edgy, urban, modern and funky style. Lo's look is more feminine, bohemian, organic and chic. When she selects lines and pieces, Ferguson considers both Rilee’s and Lo's style preferences.
I recently interviewed Ferguson to get a behind-the-scenes look at the entrepreneurial efforts behind Rilee and Lo, discussing what it takes to successfully launch a business that aligns so closely with one’s passions.

Laura Cococcia: You launched Rilee and Lo in late August 2008. How quickly has your customer base grown?

Johanna Ferguson: My customer base grows every month, which is so exciting to watch. I wanted Rilee and Lo to grow naturally, so it was a healthy, steady growth, which I could keep up with. I think the varied product mix and brands had a lot to do with Rilee and Lo’s growth; got the right brands in at the right time.

Laura Cococcia: What specific things have you done to get the Rilee and Lo word out to the marketplace?

Johanna Ferguson: My marketing efforts started small, which was intentional. I work full-time, so I needed to learn as my business was growing. Customer service is a huge part of the Rilee and Lo business and something we strive to be the best at, so again, we wanted to keep up with the growth.

In August, I sent emails to friends and family and launched a small Google AdWords campaign. In September, I included Yahoo! Ads in the mix and in October, I started formal email communications to my subscriber list. The holiday sales kept us busy; I focused on creating promotions that were relevant and fresh throughout the season.

I now work with a public relations manager and she's done an amazing job landing press on fashion blogs, the Martha Stewart show, Kids Choice Awards and Glamour. She’s also helped grow the awareness of Rilee and Lo through Twitter.

Laura Cococcia: How is Rilee and Lo different from other Web sites that feature and sell designer accessories?

Johanna Ferguson. Rilee and Lo’s differentiates itself by offering a wide range of reasonably-priced, versatile and quality jewelry. Also, we focus both on established designers (Robert Lee Morris, CC SKYE, Maya Brenner, Adina Reyter) and new designers (Aviary, Iris Guy, and Fiona Paxton) to personify both Rilee’s and Lo’s styles.

Rilee and Lo will always be about accessories - we hope to add scarves and headbands soon - but there is a lot of jewelry we need to add before that time comes.

Laura Cococcia: Can you give us a sneak peek of where we'll see Rilee and Lo featured in the near future?

Johanna Ferguson: The July cover of Glamour will feature Sandra Bullock wearing two Fallon pieces provided by Rilee and Lo. In fact, Bullock liked the Fallon bracelet so much and wanted to have it, so we sent it to her afterwards as a gift and she wore it to the Kids Choice Awards in late March.

I love to see others in jewelry from Rilee and Lo. It's reassuring that people understand our Web site, like it, shop there, and want to see us bring more fantastic jewelry designers into the mix.
Laura Cococcia: What advice can you give other entrepreneurs looking to launch their own business, based on what they’re passionate about?

Johanna Ferguson: You learn so much doing this! There are some days when I'm so excited and others when I find it challenging, especially when you discover new competition. Of course, my goal is to grow Rilee and Lo into a national brand at some point in the future, but until then, it’s all about being patient and doing the work.

Finding new jewelry is something I love, and now it's an integral, necessary part of my life and business. I can't walk into a department store, boutique or museum without going straight to the jewelry. It's a slight obsession, but it’s also my job.

My advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs: try, make a plan, execute it, be patient, and be ready to work on it every day.

Many thanks to Ferguson (and of course Laura!) for sharing her fresh entrepreneurial insights and experience. Rilee and Lo can be seen at Ferguson can be contacted at

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Social Designer

"I feel illiterate," my friend, Brian, said to me on Saturday night as we talked about how the age of design has emerged in a big way. Instead of studying business, we should have become designers. There are all kinds of amazing ways that design is changing our human experience for the better, and a lot of new ways that we can take part. One of my favorites is an organization called Social Designer.

With a tag line of "Goods for the Greater Good", Social Designer sponsors design contests and then runs a e-store with the winning designs that supports a variety of nonprofit organizations. "Buy stuff, design stuff, vote on stuff and be an agent of change." There are ways for all of us to take part in supporting Social Designer: create designs and enter them in the contests, vote on the submitted designs, purchase the finished goods with the winning designs, and tell other people about these efforts.

My favorite things about Social Designer is that it opens up the possibility of developing design to everyone. It's not some torturous Request for Proposal process. You don't need to send in your resume or portfolio. And you don't need to be famous or have an agent. You just need to submit a good design that supports a good cause. It's such a logical and simple process that I have to wonder why it took so long for it to be created - a sure sign that Social Designer is really onto something.

Monday, May 4, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Get Out of a Rut

As I trudged to the subway this morning under the gray, dense skies, I considered my mood over the last week. I've been a little down lately. Could be the rainy weather, losing my aunt recently, worry about my mom's total knee replacement, the state of the economy and our nation's safety. It's likely a mixture of all of this. And I'm wondering what I'm really doing with my life every day - am I making a difference, or at least as big a difference as I could make?

Some of my friends and family members have recently expressed the same concern about their own lives. On my subway ride to work, I thought of ideas that might help me and help others out of this little rut. Here are some I came up with. Would love to hear what's worked for you when you need a little pick-me-up!

1.) Ice cream. There's something really special to me about getting an ice cream cone and strolling around my neighborhood. It reminds me of being a kid and being a kid inspires me to be a little more wistful and hopeful.

2.) Send someone a present. My friend, Brooke, recently moved from New York City and I've had her going away present / new house warming present sitting on my table for about a month. I put it into a padded envelope and sent it off to her today. It helped my mood considerably to be sending her a surprise. Same goes for sending someone a card or doing something nice for someone.

3.) Yoga and running. Both get me moving and remind me of how lucky I am to be in good health. While exercising, I think about building strong bones and muscles, increasing my lung capacity, and solutions to tough situations I'm having at the moment.

4.) Clean my apartment. For me, cleaning is therapy. I don't like doing it but I love the end result. And my world looks a little brighter from the vantage point of a sparkling apartment.

5.) Communicate with others. Call a friend, send an email, get brunch with someone, click around on Twitter and see what people are talking about today. Breaking out of our self-imposed isolation is a mood lifter in and of itself.

6.) Find someplace to get lost. For me those places are Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History. Placing myself in the middle overwhelming beauty gives me a new perspective and make me feel connected to something much bigger than myself.

7.) Dive into a book. I'm always amazed at the way literature connects us to people across the world and across time. This reminder of common human experiences makes me feel less alone.

8.) Write. Yesterday I sat down to write a short story about a situation I witnessed on the street a few days ago. I put myself back in that exact situation, saw it all unfolding in my mind, and wrote it all out. When looking back at the story and reading work I was doing a few years ago, I realized how much progress I've made in my story telling by practicing every day. It was really gratifying to see myself improving a skill that I enjoy.

9.) Think about my ideal day and consider how I could live at least a little piece of that ideal day every day. Maybe it's volunteering, thinking about what business I'd like to start, whipping up a really delicious meal with friends, or spending time with someone I love. Even on the worst days we have the ability to incorporate glimmers of happiness.

10.) Spend some time with an animal. Could be your own pup or kitten, a friend's pet, or taking puppies at the local shelter on a walk. Animals have a natural inclination toward happiness and they take us right along with them.

There are countless ways to get ourselves into a healthier and happier frame of mind. All we need is intention, attention, and commitment to living a better day every day.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Twitter Book by Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein

When I read, appropriately enough on Twitter, that Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein had written The Twitter Book, I couldn't wait to scoop up a copy. Literally. So I sent a message to the book's Twitter account and asked if I could get an early copy to review. The book is so clear and concise, so necessary to the social media world, that I wondered why on Earth it has taken so long for this kind of book to be written. Tim and Sarah are the perfect people to publish this type of work, both experts in the tool itself and in the art of communication. We're lucky to have them.

The Twitter Book is appropriate for people who've never heard of Twitter, who don't understand it, who like the concept though aren't sure how to use it, and for Twitter addicts like me. Whether you're an individual looking to build your own personal brand on-line, someone who is considering starting a business, or part of a large company, the book is chock full of ideas, resources, and helpful advice.

I recommend getting a copy of this book and using it as a constant reference the same way you'd use any top-rate how-to guide. I also found that it was incredibly helpful to have my computer in front of me so I could actually experiment with the different tips and resources that Tim and Sarah suggest. Within the pages of the book I also found a few other great people to follow on Twitter.

From a personal brand building stand-point, I found dozens of great ideas in The Twitter Book. (For those interested in how The Twitter Book helps business brand building, please see my Business Strategies column on Here are three of my favorite ideas to give you a flavor of what awaits you in this book:

1.) Twitter gives you the opportunity have superhuman powers you've always wanted: you can read people's minds and overhear conversations as if you're a fly on the wall.

2.) The art of brevity and timing is priceless. Highest traffic days are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, business hours in EST. That's when the most links, ideas, and thoughts get replies (direct messages - dms - or @ messages) and passed around ("re-tweeted"). People need to see your message ("tweet") within 5 minutes of you posting it or they likely won't see it at all. And make it concise and interesting because you've only got 140 characters to get your point across.

3.) Jargon explained. I hate to be in acronym city. I think a lot of people use acronyms and catch-phrases to make themselves seem better informed than anyone else around. It annoys me. Twitter is no exception. A lot of people scratch their heads when they hear words like "tweet", "tweeple", and "tweetup". I don't blame them. I did the same thing and for a long while the jargon scared me off. I belonged to Twitter for a year and was mostly inactive before I figured out why it mattered and how it could be useful to me. The most valuable reason to pick up The Twitter Book is to have experts Tim and Sarah explain the jargon in very straight-forward terms, and then show you how the tool can be a very powerful part of your overall brand-building toolkit.

Before Tim and Sarah even get the discussion going in the book, they ask for suggestions to improve and enhance the content. The book has given me a lot of great ideas and I want to return the favor to them with a few ideas to consider for the next edition.

1.) For people brand new to Twitter, a glossary of terms would be very helpful.
2.) A set of easy to reference lists in the appendix would be handy. Common mistakes to avoid on Twitter, top companies using Twitter effectively, etc.
3.) An expanded section on how non-profits can use Twitter. It is briefly touched on in the book and I'd love to learn more from Tim and Sarah on new ideas that are particular to nonprofits that would help organizations increase awareness through Twitter.
4.) A resource directory, divided up into sections, in the appendix would be handy. For example, a list of third party programs, resources to help trim messages that are over 140 characters, etc.

An easy and endlessly helpful resource, The Twitter Book will accelerate the growth and power of Twitter. Generous and honest, Tim and Sarah skillfully help their readers take part in the conversation. The Twitter Book will be available in hard copy on May 26, 2009.
It is available in e-book format now at:

My Year of Hopefulness - Bearing defeat without losing heart

"The greatest test of courage on the earth is to bear defeat without losing heart." - R. G. Ingersoll

I read this quote last week on Twitter ( and knew I wanted to blog about it though couldn't decide on how to steer this post. This morning I sadly realized how critical it is for us to have courage. I am beginning to think that it might be the most vital skill we can develop and cultivate.

My mom let me know that my Great Aunt Lorraine passed away this morning. In her mid-80's, she lived a largely healthy and incredible happy life, one that my grandmother would define as "good, clean living". Honest, hard working, and loving, my Aunt Lorraine was thoughtful and generous, never forgetting a birthday or anniversary. I will miss her. She went through several bouts of cancer and chemotherapy eventually got the best of her.

She passed away from a from condition called MDS, a chemotherapy-induced form of leukemia. Chemotherapy is a poison, and the hope is that in targeted doses it will kill the cancer before killing the person being treated. Chemotherapy gave my Aunt Lorraine extra years that she would not have had otherwise, though I always find it discouraging to hear that science has failed us in some way. When she was first diagnosed, I was angry with her doctors. No wonder some people refuse treatment all together. Who wants those toxic substances floating around their bodies to cause unspeakable pain and suffering later on?

The art of medicine, and those who seek treatment through it, are engaging in a constantly morphing, emerging field. When someone is lost because science couldn't save them, there is cause to feel defeated and disappointed by doctors, the very heroes who are supposed to literally save us. The truth is that we can't give up on medicine, on the process of trial and error, on the development of new processes and treatments. Without taking these risks, advancement isn't possible. And advancements let my family have my Aunt Lorraine for as long as we did, in relatively good health. She had great courage to continue fighting cancer and she never lost heart. Her doctors pushed forward doing the best they could to give her more time. They had great courage, too.

My Aunt Lorraine's passing is also a reminder that our time here is short and precious. The times we're living in are testing us to the nth degree, and many are walking around disillusioned and disappointed, in themselves, in the failings of their government and financial system, in their companies. I understand that feeling, and on occasion I share it.

Many times in our lives, we will have to bear defeat, learn from it, get up, and keep going. With hope of better days, it's a little easier to keep going. As I've said before, hope isn't a strategy for success. It's a tool to make the journey easier, and it makes courage more attainable. My Aunt Lorraine had hope that the chemotherapy treatments she endured would help her live longer. And she was right. I am inspired by her ability to look defeat in the eye and hang on to her heart, her family. We must all do the same - the alternative is not an option if we intend to live as well and as long as she did.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Man can touch more than he can grasp." ~ Gabriel Marcel

We have a very short time on this planet. While we might think that 80 or 90 years sounds like such a long time, in reality it is the bat of an eye when considering the length of history. In our lifetimes, we'll see and take part in many different experiences with many different people in many different places. And while we might have the instinct to take part in any and every way that we can, we just can't. We have to choose where and how and on whom to spend our time and energy.

Where will we have the most impact? Where will we find the most joy? Do we care about life-long learning or is it connection with others that is most important to us? These types of questions are critical for us to consider and answer when we think about what we'd like to do with our time here.

There are millions of ways for us to make a difference - there are so many places, people, and things that will somehow enter our lives. The only question we really have to answer is, "which experiences we will witness and let pass and which are the ones that are we will hang onto for longer than a moment?"

Friday, May 1, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - What Honeybees Teach Us About Business

In this current economy, the key is flexibility. Easier said than done, so I have gone looking for examples of successful work flexibility beyond the borders of business school books and analyst reports. My favorite find so far was in today's New York Times in the Opinion column "The Wild Side" about evolutionary biology. The guest columnist, Leon Kreitzman, wrote "Let's Hear it for the Bees", about the remarkable career example that honeybees set for us.

The whole article is a fascinating read. Here are the key points I found most relative to business:

1.) Do the work that needs to be done. Honeybees have an amazing sense to know when a task needs attendance and when a task would be wasted effort. Their sense of efficiency and innate to ability to always make themselves useful is enviable.

2.) Different stages of life call for different types of work. While very young, honeybees care for eggs while older honeybees with be charged to forage for nectar and pollen. And if need be, they'll flip back to tasks they have done before. It's a good lesson in gathering knowledge from the ground up so that it can be called upon when necessary. They don't get stuck seeing themselves in specific roles. Their jobs evolve as they gain experience.

3.) Communication and generosity are keys to a healthy hive. Honeybees are in constant communication with one another. Foragers let each other know where they've found strong supplies of nectar and pollen. They assist one another in a way that brings the saying "many hands make light work" to life. They don't build fiefdoms or silos - they work for the benefit of the hive as a whole.

4.) Awareness of our surroundings and external circumstances inform the actions of our lives. Foraging bees only visit flowers when nectar and pollen counts are at their highest. They do this by synchronizing their internal clocks with a daily floral rhythms of flowers they've visited. This assures that their trips to the flowers are as beneficial as possible, and that they spend other times of their day on more useful activities.

We spend a lot of time buried in paper work at our desks. There is currently a lack of inspiration around the gray cubicles of America. I've been finding that I garner the most motivation by looking outside of business, into areas like science, health, and art. There are teachers and sources of education all around us if only we take the time to look and appreciate the knowledge they have to offer.

The above photo was taken by Kathy Keatley Garvey, University of California, Davis Department of Entomology