Sunday, January 17, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
I decided to record my daily "big thoughts" - inspirations for these blog posts, things I did especially well each day, and great opportunities for learnings. For the past two days, I've found myself recording new ideas and resources that I should tap for my various projects. This tiny black book has become a book of intentions.
For some time now I've been searching for and crafting the perfect filing system - a single place to keep all of my links, magazine articles, references grouped by project. I haven't been able to find that place just yet. I've tried my own excel spreadsheets, my Google inbox, Evernote, a number of online resources, an intricate paper filing system, etc. It seems I've tried just about every option and each falls short a bit. With the entry of this little black book, I realized that maybe that perfect filing system doesn't exist, and maybe it doesn't have to. Perhaps items of interest can, and should, be stored separately.
I started to image this little black book a year from now, pages and pages filled with inspirations, or at least pieces of inspirations. I imagined myself flipping back through its pages and being inspired all over again by the notes and messages scrawled across its pages in my own handwriting. Perhaps to build an extraordinary life we all need a place to record our wildest learnings and dreams. Perhaps in our commitment to write down these dreams, we have the greatest chance of bringing them to life.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Today I heard a bit about Lugh, one of the gods of the Celtic Pantheon. He is the son of Cian and Ethniu, half god, half monster. He was able to become successful because he had the good traits of each of his parents: the heart and morals of his father's side (the gods), and the courage and self-defense abilities of his mother's side (the monsters). With the gods being oppressed by the monsters, he joins the gods, teaches them to defend themselves, and helps them gain their freedom from the monsters. While greatly simplified, this basic outline provides a powerful example of how to choose our better history and future.
Every experience and example has the potential to be a help or a hindrance to us. Cian's family, had good, patient hearts that lead others to dominate them. Ethniu's family was wild and ill-willed, though exceptional warriors. Lugh could have easily adopted either example. Instead, Lugh was able to combine the warrior instincts of his mother and the good heart of his father to restore peace.
The important lesson here is Lugh's decision to pick and choose among his historical examples and inherited traits to create something all original that allowed him to do the most good in the world. When I consider my own history and my own way forward, I've been thinking a lot about my parents, my earliest examples of how to be an adult in the world.
It would be easy to vilify one of my parents and deify the other. Instead, I am trying to appreciate and nurture the very best of them both as a base to build my own life from. From my mother, there is so much goodness to choose from, though not enough personal confidence. From my father, there is so much intellect and confidence to choose from, though not enough compassion and love for others.
My history is the inverse of Lugh's, though my journey has been and will continue to be similar. In order for me to really do some good in the world, I will need the very best traits of both my parents combined. I wonder if that's true for all of us.
The image above is not my own. It can be found here.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
CNN and NBC have done a tremendous job getting the word out, showing the images and telling the stories of the people in Haiti, encouraging the much-needed generosity of the world to pour into this tiny country. In 24 hours, a cell phone text campaign raised millions of dollars. Thanks for social media, it takes so little effort on our part to lend a hand, and in this situation every little bit helps.
I’m finding it difficult to go about my usual business in light of the disaster. I just don’t feel like I’m doing enough. The images are haunting me and are never far from my mind. I keep visiting internet news sites to get the latest updates. In an effort to do more, I wanted to post today’s step on this blog to list four ways that we can all get involved in the relief efforts right now:
1.) Twitter users can quickly get word of the latest updates and relief efforts, particularly from people on the ground in Haiti, by searching #Haiti, #haitiquake, #RedCross, #CARE, #ONE.
The situation in Haiti prior to the earthquake was dire. Now it’s reached catastrophic proportions. Extraordinary circumstances can lead us to help others in extraordinary ways. We have the opportunity to do something extraordinary today, right now. The people of Haiti need our love and support now more than ever.
Christa - What was your inspiration to start Yogoer?
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
One of my favorite outcomes of this process is getting to meet these amazing virtual people in person, when I get to read their witticisms online, and then realize they are even more fantastic in person. Tonight I got to meet up with Amanda, one of my favorite social media friendship success stories. Long-considering a move to New York City, Amanda began looking for creativity focused blogs by New York City authors. Amanda found my blog via random search, and then we discovered that we went to the same college, graduated the same year, loved yoga, performed, and were writers. Tonight we got to meet in-person for the first time, and 2.5 hours later, we still had loads to say. What a great feeling!
There's been a lot of criticism of social media because some consider it so impersonal. "It's replacing real-world interaction," some people say. "People spend too much time in front of a computer and not enough time living their lives," others say. Both valid arguments, though I've found such a rich, contrary existence in social media. It's allowed me to connect with people whom I may never have met otherwise, people who enrich my life and share my sensibilities and dreams. Social media's brought me friendships I never expected, and for that I am incredibly grateful!
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
On my way home, I thought about other people I’ve lost touch with over the years, despite our best efforts. It’s to be expected as people’s lives move forward, and I’ve also changed jobs and cities quite a bit. With the advent of social media it’s now so much easier to be in touch and keep track of people we love having in our lives. I’m so grateful for that. In the past year I’ve been fortunate to find so many people again, and am always amazed how similar the tracks of our lives are, despite the distance. It’s been a true gift to reconnect.
I can’t help but think that some of these connections are coming back into my life at just the right time: that we’ll be working on projects together, supporting one another in our dreams and ambitions, or even just providing one another with a good laugh and a thoughtful ear. It’s so much easier to build an extraordinary life when we connect with and surround ourselves with extraordinary people.
“For those just coming back from vacation, think carefully about what you are going to put your fresh, valuable mind to in your first few days. Value this resource highly. It may be your only chance to see the mountain you are on, to decide if you’re taking the right path up, or even if it’s the right mountain to be climbing at all.” ~ David Rock in Psychology Today
For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on clearing my mind more often during the day. The natural tendency for a busy mind is to work ever-harder to crack a problem or find an innovative solution. The yogic belief is that a clear, unburdened, relaxed mind is actually a more creative, efficient problem solver. And now that belief has a boost from hardcore science.
Monday, January 11, 2010
I had the great fortune to speak with Sasha Abramsky last week. To read the interview, click here.
“Let's not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh
It’s easy to pay attention to the big emotions of our lives: Falling in love, grief from losing a loved one, pride for a hard-won accomplishment, or disappointment caused by betrayal. There’s no way to avoid those huge swells, positive or negative, because they take over our lives. Reading this Van Gogh quote made me think about all those tiny emotions that we feel at every moment, and that often pass by unconsciously: frustration at getting on a crowded subway car, wincing at the sting of the cold weather, gratitude when someone holds the door open for us, and joy from an encouraging message from a friend. These smaller emotions, while less significant in size, can add up to a great deal of our happiness quotient.
How do we feel about lives in the empty moments, when nothing particularly emotional is happening, when our lives are just humming along without any type of massive shift? In those quiet moments, we get a sense of our base emotions and attitude. The trick is to recognize and appreciate that empty moment. With all of the opportunities to fill up empty space, it’s easy to avoid ever having an empty moment. The empty moments are important because they allow us to take stock of the little emotions; they let us get a sense of where we are on the happiness curve.
On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about how we handle the constant tweaks of the little emotions that every day circumstances cause. Because I just interviewed Sasha Abramsky, author of Inside Obama’s Brain, I’ve been considering Obama as a role model for how to conduct our daily lives. Whenever Obama is thrown a curve ball, and isn’t quite sure how to react, he smiles. We can observe this behavior in his debates, during his press conferences, and during one-on-one media interviews.
The smile lets him pause, gather his thoughts, and remain outwardly composed in the process.
This tactic gives him the opportunity to work through his small emotions, rather than having to obey them. And he looks good all the way through the process: he looks as if nothing ever phases him and provides a thoughtful, articulate response. A wonderful example to manage the little emotions we all experience.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
I keep a wipe board in my apartment that tracks my to-do's for my projects. This confined space helps me to sort out where and how I'm spending my time and energy. It's a helpful, simple tool that keeps me on track by giving me a very concrete visual of my priorities. It tells me where I have to go to create the kind of life I want.
In 2010, this chart has been heavily influenced by Innovation Station, my after-school project with Citizen Schools. With Citizen Schools, citizen teachers build the curriculum backwards, starting with the construction of the final project, called a "WOW", and working the lessons backwards with the final project always in mind. Rather than using the forward-working paradigm of "what comes next?", I have to start with "what needs to happen right before the WOW?" I decided to try this approach with my wipe board, too. On the far right side I wrote down the goal, and then only included the projects in my life right now that work toward that goal.
This exercise helped in a number of ways:
1.) I have some projects in my life that aren't serving that goal, and they didn't make it to the wipe board. These projects have value; they just aren't the right projects for me given my goals and in comparison to the other projects I have. I also noticed some very clear holes - things I needed to be doing, places I needed to be going, that I didn't realize before this process.
2.) I breathed a great big sigh of happiness to see how the projects all fit together and support one another. A cohesive plan breeds confidence and conviction.
3.) Having the plan laid out gave me a lot of energy. I spent a lot of time carefully thinking through options and allowing them to play themselves out in my mind while I made some key decisions. With this plan laid out, I freed up the energy that I was using in the decision-making process.
4.) The plan provides me with more down time to be with people. These projects lay out the main interests of my life, and by knowing those interests, I can strengthen relationships I already have and start new ones based on commonalities. I am always inspired by feats that people can accomplish through collaboration. Having a very clear sense of what we want to accomplish helps us to meet others who have those same goals - our kindred spirits.
5.) The wipe board gives me a place to go. There will always be new opportunities and new projects that will appear. It can be hard to say no. With a clear sense of what I want, I can go to the board and see where the new opportunity fits. If it doesn't fit, then the decision process is made that much easier. It's an effective sorting method.
Clarity of mind gives us a wonderful sense of freedom, a radiance that we can feel and that others can see. By working toward clarity, decisions become easier. The tough work of getting to clarity is well-worth the reward of simplicity.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
I've known some people in my life who are so brilliant, so capable, and yet they never seem to reach heights that are well within their grasp. They toil away in jobs that aren't quite right. They miss the opportunity for love, for community impact, for profound influence because they weren't willing to put in just a bit more effort. My father was one of these people. He had a truly brilliant mind and could have been the leading clinical psychologist of his day. Unfortunately, he thought the world should reward him specifically because he was brilliant. He didn't realize the world doesn't work that way.
And then I've known people of fairly modest talent who were just relentless in their efforts, and achieved not only what was within their natural reach, but also successes that no one else thought possible. It's the people in this latter group who have been my greatest teachers. They showed me that the world rewards those who work as hard as they can and give the best they've got everyday. The world rewards commitment, particularly commitment that perseveres in the face of great adversity.
I thought about this ideal this morning when I found out that my after-school education program with Citizen Schools starts the week of February 8th, not the week of February 25th as I had originally planned. This accelerates the time line I now have to work under. I'm going to have to shuffle around some other commitments so that my first few lessons plans are created and edited in time for the class. I've been collecting resources for several months and now is the time to just sit down and plow through the work.
And then I paused as I looked at all of these resources, most from designers of incredible talent. I appreciate design and use the tools of a designer in my profession as a product developer, though I am not a traditionally trained designer. I didn't go to art school and I'm not an engineer. My product development skills have been self-taught. I'm a volunteer teacher, though I don't have a degree from an education school and I don't have a teacher certification. My teaching skills have also been self-taught. To top it off, I'll be teaching in a school in East Harlem with more than its fair share of challenges: it is the lowest performing school in the Citizen Schools portfolio. 87% of the students receive free or reduced-price lunch (this is an indicator that 87% fall at or below the poverty line), 86% read below grade level, and 78% have math skills below grade level.
I leaned back in my chair, and asked myself, "What exactly are you doing, Christa?" But I didn't ask this question with an air of despair or fear. I asked myself the question to mean, "What is the heart of the matter here? What gifts do you have to give these children who need you so much?" With that motivation in mind, any trace of trepidation disappeared.
I have modest design talents with extraordinary passion, empathy, and determination to back them up. I grew up below the poverty line, and still many adults believed in my talents and abilities. Now its my turn to manifest that same belief in these children. I'm paying forward the great and good gifts that so many people gave me when I was in school.
My idea to use design as the backbone to engage students in the learning process is not revolutionary; many people have thought of this idea, and many of them are far better designers than I am. No matter. There are so many children who need help, so many children who need an adult to show up for them and take a vested interest in their lives and education, that it is impossible for me to not have a profound impact in this field. My own individual commitment and perseverance is the only limitation on the amount of good I can do with this program, and I've got both of those in spades.
Friday, January 8, 2010
When I moved back to New York in 2007, I started looking around for a studio program that was Yoga Alliance Certified. I found them to be very expensive - far beyond my means - so I had to put that dream on hold for a bit. About a year ago, I stumbled upon Sonic Yoga in Hell's Kitchen, which runs an affordable program expressly because they feel that many of the current programs are too expensive for most people. They are also incredibly flexible with the timing of the class and off a night and weekend program for people who work full-time. After attending classes and meeting with one of the instructors, I knew the program was the right fit for me.
Now that I am registered for the training, I wanted to share my experience of becoming a Yoga Alliance certified teacher and was struggling a bit with where to do that. On this blog, I really want to focus on my 365 steps toward an extraordinary life. Some of those will absolutely be linked to the yoga teacher training, though I didn't feel that this was the best venue to record the full process of getting certified. So I went hunting for a better place.
It didn't take long before I found Yogoer.com, a site run by Erica Heinz, a freelance graphic artist, wellness blogger, and Huffington Post columnist. I will be featuring Erica and Yogoer.com in an upcoming Examiner.com piece. With all of its incredible information about yoga in New York City, Yogoer.com seemed like an ideal place for me to record my training process and connect with other yogis.
My first piece is up on Yogoer.com today and talks about some of the preparation work I'm doing for the training. You will be able to view a full set of my posts here. I will post on this blog each time I have a new post on Yogoer.com. I hope you'll join me over there as I start this new journey and check out everything that the site and its iPhone app have to offer! Ommmmm.....
Thursday, January 7, 2010
My friend has been looking to make this move for a while, though like so many he wanted to do the reasonable, responsible thing in a difficult economy. At a time when so many are out of work, he was nervous about voluntarily leaving his job. As much as some economists will tout that the recession is over, there are many dissenting voices who say it will be a long, slow climb out of this hole. So what changed for my friend? How did he make a change within his own mind when little around him has changed? Where did his boldness come from?
"Well, Christa, I have nothing left to lose now," he told me today. "This is the only project on the table that interests me and if I can't work on it, then I've got to make myself useful somewhere else. I just can't stay where I am anymore."
On the phone today, I was bursting with pride for my friend. He flipped that switch, recognized and embraced his own talents, and recognized how they could be used in his current situation. More importantly, he realized that if his gifts couldn't be utilized where he is then he has to make use of them somewhere else. Leaving them unused is no longer an option in his own heart.
To be sure, in the last few weeks leading up to this decision he has at times felt completely terrified. I'd argue that this means he's really on to something here. It's amazing what we can accomplish when we realize that the direction of our lives really is up to us.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
He was an economist who loathed an over-reliance on data. Data can say anything we want it to say; it can be twisted and turned and reinterpreted to suit any hypothesis. To really understand a situation, we’ve got to pick our heads up, knowledgeable of the current data, though able to correlate it to easily expressed principles and moral values.
This morning I started reading Keynes: The Return of the Master by Robert Skidelsky. From the very first words, I re-discovered how important it is to read original theories and primary source material, not just interpretation of that material. As I got out of the subway, I thought about the other books I’m currently reading. I’ve started to gravitate toward these primary sources: books of Yogic scripture to prepare for my yoga teacher training class, works by John Dewey to understand the underpinning of our education system, autobiographical accounts of world events, and original documentation that established our government.
While it’s one thing to observe, practice, and read the works of experts and influencers, it’s only in reading the original grounding work of a philosophy, of a movement, that we can develop our own views and deep observations. If all we do is interpret and translate someone else’s interpretations of primary material, eventually we enter into a game of telephone, and the original beliefs are likely distorted beyond recognition.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
It's amazing that this paradigm of a single sentence describing an extraordinary life holds true no matter what great personality I consider. Thomas Jefferson penned his own epitaph with a single sentence. No copywriter, no editor. "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, of The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia." This is the summation of his life in his terms. These are the things that mattered most to him. Nelson Mandela's book, Long Walk to Freedom, remains one of the greatest influence on my life. I could only read a few pages of his story at a time because each word is packed with such emotion and power. His unwavering confidence in and passion for his beliefs is overwhelming. Very simply, his sentence is "I am the Father of a free South Africa."
So maybe that's it. Maybe we can all get to extraordinary if we can find our sentence and manage our lives in support of it. By the end of 2010, I want to write my one sentence. I've written some blog posts about how I want to be remembered when my time has come and gone, what lasting impact I'd like to have on the world. After 364 days of living a life trying to make each day better than the day before, I think I can get it down to one brief sentence. This is the initial sentence that comes to mind, in rough long form:
"Christa was someone who created a global education system that used creativity as the backbone for all learning, gave 1 million children a second chance at a better life, and offered an entire generation the opportunity to be job creators instead of job seekers."
It needs some polish, but it's a start.
The image above is not my own. It can be found here.
"Some of my fondest childhood memories involve sitting around the TV with my family watching the Muppet Show. That show spurred my interest in theatre, a career I pursued for five and half years right after I graduated from college.
I write about the characters of the Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and all of their spin-offs with great regularity on my blog and have read numerous books, blogs, and websites about these fabulously funny and furry creatures and their creators."
Monday, January 4, 2010
In that tangled tree diagram of life options, I had assumed that my life would unfold a certain way this week. Instead, the option I considered least likely came to be. The trouble, or perhaps the beauty, is that this unlikely branch is entirely under-developed. Beginning today, I get to imagine a future I didn't think I'd have just yet.
Brian and I talked tonight about the idea of prana, the intelligent undercurrent of energy that makes itself at home beneath of the narrative of our lives. In times of authenticity, that current supports our actions. When we're acting against our nature, living our lives to a lesser extent than what's possible, our prana breaks through, making room in the world for our true selves to emerge. Try as we might to suppress it, our prana will not be kept down for long. Eventually, we will have no choice but to live our lives to the fullest. We have to show up in the world and be everything we are capable of being.
I was willing to take the other branch, to remain in a holding pattern that would delay where I really want my life to go. Today the universe took that option away. No more delays allowed. Sometimes not getting what we wish for is the best gift we can receive.
The photo above is not my own. It can be found here.
"This Mojo Monday, let’s put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, heart to mind, and consider what memories made us who we are today, right now, in this moment. Profound or silly, happy or sad, painful or joyful, what are the “when” moments that created and crafted beautiful, gorgeous you and what truths did they reveal?"
Snapshots of When
Sunday, January 3, 2010
I started thinking about all of the things that I know just a little about, and how much it bothers me to have holes in my knowledge. I don't like the phrase "I know enough just to be dangerous." I'd much prefer to know enough so as not be dangerous but be able to speak intelligently on a topic.
In this new year, there are a few topics that I'd really like to dig into and understand in depth. Here are a few of them:
1.) WHAT - I know little to nothing about Islam and its many factions. I'd like to take a small step toward piecing together the popular vocabulary that surrounds this religion. It's influence is growing in leaps and bounds, dominating our news waves. I should understand it more clearly if I'm to have a greater understanding of our own foreign policy.
HOW - My friend, Amy, is very well-versed in the topic so I'm going to ask her to give me a little crash course during one of our catch-ups. I'll also ask her for some primer books, blogs, and news services that would be a good reference for me.
2.) WHAT - I've been practicing yoga for a decade though have not read some of the sacred texts that serve as its base. I also don't know the Sanskrit names for all of the asanas (poses).
HOW - At the end of February I am going to begin a very intense yoga teacher training program to master this material. Every other weekend, I'll be practicing 9 hours on Saturday and 9 hours on Sunday, for 14 weeks. In addition, the program also requires meeting 3 times per week after work, independent reading and writing assignments, and class attendance at the studio once per week. It is a rigorous program that will require a great deal of focus, though my passion for the art and science of yoga will make the rigor a welcome circumstance.
3.) WHAT - The news stories I love most are those that showcase the Power of One. I'd love to read more of these stories in 2010 to understand the psychology of this personality type, and there are a few people that particularly intrigue me. There are several sources that catalog the journeys of these kind of people. Two I particularly like are NBC's Making a Difference segment and Dafna Michaelson's 50 in 52 Journey.
HOW - I've ordered a few books that share the stories of Geoffrey Canada, the Founder of Harlem Children's Zone, and William Kamkwamba, the 14 year old in Malawi who built a windmill for his family armed only with a local library book. These are incredible stories of people who saw a need in their communities and set to work to meet that need with little or no resources except their own ingenuity and passion. Could anything be more inspiring?
Saturday, January 2, 2010
Last year I wrote a blog post that referenced an article in Fast Company about David Kelley, the Founder of IDEO. He left a mediocre management job at an engineering firm to get his MBA at Stanford. Though he had job offers after graduation, he declined them to start his own company with his friends. That company became IDEO. In the article he describes that his one strong inclination for employment was to work with friends. Had he not taken the leap and followed his instinct, he probably would be toiling away in a grey cubicle doing less-than-inspiring work. Instead, he founded a company that is arguably the finest product design firm in the world. And he has fun everyday. Bet well-played, David.
What if we could all follow our gut with David Kelley's creative confidence? What if we could turn down opportunities, as great as they seem, because they just don't jive with how we'd like to live our lives? Perhaps there's an IDEO for each of us, or at the very least a bit more happiness to be had in our careers. In 2010, I'd like to get back to a career of working with friends.
The photo above is not my own. It appears courtesy of IDEO.
Friday, January 1, 2010
"If" describes the abilities that make us successful in the truest sense of the word, in terms of the deepest and dearest meaning it has. What abilities allow us to live a life of great virtue? What abilities will make every possibility an option for us? "If" is the gateway to the answers.
"If-" is the title of one of my favorite poems by Rudyard Kipling, and one of my favorite lines of the poem asks us to “start again at your beginnings”. Today begins a new decade, and so it’s only natural for us to look back and remember where we began the last one. A few days after January 1, 2000, I took off for my first theatre tour. Previously, I had been working in a tiny theatre box office, and I needed to break out of it. The contract for the tour was only for four months and the pay was less than I made at the box office. I didn’t care; I needed the adventure.
And so began a decade that would lead me to travel around the globe, fulfill my dream of managing Broadway shows, and then send me back to school to take on the complex world of hard-nosed business. I became a published writer, and through that writing found my truest voice. I found yoga as a balm for my old soul, fell in love countless times, and learned to trust my own instincts above all others. In the decade that began with the year 2000, I discovered how I could make a meaningful contribution to humanity that would live on long after I am gone.
At the end of the decade, I was getting a bit too comfortable. I had gotten set in my new ways and lost sight of the adventure that called to me so clearly at the start of 2000. I too often trusted the opinions and instincts of others. And so, the world decided that a cleansing was necessary, a cleansing that would make it impossible for me to rest on my laurels by taking away the laurels altogether. In Kipling’s audacious terms, I was forced to start again at my beginnings.
Today, in this hour, at this moment, I am choosing to begin again using a map of “If, then” statements. It is a long and winding road, filled with imagination and dreams, a tortuous tangle of stunning possibility and hope. Cheers to the beginning of a very good year, and a very good decade!