Archive for July, 2010

The words “I am” are potent words;
be careful what you hitch them to.
The thing you’re claiming
has a way of reaching back and claiming you.
~A.L. Kitselman

The other day, I was asked a simple question, “What do you do, exactly?”  In essence, the writer of the email was asking who I am, what am I all about, and how do I do it?

On the face of it, I should have been able to spout out an answer in 30 seconds flat.  In fact, my mind started racing with all the “things” I am and “things” I do. A list of possible answers appeared.  Multiple choice.

You’ve been there. The directions state, “Select the top 3 choices that best answer the question.”

TOP 3?  These types of tests always cause a bit of panic. Because not all the answers on the list are wrong. Some are just more “correct” than others.

You start by crossing off the obviously incorrect answers.  And then you attack the list again, selecting the top 5 to begin weeding out the contenders.  But what about this one you didn’t select. It’s like number 5.5 — really, it could be equal with 5.  Oh, dear. The selecting and re-selecting and trying to anticipate can drive one a bit mad.

Just like life!

Who you are is defined by your choices, your actions. It is not defined by the car you drive, your address, the labels you wear, your marital status, political affiliation, position in life, title, or heritage.

The effects of your vacation destinations, coiffed hair, affiliations, education, and polished resume vanish like a mist if character is missing from the equation.

Who you are is not defined by the elections you’ve won, the stages you’re invited to speak from, the books you write, or programs you broadcast.

Who you are is what you do when life gets messy and people are illogical. What you think about during those quiet times — outside of the spotlight. How you react when life is throwing lemons. Do you take responsibility or find someone else to blame?

Your response to those who are in no position to repay or propel you forward or open doors for you.   Are you known for your kind benevolence, grace, and dignity or by your malice and disdain?

The way you conduct yourself when others are standing in your way.  Where do you step? On others to get what you want, or into the role of a mentor to help them get what they want?

Do you build up or tear down. Include or exclude? Help or sabotage?

That’s who you are.

And people can see it. Regardless what you advertise about yourself.

As Paul Vitale says, “What we do flows from who we are.”

Whatever you are, if you don’t like who you are, change what you do!


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One thing I hate:  the overuse of the word hero.

For those of you unfamiliar with the rules, a hero is not a musician or entertainer or sports figure simply because her music is awesome or his dance moves are amazing or the score was record-breaking — those are idols.

A hero is a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.  Think of soldiers, police officers, fire fighters, social policy game changers, and many others whose names history records but the public forgets. They are rarely promoted by glitzy ads or high-priced marketing firms. Their acts speak for themselves and validate the title of hero.  Like the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who thwarted a fourth attack targeted for the White House.

One thing I love: reading magazine interviews. It’s not necessary for me to know the person being interviewed (and often I do not). I find the simple back and forth rhythm of question and response intoxicating. Without a writer to misinterpret or mold the responses into a clever piece of prose, the simple or ranting or complicated answers provide a rare and honest look into the psyche of the interviewee.

And the more clever the question and original the response, the more enjoyable the interview.

So, it was with great delight that I came across an interview conducted by dwell magazine with Mexico-City based industrial designer Emilano Godoy, during which Godoy was asked to name his antihero.

His response?  “Lee Iacocca.”

Immediately I stopped reading.  Here was an answer I was not expecting! Twenty years later, what in the world could this Mexico-based designer still have against a former leader of the Chrysler Corporation?

I attempted to unravel the mystery. Does Godoy hate American Enterprise? Was he still holding a grudge against the uninspired design of the K-Car? (If true, who could successfully argue against his point?) Was he dumping the effects of global warming at the doorstep of the rust belt?  The explanation wasn’t that pedestrian.

I looked back at the page to find the rest of Godoy’s response, “So much talent going into the wrong industry.”

And there you have it. To Godoy his antihero was identified by an individual who was failing to fully exploit his talent.

And then I started wondering what Iacocca could have accomplished if he had attempted a different challenge. What field might he have selected, and how would history remember this man if he had?

I did some research and discovered that according to dictionary.com, an antihero is not necessarily an enemy, it is a main character who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure.  They are void of such things as nobility of mind and spirit, idealism, courage, or a life marked by action or purpose.

They may have the spotlight,
but they are not living a life fully worthy of the applause.

Perhaps fear or the expectations of others causes them to live far beneath their potential. Maybe they have tried and failed so many times, that their spirit is crippled and their courage has evaporated. Regardless of the reason, there are far too many of us living a life void of action and purpose.

We have become a society of antiheroes. This should not be. We are greater than this!

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark,
in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite,
the not-yet, the not-at-all.
Do not let the hero in your soul perish,
in lonely frustration for the life you deserved,
but have never been able to reach.
Check your road and the nature of your battle.
The world you desired can be won,
it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.
~ Ayn Rand

Whatever you are, be a hero!


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It emerged during our conversation that this man was one of the few undertakers in the Orkney Islands.

“What do people do if someone dies when you’re away?” I asked.

“They wait,” he said.

I read this exchange in an article entitled The Edge of the World; it was a glimpse into Scotland’s northern Orkney and Shetland islands.

The undertaker’s response represents the simple, uncluttered life of islanders who are profoundly self-sufficient. In my mind, I could even hear his tone. The unspoken message was, “That’s a crazy question! What do you think they do?”

And this exchange started me thinking about those times in our lives when there is nothing left to do . . . but wait.

We’ve dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s. We’ve read and researched. We’ve explored and questioned.

No stone is unturned.

And like the farmer who plants a field in the spring, we wait for the harvest of our efforts to become mature.  The outcome appears, for the most part, out of our control.

This should be easy — this waiting.  But it might just be the most difficult time.

Without tasks and projects and deadlines to keep us busy — we tend to fret and worry, and lose sleep.

Instead of moving on to the next big thing, we stall out, hoping, checking, praying, questioning, checking again — becoming the source of our own crazy torment.

Think about this: Have you ever seen a farmer finish the spring planting and then leave on vacation until the fall?  No way! He remains busy throughout the summer and right up until the harvest.

Waiting is a time to remain busy, focused, determined! To be alert for possibilities.

Don’t think of it as a no man’s land — it’s chock full of preparation, promise, and opportunity. It’s a time to take advantage of the plans you’ve put into motion.

You must know that in any moment
a decision you make can change the course of your life forever;
the very next person you stand behind in line
or sit next to on an airplane,
the very next phone call you make or receive,
the very next movie you see or book you read
or page you turn
could be the one single thing
that causes the floodgates to open,
and all of the things that you’ve been waiting for
to fall into place.

~ Anthony Robbins

Whatever you are, don’t waste time while you wait!


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There comes a point in your life
when you decide to change
and never feel the same again.”
~ Unknown

Maybe it’s part of growing up. Perhaps it’s born of experience.

This understanding that brings with it the knowledge that you have the authority to decide.

It’s like something clicks. The curtain rises. The lights come on.

And you realize it doesn’t have to be this way any longer. In fact it only was that way because you allowed it to be so.

And finally you understand that in some weird because my not making a decision was my decision sort of way, you had been responsible for it all along.

And you thought by ignoring it you were absolved from all responsibility? Not in this lifetime.

Ignorance of the law — or your life — is no excuse.

Interestingly enough, this unexpected breakthrough occurred for me as I celebrated my 40th birthday. Not that one more candle on the cake, or one more turn of the calendar carried with it any particular significance. And whereas some people are horrified by their age creeping up toward the “Willard Scott will now mention you on TV” birthday, I found it liberating.

And the funny thing is as I share my story of when I finally realized, “I’m 40 now, I can do what I want!” I discovered that a lot of  people felt the same sense of freedom after four decades of life. They’ve earned the right to . . . whatever!

I only wish the point had come earlier in life — say, when I was 25. But maybe that’s the plan, you don’t earn the right until you have the experience.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is this thing will change, YOU will change, and life will never be the same again, when you decide.

Why not today?

Whatever you are, I hope you’ve reached that point!


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The name we give something
shapes our attitude to it.
~ Katherine Patterson

My cousin (in-law) Shelly recently posted the following message on Facebook:

Group with no name is CANCELLED FOR TONIGHT.
We will reschedule for another day. Pass it on.

I was amused and intrigued.  I mean, who has a group and then not only doesn’t name it, but advertises this group is nameless?  I was hooked.

I didn’t know anything about anything that was going on, but I was curious to know when the group would be rescheduled. (And, truth be told, the more pressing priority was that I wanted to know what was up with this group!)

Well, apparently I wasn’t the only one watching the Group with No Name updates.

The following day, Shelly posted this message:

Tuesday, July 13th @

Hillbilly Slip & Slide, Barrel Bull and of course,
Julia from Germany 

That was it. No address. No idea who was invited. No explanation of who this Julia from Germany was and why she would be in attendance. Hopefully, the members knew the details, because those of us on the outside looking in didn’t have a clue.

And then, finally, someone asked the question I had been waiting on:

“Shell, what’s the group with no name?
Whatever they do sounds fun!”

Shelly graciously responded that the group consists of teens and young adults who used to be members of a particular youth group.

But that’s not the point — not even close.

In a later post, Shelly expounded on the name. “We are a lot of characters so we are not an easily defined group.”

And there you have it.

Groups with names exclude, they set apart, they symbolize something (correctly or incorrectly). They say my members are this . . . or my members are not that. Because you are like us you are welcome to join our ranks . . . or because you are different, don’t even think about it.

You’re either in or you’re out.  And it’s generally determined pretty early in the process which side of the acceptance line you land.

But a group without a label is welcoming, friendly, hospitable. You can’t automatically exclude yourself based on the group name. You don’t have to be any one particular thing to be accepted. You’re not denied because you don’t meet the criteria. You are welcome.

There will always be room for you on that barrel bull.

So, hat’s off to Shelly and the Group with No Name!  Corporate America could learn a thing or two from you:

  • Sometimes no name is the best name of all.
  • Make an effort not to exclude people.
  • Celebrate diversity.
  • Stop taking yourself so seriously — take a turn on the Hillbilly Slip & Slide every once in a while.

And, oh yeah, Julia (whoever you are) — I hope you’re having a great time in the States!

Whatever you are, have a blast!


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I leaned on her
and she took my weight.
~ Hilary Swank referring to Mariska Hargitay

You know all these challenges and tests and trials that you’ve been facing lately? The stray balls out of left field? Those events that (if they don’t kill you first) are supposed to make you stronger?

The circumstances that stretch and pull and change who you are, what you think, how you view the future?  The conditions that (if you allow them) shape your idea of what you can successfully persevere through and overcome?

Yes, I’m talking about those things.

They haunt us at night and burden us during the day. They test us. They taunt and question and demand answers.

And all along we thought the exercise was one for our own self-development.

That our triumph was a solitary victory — one that would propel us forward toward achievement of our own dreams and goals.

But what if it’s not all about us?

What if the result of our overcoming difficult circumstances, is to enlarge our spirits so that we have the capacity to help carry the burdens of others?

What if the true agenda of these challenges is for us to develop ample strength so we are able to bear the weight when others need to lean on us?

Maybe all of this challenge and persevering and overcoming isn’t for us. Maybe our making it to the other side is so we are in a position to help others get there, too.

You can’t lead anyone else
further than you have gone yourself.
~Gene Mauch

Whatever you are, others are counting on you to make it!


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I had the privilege of meeting with David Crone of I’m No Dummy Productions last week.  Over a quick lunch at Panera, David shared several amusing and thoughtful stories.

However, David shared one comment in particular that has stayed with me.  He was quoting a fellow comedian (whose name escapes me) when he said, “Most people say, ‘It is what it is,’ but that isn’t true at all!”

It is what you allow it to be.

I had an epiphany! Alarm bells went off in my head. Lights were flashing.  People were cheering. I felt like I had just won what was behind curtain number 3!

As the roar of the crowd died down I thought, “Hey, wait just a minute! This sounds like a trick.”

If I subscribe to the notion that “It is what it is,” then I’m absolved of all responsibility.

Look, it came to me that way. And it will stay that way . . . until it magically changes into something else.

Legally, I can be an innocent bystander.  Life may not be good, but then I can’t be held accountable.

BUT, if I believe that “It is what I allow it to be,” oh, boy!  Watch out!  This is a whole other ball game entirely.

Now, I’m no longer in the stands, eating popcorn, watching the game, jeering the players, but I’m on the field. Part of the action. The wins, the losses — I own them. They’re mine — part of my stats.

It is what it is may be true for children, politicians dodging responsibility, adults who would rather let someone else deal with it, and assorted individuals who time and history have forgotten or maligned.

Subscribing to the “It is what it is” campaign signals you are powerless to change it. So, I have to ask, are you?

I may not be able to change every situation, but I am not powerless!  I have authority to decide how I will act, react, respond, or remove myself from it. There are always options. Will you take them? Or will you take the easy way out?

“I must do something” always solves more problems than
“Something must be done.”
~Author Unknown

Whatever you are, it doesn’t have to be what it is!


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Over the weekend I was reading a Town & Country interview with Marjorie Gubelmann, founder and CEO of Vie Luxe. Over several glossy magazine pages, Gubelmann was asked dozens of questions.

Tucked near the end of amusing inquiries such as “What was, is, always will be in your handbag?” and “Were you given any great advice today?” was one that caught my attention:

“Any regrets today?”

Gubelmann’s response was a simple, “None.” Not knowing her, I wondered if hers was an honest answer. Or, being near the end of the interview, was she simply tired of answering questions. Perhaps, she does embrace life with gusto and lives without regrets. Maybe, the appointment took place on a rare day where every circumstance had been met with the right answer.  Maybe she did have regrets — she just didn’t want to share them. Who knows?

Nevertheless, I immediately asked myself the question. I had to know. Did I have any regrets today?

At the time — no regrets to report.  To be fair, it was late afternoon as I was reading the article and about five hours remained before bedtime.  So, there was still time to rack up some regrets, I guess.

Essayist Sydney Smith said, “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”

I think he’s right.

There are so many things, if I were to review my past, that I regret. I regret leaving the restaurant without approaching the soldier and telling her how much I appreciate her service. I regret putting my work before my family and missing the chance to support my loved ones. I also regret the occasions I have let pass without speaking up for what is right.

I wish I’d taken more chances, played in the rain, used all the vacation, tried the new restaurant, hiked  the overgrown trail, said, “I love you.”

It’s those missed opportunities that haunt us.  The timidity and fear which create situations where we think, “I should have said . . . I wished I’d acted . . . I can’t believe I didn’t . . .”

And all too often we look back with sadness and regret the time that was wasted and can never be reclaimed. You have the power to influence the present and affect the future, but the past has been written and no revisions are forthcoming.

I think the lesson to learn here is to take advantage of today’s opportunities today!  Even if action means making an uncomfortable decision — make it! Even if the outcome is unsure . . . who cares?

Better to live with a little fear now than a load of regrets later.

Whatever you are, live a life you are proud to own!


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As I sit here writing, I, along with my fellow citizens throughout Ohio are suffering through day five of a sweltering heat wave. Record high temperatures have been documented all over the country, and the oppressive inferno has caused regular air quality alerts.

People are advised to stay indoors when possible, as day after day our meteorologists are delighted to show off the high pressure system that’s keeping us miserable.

Radio talk-show hosts are encouraging folks to call in with “heat-related stories,” and newspaper stories remind us of ways to treat a heat-related illness.

Our power grid is suffering under extremely high usage causing electricity outages around the country affecting thousands.

Daily life slows down a little more each day, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for the unhurried, easy pace of those who live in the Sun Belt. Let’s be frank — it’s not just hot — with 90% humidity, it’s dreadfully uncomfortable.

People are grumbly and sweaty. Tempers are short and patience has evaporated.

Unlike my husband, I’ve never been a big fan of the heat; summer is not my favorite season. (Spring & Fall vie for the top spot.) I mean, come on — in winter you can pile on an insane number of layers to keep warm and no one gives you a second glance. In summer, there are only so many pieces of clothing you can discard to keep cool before society frowns on your behavior.

Sure, I’m hot and miserable and there’s a lot to complain about.  But in the grand scheme of things, it’s really nothing but a minor inconvenience. Let’s put it in proper perspective:

Take a minute to think about the men and women protecting our freedom by serving in the Middle East.

As I enjoy an iced tea and slice of watermelon, “hot and miserable” is what our soldiers eat for breakfast.

While I relax in my kitchen, with the ceiling fan pushing a cool breeze around the room, they face upwards of 120 degrees in the desert, dressed head to toe in camo and protective gear — with not an air conditioner in sight.

As I limit my outdoor exposure, rushing from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned house, every day our soldiers lives are in danger. Separated from friends and loved ones, and the conveniences of home, they are sweaty and dirty and hot and uncomfortable for long stretches of time.

The next time you feel the need to complain about the heat this summer, I hope you will step back from the situation and think about our soldiers, and the extreme conditions they endure on our behalf . . . and say a prayer for their safety and comfort.

Whatever you are, complain less and be grateful more often.


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Experience is a hard teacher
because she gives the test first,
the lesson afterward.
~ Vernon Law

I think it was Paul the Apostle who said,

“I have learned by now
to be quite content
whatever my circumstances.”

Interesting concept if you think about it.  Not just the part about being content — satisfied with what he had, not desiring anything else — but the part where he says, “I have learned by now.”

I wonder what experiences Paul had, what previous lessons had ended in failure, what holes had been dug, what plans had been sabotaged  .  .  .  before he arrived at the “learned by now” part.

In fashion –as  in life — they say if you hold on to anything long enough, you will see it again.  Remember the platform shoes of the 70’s? Back! Lava lamps? Back! Save the Earth campaigns? Back!

So, it stands to reason that the challenges and tests you faced and failed in the past will be back, too.  Maybe that’s what Paul was saying, “In my past I’ve never learned this lesson.  But this time, I got it!” And we all know that once you’ve learned — really learned — a lesson, you get to move on to something else.

It’s not that the challenges vanish altogether — you just graduate to new ones. And you take with you the knowledge and confidence accumulated from past wins. It’s like the snowball effect.  The more you win, the more you have the opportunity to win again.

Which leads me to wonder about the people who seem to have it all together. It’s not that they don’t have challenges and issues.  It’s that the problems and difficulties seem to strengthen their resolve instead of undermine their courage.

Perhaps it’s because they’ve already experienced the losses and forfeits, and through it all they have “learned by now” how to stand their ground, remain poised, and properly deal with the issue instead of allowing the issues to deal with them.

I have to agree with C. S. Lewis who said, “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

Whatever you are, isn’t it time you learned by now?


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