First, let me say that I am SO SICK of self-righteousness and political divide I can hardly stand it.  I have never seen a nation so grossly divided because of pride, prejudice and politics; at least not in my lifetime. Sick and unhealthy we are as a nation.  Unloving, ungrateful, unrelenting in our quest to be RIGHT.  Right against all other nations, right against our neighbors, right against anyone who doesn’t think, look, act or vote the way we do. No one wins when someone is made to be the clear-cut loser at all costs.  It’s just getting wearisome and seditious…and yes, we have to have winners and losers in any race. Unfortunately even the human one; the embattled human race. Sigh.eracism

Some people do not know they’re racists. I am certain of this. They TRULY believe that because they “don’t use the N word,” or that they, get this, “have black friends…” that they’re not racist. Some think that because SOME Mexicans are illegal that ALL Mexicans “don’t belong here” or the “ones that learn English” are better than the ones that don’t. I know this sounds harsh and negative, but I am hoping to shine a light on something I truly believe: People who don’t know they’re racist, truly believe they’re not racist!

In my assessment, people who think like this are equally as dangerous to the human spirit as those who don white gowns and wear their prejudicial badge with honor. It’s what I believe. I’ve researched varying definitions of racism…and there are many…and the definition appears to be changing. It’s much deeper than Merriam-Webster’s summary or Jim Crow’s declarations. Racism is a way of life that some were immersed in, some indoctrinated to believe and some merely clueless that they even carry “the gene.”

I think the definition should include the words intolerance, anger, hatred, disgust…because as I read commentary from people on the matter of race, gender, sexual orientation, nation of origin…I see ignorance, intolerance, hatred, superiority…because THEY aren’t any of those things and perhaps they don’t even understand why they are so disgusted. But it is blatant and bigoted disgust…from the safety and security of a keyboard…somewhere in middle America.

Have we really ever had compassionate understanding of another’s perspective? Have we ever truly experienced loving thy neighbor as thyself? Is there an exclusion clause in scripture that negates “illegals, blacks, homosexuals, the homeless…and anyone who isn’t like you?” I’m asking because I have friends who are lovers and followers of Christ, yet they spew ugliness like I’ve never before witnessed. Because I have friends who call themselves tolerant who point fingers and degrade and chastise. I have friends that will go on mission trips but don’t want “those people” living next door to them.

What is it that we all fear? What is it that keeps racism alive and thriving? Does one’s knowledge of scripture create superiority? Does one’s claim of acceptance actually create tolerance or do actions speak louder than delusions? Does prejudice make you better than the person you despise? How can another man’s opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness be a threat to the ability to exhibit compassion or love?  What I am seeing and hearing is not love. Far from it.  From either side, really…and just because you are AGAINST a person’s way of life, his reason for being in this country, the color of his skin, the sound of his accent, or the headdress he wears….does that give you the right to forsake kindness and compassion, does it? Forget your justification of welfare, healthcare, taxes; for one moment, forget the FINANCIAL implications of what you’re so angry about…what is it about the human being underneath the black, brown, rainbow-colored skin that threatens YOUR road to heaven? Or your ability to love another human being? Is your bank account so valuable that you would forsake the instructions of your Savior? If you’re financially impacted, are you exempt from compassion? If you’re morally opposed, are you exempt from kindness? If you’re spiritually violated, are you exempt from love?

What is it about our differences and our lack of understanding about another’s quest to a happy and meaningful life that causes such discomfort and uneasiness? WHEN WILL WE LEARN that God already knows what is in our hearts? And if you think your “well, I don’t use the N word” or “well, if they paid taxes I’d be okay with them,” or “the bible says so,” is enough to conceal your confused and tainted heart…you might wanna have a chat with your Maker…and look in the mirror.  And we ALL better damn well get it right before we have to atone for our sins, thoughts, actions, hearts… LOVE WINS EVERY TIME. That’s what my Christ has taught me anyway…

Educate yourself on these terms: racism, intolerance, migrant, immigrant, equality, love, compassion, negro, Afro-Mexican, caucasian, human spirit, Christ.

What does inspire you? Is it faith or family? Is it money or purpose? I sat back this week and thought about my recent trip to New York. I once again soaked up the smells, sounds and sights of my favorite city…and I quickly began to realize that PEOPLE were what inspired me the most. People, humanity, reality!

My taxi driver, Ahmed inspired me as he spoke of his journey from India with his wife and kids; my nephew, Nathan who greeted me at the hotel elevator, as the consummate optimist, with a grin from ear to ear as he showed me to my matchbox-sized room in Midtown. It was the group of boys on the corner hustling CD’s (possibly blank, but I bought one for 7 bucks anyway). It was Richard, our tour guide, on the Greyline who prided himself on his knowledge of history and HIS city! It was the sales clerk at The Gap who went above and beyond to ensure I found what I was looking for at a store across town.

People inspire me because they somehow inspire themselves to give each day, and everyone in it, all that they’ve got! Everyday, ordinary (really extraordinary) people inspire me by how they live their lives out loud. It doesn’t always take a Lance Armstrong or a Randy Pausch to inspire but it does have a lasting impression when people live inspired lives because it’s who they are to the core. I watch my next-door neighbor Cathi, who has MS, tackle each day with more fervor and gusto than most people I know; I often forget she’s in a wheelchair let alone stricken with a debilitating disease. She makes me want to be a better person.

SO many people say the words, “My wife makes me want to be a better person.” What does that really mean? What does being better mean? Better than whom? Better than what? Well…I guess it means better than I was yesterday…and better than even I want to be on some days.

Today, on the 11th anniversary of the death of my father-in-law who inspired me with every fiber of his being, I’m working outside with my husband stacking wood and I am inspired by a man who puts so much care and thought into everything he does for us. I might be more apt to sling and stack at a spastic pace that gets it all done in record time; not Tracey, he thoughtfully and strategically grooms the yard, stacks the wood and ensures that everything is in its place. By witnessing him and other people who live inspiring lives right in front of me I learn new skills: the art of patience, the value of resting, the pride of a job well done, and a respect for people doing everyday things that inspire me to be a better person than I was yesterday.

The question I ask myself next is: what have I done to inspire others lately? And one I ask of you: what have you done to inspire your spouse, your kids or your co-workers? I think it’s a valid question with answers we can all come up with. In part, the question is intended to force us to take inventory of the inspiring things we do on a regular basis; to give thanks for our gifts, to celebrate our achievements and to recognize the good in ourselves and other people. I bet we inspire people more than we know it.

Sometimes I forget to appreciate our individual differences, but today I’m taking time to see simple but amazing things that inspire me about the people in my life and the people I may have only one chance to inspire if I so choose. How amazing would it be if I could live in this space forever? What an incredible impact I could make if I made a concerted effort to be intentional; to inspire. I think part of inspiration IS acknowledgement. How often do we tell the people around us that we appreciate their gifts, their character or their impact on our lives? Admittedly, not enough, but I vow to make an effort…starting today.

So I ask you again, what or who inspires you? If someone immediately pops in your head then today might just be the day to pick up the phone and let them know!

I liken this time in my life, in your life, in our lives to the Lotus flower whose seed is planted deep in the bottom of a pool of muddy water; and through stormy and calm seasons has fought its way to the surface.  As it grows from its root it pushes onward and upward toward the light.  And just after it breaks the waters’ surface it blooms into the most beautiful, vibrant water lily one can imagine.

I want to be a Lotus Flower. I want all of us to be!

There is a Chinese poem that depicts the life of the Lotus flower most eloquently, “The leaves break the bandage of the green stem, stretching themselves and form a green pool with untidy edges. Now the flower comes from out of the vast surface of the water, just like a very beautiful woman coming gracefully from her bath.”

Chinese poets also use Lotus flowers to inspire people to continue striving through difficulties and to show their best part to the outside world, no matter how bad the circumstances may be. This is understood as being just like the Lotus flower, bringing beauty and light from the murky darkness at the bottom of the pond.

I’ve been at the bottom of the pond and it’s been weeks since I have had the opportunity to share my thoughts in writing.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve shared PLENTY of thoughts (and a few gestures) over the past twelve weeks of producing the state fair, but the quality time I once spent on a Sunday evening writing about my crazy week, crazy job or the crazy people in it has been on hold as I pushed onward and upward through some pretty muddy waters of my own.  Tonight, it is cathartic making time for my long-trusted friend “the blog.”  I’ve taken part in an effort to save the Tennessee State Fair and by all counts, succeeded.  And now, on the other side of that daunting task is a very tired woman and the wonder of what’s next.  I’m guessing this is my time to blossom–again!

These post-event doldrums are like that beautiful water lily having to make a trip back down below the surface to start the climb all over again.  I wonder if that flower would feel the same way right now had she kept some balance in her life the past few months (hint, hint)?  Sometimes it takes wallowing down in the muddy waters to reflect and realize that we have a lot to look forward to…it also takes some reassurance from within that we are exactly where we should be, doing exactly what we should be to continue with our life’s work.  We must push through so one day we can become beautiful Lotus flowers that people can admire and enjoy.  Yes, I will do it  (or something equally as crazy) again…but next time there will be ground rules:

  1. Never, ever, ever give up the balance of your beautiful life and family for your job
  2. Spread your “yeses” and “no’s” out according to your priorities and your abilities
  3. Make time for the littlest of things that mean a whole lot to the people around you

I thought about waiting until I was fully recuperated and on more solid ground, but that wouldn’t have been very “Lotus flower” of me would it?  And the truth of the matter is, there is no perfect time to get a fresh perspective and dig in and celebrate the fruits of our labors while pushing through life’s waters.  There’s also no time to rest on our laurels.  Waiting for the right time or place would be like, “a flower planted in North Dakota putting off blooming because it would prefer to do so in Illinois.”  It just doesn’t make sense.  Now truly is the time!

So dig in, plant your seed and push on!  Push through the doldrums and the struggles and the murky waters.  Set your aim at the sunshine and get busy. THIS is our time! Nobody ever said life would be easy but no one ever said we couldn’t get through it all either.  We survive, we fight, we persevere; we become Lotus flowers time and time again throughout our lives.  It’s a thing of beauty and grace.  It’s our calling to emerge from whatever stormy depths of our lives as the strong, resilient women God made us to be!

I was turned onto a site (PG-13) this week that made me laugh out loud.  This site is about funny and embarrassing text messages sent out due to erroneous auto-corrections made on phones and computers these days.  As funny as I found these messages to be, alot can be learned from them. Take your time when sending a message, think twice about your recipient/audience and most importantly, don’t say anything you didn’t mean to say.

With the advent of text-messaging and emails, so much can be left up for interpretation and even more can be left up to individual mood and preference.  Email is a two-dimensional communication – there is not tone of voice, no body language, just words.  This is unfortunate but it is our reality.

What might you be saying in your daily interactions that someone else is interpreting differently?  What are you saying to your kids, your co-workers, your spouse?  And more importantly, how is what you are writing being interpreted?

Did you know that approximately 2.8 million emails are sent every second and some 90 trillion emails are sent per year?  Around 90% of these millions and trillions of messages are spam and viruses, but 294 billion messages per day are sent by around 1.9 billion email users each year.  With that kind of email traffic, there are bound to be some mis- (missed/messed-up) communications.

I have had a few of my own spell-check funnies along the way for instance, Chrysty Fortner when spell-checked correctly, signs my name as “Crusty Fortune.” I found this out the hard way while asking for a six-figure sponsorship from a prospect!  Just last week I started an email with “Yellow Lewis!” when asking for help with a non-profit business plan, apparently the incorrectly typed word Hellow (Hello) turns into “Yellow,” while I wasn’t looking–obviously not what I wanted to convey.

Aside from the spell-check incidents in my professional career, there have been other times where what I wanted to say was lost in translation or in one case, lost to ALL CAPS!  As the Director of Marketing for a Medicare Insurance company, I used all caps in a message to my new sales team.  It was my first day.  I was excited to meet the staff and to let them know my excitement about the new Medicare Prescription plan that was to be unveiled in 2005.  In my overzealousness to make a large first impression, I sent out
a communication to the Chicago, Houston, Birmingham and Nashville team with MAYBE a few too many CAPS and immediately I was criticized by the staff.  I’m not an easily disliked person and I’ve never been hated by people I work with let alone a group of sales people I was hired to inspire!  It was a disaster and the excitement and drive was lost by the skepticism created by my welcome email.  What a disappointment for me and obviously to them.  The point to all of this is to ask you the question, has WHAT you meant ever been lost by what you SAID or how you said it?”

There are many ways productive communication can break down to alienate your audience:

  • using clichés
  • using industry jargon
  • using slang…

Here are my 10 tips for better communication:

1.    DON’T USE CAPS, even if you’re REALLY, REALLY excited about emphasizing a point

2.    Don’t use lingo, jargon or technical terms

3.    Be yourself; and most importantly use your authenticity to speak/write with passion

4.    Don’t beat around the bush (I know, it’s a cliché, but you get the point)

5.    THINK before you speak and most importantly, listen before you speak

6.    Be thoughtful; it’s not necessarily what you say but how you say it

7.    Keep it short, sweet and to the point; use the carriage return (hard return between points)

8.    Use your subject line as the most powerful (but short) lead-in

9.    Give the recipient of your message a clear idea of what you’re expecting as a response

10.  Remember, what you send can be stored in someone’s archives FOREVER, so don’t say anything you don’t want to come back and haunt you!  And double check what you’re sending before you actually hit “Send.”

So from my silly spell-checker to yours, Yellow and Hoppy Moon day! Make the most of your day today and remember, mean what you say, say what you mean and maybe after reading this post you can avoid the pitfalls of communicationitis.

Yours truly, Crusty Fortune!

Just when you think you have it all worked out; when you know exactly what the next few months of your life are gonna look like, a Southern wind blows in and changes direction, without the convenience of the weatherman giving you a heads up.  That’s what happened to me in a short twelve hour period last Tuesday.

The announcement was made that the company I’ve been working with for 12 months, Rockhouse Partners, was acquired by a ticketing company; it was a surprise to me.  That same evening, the fans and advocates of “Save My Fairgrounds” made an historic showing at a council meeting to let their voice be heard that their fairgrounds wasn’t just something that could be tossed out with last years funnel cake dough.  They were able to persuade the council in an unanimous decision to STOP the demolition of the 106 year old racetrack and to continue the Tennessee State Fair, world-class flea market and Expo Center–at least for now.  It was quite a day and night from where I sat and with that announcement came change and at least a question I had to ask myself.  Do I have it in me to run the Tennessee State Fair again?

I was a bit overwhelmed on Wednesday but when I stopped to breathe I realized that what lay ahead is an abundance of awesome opportunity; opportunity to carve out what I wanted to do with the two announcements. Sometimes change happens in the form of mergers, acquisitions and council votes…and sometimes, it comes in the form of how we react to it.

Maria Robinson once quoted, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

I like the idea of starting today to make my new ending.  Typically I would assume that we have two reactions to choose from when change is forced upon us: fight it or embrace it.  I’m embracing it with a mindset that is aligned with what works for ME!  What that is EXACTLY is yet to be determined this early in the game, but one thing for certain and to quote Sheryl Crow, “…a change would do me good.”

I started tooling around on the internet to help me through my concept of change.  The Shapiro’s have summed up ways to deal with change pretty darn good:

1. Accept what is! If you can change something, then do; if you can’t change anything, then release resistance and simply be with what is.

2. Take risks. Life is about not having answers, taking chances and risks, and making the most of every moment, all without knowing what is going to happen next.

3. Be your own best friend. It is easy to blame and shame yourself, but now is the time you deserve the most love and kindness of all.

4. Every day is a new beginning. Each time you take a step forward you have no idea what might happen. But nothing will happen if you continue to stay where you are.

5. Keep falling as long as you keep picking yourself up! Making mistakes is not the problem, but not learning from them and moving on is.

6. Nothing is permanent, so appreciate every moment, fully and completely, as it will never happen again.

7. Think with your heart instead of your head. When you come from your heart you come to your senses!

8. Meditate. Take time to just stop and breathe, to remember why you are here, and to find what is of real meaning to you.

9. Don’t take yourself too seriously. A good sense of humor prevents a hardening of your attitudes, and stops your opinions from getting too rigid!

10. Do something for someone else and make giving a part of your life, even if it is just a simple smile and a hug

I think these are extremely simple steps to follow when faced with change.  I also think that believing that change is a good thing and never a bad thing is a great way to think.

So, today as the winds of your life take a swirl or a new direction, know that you are STILL very much the one responsible for how you react to it and more importantly what you do with it.  Life is short…change is inevitable…and fighting it won’t get you what you want.  As for me and what I want?  It’s a work in progress; it’s a beautiful thing to know that it’s up to me.  Change, opportunity, new beginnings…all a part of life and all a part of the next 3 months in all of our lives.  Don’t get too comfortable and don’t worry if the weatherman forgets to predict winds of change in your forecast…I promise you they’re coming so you might as well buy a wind breaker for when it does!

If you are like me, you know how precious time is.  You’ve also suddenly realized that twenty (or thirty) years have flown by in a flash.   Aside from a dozen or so life-changing and amazing moments I can’t recall everything I’ve done in all those years that mattered, I mean really, really mattered; I can probably better tell you what I haven’t done.

This quote by Henry Van Dyke sums up time best, “Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.”

After careful contemplation I’ve concluded that outside of love, time is the most valuable commodity in the Universe.  Time and love are two things we can never have enough of; and they are the two things we spend our lives fighting for and once shared you can never take either of them back.

You may find it odd how many times I write about love in a blog that is about business.  But I find it odd that we don’t talk more about love in business.  Without getting too philosophical, I can tell you that after my recent trip home for the funeral of my friends’ 17 year old son; it’s apparent that time and love are the only two things that matter in the end.

So why am I writing about these two subjects as if they’re interchangeable?  Because I believe they are.  Time is all we have to give to the ones we love.  Our careers are a means to an end and if we’re lucky, it’s a means to happiness and joy because we love what we do!  Time is something we either manage well or have no sense of.  Love is something that is either a part of everything we do or grossly missing from the picture.  Yes, time is money, but spending time with others is how we show love…an invaluable gift.  If we are lacking in time-management skills it could take away from the time and love we get to share with our families.  It’s that simple of an equation.

Personally, I have some decisions to make about how I’m going to spend my professional time this year.  I have to weigh out the fact that I’m needed to manage the State Fair as a project against the reality that my balancing of  job, life and love could use some work of its own.  I will either be a living, breathing testimony to what I’m trying to convey or I will be a slave to the clock and missing precious time with the people I care most about.

A year ago today I wrote of a new day, a new beginning and a year full of unknown professional challenges.  Right now, as I’m looking at what those challenges are and what they will be again this year, I have to really take stock of my priorities.  The best news of all of this is that I have a choice.  I am the person deciding where I invest my heart, my head and my time. Can I truly make the most of each day so that I have some time and love left to share with my family?

The answer lies somewhere in the commitment I’m willing to make to each day.  I’m not talking about resolutions or crazy quips to get me through each day; I’m talking about a lifestyle that embraces making the most out of each and every moment.  Is it possible, you ask?  I think it is!  Here is a 21-step plan that I’m going to try for 21 days – you can try it, too:

  1. Before you get out of bed, breathe in through your nose and out making a “ha” noise.  Do it five times (it gets your blood circulating)
  2. When you’re standing in your closet looking for your clothes for the day, slide your left arm down your side, then your right…repeat five times on each side
  3. If you can, jump in the shower before you do ANYTHING else in the morning, even before coffee.  Try it!  There’s something stimulating about water and helps you to think more clearly
  4. Don’t get on email or Facebook before work
  5. Invest in a good travel coffee cup and use it for your 2nd cup of coffee during your commute
  6. Try to force yourself to laugh out loud (even if it’s a fake laugh) for at least one minute while you’re driving (it is great exercise for your diaphragm and it releases endorphins )
  7. Arrive to work 15 minutes before you really want to get started
  8. Make sure to make the rounds (quickly, but sincerely) to say “Good Morning” to everyone in your office
  9. When you turn on your computer, answer outstanding emails in that 15 minute window
  10. Try to have “email” times set aside so you don’t get bogged down with the constant interruption every time you hear the “ding” of a new message
  11. Take a break for lunch and if you can, take the stairs, go out on the rooftop or do something that forces you to take in the beauty of your surroundings
  12. Carve out another 15 minutes somewhere to write personal thank you’s or to touch bases with business acquaintances that have been on your mind
  13. If you get bogged down with Facebook, bill-paying or personal business during the day, earmark 15 to 30 minutes to knock stuff like that out.  If your mind is full of things you keep meaning to get done, your head won’t be in the game
  14. Do the hard stuff first: outbound sales calls, proposals, etc. THEN do the more task-oriented functions of your job
  15. Before you leave, make a bullet list for tomorrow putting the hard projects at the top of the list
  16. Stay late if you have to, but leave it at work!
  17. On your way home try not to talk on your cell, listen to relaxing music, breathe and get geared up to give your family your undivided attention
  18. Before bed stretch and recall a few things you were grateful for in your day
  19. Try to go to bed before 10 p.m.
  20. Try the “ha” breathing again while you’re lying in bed
  21. Fall asleep while saying “thank you” for every little thing you are grateful for (your bed, your favorite pillow, your family, your job, your home, your clothes, running water, a furnace, etc.)

It only takes 21 days to form a habit.  I need some new habits; some good ones!  I want the time I give to everyone in my life to be quality.  I want people to think of me as caring, thoughtful and loving…in both the workplace and at home.  I have some work to do but I am committed to finding balance.

You should.  We all should.  If I’ve heard it once this week I’ve heard it 17 times; living your life for the approval of others will cause you to drown in your own disappointment.  Well I didn’t hear it exactly like that, but that’s how it made me feel.  Striving for approval means a little less you and a lot more of what “they” want to see from you.  THEY will eventually cause you to sit so still that there’s no chance the boat will even sway let alone full-out rock!  Hey, if this boat is a rockin’ – you better come knockin’ because it means I’m doing SOMETHING that I’m passionate about.

When we make a conscious decision to do something bold there are usually two things present:  conflict and passion.  And living my life without either of these would mean I was merely floating down the river of life without purpose.

Supposedly variety is the spice of life; I say LIVING is the spice of life!  Variety helps, but just beyond variety our elusive friends pain and pleasure lay in waiting; watching and laughing at the countless things we will do to either avoid one or run full steam in pursuit of the other. So, am I saying that taking the path of least resistance is like living with no rock in your boat? Kinda.

Rocking the boat, at least for me, means that instead of avoiding something painful or taking the fast track to something pleasurable I choose to sit in discomfort for a while because it might just be the right thing to do.  And I also believe that when we cause ourselves to sit in that uncomfortable place, it empowers us to make a statement; whereby rocking the proverbial boat.  Yay for us!

So, you ask, “What’s in this for me?”  I hope there’s a nugget of hope that sometimes when you WANT to take the easy route, you have an option to grow through the process of uncomfortability (I just made that word up).  And since I made it up, I’m forming my own definition to mean that you have the ability and choice to go beyond your limits of comfort to reach new places and to take a stand where you might have previously sat idly by.  It means you have permission to venture out; to float a little further into the deep water. It means you are living your life instead of worrying what other people think.

So go out today and rock your boat…or someone else’s; it just might be the life-changing life jacket that causes you to explore new waters and make a statement.