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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!

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Your Time to Blossom is Now

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!

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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.

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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!

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I use it every day.  The more I find myself engaged in relationships that cross both personal and professional boundaries, the less I try to resist.  I can also say that the advent of social networking has made building true friendships easier at work where once a line was drawn. And dropping a “love ya,” or a “sending love your way” comment seems to soften those lines even more.  Facebook made me do it, I’ll say.  Facebook made me love these people!

I enjoy telling people I love them.  I think people need to hear it more often.  I feel good knowing that if you or I got hit by a bus tomorrow, you would know that I truly cared.  I see people hurting in the workplace; whether it be health reasons, family woes or car troubles, and if I think they need an “I love you,” by golly I’m giving it to them.  The bad news is we’ve become such a nation of political correctness that it’s inappropriate to tell people you love them at work.  And just like Roberta Flack, I ask, “Where Is the Love?”

Sadly, it’s left Corporate America…and even more disconcerting are the stats that we spend more time with the people we work with than we do with the people we live with.  Reports say that the average full-time worker spends 9.3 hours at, and commuting to, work versus the 1.8 hours per day of quality time in the home.  Of that “quality time,” .31 hours of it is spent watching television.  Seems to me that a little love just might be what’s missing from the mix.

I was once reprimanded at a corporate job for calling a list of required items needed for a loan closing, a “love note.”  Anyone  who had ever done business with me knew it was my personal way of lightening up the ugly list of items being requested (demanded) by the underwriters, i.e., 2 years tax returns; 2 months bank statements, pay stubs, etc.  Calling it a love note, then asking for all the required documents somehow made the gathering more pleasurable if you can call that task pleasurable.  For me, it was an extension of the love and care I took in finding the right loan, positively communicating and making their experience one they’d tell their friends about.  For corporate banking, however it was considered a recipe for a lawsuit.  I say, losing that personal touch is what’s contributed to the demise of the American Dream.  The missing ingredient IS love–for what you do, how you do it and how you treat people along the way.

Okay, so you can’t go around telling people you love them all day because 1) they’d think you were certifiable, 2) they’d probably think you were selling Amway (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and 3) they  probably are not prepared to reciprocate–which makes for some awkward silence–so here’s my solution:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can. As often as you can!

Not my words, but I think John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, was onto something.  The thought and intent behind his words fit any religion or lack thereof.  I think his quote DEFINES love.

The basic premise behind the quote has to be the kind of principles this country, and its workforce, were founded on.  I say if you can’t say it, show it; and if you can’t show it, sing it!  As John, Paul, George and Ringo once said, “All You Need is Love!”

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If you think you’ve read this before,  you may have.  If you’re reading for the first time, welcome to my world.  I’d like to think that I’m learning along the way and that when I’m faced with new challenges I create new solutions.  But sometimes, just sometimes…disappointment comes back around to greet us like an unwanted house guest…we take it in, but hopefully we have established new boundaries and “house rules” on how long we’re going to let it stay! 

Here’s a repost from July of 2009 entitled “How to Deal with Professional Disappointment,” (ironically, about the same disappointing time in the process of planning the State Fair this year) where we lost many of our livestock competitions due to lack of funding. The story is similar but the heartache is exactly the same…allow me a moment to wallow and reflect and then smack me and tell me to move on! Thanks for indulging me!

Anger doesn’t fix any problem; profanity is a waste of breath and blame is an exercise in self-righteousness that really has no place in the workplace.  And I know because I’ve tried all three!  So what is the answer to overcoming a large-scale let down in business?  It’s the same as it would be in your personal life; and as a psychologist once told me, “disappointment is just disappointment…nothing more than a noun; a word like ‘frustration’ or ‘aggravation.’  When you disappoint someone else it doesn’t mean death for anyone, it’s just disappointment.  Acknowledge the fact that you’re disappointed and move on.”

Yeah, right! It sounds very easy on paper but quite frankly, I need a little more time to process than that.  I need a day or two of wallowing and self-talk that allows for some pondering, questioning and praying.  I don’t think I’m that unique.

On Friday, I received an email that informed me that the single largest initiative I’ve been preparing for the 2009 fair has fallen apart.  Like a house of cards in a windstorm it’s destroyed.  Had it not been the very anchor I had based the entire “vibe” of the fair on, I would have just rolled…but it dropped me to the depths LIKE an anchor when I got the news.

Part miscommunication, part overzealousness on behalf of the manufacturer, whatever the case I am gravely disappointed and somewhat at a loss for a “plan b.”  Sick to my stomach is a better description.  I remind myself, it’s not world peace.  Then I plead, “but it was MY world peace.”

My world peace is a greening initiative that I feel could change the face of fairs and recycling and energy use…it is a world-changing endeavor that I am still eager to find a solution for.  The machine I was expecting is a rarity and its use was unique for our application.  I was hoping this machine would change how people perceived the fair, change the demographic of who was interested, and possibly be the innovative new idea that crossed agriculture with technology and saved our fair!  Big ideas I guess can result in big failures.

How much energy can one expend and how much heart can you have left after such a huge let down to forge ahead?  The answer is: there is no limit to what you can expend and you can give it everything you’ve got.  After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the memo from the testing director of MGM  read, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” He kept that memo over the fire place in his Beverly Hills home. Astaire once observed that “when you’re experimenting, you have to try so many things, that you may go days getting nothing but exhausted. And there is a reward for perseverance.”

Blah, blah, blah you might say…I did..I’ve tried every motivational quip and rah-rah antic I know…but the winner for me this weekend was silence and contemplation and a bit of perseverance.  The quieter I got about the issue the more I came to realize that I can only do what I can do.  I’m not (thankfully) single-handedly in charge of greening my world or my city or my fair so maybe there are people and resources that exist that I haven’t yet met.  Maybe there are phone calls and pitches still to be made and there is hope that my efforts thus far have mattered.  There is hope that even with a disappointing outcome, what I did mattered. I’m not rolling over to accept defeat; I’m rolling over and looking for a way–where there is no way. It’s painful and “uncomfortable” as one friend put it, ha, uncomfortable what a great word for “part humiliation, part disappointment, part exasperation.”  I’m holding onto uncomfortable for today. But just for today…

A quote by Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

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I have a new mantra; it’s a two word sentence: Be Inspired!  It came up in a culture meeting at Rockhouse this week and it struck me as a powerful suggestion.  Being motivated…is nice, being driven…is good, being inspired…is the most passionate description I can imagine that encompasses all the right reasons we are motivated and driven to achieve anything and everything.  I like it, I’m keeping it, I want to live it!

Pantanjali, who is credited with developing yoga, summed up the premise of living an inspired life like this, “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

Yep, that’s the story ending I want; to be a greater person than I ever dreamed I would.  I’m not sure how murky the waters are between inspiration and motivation or inspiration and desire, but when I weigh the words against each other, inspiration wins out on its unselfish and “bigger than me” qualities.

I am always curious to see the vast array of meanings when I look up definitions. My favorite meaning of inspire is: “to breathe in.” Its Latin etymology even suggests, “to infuse, to breathe life.” If you think of inspire as the opposite of expire, “to breathe one’s last breath,” “beyond one’s useful date,” “to come to an end”, it all makes sense.

This perspective helps me define how I can live an inspired life. I’m going to live the opposite of expired.  I’m going to think of the word inspire as “to come to a beginning, to take a fresh breath and to reinvent the self to become useful.”   It’s not that I don’t feel I’ve been useful all these years, but I like the idea of having a usefulness with greater intention than the ordinary.  So how do we have an intentional day?  What does that look like in realtime?

  1. wake up and be grateful for all the little things (bed, roof, clothing, air conditioning)
  2. because water has the divine power of connecting the heavens with the earth (in my opinion), I say make good use of that shower time by dreaming big things and asking big questions like how do I get there
  3. start an hour earlier than you usually do so you get the “junk mail” and silly stuff off your plate before you dig in
  4. come up with a reason (an inpspiration) every day as to why you are working so hard and what the real goal at the end of the day is (mine today is to make a positive difference in three people’s lives)
  5. take time to breathe in and breath out, especially when the Monday stresses come at you like gang busters
  6. respond with Grace
  7. end your day with another glimpse into what you’re grateful for, mainly focusing on the very little things that often get taken for granted

Inspiration, motivation and drive – all great words to live by, but the greatest of these gifts is inspiration!  Be genuine, be intentional and most of all be inspired!

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