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Is it faith or family?  Is it money or purpose?  I sat back this week…yes, I sat back…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 better than I was yesterday…and better than even I want to be on some days. 

Today, back at my everyday life, 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 their 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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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!

In the business world, and more so in politics, ugly is the only word I can use to describe the nasty things people so badly want you to hear about their opponent. I call it the “ugly truth” because it is no more related to facts than the monsters under the bed. It doesn’t seem to matter anymore whether these nasty things are based on fact.

With the advent of social networking, blogging and do-it-yourself website-creation people can say whatever they like; true or false. Many believe that if it’s on Facebook, Google or worse yet, YouTube, it must be true. Thus begins the ugly truth of renegade journalism, activist rhetoric and some of the joker’s who speak merely to hear the sound of their own voice.

It’s unfortunate; I’d like to think the audiences are smart enough to research their own truths, but sadly in large part they do not. And as Jack Nicholson so eloquently stated in A Few Good Men, we probably “couldn’t handle the truth” anyway!

Take election campaigns for instance, some political “strategists” have no conscience when stretching truths or pulling verbiage out of context. They think, strike that, they KNOW their voters won’t know the difference and they are counting on our laziness in seeking the facts; they count on our ignorance. That offends me more than anything!

If I were tuning in to American television during an election year I would think that politicians were the most dishonest, morally bankrupt and crazy people I’ve ever seen – at least if election campaigns were all I had to judge them by. It’s not an attractive portrayal of democracy; our forefather’s would be embarrassed. I don’t think freedom of speech wasn’t supposed to look like that. And I don’t think anyone ever intended our civil rights to be used for propagating lies.

I was on the receiving end of that kind of ugly this week in a fight over the state fair and my role in trying to save it. My first reaction was to retaliate. My second was to write down all the facts and make sure my “attacker” knew all the truths. My third reaction was to breathe.  I was hurt. I was shaken and hurt, but I had to breathe and pause. Thankfully, I didn’t retaliate and I didn’t stuff facts down their throat (but I really, really wanted to). The hurt stayed with me a while. I was starting to feel like a victim; the victim of politics on an entirely different level.

Being a victim is NOT the most flattering role for me or for anyone. I really wanted to address every untruth and tell them and everyone the facts, but facts are not what these people were interested in; making crazy accusations to get noticed, were.

During my “pause” I wrote two comments, three emails and four Facebook posts that I never sent. I had to get it out of my system…but still, I felt somewhat victimized.

There are times when it’s much easier to be the victim; you can garner sympathies and rally people to “see it your way.” It feels good to bask in piety and righteousness. It would feel so good to tell everybody that I’m right; people know I’m right and those other losers are wrong so I win, right?  Wrong! It’s not so simple.

One time at a seminar I learned that as long as someone is right, then someone else has to be wrong.  And trying to convince people to side with you is no better than your offender’s initial jab.  We all think that if people agree with “our side of the story” then the other person MUST be wrong, making us out to be the “winner.”  I’ve written about it before, but nobody wins if someone has to be wrong.  It’s scientifically impossible.

So “winning” wasn’t really in my cards today…but neither was wallowing in victimhood.  Ah, the rewards of higher ground.  

I had to make a conscious decision today: to either be a victim or to rise above it.  After a little kicking and screaming and venting and unsent emails, I rose above it.  And eventually, I even meant it!  I responded with kindness.   I chose to not make them wrong for their opinion, but to encourage them for the ONE right thing they had done.  It wasn’t easy, and in some way, I guess I won in the end; if winning is measured in how you respond to the ugly truths of other people’s realities.

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!”

What are you willing to fight for?  Where are you willing to draw the line? What motivates you to take a stand?  Questions you should know the answer to long before you have to pick a side.  As I go through the political mire of the transitioning the Tennessee State Fair from metro government into private hands, I realize there are very few people willing to suit up for battle. But, through all of the people that aren’t willing…there are those who are!  And the ones who are, inspire me.

Everything we do matters and everything we don’t do matters, too!

In researching the people over time who have made a historical stand you see the common denominators as being a combination of heart, fight and integrity.  The “greats” who stood tall did so no matter what the consequences; their stories stood the test of time. 

What we’re doing at the State Fair does not compare to Rosa Parks or Joan of Arc, but it IS important to the future of agriculture in the entire state of Tennessee; it’s important to 3rd, 4th and 5th generation farmers to perpetuate the art and the education of their importance to our dinner tables.  It doesn’t always have to be something so huge in history to make a positive difference, but it does require you to DO something.

Prior to their acts of bravery they too were ordinary people who happened to do extraordinary things.  Think about it, Rosa Parks was not a great warrior in the typical sense, but she was an amazing warrior in the history of humanity.  She didn’t have to invent a cure for cancer, she didn’t have to fight off armies of soldiers, she sat.  And her act of sitting did more for our nation than some who did raise weapons and fight.  She sat.  I like the thought of that.  Rosa Parks’ DOING was actually NOT DOING.  What she did and didn’t do mattered!

I recently read, “The Butterfly Effect” by Andy Andrews.  It’s a terrific 30 minute read.  It reminds us that everything we do matters.  Every word, every act and every moment.  So my part in saving the Tennessee State Fair matters to me.  And if the Butterfly Effect holds true, then some day it will make a significant difference in a child’s life…and what I did may change history…or it may not, but it will never be said that I did nothing.  Today, I did something to further that mission.  Tomorrow, I will do something else.  It’s not a single act, but it will be a series of acts that contribute to change.  I’m committed to change.  My effort counts.  I will sleep good tonight.

I’m sure all of us are committed to something: the church finance committee, the nursery, a political candidate, a cause.  But sometimes our effect can be through something so ordinary as an exchange with a cashier, a wave to a homeless man, a door we held for someone far enough away that we could have just let it close.  Everything we do matters…to someone.  Remember how powerful your words and actions are and pay close attention to them today.  Because today you will make a difference in someone’s life.  Everything you do matters.  Every effort you make counts.  What a glorious thought to begin the week!

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.”

What would you do to escape reality?  A friend shared his daydream with me last week and it gave me a new appreciation for the realm of make-believe.  I know we should always strive to function within our realities, but I think spending time daydreaming may be a short-term escape that helps us through difficult times.  My friends’ daydream was as simple as associating a road sign with a far-off fantasy about owning a quaint restaurant, and it goes like this, “…as I was driving home last night, I passed over North Rocky Creek. Every time I pass over it I think of it as a really cool name for a restaurant. So, for the next 50 miles or so I tried to completely plan out what type of menu, ambiance, clientele, etc. North Rocky Creek would have. It’s not that I’d want to run a restaurant, necessarily, I just think it’s a cool exercise to give my brain; to fantasize about a world that seems much simpler than my own. I can see and almost smell the rainbow trout almondine served over a bed of saffron rice with a side of steamed asparagus (I don’t do broccoli)…”

After reading his thoughts, I realized that it is not at all about owning a restaurant but very much about the exercise; taking something everyday and ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary at least in thought.  It keeps you thinking, challenged, and gives you a place in your mind to escape to when things get overwhelming. 

I often use the technique as a way to spice up a boring luncheon speaker or mandatory cocktail hour I’m not at all interested in attending.  I imagine that I’m dining with royalty as I make up storylines for all the people sitting at adjacent tables to help complete my fantasy.  I think it’s healthy to play make-believe, but I think the healthier part is in knowing the difference between truth and fantasy.  Escaping reality because you can’t handle it is different than escaping reality because you need a break…very different! 

Twice last week I found myself dealing with people who had selective amnesia.  It’s not even fudging the truth or little white lying, it’s flat out, change-the-truth-to-fit-your-agenda kind of amnesia.  I’ve heard and seen politicians lie but I’m astonished at the level of people that would lie about what they ate for breakfast if it provided them an escape route from the uncomfortable.  I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again…if you think my baby’s ugly, TELL ME!  I can deal with the truth; it’s the untruth I have a difficulty processing. I’ll give you an escape route, just don’t lie to my face.

Why do people lie in the workplace? I’ll give you two good reasons why, confrontation and pain.
Confrontation is not a bad thing; it is the thing that leads to change which in turn leads to liberation and progress. I’m not saying that I like confrontation, but if we’re not willing to deal with even the slightest discomforts in the workplace, what does that say about what we’re willing to face when challenged with real life stuff? People also lie to avoid pain. I say that without pain, how do we know when things feel good?

After some research about dishonesty in the workplace, I discovered that sometimes it happens because policy doesn’t allow for integrity. Not always, but sometimes.  If team members seem to be habitually lying in your business, HR consultant, Roberta Chinsky Matuson, suggests having a good, hard look at your company policy.  “Sometimes, unfair rules back people into corners,” she told Kathy Thomas-Massey on an Inc.com website interview.  “If a company has a policy that penalizes people for staying home with their sick kids [for example], they’re going to call in and lie about why they can’t come to work. Fix the rules and you’ll probably fix the problem.”

Fixing the rules sounds easy, but how do you convince people to act on integrity not on self preservation?  My father-in-law always said telling the truth was worth taking the risk for, and I like to live like that.  It’s a great philosophy…and I share that philosophy when dealing with confrontation, “give me an opportunity to help you through the discomfort and we’ll find an answer, any answer.”  A lame answer beats dishonesty and cowardice in my book.

So, what does that have to do with escaping reality into the world of make-believe?  There is a healthy place to take your mind on a day when you just want to well, escape…and there’s a place you don’t want to go when you’re trying to avoid the truth or an uncomfortable situation; that’s when it becomes unacceptable.

My test to you today is this: when you’re tempted to tell a little white lie to spare some embarrasement or discomfort, just lay it out there in truth and sit with it.  Watch how people respond; let them feel the discomfort of your raw integrity and then breathe.  It feels good.  It takes practice because avoidance is easier.  Steering around a topic can prevent hurt feelings.  Nodding when you don’t agree circumvents further questioning.  But all of it builds up and chips away at your integrity.  So plan your daily escape to North Rocky Creek or Buckingham Palace if you must, but don’t run from your realities no matter how tough they may be to face.  Tell people their babies are ugly, but do it gently, with integrity and above all because it feels good.