Friday, July 22, 2011

Life is a Journey

Ralph Waldo Emerson became one of America's best known and best loved 19th century figures. He left his original profession as a Unitarian minister to pursue a career in writing and public speaking. "Life is a journey, not a destination," he once said. I have said this to my kids, hundreds of times as they grew up. I believe it more and more myself.

The Chinese proverb “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step,” suggests that our life’s journey starts with taking those steps required to get closer to those ultimate achievements we hope can obtain. Effort, determination and perseverance will get you where you want to go. However, as we get older, we realize upon reflection that the greatest happiness is not about achieving those goals at all. It’s more about the joy we encounter along the way. Only later in life do you start to realize and appreciate it. We are so impatient when we are young and ambitious.

Robert M. Pirsig wrote in his acclaimed 1974 novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - “You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been a pattern seems to emerge.”

The annual Thanksgiving Day Parade is something I look forward to each year. I have been fortunate enough to be among the crowd several times when I lived and worked in NYC metropolitan area. I am now living in the Midwest but this year I hope to see it up close and live once again. It makes me smile. I know it’s just a parade but it is so full of celebration and optimism. There just is nothing like being there.
I know, as I watch the Balloon handlers, bands and characters passing by I’ll be reminded of the sensational feeling so many things that have happened over the course of my lifetime. If you’ve seen the parade, you know what I mean. It’s a spectacle and a thrill to behold.

Live life to the fullest and enjoy the parade as it passes. Time marches on.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Winning is Super but…

The 2011 Super Bowl held on Sunday, February 6th at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas was played in front of a capacity of over 100,000 people - the largest attendance in Super Bowl history. The Super Bowl broadcast was viewed by more than 100 Million people. The winner of the game takes home the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The trophy is named for a great coach and a great man. Vince Lombardi was born on June 11, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. He was head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers (1959–67). He imposed a strenuous regimen and led his team to five NFL championships (1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967). He won first two Super Bowls (1967, 1968). His success made him a symbol of single-minded determination to win.

The odds of winning a championship in any professional sport are always long. Maybe that is why we care so much about what makes a winning team. To be sure, we can learn a great deal about character, hard work, grit and determination from the individuals who win championships. But maybe there is even more inspiration inherent in the heroic efforts made in spite of falling short. Consider those individuals who find the courage to continue in a losing effort who bravely battle but ultimately do not win. They are unsung heroes and in many ways can be even more noble.

Vince Lombardi died of Cancer in September 1970. Surely he would be astounded at how big the game has become and would be most honored that the trophy is a constant reminder of what it takes to win. Yet, the trophy that bears his name might also be appropriately be awarded for battling against impossible odds. Lombardi deserves the fame he earned for winning but perhaps it is more notable that he is a role model for those driven to succeed – doing what it takes to win, in spite of never knowing for certain of the outcome.

Lombardi's success is legendary, and he is often associated with the maxim, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." He did not coin that phrase. It is uncertain if he actually ever even said it. However, he did say something that might be more important: "Winning isn't everything, but wanting to is."

I wish there was a trophy for all those people who do what it takes to win but bravely accept the result of the outcome in spite of their best efforts to prevail. You are winners too!

Celebrate Everything

Learn from experiences. Life, after all, is a journey. Things don’t happen in a vacuum. Everything that happens; happens for a reason. Everything that happens is relevant. There will be peaks and valleys in your life. My uncle David (my father’s brother) is fond of saying “Don’t forget to smell the flowers.” He’s right.

I am blessed. There is so much for which I am thankful. I could write an entire book about my wife Lynn, who has been CEO of our household for nearly 30 years. I could go on for hundreds of pages about our daughter Lindsey, my first born. I have said often, and I mean it: “The world is a better place with her in it.” (Lindsey has been a youth group advisor since she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2004. She has already made a difference in hundreds of lives since then.) And our son Ben is just entering the world of business as a financial analyst in NYC. A long time ago a camp counselor described Ben as a “silent leader.” I’ve never forgotten that because it is so true about him. He quietly excels in everything he sets out to do. He is a young man but already he is a role model.

Bear in mind that you simply cannot separate your business life and your personal life, really. You may feel the urge to compartmentalize things. And sometimes that is appropriate. But don’t forget to appreciate everything and everyone. Life is short. You will be tested. I will resist the temptation to get all spiritual and philosophical here but the message is a simple one. Celebrate everything. There are lots of smart people who have more ability than I do and can better articulate the meaning of existence. All I am saying is to recognize the little blessings while you accept challenges in your life. Find joy in bright stars, stunning sunsets and random acts of kindness. Laugh when you can and cry when you need too. Share with friends and family. Celebrate successes and learn from defeats and you will find greater fulfillment in your life. (That includes your career and work life too.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Resolution for a new age

Each year millions of people make resolutions as the new year begins. Many of us fail to live up to even the best intended vows to be healthier, exercise more and improve ourselves. Still the notion should not be abandoned. We are human, sure, but we are can be part of something much more – a rebirth and a new generation of hope and promise.

Consider the Renaissance. It was a rebirth during a cultural movement that started in Italy in the fourteenth century. It encompassed a resurgence of learning and widespread educational reform. It is perhaps best known for its artistic developments of the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who inspired the term Renaissance man.

Arthur O’Shaughnessy wrote a poem simply titled ODE in the second half of the 19th century that concludes with an observation that is also a challenge:

“ EACH AGE IS A DREAM THAT IS DYING,
OR ONE THAT IS COMING TO BIRTH.”

O’Shaughnessy’s poem makes us think about what we as individuals and as a generation might bring to the coming new age and what kind of influence we might all be on the next generation. We look at the enormous challenges the world faces and at times feel discouraged. But remember, the future depends on all of us. Together we can instigate a rebirth with some simple resolutions that can truly change the world and its prospects for the future.

Maybe if we all think a little differently. Consider being more like the Renaissance man. Approach each new day with a positive outlook and thereby influence greatness in others. Don’t forget, in spite of all the troubles in the world, we have unprecedented communication tools and fantastic research and development moving forward at a remarkable pace.

We are not all great artists and thinkers but we can all consider the hopes and dreams of future generations and apply that simple vision to become part of a better world. Hope and vision can inspire greatness. Be a patron. Encourage others. Be a mentor. Help a child learn something new. Look at how much influence you can have in a single day. The rebirth has to start somewhere and that start could very well be you.

Donut Day!

As you travel through life, my brother,
Whatever be your goal
Keep your eye upon the donut
And not upon the hole.

Years ago I saw this sign in a donut shop and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was such a simple idea, yet so powerful. It certainly left an impression on me. The idea is to focus on what is and not what might be missing. Without the absence of donut in the middle it would not be a donut. Keep your eye upon the donut and not upon the hole. Indeed, look for the good in things and don’t dwell on what is missing. What a beautiful and simple idea.

Fans of Caddyshack will remember Chevy Chase’s character, the club’s most talented golfer - Ty Webb, offering a little philosophy lesson to his caddy.”Don't be obsessed with your desires Danny. The Zen philosopher Basha once wrote, 'A flute with no holes, is not a flute. A donut with no hole, is a Danish.' He was a funny guy.” The Caddyshake philosophy lesson is perhaps lost in the comedic representation of that practice round of golf with his caddy, but the character of Ty Webb is sort of inspirational in his carefree approach to life.

I was visiting with cousins in New England when I was introduced to a family tradition. My cousin Philip would wake up and stir the household on any given Saturday morning with the joyful declaration. “Get up, it’s donut day, yeah!” His kids were just toddlers then and his wife Deena shared the glee of this routine. She knew the kids would be thrilled to take a trip to the local donut shop and select a fresh baked donut. What to do: glazed, sprinkles, frosted or plain? It didn’t matter really. It struck me even then that it was not only about the donut itself, but the entire experience of donut day from the break of dawn through the last delicious bite. It was fun.

My wife is an expert baker. It is fun to see how excited people get just looking over her products. Scones, cookies, muffins, biscotti – everything she does is a work of art and the aroma of fresh baked goods in the process is special in itself. Like the anticipation on donut day, the anticipation is the most exciting part of the process.

So concentrate on what you have and not what you do not. Be carefree and enjoy what is. Start your days with a purpose. Enjoy the anticipation of things. Do this, and I will bet dollars to donuts you will be a happier human being.