November 22, 2014
Nature From Your Roots Is The Best Serenity Source There Is...
It's no secret to anyone who has followed my posts for awhile, that I have a soft spot for the Adirondacks and that I spent my childhood hiking in her woods, climbing her peaks and swimming in her waters.
For those who haven't followed my travels and may not even know where the Adirondacks are, it refers to the Adirondack Mountains, a mountain range in upstate New York, roughly a 3-4 hour drive from New York City.
The Adirondacks are not that close to get to for urban travelers nor for those who only have a short window to see a few major highlights when they come to the states. If you have a car, it's a fairly easy shot up the New York Thruway but if not, you're stuck on a not so stellar Trailways bus which I had the misfortune of taking this past summer.
That said, if you give the Adirondacks your time, you'll experience a serene spirit and sense of peace you've never known before.
Does that serenity and peace come from the Mohawk Indians of yesteryear? The Hudson River with her long history and roots?
Or, does it come from the pine trees? Perhaps it's the loons who wake you up in the morning and sooth your weary soul as the sun sets? I'm sure it's a combination of all of them and more, or perhaps its merely the remoteness of the place combined with the fact that people are about as genuine as they get.
I rarely get back to the Adirondacks for a myriad of reasons. Family have passed or those who are still alive, feel as if they have.
The place brings me as much sadness as it does joy for many of the same reasons that Richard Russo writes about in Elsewhere, also his old stomping ground. A few friends and family felt that he was a bit "harsh" about the area, and yet I felt he spoke his truth, which is all there is really... Deep down, I recognize that his truth resonates with countless people I know in the area, even if they never dare say so. For as vocal as I am, I rarely ever dare say so either.
Why? Because doing so may come across as attacking your hood rather than supporting it as many point out of Russo's writings. As I get older, I'd rather take the approach I take with everything in my life even if it backfires: speak up about what matters in the most authentic way possible.
It goes a bit like this: if there's something positive you can take from a person, place, experience or thing, embrace what works and integrate it into your life. If it doesn't, learn what the blockage was or why there was a failure and even what caused it and either try to improve upon it or simply let it go. Letting go is so hard isn't it? Hard, but oh so necessary if we want to move forward in our lives and...heal.
Even those among us who tout no dysfunction in their family upbringing, need healing. While my views and memories are not quite as harsh as those of Richard Russo, there are haunting memories of redneck towns and boroughs, all of which are surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural beauty I have ever known.
When the industries that supported American small towns collapsed, (in the case of the Adirondacks, it was leather), so did people's hopes, dreams and aspirations. With that collapse came a sense of desolation, depression, anger and for those who supported the troops, post war traumatic stress.
This is the world I grew up with and knew. Some people's anger or perhaps a softer way of putting it is disappointment that they didn't get what they wanted or felt they deserved in life, turned to drugs, alcohol or the unemployment line. I saw it around me growing up.
For those who didn't end up any of those categories, they either thrived at their profession and generally remained happy or did okay at their profession -- enough to have a decent life -- and complained bitterly about things around them on a daily basis. Why should it be any surprise that old mill towns like Gloversville, Johnstown, Amsterdam, Fonda, which faced harsh economic and social times, wouldn't get hit with a sorrowful axe?
I try to go to a place of empathy or sympathy when the chips are down although truth be told, it's not always easy. In the work environment where I placed my cards now more than twenty years ago, negativity rarely sees the time of day.
There's no time for it. In Silicon Valley, they simply rise above it or they don't survive. But that doesn't work for everyone. And, I get it and understand it....I've been to both sides and back again. This isn't meant to be a rant, but rather a reflection on what is - you know, understanding and knowing what we can control and what we can't control.
I am sure that I resonate with thousands of Americans when I say this: you love your family and close friends even if there are a few who are not in alignment with the positive life choices you're now making as an adult. Yet, from time-to-time, their pull drags you through the ringer at times, even when it's not healthy for you to go there.
Perhaps that comment isn't addressing thousands, but everyone I know, for all of us have hidden fears, dark secrets and a portion of our past we'd rather keep hidden. All of us have people who have torn at our heart strings and done it so often that we can barely breathe if we think about embracing it one more time knowing we'll only get smacked if we do.
The Adirondacks is that place for me and yet I love her as much as I fear her, for the memories she serves me on every visit are mixed with the pure joy of an innocent childhood and a dysfunctional environment that kicked far too many families in the but.
So, while the authenticity of the people is as pure as the water that comes down from the mountains above the winding Benson Road, it's sometimes hard to hear the voices. It's not because we don't love those voices, but because we do. Richard Russo, I understand, painfully so and yet what you miss in your memoir is the sheer beauty of the nature that surrounds Adirondack State Park.
Is it because you never had an opportunity to sleep under her stars? If not, walk with me and I will show you her beauty. For those of us who were blessed enough to grow up inside her woods and among her lakes, rivers and ponds, perhaps we were saved from the misery that crippled so many others who didn't get her joy.
Like Thoreau who was healed by Walden Pond's waters, the nature we know best heals our deepest wounds if we only allow it. When I go back, despite the fact that I love people and anyone who knows me knows this to be true, all I want to do is spend time with HER, the Adirondack mountains. For within her natural beauty, there's no pain, resentment, pity, misunderstanding, frustration, jealousy or all the things I get hit with from external forces, like so many of us do.
She dishes me nothing but pure joy and frankly, we all need a place like that. We may all have someone -- a family member, a friend or a boss -- who make us feel as if "we're not good enough or simply enough". It's that other parallel universe and all the negative voices in it that we need less of in our lives, not more. Make positive choices that serve you in your life as you march on, not hurt you or hold you back from a purer destiny.... Nature doesn't have an ax to grind or something to settle.
The lake doesn't tell me I should have done something else, become someone else, lived somewhere else or married someone else. It simply is. And while I've been witness to some of the most stunning natural settings across four continents in the last couple of years, there's nothing like your childhood soil. And, this is mine.....
All the photos I took above are of East Caroga Lake. Be sure to read my latest blog post which includes more stunning photos of the region - The Adirondack Loop, which was done in mid-October of this year.
Thanks to my childhood friend Bob who opened his camp and heart this summer, where I had some time to reflect upon all the things that make Adirondack's lakes so great and in particular the one where we first learned how to fish -- Caroga Lake.
November 20, 2014
Surf Summit, Where Technology, Entrepreneurism & Surfing Meet
Imagine a conference that combines surfing, technology and entrepreneurship on Ireland's magical wild coast. A subset if you will of Dublin's Web Summit, the first ever held Surf Summit brought 200 attendees to the west coast of Ireland to join in discussions, surfing and other adventurous and cultural activities.
When I told people I was going to an event where they planned to surf in Ireland's coastal waters in the middle of November, they looked at me as if I was a bit mad, unless of course they happened to be Canadian or from a Nordic or Celtic country.
You see, the Scots, the Welsh, the English, the Scandinavians and the Canadians thought this sounded perfectly normal, for when you come from a country where it is cold and rainy, you need to have a "can-do" attitude regardless of the climate or you simply won't experience anything at all. I learned this from living in England many moons ago and it has made me a lot more resilient because of it.
Iceland is another great example of where their personal and cultural life infiltrates into their business life in a positive way and adds to the entrepreneurial spirit, rather than detracts from it. I was born into water -- in other words, I grew up on lakes, was thrown into one before I could walk and was waterskiing by 5.
None of that quite prepares you for the cold waters of the Atlantic, however the enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs at the Summit made it easier to embrace it all. Below is a beginner lesson on the shores of Keel Beach on Achill Island which is part of West Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way.
Achill Island is the largest island off the coast of West Ireland. The island is a magical place where the light seems to bless the Irish coast regardless of whether its foggy, cloudy, raining or clear blue skies and sunny, a rarity, especially in November. That said, we had our moments.
Other adventurous activities took place as well such as zorbing, rope climbing, zip lining, and archery thanks to the guys at Wild Atlantic Way Adventure Tours.
I had oddly never heard of zorbing and when they told me it involved getting thrown into a massive inflatable ball and being thrown vigorously down a hill, I was thankful I was on the archery team. That said, when I walked past the ball on my way to Archery, I couldn't help but be mesmerized, so much so that I looked at Jenni, the Finnish girl I was hanging with at the time and said, "let's do this."
Next thing you know, we were inside a massive inflatable ball, strapped in on all sides and yes, thrown down the hill. Needless to say, it was a blast and our screams surpassed all the others we were told.
I decided to go ziplining as well, since I've always loved the sport. While it may not have been as invigorating as the times I flew through the jungles of Costa Rica, Ecuador or Hawaii, it was fun nevertheless.
Below, people threw themselves towards a target hanging from a tree, with both themselves and the target connected to ropes.
Instead, there were two teams and rather than shoot an arrow into a target (speaking of targets, check out my most recent encounter with guns in Kentucky), you shot rubber objects into the opposing team.
I felt as if I had signed up for a history lesson on what it was like for the Scots to win a war before there was ammunition. Only in a Celtic Land I was thinking to myself throughout the entire process, but with a smile on my face.
Speaking of Celtic Lands, it wouldn't be a conference in Ireland if it didn't have plenty of beer and pub culture.
On the main drag of Westport lies a few renowned pubs my old friend Peter told me about, which is worth having a pint or two if you make it to Westport.
Enter McGings on High Street and Matt Malloys on Bridge Street, both popular favorites among locals. Matt Malloys is known for its live traditional Irish music and Matt has purposely kept the pub small, so that they can congregate - as they do, from all 32 counties - to enjoy a pint and a tune.
At the evening sessions of the event, they served Guinness on tap which is always a treat, since regardless of whether you only like Guinness or love it (I'm in the last category), it always tastes better in Ireland.
Ask anyone who has been to Ireland and is a regular Guinness drinker and they'd have to agree. In the midst of all of these physical activities which we never seem to incorporate into our more stationary tech events in the states, was a series of talks over meals.
We heard from John Huikku who has done everything from lighting and compositing, to 3D matte painting, environments and look development. He spent 15 years working at Disney and worked on Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in New Zealand of all places. Edgars Rozenthals talked about drones, Airdog and Kickstarter, Andrew Cotton talked about surfing but also big ideas and equating his daredevil life riding the waves (such as him tackling the surf created by the St. Jude's Storm in Portugal recently), to taking risks and chances in business and life in general.
While you may only think risk behavior on waves that could kill if you hit them wrong may only be a male choice, think again! Anastasia Ashley, who was drawn to the ocean as early as she can remember, was body boarding by age 4 and surfing by age 6.
She has since become a prodigy and has won over 200 amateur events, including the NSSA National championships at age 16, before she turned professional full time.
She loves the immediacy of digital media for reaching fans. She says, "I could be shooting something for a brand or a magazine and it can be up within a few days" which is a great way to deepen the engagement.
She adds, "when you're in the media, you read everything about yourself," but has learned to love it all -- the good interactions and the bad.
When you're a celeb female surfer and do a twerking video, you shouldn't be surprised when it suddenly goes viral and gets 7 million views.
While there are lots of positive sides to what she has accomplished, she acknowledged that "females in any sport get the short end of the stick," referring to men who still tell her she doesn't deserve her fame and notoriety." Jimmy Gopperth and Jonny Golding talked about what you can take from rugby and apply to business, of which trust and teamwork were his top two.
Decision making was another biggie, particularly making decisions under pressure, which happens as much on the field as it does in and out of the board room. Niall Harbison encouraged people to take risks. Being a true entrepreneur says Niall, means that you can't be afraid to fail.
Other tips to entrepreneurs included banging the door down no matter how hard it seems, not taking no for an answer, having incredible focus on your main goal, instilling amazing culture into your business and thinking globally beyond your own geographic borders.
He has high ambitions for both PR Slides, which recently raised €500,000 in funding, and Lovin’ Dublin. The latter sells Dublin as a hipster paradise somewhere between London, New York and Berlin, but it has been accused of loving Dublin and not Dubliners.
He said that he learned a lot going through this process, including that even if you hear people on the street using words like ‘knacker’ and ‘junkie’, it doesn’t mean you should write it. Below, the film panel...
We also heard from Ireland's prime minister Edna Kenny who talked about a very proud Mayo county.
He stuck around for awhile to chat with entrepreneurs, take photos and share what he does well - storytelling with a dry and charming sense of humor.
Below is a snippet from his talk.
And, of course, there was traditional Irish music wherever we turned -- from the classic pubs in downtown Westport and nearby villages to our evening sessions at the Hotel Westport, which is known for hosting conferences and events.
Below is a snippet from their playing.
What was so unique and special about Surf Summit was its intimacy and its location, which almost has spiritual qualities. The nature, the air, the skies, the rainbows, the breeze, the sand, the long dry grass - all of it was magical!
Combine that with a couple of days of fascinating conversations about start-ups and entrepreneurship with founders from nearly every continent, and apps and products that cross a myriad of industries, from gaming, drones, digital entertainment and mobile social apps, to luxury, lifestyle, healthcare, travel, transportation and insurance, it was all there.
Ultimately, smaller and carefully targeted and curated events are going to win as we see a proliferation of tech events in the same on-stage session formats with crowds too large to make sense anymore.
I think choosing an out of the way location is also a great idea, since it shows commitment on those who sign up -- and its not easy to leave, encouraging intimate talks and connections during the days and evenings.
And, in this case, I got to see a little bit of West Ireland, which was as beautiful and special as I thought it would be. Bravo Achill Island, Wesport, Wild Atlantic Way and Mayo County!
All photo credits: Renee Blodgett, except for Malloy's pub, which is from their website.
Both video credits: Renee Blodgett. OTHER GREAT RELATED POSTS TO READ: See our other posts on Ireland, Food & Wine in Ireland (including Dublin restaurant reviews), Web Summit 2014, the Top Travel Apps from Web Summit this year and Ireland tech events and top Ireland festivals.
February 13, 2014
Speakers Rethink, Redesign & Recreate at TEDxBerkeley 2014
This year marks the fourth year I've been involved as co-curator at TEDxBerkeley, an annual TEDx event held at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley California. Now in its fifth year, this was the first year the event sold out at 1,700 and that's not including volunteers and our team. We had an outstanding line-up of speakers and performers this year, and the talks were centered around this year's core theme: Rethink, Redesign, Recreate.
Below is a summary of a handful of the talks, but you can find out more about the speakers on the TEDxSpeaker page and through their online videos which should be posted sometime in February or early March 2014.
Kicking things off in the morning was well renowned entrepreneur and former Apple evangelist, Guy Kawasaki, whose talk was entitled The Art of Innovation.
Addressing entrepreneurs and wanna-be entrepreneurs, he suggests that rather than draft a mission statement, create a vision with real meaning...in other words, a mantra of why you should exist. Fedex doesn't equate to a series of trucks that deliver packages, but Peace of Mind.
He also pointed to the fact that so many companies try to innovate from the same growth curve rather than jump ahead of the curve which is where real innovation happens - that was Kodak's fail btw. Change in an industry is inevitable, so don't lag behind because you're too set in the way you do business and too inflexible to pivot to a new vision before it's too late. When you start to think from a truly innovative place, you're essentially rolling the dice.
If you have indeed jumped to the next innovation curve like Apple did, it’s okay to have some crappiness in your product suggests Guy, as long as you get it out there. No surprise coming from an Apple veteran who worked alongside Steve Jobs who is known for his infamous slogan: Real Artists Ship. Taken from Steve Levy's book Insanely Great, which chronicles the creation of the first Mac, he writes:
"One’s creation, quite simply, did not exist as art if it was not out there, available for consumption, doing well. Once you get the computers into people’s homes, you have penetrated their minds. At that point all the clever design decisions you made, the turns of the interface, the subtle dance of mode and modeless, the menu bars and trash cans and mouse buttons and everything else inside and outside your creation, becomes part of people’s lives, transforms their working habits, permeates their approach to their labor, and ultimately, their lives.
But to do that, to make a difference in the world and a dent in the universe, you had to ship. You had to ship. You had to ship."
I couldn't agree more and have seen more ego and time spent on details that simply don't matter get in the way over the years of getting a product to market for the long haul. The next part is also true - once you ship, you will suddenly be surprised how people start to use your product in ways you didn’t even anticipate. With Twitter, it was the same case as well as from countless other products and services which have been documented over the years. It’s up to the customer not to you since they drive your future.
He also thinks its smart to polarize people even at the expense of major push back from corporate brands. He cited Tivo as an example because of its ability to time shift TV. Great products polarize people – don’t be afraid of polarizing people because that will upset the status quo.
He also spent some time on the "pitch." Hear hear Guy since so many social media purists argue that there no longer is a pitch, it's just a conversation.
Bottom line - both need to happen in a raw and inherently authentic way for sustainable success. It's astonishing to me how many CEOs don't get that.
Also in the first session, Carol Sanford started her talk with a moving statement “It took me 42 years to find an answer of how to change the world.” She moved into a dialogue about what she refers to as The Responsible Entrepreneur, which is anyone who is helping to bring a new business into the world which creates a better world. To learn more about the modern entrepreneur and the responsible ones, she dives into the Four Game Changing Archetypes.
Of those timeless archetypes, she cites the warrior who can see things the rest of us cannot see, the clown or the court jester who thrives on bringing the connections to those who cannot see the nation, the hunter who thinks about governance and how things work.
Every Responsible Entrepreneur represents an archetype, each with a unique role to play in the entrepreneurial system.
As she references in a post she wrote, "cultural anthropologists have identified all four in every healthy culture, and all four are needed to ensure the health of our own evolving social system. Each takes on change differently in search of different outcomes and all four approaches can also be found inside established organizations, among intrapreneurs who lead change."
Archetype 1 is the Freedom Entrerpeneur, driven by the desire to live freely and creativity, and their contribution is the intense pursuit of perfection, potential and "doing it right." Examples include Steve Jobs and a Samurai warrior.
Archetype 2 is the "Social Entrepreneur", who is the foundation of change, since they play a key role in identifying and exposing gaps in traditional thinking. They often sacrifice for the greater good while seeking to mend a tear in the fabric of society others often don't see.
Richard Branson exemplifies this archetype when he takes on outrageous endeavors to call attention to what’s missing from the global dialogue, or when he designs businesses that foster camaraderie and mutual understanding.
Archetype 3 aka, the Reciprocity Entrepreneur supports the whole by making sure that all life gets what it needs. In other words, they work to make the systems that nourish us healthy. Reciprocity entrepreneurs see the need to work in balance with human and natural systems. They seek to reduce the harm we do on Earth and in society.
An example of this archetype is Oprah Winfrey, who in the course of her routine business has done more to evolve education—for girls in particular—than anyone in the traditional school systems. Lastly, Archetype 4 who is the Regenerative Entrepreneur. They seek to guide people and organizations as they cross boundaries and create transformations for a better world.
What I loved most about her talk was the correlation to tribal behavior that can be garnered from each modern stereotype and why each one is valuable to the "whole" since each of the four archetypal entrepreneurs approaches growth and change differently. She notes that each is critical to revitalizing democracy and, on the larger world stage, capitalism itself.
Rather than go into the works of Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, she talks about the warriors who are doing innovation in the fishing industry and in sectors and products most of us may have never heard of, but are bringing forth true consciousness in a unique way.
She refers to them as the reconnection entrepreneurs. She says to the audience: "If you’re one of those people who wants to change the world, ask yourself:
Do I want to change industries by connecting us with values and can I go after a whole industry? Can I bring conscious to the way I do business or the way I do a non-profit? Do I want to bring a sense of repriocity where we understand that we’re all part of a whole? Do I want to reconnect us to government and corporate business and individuals where we are all complete?" I loved this woman's energy!
Connective Bahavior Expert Kare Anderson spoke on the power of mutuality and how to think about mutuality in work relationships. What do you well and with whom and when do you not? That wonderful sweet spot of shared interests can be an inoculation and help us see things in a bizarre way," said Kare.
For most of our lives in the business world, we’ve been advised to lead and manage others. We’ve been taught to resolve conflict, influence, negotiate and otherwise attempt to get what we want from people.
Through self-improvement, we’re told we’ll become happier, smarter and more attractive, successful and self-aware. The problem with that paradigm however, she asserts, is that there is no "us" in the equation.
Wouldn't you prefer the camaraderie of smart collaboration over being lead, persuaded or managed? What’s missing is the guidebook on how to engage with others to accomplish something more powerful together than we can alone.
From within that mindset, she addressed successful methods to be successful, such as the best ways to find and recruit the right partners and groups, following a set of rules of engagement?
Mutuality happens in the military, it happens in the operation room, it happens in boardrooms, it happens when we create big things, says Kare. There are benefits to hanging out with those who can help you think about a process differently, i.e., fast thinkers hanging out with slow thinkers.
Seeking people out who are different can provide more meaning, more adventure and more assistance. The more grounded we are, the more we can see people more clearly and understand what they are saying and not saying.
Specificity creates clarity. Sometimes you need to slow down to get that clarity and to make things happen. When you slow down, people suddenly start smiling more which improves interconnections at work and at home. Often, when we see something that move us, we project other qualities that have no relationship to them.
Think about when you get in sync, you suddenly start to walk together. Welcome to the power of mutuality. When you walk together in sync, you suddenly start working together more effectively. Whatever holds our attention controls our lives and what gets rewarded, gets repeated. Our behavior is contagious to the 9th degree.
In a civilization where love is gone, we turn to justice. When justice doesn't work, we turn to violence. Violence isn’t just about shooting, it is about ignoring humanity. The anecdote is mutuality. Great great talk!
Paul Rucker is a visual artist, composer, and musician who combines media, often integrating live performance, sound, original compositions, and visual art. His work is the product of a rich interactive process, through which he investigates community impacts, human rights issues, historical research, and basic human emotions surrounding a subject.
Paul spoke about Recapitulation, his Creative Capital project that parallels slavery with the current day prison system. He did this with data visualization of maps he created of the US prison system with data from the organization Prison Policy Initiative, and a slave density map from 1860 showing slave populations in some areas of the south at over 90 percent.
Even though the US population is only 5 percent, the prison population makes up 25 percent of the worlds prison population.
Whereas African Americans comprise only 12 percent of the country’s total population, they make-up 40 percent of those incarcerated. His work also examines the colossal disparity in the racial composition of the U.S. prison population and points to the vast number of African American’s whose lives have been affected by both the institution of slavery and prison system. Paul says “Slavery worked”.
From a cost benefit analysis, you can’t argue with free labor. The economic impact was tremendous. In 1860, cotton was 60 percent of US exports. The US provided 75 percent of the world’s cotton. This was an estimated 200 million dollars at that time.
Rucker taught about the importance of knowing history, and the amendments and how language was used and manipulated.
He paralleled lynching with current shootings by police of unarmed men and then showed an animation of a postcard from 1915 that he brought to life and composed new music for the imagery. A powerful cello player, Paul often weaves in controversial and painful issues into his playing and his storytelling.
Before, during and after giving us a historical glimpse into these issues through animated video, sculpture and digital prints, he fired up his cello again and again, each time breathtakingly beautiful. A refreshingly creative approach to storytelling, his execution was a sweet mix of a rich interactive process through combines community impacts, human rights issues, historical research and basic human emotions.
You're left feeling that his work is rare, his findings are important as are the way he presents them and that he's one helluva musician.
One of the more intensely passionate talks was by biologist Tim Shields, who is more excited about tortoises than life itself. Because the world looks at environmentalism and issues surrounding it as boring, a bit like "broccoli," says Tim, it's not a lot of fun. If something isn't fun, people won't spend time doing it.
For someone who has spent his entire life dedicated to studying and observing the life of tortoises, it's also not a lot of fun seeing their dramatic decline, largely because of the increased numbers of ravens who are destroying them, now growing by roughly 1,000% in the West Mojave Desert. Ravens destroy desert tortoises and they are also destroying trees.
Says Tim, "it’s in parallel to the human species through its negligence of having no idea of what their impact is having on the planet."
It’s the truth but not the whole truth. After growing tired of reporting on the tortoise decline, he began to focus all his efforts on the raven problem. In that process, he created a laser and they are now working on the notion of enabling people to fire a remote laser via email or via the Internet. The idea has a few moving parts.
Given that the world of gaming, drones and rovers are thriving, he wanted to figure out how to merge that growth with protecting a species.
Taking environmental action has to be deadly serious business is how we think of environmental action. We take it with a sense of grimness, as if we’re sacrificing some of our time for a worthy cause. He asserts that this approach could make conservation fun.
Players could monitor feeds from an array of drones over the region of Africa and report on poachers on the ground. How about games to monitor tropical forests or far less than stellar activities happening in the Amazon?
Ecologists and biologists could identify possible candidates for the games since it's a win for them given they'll have thousands of people out there with eyes and ears to report back.
The gear heads and the inventors can manufacturer the devices, the game players can bring their skins and talented thumbs, the game developers can create the games and rovers and environmental organizations can help spread the word. It's a fascinating idea and personally, I can't wait to follow his progress.
Randy Schekman, who teaches molecular biology and has won a Nobel Prize, addressed the issues that are throttling the ability for more scientific papers to make it into the public domain. He suggests that we are faced with a broken system for scientific reviews.
Does that mean we're in the dark ages with the review process? After all, it is the 21st century so there should be no reason to limit someone’s access through a print only model or place limitations so only a fraction of scientific papers can ever be read.
"We need to democratize science publication so any reader of science has the ability to read a paper free of charge," says Schekman. He encouraged people to sign a paper called DORA (Declaration of Research Assessment), which is being put forward by scholars in an effort to defeat the influence of commercial venues which negatively control the output of scholars around the world.
Beth Kanter is most known for her work around social change for social causes and her area of passion: ”Individual Social Responsibility" or ISR.
She notes that individuals taking small action online can have a huge impact, whether its to help you raise money for a non-profit, someone's sickness or cause or to metabolize grief, which she did when she lost her dad. She launched an online fundraiser to honor her father and benefits went to the surf rider foundation and an ocean conservation program.
She encourages people to start their own ISR program. Key ways to get started: first, identify your passion and your spark, in other words, find something that you care about. Then she suggests, start talking about what you think makes the world a better place.
She gives the example of a 13 year old who wanted bullying to stop at her school and started talking about it online, an effort which led to reduced bullying around the world.
There are also organizations like Giving 2.0, which is designed for college students to learn about social responsibility with your peers - you can join or start an organization. Think about what you can do to make the world a better place and start speaking out about it. All it takes is a droplet into the online ocean so to speak.
Marnie Webb's work is also around non profit work and social responsibility as well as tools that create a 'better good.' Marnie wanted to recreate how we look at social issues and how we think about abundance.
She says, "when we start thinking about abundance, we often don’t think we have enough, but if you start thinking about abundance differently, from a possibility place, things start to shift."
Marnie raises examples of organizations which have made a dramatic impact, such as D.C. Central Kitchen, whose mission is to reduce hunger with recycled food, training unemployed adults for culinary careers, serving healthy school meals, and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise. After they kicked things into gear, people began to realize that people in soup kitchens were eating better than kids were eating in local schools.
They made a paradigm shift. Youth Uprising helps youth kids in Alameda, in apparently one of the worse areas of the United States. Kids were crying out for a safe place to hang out and so they turned an abandoned Safeway supermarket, then a derelict building, into a a safe environment and playground where kids could go to play.
Asks Marnie: "what if we look at resources that exist and figure out a way to do this together by orchestrating a way to raise enough money and resources and get it out to the right people?" For what it's worth, I have been a fan of Marnie's work for years.
Brenda Chapman touched my heart when I first heard her speak at TEDxUNPlaza, an event I was also involved in earlier this year. She started her career as a story artist at Walt Disney Feature Animation where she worked on films such The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Fantasia.
Chapman was the story supervisor on The Lion King (my favorite modern musical and yes, I've seen it a half dozen times). She is most known for her work as writer and director of the Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe winning Brave.
Brenda is a great storyteller and this came out as she went back to childhood to share her journey with the TEDxBerkeley audience.
She spoke of her professional timeline starting back to the days when stories depicting the dreams of a little girl revolved around marrying a prince and living happily ever after to the more modernistic and adventurous image we see in BRAVE.
My favorite moment (and this was during rehearsal) was when she spoke of the moment she knew she'd become a feminist.
She looks at us with tender but intense eyes as she goes back to the past and recalls that defining moment, "when my father said 'we can't find the salt and I have 3 women in the house?", a man who retired to the LazyBoy chair after work every day while women made dinner, cleared the table and washed the dishes.
While my grandfather changed his thinking and behavior dramatically once he hit his late seventies, this way of 'being' for men in the 1960's and 1970's was very common. I couldn't help but think when she recited her defining moment live on the TEDxBerkeley stage the next day, "was this woman also in my kitchen when I was a child?"
The woman behind me, also in her forties, burst out laughing and one eye exchange said it all - Brenda had clearly been in her kitchen when she was growing up too.
"It's about observation and change," says Brenda. Observe something deep in your heart and deep in your core and do something about it." She asks, "what is the one thing that keeps you up at night and what can you do about it?" Her work is indicative of her childhood history and of her commitment to making a change for how women are perceived starting at an early age through the medium of children's animated films which may end up as musicals on Broadway, which Beauty & the Beast most definitely did.
I applaud you Brenda Chapman for your soul-searching work and for making the world a better place for women by depicting a different image of what we (as women) will accept and also what is possible.
Other speakers included Leslie Lang, Roberto Hernandez, Sarah Hillware, Dr. Alan Greene, Edward Miguel, Dutta Satadip and Ashley Stahl.
Performers included The California Golden Overtones, Yonat Mayer, musician/clown and aerial acrobatic Nikki Borodi and Vangelis Chaniotakis and New Orleans Manifesto, a jazz group which included bandleader John Halbleib, Chloe Tucker, Manuel Constancio, Stephan Junca, Adam Grant, Hermann Lara and Sam Brown-Shaklee.
All photos: Renee Blodgett.
February 13, 2014 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Client Media Kudos, Conference Highlights, Entertainment/Media, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On People & Life, On the Future, San Francisco, TravelingGeeks, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
February 05, 2014
To Matriarchs & Our Roots
I’ve always loved the word Roots. In English at least, the word always made so much sense to me since the word’s foundation is in fact, a foundation….Roots are the source of where things are formed and grow; they are the part of a plant which attaches to the ground and gives it support, just like a family does. It is also the basic cause and the source of origin of something, like our culture and “hood” provide us throughout our lives.
We are all born from a root, a strong thread of sorts that binds us to a known place, a known culture, a known color and a known value system and just like a maple tree knows its soil, we know our own. And, just like that tree grows and blossoms into something rich, pure and beautiful before it eventually withers and dies, we too go through a similar journey, passing through cycles just as nature does, calling on our “roots” to give us the support and strength we need to get to the next stage of our lives.
Somehow we have this notion as children that our parents and grandparents won’t ever die because they were the first source of strength, protection and support we ever knew; it doesn’t seem possible that the matriarch or patriarch everyone turned to for strength, would someday lose their own.
Having been raised by my grandparents, I’ve experienced the journey to death more often than most people my age and seen more people I care about and love slip away before I felt it was their time. We’ve all experienced death in some shape or form -- even as children, we have seen a family pet or bird we may have only nurtured for a week or two die before our eyes.
Amidst all of this tearing and pulling away from our strong albeit gnarly roots, a matriarch or patriarch was there to see us through. While we were fortunate to have a few in our extended family, it was hard to hold a candle to Aunt Jo, the feminine and graceful force behind so many functions and gatherings.
Above, she carries one of her five boys in the 1950s at a summer family outing. Below, four generations gather under one roof.
Traditionally a matriarch is a woman who rules or dominates a family, group, or state or a mother who is head and ruler of her family and descendants.
In some cultures, the matriarch holds more weight than it does in other societies. In the first half of this century, they often came from extended families in the states because the “extended family” was something we cared about and nurtured much more than we do today. The American culture if there is such a thing, was created from a mishmash of quirky customs, each generation struggling to extend the traditions they held most dear.
Aunt Jo who married into a family with customs stemming from Eastern Europe, Wales, England and French Huguenot culture, was one of those matriarch forces. Her roots came from Polish catholic descent and from those roots, I learned to polka, make a mean rice pudding, how to maintain dignity and grace under pressure (especially amidst a whole lotta male energy) and remain constant when things go south.
Together with my great grandmother and grandmother who raised me, these three matriarchs created a family thread for which our roots never strayed.
(The blurry photo below is made up of family members who were nearly all born in the 1800s, including my great grandmother who I lived with for awhile. Albeit short, she is the one who assertively stands in the front with the 'fake chicken' as if she's commander-in-chief...and oh btw, she always believed she was)
We always knew Aunt Jo would outlive every family member from her generation even as children, and so she did…I learned of her stroke not quite a week ago and this afternoon of her passing, the day after her 95th birthday.
Her passing is not just the passing of an amazing soulful woman but of an era, a time when extended family connections mattered, a time when we made time to cook homemade meals for our children and TV, PC and mobile screens didn’t preside over face-to-face talks. We partied together and also mourned together. We went to church together and fought when we got home. Passing the time pissing and moaning over martinis and gin and tonics were the order of the day and most of it was done through a thick cloud of smoke, something people did inside not out.
Adults swore but told us not to, boys would get whacked when they misbehaved and girls took piano and dance lessons. We washed our hair under the kitchen sink in the winter and used green Prell from floating plastic bottles in the lake during the summer. We had curfews but few followed them and if we missed a day of school to help our dad fix a car, it wasn’t considered truancy. We played poker and pitch with adults by the time we were ten and there was always plenty of music, dancing, vodka, sauerkraut, kabasi sausage on the grill and horseshoe matches on the lawn.
This was the small town New England working class America I knew. It was…and remains, my roots. Aunt Jo’s dignity, grace and strength were part of it, as was my grandfather’s “beat-the-system” attitude and my grandmother’s “don’t ever abandon your feminine self.”
Above is a group of women you should be equally scared and honored to know - a treasure, a joy, a lifetime of stories and an inner strength they wore so proudly. Had I not known them and seen life through their eyes, I would not be able to write these words today.
My three mentors sit in positions #2, 4 and 6 in the photo above -- very few women in my life since this miraculous generation I'm proud to call family have given me the courage and strength to move forward as I have, AND even more importantly, accepted me for who I was as a 'let's challenge the status quo child" and who I have now become, which merely extends that same child's dream and heart.
Like many Americans, I grew up learning to embrace four different ethnicities and three religions, even though there were fights between family members over more than one of them. The catholics in the family hung crosses in the dining rooms and bedrooms and the protestants went to boring Sunday morning services and raised their kids with a sense of honor and ethics, yet overdid it on weekends in rural Mad Men style.
At some point, we decide to leave our roots behind for awhile to explore and dabble. Along the way, we taste different kinds of candy, speak in different tongues, drape ourselves with different materials and shades, and discover that there are nearly 1,300 varieties of bananas and 17 species of penguins. Who knew?
Even though I’ve now lived in California for awhile, I still can’t call it home nor ever will. More than any other state, I consider California the most rootless state because its purpose historically hasn’t been to create roots but to sow them. Although immigrants first landed in the east, those with entrepreneurial spirits fled west when the Gold Rush hit in 1848 in hope of a better life.
Beyond the Gold Rush, the promise didn’t stop – from Hollywood and beach culture to America’s first sushi and award-winning wine, California led the way. Today, it’s technology and people now swarm to Silicon Valley for the promise of abundance or the opportunity to build their own thing.
California is a place of “roots” of things and inventions but not people; the melting pot of voices and ideas all stem from somewhere else. Skype was invented by Estonians, Google’s founders are from Russia and Yahoo’s founder is Taiwanese born.
These entrepreneur’s values and roots came from far away foreign lands and while mine came from a combination of five of them, they were all deeply planted in New England.
Some of us run from our roots forever and have good reasons to do so, whether it be a black cotton farmer who left the South in the 1950s because he had no choice, a Holocaust survivor who landed wherever a boat took them, the small town boy from a small European town whose dream was to produce Hollywood movies, or the Chinese girl who might have been killed in the early 1980’s had she not found a new country to call home.
As Ping Fu and Baratunde Thurston exemplify in their books “Bend Not Break” and “How to be Black”, our roots never escape us. In his book "Rescue America," Chris Salamone talks about his Italian roots as a first generation American and how today’s generation has abandoned the very thing that made this country the force it became.
Without our roots, America will look, sound and feel like a bland echo-chamber of brilliant minds without soul, without culture and without purpose. When we sleep most peacefully at night, it’s when our soul is aligned with our purpose and both are in alignment with our roots, even if we are not living on the soil which birthed us.
We’ve all been there.
Richard Russo who writes painfully at times about our shared hood, is so raw in his storytelling, I knew that if I were to meet him, we’d inherently understand each other without needing to exchange a word simply because we share the same roots.
After reading a few of his novels, I wondered if his Uncle Richard had ever sipped whiskey with my Uncle Alton or brought in the morning with a bad cuppa coffee at an old Main Street diner which no longer exists. Or, perhaps they labored in a leather mill together or one of his cousins had played cards with my Aunt Jo.
Nearly a decade into living in California, I don’t feel as if I truly “know” anyone or even worse, understand anyone. This is the truth. And yet, I have 5,120 blah blah whaaadevveerr friends on Facebook.
I write this on this longer than normal American Airlines flight from JFK to SFO, and to my right is a man from Turkey who moved to New York over twenty years ago and to my left is a woman whose mother was Syrian and father was British, yet she grew up in Canada. We talk about roots – their soil, their food, their religion.
When we stop talking and the movie is over, the plane is silent. I can’t stop thinking about my Aunt Jo, the glue who kept an otherwise dysfunctional family functional and strong. The wife of Ed, my grandfather’s closest brother who was blinded in the war, she raised five boys while maintaining elegance, fortitude, strong traditional family values, tradition and faith.
Fighting the tears knowing she could be gone by the time the plane landed, I thought about the countless family gatherings at their house and our summer camp, my grandparents singing at some alcohol-infused function and my Aunt Jo and Uncle Ed dancing in the driveway of their house where many a’ clam bake and barbecue took place.
Above, the early 1960's. Below, the mid-1990's.
When a family member we love dearly passes, we reflect on the beautiful memories of our childhood but in doing so, we also relive some of the painful ones too...the times when we weren’t understood or accepted by the family members we somehow felt we needed the most approval from -- sound familiar?
I’ve learned over the years that in order to fully embrace our roots in a healthy way, we need to absorb the stories and lessons learned from those who did accept and love us for who we were and are today, not those who didn’t and simply won’t. Secondly, roots isn’t just about the people, customs, religion and food, it’s also about the soil which nurtured us.
It’s important to embrace the nature and soil from our hood because what our hands and feet felt as a child is what our body knows and understands and even more importantly, “it” understands and knows us.
The Adirondack Mountains understand me and I them – there’s no judgment or need to be anyone or anything I am “not” around them. I walk among her trees and I swim in her lakes. And in doing so, it brings me more peace, serenity and acceptance than anything I’ve ever known.
Long walks in the snow, swims and canoe rides, red cardinals sitting on maple trees, lumpy mashed potatoes, corn on the cob at clam bakes, flower corsages on Easter Day, handpicked blueberries over French toast and parties with adults who drank more martinis and smoked more packs of cigarettes than days they went to school.
This is a Tribute to you my Dear Aunt Jo, one of the most precious women I have ever known and have had the honor and opportunity to love. Thank you for all that you were and the beautiful imprint you have left on all of us. It’s hard to imagine a life without you in it, so when you decide what bird you will present yourself to us in the months ahead, please let us know. I will look for you outside my kitchen window.
"Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Top photo credit: jtl.us. Red cardinal bird credit: quoteko.com. All other credits Renee Blodgett.
December 20, 2013
Happy Holidays & Reflections on 2013!
As I began reflecting on the 2013 year, I realized it has been a watershed year for me in so many ways. What an incredible year of personal growth and professional reflection, where projects and encounters I didn't think would be diverse and creative ended up being more powerful because of what they didn't offer more than what they did. I experienced calmer and more serene waters, and re-ignited with nature in a way I haven't since childhood. As the 2013 year begins to close to an end, here are some photo highlights from the year.
Happy Holidays & A Toast To An Incredibe 2014!
September 22, 2013
Being Human & The Power of Storytelling at the United Nations
Costa Michailidis opened the Being Human Session, the very last session of the day for TEDxUNPlaza, now in its first year, an awe-inspiring TEDx event held at the United Nations on September 16, 2013.
Michael Marantz, the first speaker is an independent director and filmmaker. After being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21, he rediscovered a new passion for being alive, constantly looking to discover more about life, technology, and why humans do what we do.
This re-ignition in life is what continues to inspire him in his work today. He reminds us how powerful storytelling is and what powerful stories can do for people and for the world. He says, "you need others to collaborate with and to push you along your journey. Your experiences along your life journey becomes your story and that story becomes your guide."
So true. Ultimately, the most important story is the one you tell yourself since it becomes your compass in life, often one you rarely deviate from. When something out of the ordinary or uncomfortable comes up in your life, you ask yourself: does it fit into my story?
Given that Michael is also a composer, cinematographer, editor, writer, digital artist, and experiential designer, he has added perspective on how to tell more cohesive stories.
Take Away: We all have stories to tell including the one about our own lives, who we are and what we stand for in the world. The good news is that we get to create that story, not let the world define it for us. Easier said than done, however life can be like a clean white canvas waiting to be painted anew if we only decide that it is so. It's up to us to decide that it can be painted anew!
Jack Thomas Andraka is a 16 year old inventor, scientist and cancer researcher and also the recipient of the 2012 Gordon E. Moore Award, the grand prize of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Jack was awarded the $75,000 Award and named in honor of the co-founder of Intel Corporation for his work in developing a new, rapid, and inexpensive method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer during early stages when there is a higher likelihood of a cure. A child prodigy, this teenager is a genius!
He spoke about his obstacles along the way and about the issues of high costs getting access to knowledge for important articles. He says, "there's a knowledge elite. There's the knowledge middle class who have access to 10% of articles and knowledge, then there's the knowledged underclass and the impoverished class."
He reminds us that 80% of this world has no access to this information altogether and says, "we're living in a knowledge aristocracy when what we really should have is a knowledge democracy." In other words: we should all have access to the same information.
Take Away: Support the information/knowledge democracy not the information/knowledge elite or aristocracy. We should all have access to the same information and everyone should have access to knowledge. Science is not a luxury: access to date for higher learning should be a basic human right.
Corinne Woods currently serves as Director of the UN Millennium Campaign, which supports citizens’ efforts to hold their governments accountable for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and leads the outreach to citizens and stakeholders to get their voices and concerns to feed into the Post-2015 global development agenda.
"Sometimes you work with people who are smarter and younger than you," Corinne says. "The voice of the people is the voice of God," she adds. "It's not just right that we go out and tell the stories of what is going on and make sure there's action to a million people. We need to get it out to ten million people and beyond."
She asked the audience to help her understand whether they're doing the right things at the UN. In other words: how do we make sure we tell the stories of that data and ultimately make sure those people who really should be listening don't say its just madness?
Her belief is that we can unite together to transcend these obstacles. Consider Jack's passion she says referring to the 15 year old Jack Andraka who didn't know what pancreatic cancer was but then found a new way to attack pancreatic cancer: Imagine the impact we can have if we work on hard problems together.
Take Away: We can't move major obstacles, issues and problems in healthcare and our economy to a sustainable successful place alone. Only by uniting together as a community can we come up with creative and effective solutions to move things forward.
Juan José (JJ) Rendón is a Venezuelan political strategist, consultant, film director, and teacher and had us smiling fairly quickly after he entered the United Nations stage.
Considered one of the world’s political gurus, he has consulted for presidential campaigns and legislative elections in Latin America. JJ has been recognized for his defense of democracy, support for human rights, freedom, and education.
JJ shared the four things he defines as being human: sense of humor, intelligence, creativity and sex for pleasure. The latter brought a smile, especially to a non South American crowd.
He reminds us the importance of making up our own minds about issues. For example, what doctors tell you are permanent may not be permanent. What people tell you may live with for the rest of your life may not be true. As an extension of his beliefs, he recommended a collection of essays called Laughter by French philosopher Henri Bergson.
Take Away: Define your own life, don't let others do it for you. Just because an expert tells you your life will be one way becaue of a disability or a limitation, don't let their definition become your own; create your own definition and your own journey regardless of what an expert or anyone around you says. Hear Hear JJ. I'm sure Mallory Weggemann would agree.
David L. Cooperrider, Ph.D. has quite a lofty list of titles, from a Fairmount Minerals Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University to being past Chair of the National Academy of Management’s OD Division. He has also lectured and taught at Harvard, Stanford, University of Chicago, Katholieke University in Belgium, MIT, University of Michigan, Cambridge and others.
Aside from his countless lectures and long list of accolates, David's work as Chair and Founder of the Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit is a key passion for him. The center’s core proposition is that sustainability and that every social and global issue of our day is an opportunity to ignite industry leading eco-innovation, social entrepreneurship, and new sources of value.
In other words: let's get social, let's move hope to action, let's get inspired and let's change the horrid in the world to beautiful. He pauses and reflects on the word gratitude suggesting that perhaps we don't understand the profoundness of such basic things like hope and joy or the power of hope and inspiration.
One of David's goal is to reverse the tendancy to focus on the 80% of what's wrong to the 80% of what's right. In other words: let's get the 80/20 rule reversed. We need to elevate these human strengths around the world including igniting the notion that business is a force for eradicating extreme poverty.
He says, "we need to create urgent optimism that spreads these epic meaning making kinds of stories." His vision is that we circle the planet in an appreciative kind of intelligence. In working with the Dalai Lama on an occasion, he asked him what would be his leadership design for management and business school? Dalai Lama responded after scratching his head and said: "I can't manage a thing. If I were asked to manage anything, it would end up as a mess. But I do believe that we need a radical reorientation of the preoccupation of the self to a reorientation of others, which revolves around empathy and compassion."
He talked about the role of the positive and that positive things don't come by nature. For positive things to work, we must make the effort. David ended his talk by thanking the audience for letting him "dream out loud." I love it!
Take Away: Business is a force for eradicating extreme poverty and we often forget that. By working together and creating a united optimism that gives true meaning to epic stories, we have an opportunity to change the world for the better. The world is so much about our stories - let's make them count and add compassion, empathy and a true sense of social responsibility into the mix and together, we can make a real difference.
Last up was the ever so inspiring Dr. Jess Ghannam who is a clinical professor of Psychiatry and Global Health Sciences in the School of Medicine at UCSF. His research areas include evaluating the long-term health consequences of war on displaced communities and the psychological and psychiatric effects of armed conflict on children.
He is also a consultant with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve and other international NGO’s that work with torture survivors. While Jess cares about global health across the board, he is particularly passionate about the hidden giant: mental health, which is increasing at an alarming rate worldwide.
“We Have No Choice But To Transform the Way We Think About
Global Health, Practices & Training.”
He shared a story about his first trip to Gaza when there was only one psychiatrist for 1.5 million people compared to five psychiatrists for every one person in San Francisco. Jess and his team created a Mental Health Development Diploma Program in Gaza where they trained people to go into the community and schools and work with people directly, promoting basic techniques around wellness. His work which also set up community health clinics in the Middle East to focus on developing community-based treatment programs for families in crisis have been a huge success. As a result of his efforts in Gaza, today everyone has access to mental health assistance within a twenty year period.
Although he is most known for his mental health and humanitarian work in Palestine and along the Gaza Strip, he is working on transporting this program to India and Latin America. Says Jess, “we’re seeing radical shifts in health issues around the world and they’re more chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes and depression and these are not things that require a pill.”
Witnessing an increasingly disconnected world and the impact that this shift has had on people’s health has led him to the work he is doing now, at home and abroad. The global challenge is how to make people more conscious and aware of the factors that have a negative impact on their health and implement things that can change the paradigm we are seeing today.
“We Need a New Model. We Need To Train Healthcare Facilitators Who Can Bring Awareness To Millions of People About How To Re-Engage With Their Families, Communities and Bodies.”
He says, “good global health means that we need to be able to relate to each other and communities in a very different way. A lot of difficulties we have globally and locally is how we are nurturing relationships. How do we manage to relate to one another? Are we doing so in a healthy way?” In other words, technology has to be treated as an enhancement and along the way, we need to be conscious about how we related to “it” on a regular basis.
Moving forward, the bulk of his work will be on the mental health effects of the disconnectedness and adverse conditions people are going through, whether its political prisoners who have been tortured or people who live in slums.
Take Away: Health & Wellness are Human Rights, Not Privileges. While technology and a digital lifestyle "overload" can add to mental illness and stress, effective use of it could be beneficial in many cases. Sharing devices and the data on those devices can lead to positive changes in people's lifestyle in many communities. It’s not that technology itself is having the negative impact on our mental health but how we relate to it. Being consciousness about how much time we spend in the digital world versus the human world will be important in keeping us, our families and our communities healthy and in balance.
Photo credits: Renee Blodgett.
September 22, 2013 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Conference Highlights, Events, On Health, On Innovation, On People & Life, On the Future, TravelingGeeks, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 19, 2013
TEDxUNPlaza: 3 Women on Empowerment & Trusting In Yourself
I was involved in the first ever TEDxUNPlaza event this week in New York City, a full day TEDx event focused on the theme BRAVE with 24 speakers who inspired over 300 people at the United Nations Building.
Considering how many conferences and events I've been to over the years where there have been so few women on the main stage or on panel discussions, it was refreshing to see the very first session of the day focus on women empowerment.
While two fabulous men were also in this session: Steven Rogers, a professor at Harvard Business School and Dr. James Doty, the founder and director of the Center for Compasion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, this post focuses on the three awe-inspiring women who moved me with their passion, commitment and perserverance this week.
New age yogini Deepika Mehta, writer and animator Brenda Chapman and healthy living educator Sarah Hillware rocked the TEDxUNPlaza stage Monday morning.
Deepika Mehta faced a severe emotional challenge when she was told she may never walk again. Today, she speaks from a place of gratitude now that she is not only walking again, but entertains people with her dancing and yoga movements.
She has also trained with some of the top Indian film stars and is one of the youngest instructors to teach at one of the most celebrated Yoga festivals in the world, The International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
Brenda Chapman is another great model for resilience who credits her mother for giving her the courage to be where she is today. She says that young girls are trained to be passive and reactive whereas young boys are trained to be proactive. While that may be less the case today than it was twenty or more years ago, old habits are still engrained.
Role models can teach resilience she asserts. And, she says, "they can be family members, teachers, role models...they can be women, they can be men, they can be you."
Brenda has always had a passion for storytelling and movie making and ever since she was a little girl, her dream was to work at Disney. Not only did she achieve her dream, but she became the first woman to direct an animated feature for DreamWorlds Animation's The Prince of Egypt and more recently directed the Pixar film, Brave, the very theme of this TEDx event.
Like Sarah Hillware would echo later on in the session, Brenda talked about the importance of girls having role models, even if they're distant ones. She also reminded us that it's not just about the successes that result from what we learn from those role models, but failures as well. "Failures are just as important as our successes," she says.
"Inspiring by example is a key way you can pass along your inspiration," she adds. "If you can look into a little girl's eyes and let her know that you believe in her, you might just transform her life."
So true, I reflected as I thought about a few people who did that for me when I was 5, 10 and later as a teenager. Was there someone who inspired and encouraged you along the way?
My Take Away: maybe the nieces, daughters and cousins in our lives won't have to fight some of the same battles we had to fight, but there will be battles and stepping up to be a mentor can make all the difference.
Sarah Hillware started her talk with the same tone, as if she was picking up the thread from Brenda's important messages but extending the importance of mentorship to education and health awareness, which is both her strength and her passion.
Says Sarah, "when you educate a boy, you educate a person. When you educate a girl, you educate a family and a community."
Her background in health and educational systems and as founder of Girls Health Ed, she asserts that health education isn't just about physical health, its about inside out wellness. She asks: how do we translate these ideas and the energy that we have into concrete action?
Perhaps having a community base in adolescent health in schools is a key ingredient to getting things moving.
Some of her stats back this up, including the direct correlation between health, particularly mental health and school attendance. Based on her work's outcome, she focuses on three core goals: Positive Development, Individual Goal Setting and Community Inclusion.
In order for these goals to be achieveable, she believes that all interventions need to be relevant to the individual and the community depending on the challenges they face every day. For example, in the western world, standardizing a course on body image in our schools would greatly benefit women. In the developing world, a course on menstruation and menstruation management would be more relevant and therefore more beneficial.
Sarah ends with encouraging people to get behind programs and behind girls we can help in our own lives, thinking from a proactive not a reactive place. She also strongly believes we need to redirect research towards prevention. Hear hear Sarah. We couldn't agree more!
All photo credits: Renee Blodgett.
July 03, 2013
Honoring the Legendary Inventor of the Mouse...Doug Engelbart
Today, the renowned inventor of the computer mouse, Doug Engelbart, passed away at the age of 88. While he is known to be a legend among many of the technology illuminaries, he is two generations behind me and the technology world I knew in New England so his name wasn't on my radar when I first landed in Silicon Valley. That said, despite the fact that I haven't yet lived in the Bay Area for a decade, I was coincodently introduced to him within months of moving here.
You see, coming from Boston's more conservative and traditional world of tech, I didn't really know where to begin when I first moved out here, who mattered or could get me a "job." Six or seven years ago, I really didn't know that many people and so I started to "network like hell," only to realize that getting a "job" would be the last thing on my mind.
In the early days, Sylvia Paull, Ben Gross and Michael Tchong led me around a bit, John Battelle invited me to a few things, a few people I had met from Intel, Adobe and Microsoft and Oracle put me on lists, but for the most part, it was watch, listen and well....just show up everywhere. My friend Sandy Rockowitz who I knew from back east told me about the events he went to and since Sandy was the geekiest friend I knew at the time (oh how that has changed), I figured I'd start to hang out where he hung out.
It took me longer than it should have to realize that not all geeks are alike and spending my time at engineering meet-ups in Berkeley, the SV Forum and SD Forum wasn't exactly where right brain technology people hung out. BUT, they were such fabulous places to learn.
Truth be told, SD Forum was where I got my kicks in the early days and where I met some of my earliest geek friends.
They knew the lay of the land and the "language", not the venture capitalists. Doug Engelbart and those who followed his work were the kinds of folks who showed up there, so suddenly I started hearing about people like Doug Engelbart in those circles. I learned about his life as well as names that anyone under 40 or even 50 might not have heard of, like Paul Friedl, Daniel Tellep, John G. Linvill, David Hodges, Dan Maydan and others.
Soon after making California home, I got to meet the legendary Doug Engelbart at some function I can't now recall and then in 2005 at a speaker dinner I was invited to. Doug was actually at my table as was my bud Tom Foremski who wrote a wonderful write-up and tribute today about his death as well. We were both in awe at how people marveled at his accomplishments as if he was long gone and not actually hanging out with us in the room.
As Tom points out, John Markoff, and many members of the Homebrew Club, and former colleagues of his spoke about Doug's incredible influence on their work, ideas, and how he changed their lives. We learned about this man from the inside and as Tom so eloquently writes, "it seemed as if he was the Buckminster Fuller of Silicon Valley in terms of how insightful and how brilliant he was, in story after story shared by people at the event. Others compared him to Leonardo DaVinci."
It was a treasured moment and frankly, I felt as if I was (and probably was) the only right brain at the event. This of course made it even more treasured. Doug moved me in those two encounters I had with him in such a short period of time, and through the stories so many others around us shared that I decided to meet him again. Thanks to Bill Daul, the meeting happened, as I was keen to include him in a book project I was (and am still working on) about innovators in the industry who are driven by their hearts moreso than their heads.
On that memorable day two years ago (May 2011), his wife Karen led me into their Silicon Valley home and out into the back garden where we had tea and biscuits and talked. The sun was shining, the garden was beautiful and Doug wore a smile all afternoon.
The day brought me joy and snapping photos of this intelligent, creative, amusing and inspiring legend was more than just memorable. It falls into the realm of magic moments which all of us have over the course of our personal and professional lives.
His work touched my professional life and made me remember and respect the people I worked with in the speech recognition industry for so many years. They too were trying to change the way we interacted with the world in a way that would be transformative....like Doug and other technology visionaries like him. As Clint Wilder said in a Facebook comment when I posted about his death, "this is the passing of an era."
Yes, it is. It was an era of Silicon Valley that this generation won't ever truly know or understand. It was a time when these legends were changing a paradigm of all communication, not enhancing a digital one one we already have.
Legends like Doug don't build mobile games, check-in apps, quirky photo apps or another social media network. They work on things that will change the way we not just interact with the world, but see the world.
John Markoff wrote a great book entitled: What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, which pointed out that Doug Engelbart didn't get the recognition he deserved, specifically for yes, the mouse, but also for timesharing, which allows many users to share the same computer. Take a look at the 1968 demo which altered the ideas of what people thought was possible. In that historical demo of the mouse, the world first saw hypertext, object addressing and dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface.
I write this post in honor of him today...for the work he did, for the history and memories he created and for the lives he touched. Rest in peace Doug Engelbart, rest in peace!
Note: I shot the above photos in his backyard on that memorable day in May 2011, a little over two years ago.
May 26, 2013
Embracing & Owning Your Imperfections Opens More Doors, Not Less...
People who know me well know that I'm a sucker for a new read. As long as there's not six other books in queue or the recommended book is so uncompelling I can't get through it, it's mine for the taking. When I was beating up on myself recently, a friend recommended I look into the work of Brene Brown.
I started with her TED talk and then moved to her book: The Gifts of Imperfection -- oh such a compelling title in a country that deems itself more perfect than any other. Some may call it a personal self help book, and while aspects of that may be true, the category has gotten such a bad rap lately that I'd prefer to call content what it is designed to do: help you get from A to B through whatever wisdom the author shares through their vantage point and skillset. If that's self help, fine.
Is it self help when you need to learn a specific management skill and an expert who has the wisdom shares it through a book to get you unstuck? We look down upon wisdom that might help elevate ourselves and our sense of humanity but praise things that help our skills and ability to accomplish and succeed. You get my point.
Frankly if you dive deep enough into most things we do of "external value," there's always an underlining emotional issue that gets in the way. Take money. While clearly there's a skillset in trading, investing and allotting the right money to the right buckets, selling too quickly or making the wrong decision often comes from a place of emotional fear rather than following a code of what works and what doesn't. The best guys on Wall Street keep their emotions out of it but not all of us can. The same applies to raising kids, keeping a marriage together, staying healthy or running a company.
While most of Brown's references are personal ones, the gift that this "read" gave me was largely professional. Here's why. While clearly we all have moments where we're afraid to be honest with ourselves and others, throwing our vulnerabilities out there with a friend or group of friends tends to be easier, at least for me. I'm more likely to lift the shield in a personal environment than in a professional one. The former can expel me from their group while the latter can fire me, impact my revenue, reputation and most importantly, self esteem.
When I read that Brown was a "shame researcher," my immediate reaction was: how much is there to research about shame? Really? It's so specific that I couldn't imagine a professor dedicating her entire career to something that specific and yet, there are professors who dedicate themselves to ants and write lengthy scientific papers on the latest Melanesian ant fauna which end up as a TED talk, so why not?
Little did I know. Shame is not as specific as you might think. Through reading her book and doing some additional digging on my own, I can see how prolific it is in our lives, weaving its way into all aspects, from how we interact with family, peers, and loved ones to the person who hands us our double latte in the morning.
To deny that "shame" shows up in my personal life would be to deny being human, for we've all experienced it, however the piece which most resonated with me is how it awkwardly plays into professional relationships and dynamics, a place that doesn't use the word "shame."
Getting beyond it requires courage and compassion daily in order to live what she refers to as a wholehearted life. It requires practice. Malcolm Gladwell said it best in his 10,000 rule analogy. How can you ever ace something you don't spend time practicing over and over and over again? The same applies to our personal lives. In other words, proactively practicing courage, compassion, connection and empathy is how we ultimately cultivate worthiness.
Time and time again, I have witnessed people not asking for what they're worth and "owning it" while they're at it. I've been there - we all have. Given that PR in general is often perceived as being useless, provides little or no value and can't be measured, I find that many practitioners and consultants undersell themselves or charge on a transaction basis to bring the cost down in order to get the business. It's an act of desperation when you do this - it not only commoditizes our business and our value but delivers an "action" rather than the "value of that action."
Women often have a harder time feeling worthiness and the moment we attempt to prove our worthiness is the moment we've lost the game. Often, we feel as if we have to prove ourselves particularly when a CEO or worse, a COO suggests that what we do didn't move the needle today. The problem at least in my industry, is that branding, communications and marketing doesn't move a needle in a day, or a week or even a month, although sometimes it can. It's a process, just like building relationships is a process. We cannot and must not ever measure our worthiness based on that formula and model.
Because of the nature of my industry, it's even easier to undercut our worthiness than say a doctor, who performs a surgery and suddenly a limb is working again. At the heart of what we do as communications pros is storytelling. Aren't the best stories the ones which are authentic, intimate and vulnerable at their core?
I often feel that when I begin to go there with a client, fear gets in the way...not just on my side but on the client's side as well. The more I rely on emotion, intuition and creativity which is the essence of what makes me thrive at what I do, the more the client throws up roadblocks or devalues the deed because it's so untangible. Beauty, art and yes, even moving the needle often comes from untangible.
Is a brand that you buy again and again always tangible? Sometimes it is (it's faster, more durable) but more often, it's a feeling you have about the brand that brings you back again and again. This feeling is the result of years of storytelling and messaging, not six month's worth. And, consistency is key.
One of our inherent gifts as professionals is that we excel at not just creating that story, but delivering it consistently again and again. It's an art and our clients need to understand that it's an art, not a science. Own that art and you own your worthiness. We shouldn't have to 'sell or prove our worthiness' again and again as if somehow showing a stat suddenly proves that our "art" is worthy.
Brown talks about owning our story and I'd ask you to think about how what she says here shows up or doesn't show up in the workplace. Where she refers to love, belonging and joy, replace the words with self respect, connection and courage.
She writes: "Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love, belonging and joy -- the experiences that makes us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
She also quotes Pema Chodron, a Buddhist writer who is one of my favorite authors. "In cultivating compassion, we draw from the wholeness of our experience: our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounder - it's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
Hear hear Pema.
Here's another little bit of wisdom for those who have a hard time with imperfection and asking for help. Depending on what circles you travel in, some have a tight network (let's not forget the old school boy network, which yes, does still exist, especially in Washington), they rely on and often, they don't even have to 'ask' for help. It shows up just because they're part of that network. Others have different networks who help them out from time-to-time and others try to do it themselves...all the time: parenting, managing, creating, producing and running with very little delegating along the way.
Asking for help is hard when we are conditioned to strive for perfection, even if its something we disguise as perfect. From that place, we often feel that if we ask for help, we're indebted to someone and that lays over us like a negative card. Within the confines of that negative card, it's as if we're always trying to figure out how to repay for that help, even if the help wasn't a financial one.
This is how it shows up in many of our lives. While the following statement may sound counter-intuitive, it's true and she's right. Brown writes, "until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help."
This is also true: "Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us....because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."
While I know many a narcissist in my business circles and on the flip side, others who have gone through the hard journey to get to self-acceptance, many of us still struggle with pieces of it from time-to-time. When that piece shows up in our professional lives, we second guess our decisions when our intuition tells us its the right one or we don't ask for what we're worth because a client widdles us down or leads us to believe our value isn't worth a specific amount.
Suddenly we're in a place of proving that we matter when we matter for just showing up and sharing the gifts we can deliver better than that client or possibly anyone else. Bottom line, we should be paid well for it: the value of it, not the task of it even if some of that value can't be measured right away. I know people who have gone to psychologists for ten years - does the value of their work show up after a visit or does it take time to get results? What about a tennis coach? Does the value of a dentist's work show up after one time or let's put it another way, how would your teeth look and feel if you didn't have those bi-annual check ups and cleans?
Value shows up over time and if you believe in yourself, your client needs to believe in your value too or don't work with them. Walk away. I mean it - walk away. It's the biggest gift you can give yourself. When one door closes, another one opens. And if you're feeling fearful about that statement, think about Helen Keller's fabulous quote: "when one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us."
Live from a place of true worthiness, self-respect and authentic living and as Brown puts it, a wholehearted life and things will blow open for you. While it may not happen overnight, it will happen as long as you trust in the process. As an old wise monk said to me on a hike in Nepal many years ago, Patience, grasshopper, patience.
Photo Credits: Original Impulse. Andrew S. Gibson. Tiny Buddha. Jenny's Endeavors.
May 26, 2013 in America The Free, Books, On People & Life, On Poems, Literature & Stuff, On Spirituality, On Women, PR & Marketing, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
April 29, 2013
What a Trip to Helsinki Reminded Me About Life's Lessons...
It’s a funny thing in life in that quite often, the opposite paradigm of the same thing applies: when you ask for something, you usually get what you ask for and equally, when you least expect something to happen, it often does.
I find that I’m much more aware of both paradigms when I’m on the road.
The week I was due to fly to Eastern Europe, I found myself wondering why I was once again heading to a cold climate country when I had been dreaming of warm weather destinations for months.
I often visualize myself listening to Chopin’s Concerto in D (any of the minors really), on a beach in Chile, breathing in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, or dining with a Mr. Handsome in some scrumptious steak restaurant with award-winning Mendoza wine in Buenos Aires, an evening which ends with a dance that equally embraces artful precision with unbridled passion. So Argentina I think. Grace and beauty at its best.
As travelers, we all cherish such moments on our around the world adventures, as we check off magical moments and experiences we have on some bucket list. Many of these moments forever change who we are and ultimately who we become.
These are the magical moments of travel: cultural faux pas’ that end in laughter, culinary experiences when our tongue is awoken to a new taste we never knew existed, or a hug from a child who doesn’t speak our language. It’s not just the tender moments which forever change us but the painful and unpleasant ones as well. We know this, but we try to avoid them at whatever cost.
With little sleep from the previous week, my emotional energy was thin, worn down like a pencil which had been sharpened so many times it had lost its original form. In that state, with bags under my eyes, I boarded an American Airlines fight from SFO to JFK and climbed into a tight space with someone close to 250 pounds next to me, a seat I had paid an extra $50 for the privilege of this insufferable leg.
I tried to recall earlier moments in time before airlines nickeled and dimed you for blankets, pillows, headsets and more, shrunk your leg room and seat size, you know....the times before you were charged extra to sit closer to the front, regardless of whether it was a middle seat or not and before you were charged for each and every bag. This was a period of time in travel, if you’re old enough to remember, that the flight to your destination was as pleasurable as the destination itself.
After five hours of cramped flying, I boarded another overbooked flight, my first with Finn Air, tweeting that it was so, as I made my way down the ramp. It was the ‘whitest’ flight I had taken in years, perhaps at all, unless a puddle jumper in northern Canada counts.
The other observation was how structured and controlled the boarding process was, so much so that I made a mental note that I was heading to the Switzerland of the very north.
Rules were not meant to be broken under any circumstance I thought.
It wasn’t until I sat down in my seat and endured several hours of resistance and persistence, that my trip to Eastern Europe became clearer.
My Finnish neighbor was sadly one of the rudest women I had encountered since my Egypt trip so many moons ago, and even worse, her bitter attitude didn’t lift for the entire seven hour journey.
As she jabbed me in the side of my ribs, barking over and over again that the arm rest was her’s and her’s alone, not to be shared, I found my anger and resentment building. She then proceeded to include me in a bucket of “god awful Americans”, clearly the result of one negative encounter she experienced at some point in her life.
Trying to reason with her in any way that seemed logical failed again and again. After a very sexy Finnish airline steward with sparkling blue eyes also tried to reason with her and also failed, I spent more of the flight standing up than sitting down, chatting with him in the rear of the plane about her stubbornness, he assuring me that all Finns were not like this. His dreamy eyes gave me cause to believe that he must be right.
When I finally surrendered to the fact that sleep wasn’t in the cards, I tried to change my own attitude towards this difficult woman, the one whose arm and elbow continually dug harshly into my side as she proceeded to show me who was boss all the way to Helsinki.
Breathe deep, I told myself and followed with other mantras and incantations of positive energy hoping that this mental exercise alone would melt her stubbornness. Sadly, this didn't work as it had already become personal since it was clear she hated Americans. She verbally said so.
As I saw how tightly wound she was, I realized I had been as tightly wound over the last few months for my own personal reasons. My work schedule has been insane, with barely a break to do anything much at all except to handle the myriad of external and internal requests and the same cycle repeated again, day after day, even on weekends. Ever have the experience when you exceed all expectations, work over and above what is humanly possible and received less acknowledgement than if you simply played the soldier? Alas, the soldier, which Seth Godin refers to as the cog in the wheel...the obedient employee who delivers precisely what he or she was told, regardless of whether it was a savvy decision or best for the company's success.
Perhaps she had been experiencing something similar in her own life? Ambushed by some ill form of logic that defied her own odds and deflated her own sense of worth and being? By her employer, her husband, her child, her sister, her colleague?
Either way, I realized that before the plane landed in Helsinki, I had to rid myself of the notion that all Finns were as rude as this encounter so I didn’t leave the country thinking they were all a bunch of control freaks who needed the rules to be precisely as they were or else they'd torment you into submission.
The thing about cultural stereotypes is that so often many of them hold a "certain" truth. The danger of course is that there are always exceptions and over time, people can dramatically change as we saw over two generations in Japan...two groups who couldn’t be more different from one another. If you're not sure this is true, just talk to a friend of mine whose brother wears punk clothing and purple sneakers, has an earring and four shades of hair while his grandmother who doesn't speak a word of English, still wears a traditional Japanese kimono, bows and serves tea.
I know that Eastern Europe is slower to change since they are fixated on the past more than most regions of the world I’ve visited and I wondered how much of this had extended over its borders to nearby neighbors like Finland.
My first time to Helsinki was in 1980-something in one of those old-fashioned boxed vans hippies drove the decade before. We had driven north from mainland Europe, across Scandinavia, into Finland and finally into the Soviet Union – the old Russia -- the one that detained us at the border, strip searched everyone and literally dismantled the vehicle searching for everything they deemed propaganda or trade-able on the then thriving black market.
It was a very different time for European travel and nothing was exactly what it seemed. Just like the experience with my Finn Air flight companion, when you least expect something to happen, it often does and back then, it did more consistently than not.
The wall was still up in those days and tensions were fierce behind not just THE wall, but the invisible walls, the ones that led east that is – Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic (the then Czechoslovakia).
Finland was the most foreign to me, even moreso than Russia and Poland in many ways, largely because I didn’t expect it to be as foreign. We knew about the Black Market, about the minimalistic hotels with dingy barren rooms that were bugged, the stark food supply, the weathered buildings and surreal lack of optimism...a place where women paraded around in unfashionable rubber boots and in-need-of-repair colorless coats. Finland never fell under that umbrella however despite its proximity to Soviet borders.
What I remember from my first trip to Helsinki was how clean the streets were and how distinctly organized everything was in that Switzerland kind of way...a little disconcerting at first, especially if you had just come from a country like Italy which embraces chaos and passion more than order and structure.
I visited a friend who was in my South African high school in Johannesburg, where we had spent our senior years. Not originally from Helsinki, he was either living there at the time or drove in just to see me. We were but 'babes' and that innocent and youthful naivety was floating in the air. Combine that with the fact that Helsinki streets ooze playful energy all night long in the summer since the sun never sets: drinking, walking dogs, sipping coffee and eating ice cream is how you spent your time on open air streets at 3 in the morning.
Mika and I had a magical time walking through the city, lounging on park benches discussing our life's dreams and aspirations as youthful warriors in-the-making so often do. I think I may have been but just 19 at the time.
The lens at which I experienced Helsinki so many years ago was through his lens, a native of this strange land with a strange accent and language that differed so greatly to those on the European mainland. On my most recent trip, I talked to a French couple from Paris who stopped over in Helsinki on their way to the states. She said to me with a surly smile about her experience, "it's only a two hour flight and yet the culture is so different to our world, it's as if a solar system separates us not a thousand miles."
Structure is the word that comes to mind, something they wear on their sleeves, much more than their Scandinavian neighbors. The Swedish and Danish travelers I hooked up with for short jaunts of my first trip to Europe presented a free spirited energy to their walks and talks. While my Swedish friends all seemed to have summer homes with saunas they ventured to annually, there was an equal hunger to explore the world which I didn’t find from my conversations with the Finns at the time.
It was as if once we crossed the Swedish border, things and people had more rules and alignment and order reigned. It doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time – after all, Mika’s eyes were dreamy, he was courteous and sweet, and won me over by swinging me under his arm next to a luscious hovering tree that took us into its breath, creating an aura of moonlight when the Northern Lights ensured there wouldn’t be a real one.
He treated me to dark roasted coffee in outside cafes and introduced me to other Finns who were intelligent, quirky and funny, as long as you could understand their dry off-beat humor. We drank beer well into the wee morning hours, at the time, the most expensive beer I had ever had. Everything seemed insanely expensive from my recollection….and insanely odd.
Remembering that it was the mid-eighties, Helsinki had price tags that made your jaw drop. An apple was $3 a pop, beers exceeded $7 and meals in restaurants were simply beyond my reach and so I lived on bread and cheese. Today, the same is true. A 50 Euro dinner for a starter and main course isn't that uncommon.
Within the confines of those beautiful summer walks under Helsinki's skies, I felt taken care of by Mika and his friends and it was this memory I brought to the forefront as my Finnish companion on this hellish long flight jabbed me once again.
While hot places like St. Maarten and Greece have been on my mind, and I’ve been puzzled by all the trips to cold countries I’ve taken in the past two years, I realized that on this sleep deprived flight all the way to Finland with an angry woman at my side, that we throw ourselves into the experiences the universe wants us to see, as if they are in fact, a mirror of ourselves, showing us exactly what is happening in our lives.
It is that visual representation and that insight that allows us to change the course of our lives....that is, if we are paying attention to the signs and can admit the truths we see in the mirror's reflection.
Relinquishing control is not inherently a natural trait of northern Europeans or the Baltic states and if you think that is a broad statement, compare the relationship with control and structure of those regions to cultures like Jamaica, Italy, Spain, Kenya, Fiji…..need I go on? You get the idea.
Upon this reflection, the plane makes a harsh landing at Helsinki’s International Airport and I remind myself that so much of the flight felt like “torture” because I allowed myself to be drawn into “her” tortured state. She clearly lived in that place all the time and because I was so out of balance and overworked myself, her torture became my own. I hadn't taken time to look in the mirror - the internal or external one. In order for me to "see" again, it seemed to require a long haul to northern Europe and a flash back in time. I call this a "walkabout," where we venture far away from our everyday reality so we can get clear again about who we are, where we are and more importanty, where we want to go.
These are the lessons we learn on the road. And, for all those precious marvelous moments we share with new cultures that draw us into such delicious foreign experiences, we also run into people who are internally tortured or who inflict their pain on us for whatever reason and in most cases, we’ll never learn what they are. We wonder why were chosen to receive their torture until we realize it is us who chooses that the experience be one of torture or joy.
It happens on the road, whether it's in a third world country where someone steals your bag, or gives you the wrong directions because they’re not a fan of your nationality or overcharges you because they think you’re richer than they are and can afford it. The list goes on. Every day life is like this too.
In those moments, we learn about ourselves – what we’re showing of ourselves to the world in a mirror, the same one that reflects back to us if only we take the time to notice and acknowledge it. It’s in these moments – painful and precious – that we grow and move forward on our life’s journey.
My experience here in Finland and soon, Estonia and Lithuania, will be far from warm sandy beaches with pineapple trees and the blissful sound of waves that could put me to sleep every night. I won’t be sleeping in a hammock nor will I be eating fresh fish from a warm salty sea.
But now, I know why I’m here. And with my winter coat, mittens and toasty wooly hat packed in my bag, I will venture into yet another cold country experience paying close attention to what I can learn from countries that need to be more in control than not, taking in the gift I learn from it and from them. New cultures to learn from, to play with...to be grateful for and most importantly, to remember what's real and truly matters along the way.
Photo credit: The Telegraph