October 18, 2011
WITI 2011: Videos of Women who Inspire
Here's a glimpse from this year's WITI event (Women in Technology), held in October 2011 in San Jose, CA.
October 07, 2011
Great Women at WITI: Isn't it Better to Have a Life of Oh Wells Than What Ifs?
Clearly I don't get to New York often enough, by now I would have met writer and products guru Maya Baratz, who is currently working on new products at The Wall Street Journal.
She started out by asking the nearly all women audience at WITI (Women in Technology International): How many of you are still waiting for your mentor? How many of you spend your time trying to prove someone wrong?
Mentors were a common thread throughout her talk. It's not that she doesn't believe in having them, but if you can’t find a mentor, don't wait around to get ahead.
"Waiting for a mentor is like waiting to follow someone else’s lead," she says. "Follow your own."
On innovation, she says, "innovation is about being unreasonable and along the way you sprinke it with reasonable."
She encouraged the women in the room not to be reasonable. "You don’t need to succeed," she says. We can fail. Women are shy of taking big risks and want to ensure they can succeed before moving forward.
Hear hear Maya. And to add to that, not only are women more afraid to fail, but they're more likely to hold back when they've accomplished something great. Many entrepreneurs will tell you to fail fast, early and often.
Failure is nothing more than feedback. And, when you do succeed, she encouraged, "don't just move yourselves forward, but move your female colleagues forward with you."
AND, taking risks was emphasized and re-emphasized. In other words, isn't it better to have a life of oh wells than what ifs? True innovation is about taking a leap of faith and that almost always means taking risks which can lead to failure.
"When you do fail," she adds, "speed up your recovery process. You shouldn’t spend your time reacting to failure. If you get stuck on the anger side, you’ll probably be stuck there for awhile. Leading a proactive life is dusting yourself off, getting up and trying again."
Women-led start-ups fail less than men yet women make up less than 10% of venture-backed startups.
The bottom line is that we don’t toot our own horn which makes us feel a lot more boxed in. We also don’t have role models to look up to....at least not enough of them.
It’s important for every one of us to tell our own story and get it out there, embrace what we've accomplished rather than be afraid of it.
She spoke of actionable things we can do now to further our lives. I can't agree enough that this is what it takes to grow. There's nothing truer than this (and having the our belief systems) to get ahead. We can have dreams and goals but if we don't get them down on paper and take steps to get there, it won't happen. When we have a little "win", it's human nature to own that win and use it as ammunition to move forward. It works for me.
I call them baby steps. Rather than think of the magnitude of the project OR all the potential obscacles that could get in the way OR the skillsets you don't have, just act. Baby steps are important because baby steps = action and action leads to results.
It's a bit like serendipity versus having a strategy, where serendipity is reactive and strategy is being proactive, infused with passion of course. Ask yourself what action can you take to make things happen?
Says a woman in the audience, "look at the way men talk about entrepreneurship – it’s okay for a man to take crazy risks and put themselves out there." Another truism.
Yet, how many times have we all thrown an idea into the wind and received negative feedback? So have hundreds of other entrepreneurs. Success stories today had dozens and in some cases hundreds of no's before they got to yes.
If it doesn't have immediate positive feedback, it doesn’t mean that its not a good idea. It may just mean that it’s new and it hasn’t been tried yet.
It's also okay for men to get tons of exposure and not just be okay with it but embrace it. I'm working on a photo book and have been turned down by a few women. Two very prominent women in the industry declined because they said they were "overexposed." I was in a bit of disbelief when I heard the response - twice. Overexposed? Really? Would a man decline an opportunity and say I'm overexposed?
Are you kidding I quietly thought when I heard the response. Deep inside, my reaction wasn't quiet - it was miffed, saddened, disillusioned and frustrated. I also couldn't help but feel that important female voices and insights wouldn't be part of an important project. Moreso, as a woman who's struggling to get support and access to great people to make the project succeed, I thought, "am I going to rely mostly on my male industry buds to help move this book forward in places I can't?" Again. (I had to say it, but yes, again).
We need to support and embrace women's journeys around us and there's no better way to do that than to be aware of their journey, where and how they're struggling and step in to help, even if its in a very small way. Baby steps. They matter.
It's also important that in the entrepreneurial process that we don't self judge ourselves but even moreso for women.
Obviously it's not the first time I've attended women events and conferences. I have been a regular at BlogHer since the very beginning, have been a member and attendee of various women organizations, attended an all girl's school and was active in 4H as a child which, while it wasn't for women only, there were predominantly girls in my club and the same applied to other clubs in my immediate area.
Yet attending WITI, a three-day event full of inspirational women in technology who are embracing challenges and hearing great talks like Maya's and others, is a reminder that while it's not easy out there and we may even recall some of the common mistakes we have made as we hear other stories, its freeing to talk about it and in the process, get feedback. Feedback can lead to action.
Not once in that session did the word confidence come up, not that I remember at least, although it certainly came up elsewhere and throughout the three days. Women don't have enough of it. Period.
I notice lack of confidence more than anything else and not just in business situations but in our personal lives as well. We need to remind women around us that they shine and tell them often.
When I got home from WITI, it was ironic that I ended up watching two episodes of Mad Men, two I had seen before. Yet somehow, watching it immediately after attending WITI made me view it with new eyes. If you're a woman, you can't ignore how women were treated at home and in the office on Madison Avenue in the 50s (and elsewhere in the world). Yet, the writing is so brilliant and authentic, and the program so great, the art wins. The storytelling wins. It was our history. America's history. AND, at least for me, I saw all of it in my grandmother's kitchen, my aunt's house, my school.
Here's one scene from the episode re-watch: Betty's friend comes over to borrow a dress for an occasion and then flops down on the bed as she says, "it doesn't matter, I'm invisible." Women were invisible in the Mad Men era and in some cultures around the world, they're less than invisible today.
Sure, we've made great strides, but we still need to step up, embrace our experiences, share our stories, toot our own horns and take more chances.
While I didn't do individual write-ups on all the speakers and panels, other women who particularly inspired and moved me include IBM's Sandy Carter, Xerox Corporation's CTO and President Sophie Vandebroek, Coca-Cola's CIO Miriam McLemore, professor Diane Pozefsky, AT&T's Alicia Abella and of course WITI founder Carolyn Leighton. (left)
On that note, I'll end with a few reflective, incredulous and humorous quotes to ponder not necessarily in that order: (what do you subscribe to? Feel free to share your own in comments).
"Men are allowed to have passion and commitment for their work ... a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work" - Barbra Streisand in 1993
"Every woman should have four pets in her life. A mink in her closet, a jaguar in her garage, a tiger in her bed, and a jackass who pays for everything." - Paris Hilton
"The happiest women, like the happiest nations, have no history." - George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
"The strength of women comes from the fact that psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analysed, women ... merely adored." -- Oscar Wilde, The Ideal Husband
"Modern women are just adored. There's nothing but media telling us we're all supposed to be great cooks, have great style, be great in bed, be the best mothers, speak seven languages, and be able to understand derivatives. And we don't really have women we're modeling after, so we're all looking for how to do this.." -- Jamie Lee Curtis in 2010
October 06, 2011
MyLawSuit.com: The Painless Co-Pilot for Your Legal Issues
MyLawsuit.com was launched this week, a platform that delivers better Business and Consumer results in contingency fee litigation.
In a world which has become increasingly more specialized, finding a lawyer who is licensed in the right jurisdiction, handles your specific type of case and is willing to take their fee out of the proceeds only if you win, instead of upfront, is a very difficult process. MyLawsuit takes the pain out of the process by eliminating the friction on both sides: the site is free for lawyers, and clients only pay a percentage if they win for both their lawyer and the site.
Most consumers don't realize that a lawyer who handles cases such as auto injury oftentimes does not have the training or the funds to handle a case for securities fraud, patent infringement or an injury caused by taking a particular drug. However, we do understand that you won't go to a foot doctor for heart surgery and law is no different. You won't find qualified assistance by going to your family lawyer if your insurance company wrongly denies your claim.
MyLawsuit also helps to facilitate communication throughout the lawsuit and creates communities where people can turn to for peer to peer advice, information and dialoguing. And, if a lawyer is unable to afford the case costs to take the case, MyLawsuit also helps connect lawyers and individuals to funding sources. In a process that is one of the least understood and ultimately fraught with confusion and pain, MyLawsuit seeks to be your co-pilot.
October 03, 2011
Elizabeth Scharpf on Empowering Women in Africa One Banana Leaf at a Time
I just had an opportunity to see Elizabeth Scharpf speak…in Kentucky of all places. She was there with hundreds of others who showed up at annual Idea Festival for inspiration, and because they’re “curious about life and innovation,” this year’s conference theme.
Elizabeth is an entrepreneur, designer and founder of SHE: Sustainable Health Enterprises, which has a mission to improve the quality of life for people in developing countries. She is most known for her work in Rwanda that involves partnering with networks of women to make and sell sanitary pads made from banana leaves. Yes, you heard me right. Sanitary pads. You probably don't know the issue that women have "getting them" in Africa; I certainly didn't and I've lived there and traveled to a host of countries in southern and east Africa.
She started out her career working with the World Bank in Mozambique. When she visited a bag factory and learned that about 20% of women were missing 2-3 days of work per month because they couldn't afford sanitary pads, she wanted to learn more. Huh? Incredulous for women living in the west.
Many of the women use rags which aren’t always effective and the more she started digging, the more she realized that not only was it a global problem and a loss of productivity, but also a loss of dignity for women.
After learning that the cost of a sanitary napkin is only ten cents, she put a proposal together to raise $2 million. The result was a job from Nike. Yes Nike, the "shoe company." :-) They're supporting this initiative and Elizabeth is leading the charge.
She started in Rwanda and discovered that banana leaves were actually absorbant, so they started using these materials, which are cheap and readily available.
Her longer term vision is to go after low cost sanitation and low cost toilets which is the result of a lot of deaths in Africa. Additionally, there are a significant number of motor vehicle accidents in Africa, so what about bringing driving schools into help with that?
She says to the audience, "if you want to get involved in social enterprise, I had a great education at Harvard but the best education I ever had was riding around in buses in Rwanda. When you see a misison that needs help, ask yourself, how are YOU going to help it?" she adds, "remember that its about them and about serving them.
The things that stick are what we can collectively do to serve the people we’re trying to help. Put your feet in their shoes and think, “what would help them out?”
This attitude and statement certainly is an empowering one and extends to every aspect of our lives, not just social enterprise. Hear hear Elizabeth for being so bold and diving into something so controversial and hard, yet so important and rewarding, not to mention "freeing" and empowering for women around the world.
September 21, 2011
How We Need to Teach Our Daughters and Sons to Think & BE
A man who views her as property-and a man who views her properly. A man who lusts after her-and a man who loves her. A man who believes he is God's gift to women-and a man who remembers a woman was God's gift to man. And then teach our boys to be that kind of a man."
The above was posted by a friend of a close friend. Thought it was "spot on" and wanted to share.
June 30, 2011
Xerox's Ursula Burns and Forrester's George Colony on Innovation & Leadership
For those who are unfamiliar with the name Ursula Burns, she's a woman with a fascinating story. She started as a mechanical engineering intern in 1980 with Xerox Corporation and nearly 30 years later after leading several business teams, and acting as senior VP and President, is now Xerox's Chairman and CEO.
Sure, she is the first African-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company and also the first woman to succeed another woman as head of a Fortune 500 company (another remarkable story), but "who" she is and her very direct personality, candor and warmth as a CEO is what makes her so special, not this historical fact alone.
In many ways, she is not the "traditional CEO stereotype" or personality if there is such a thing. What comes through in watching her on-stage, from afar, from her profiles in the media and from meeting her in person, is her authenticity, her passion, her human way of approaching complex problems and her acute insights into what to do when things go south.
In a fireside chat with Forrester's CEO George Colony at the Churchill Club in Palo Alto this week, she was spot on when she spoke of leadership and what it takes to be successful. "When you screw up, fix problems and fix them fast," she said. "You have to be fearless, make decisions and understand the difference between urgent and important." And, oh yeah, she adds, "you have to be nice."
When George responded with, "what about Ellison and Jobs?" two renowned leaders in the world of technology who are not known as "playing by the nice" rules (the very two examples I was thinking when she made the statement), she said "I don't care." Go Ursula! Among other examples, she brought up her attitude about honor and respect and how her kids would only address George as Mr. Colony not George.
Ursula says that she spends about 50% of her time making sure people are "tuned" correctly. A consistent message from the best leaders is hiring well and inspiring those hires to execute strategically and consistently. Having a motivated and aligned team around you is key.
That brings us to innovation, where you can't avoid but bringing up Apple. Says George of Jobs, "Jobs is once every 100 years. He's an Edison. It's not just about the fact that Apple knows how to innovate, but more importantly, how to streamline and simplify - taking the obvious and making it simple."
George spoke of Forrester's innovation network. In the value chain, there are different roles...you could look at Forrester as a broker, Apple as a transformer. Both are instrumental and key in the process. If the transformer happens to be outside the organization, then so be it and P&G has demonstrated that through in their own products and design efforts. The Innovation Network says we must 'expand the network.'
Ursula agrees with the outsourcing model and that to try and be and do everything internally is very limiting. She says, "there's more value on going outside the network for things you don't do really well. The value chain of research has fundamentally changed. Partner or parish is the reality in the research world today."
Access is what it's about and you can get better ideas and people by partnering. She has a lot of respect for failing she noted, but added that she meant for her research team, not her engineers.
George shared his thoughts on cloud computing: "If you think it's all about the cloud, you're wrong citing the App-Internet is where things are heading. He has teams dedicated to this area, where they're looking at the future of how powerful devices will work more seamlessly with powerful apps and what this will mean for productivity and innovation across multiple industries.
On future predictions, Ursula adds, "the big transformation in the future is not access. We have access to whatever we want and a lot of it." Her fear is that we have so much access yet may not necessarily understand or know what we're looking for. The real miracle will be in how we interface with all that data, a problem many of Silicon Valley's developers are trying to solve in some way or another.
I see an emphasis on interface & manipulation of data again and again with the kinds of things that start-ups who pitch me on a regular basis are working on. Sadly, I also see a lot of start-ups working on services that focus more on access and data rather than solving the curation problem. (see Steven Rosenbaum's new book Curation Nation).
Below is a four part video that covers George and Ursula's Churchill fireside chat, one which felt remarkably like an informal living room discussion. The authenticity and insights to probe deeper into real world problems, not just business ones, also came out as they discussed education and the energy crisis.
June 24, 2011
Bombshell Coach Gigi Belmonico Says Forget the Twitter Popularity GameBombshell coach Gigi Belmonico says forget the Twitter popularity game....
Now, see how you can slightly customize the same video with a little branding using Webdoc without any effort at all. Version below.
Disclosure: I provide consulting to Webdoc.
June 20, 2011
I Nearly Missed the Father's Day Memo This Year...
I nearly missed the Father's Day memo this year, partially because I was on the road and partially because it's been awhile since I've had a man in my life I've thought of as "Dad." For girls, our fathers are often the first and quite possibly the most powerful male force in our lives. Good or bad, they're the first male role models we "see" and learn from, including what kinds of things we think men should do, not do, say and not say. You get the idea. Whether or not you agree with their behavior and their character or not later on in life, they had a powerful influence and for many of us, still do, even years after they have passed on. There's a whole lotta wiring going on at an early age.
There was only one man I called Dad yet he didn't raise me nor did he know me any better than I did him. From my childhood, I vaguely remember a Thanksgiving gathering where he may have showed up, a 5th grade birthday card with a $5 bill in it and a stuffed pink mouse he gave me I called Marvin.
The rest of the memories were infused with phone calls to my grandmother which left her in tears, uncles who passed on the same pain, and a grandfather with a temper and idea of discipline that would have impressed Baron von Trapp himself.
It was that grandfather who raised my father, my uncles and me. It was that grandfather I celebrated every Father's Day with, despite the fact that I never once referred to him as Dad.
He was a harsh man with high standards, yet a loving one who was obsessed with knowledge, growth and hard work, all of which he believed would make up our character, defined by our accomplishments and our acts for others. He also had a wonderful sense of humor, something he left in the memories of hundreds he shared jokes with over the years.
There were some Eastern European-like traditions and activities which were part of our daily life. Mix them with things that crept in from Wales, England, Scotland and American Indian camps and things got pretty interesting at times. I blame becoming a foodie later in life on my French mother I barely knew because it certainly couldn't have come from years of fried chicken, pancakes, grilled burgers and heavy casserole dishes, despite the fact that my grandmother did know how to cook.
No one seemed to want to talk about where these influences came from or why they did the things they did. The result of this mysterious vagueness led to my calling the only father I ever truly knew, Papa, at least for about 15 years.
As I grew older, the word Papa became a bit of an embarrassment because frankly no one else used it and while we may have lived in a small town, it was no Swiss Alps and I was no Heidi. Sadly, the word Papa faded into the background and died just like a famous legend does when no longer embraced by a tribe.
I never called him Papa once as an adult, but perhaps if I had, we may have had a different relationship. The memory of how it came about isn't all that clear, yet he was all Papa and zero Dad, Father, Pops or Daddy.
Despite his serious nature, where discipline was at the centre at pretty much everything he did, he would throw quirky things my way with explanations of why I should do them that never made a whole lotta sense to a 12 year old. Like climbing trees, building forts, walking on roofs (he had a thing for balance), and knowing how to make a good egg.
Papa also told us (me and all those male cousins of mine) to stretch our fingers every morning before and after squeezing this strange looking Asian rubber ball that somehow appeared in our house one day.
He believed everyone should know how to make homemade ice cream and sauerkrout and grill a kabase sausage on an open fire to perfection. He had the same drill for marshmallows and other things he felt belonged in a fire. Summers were made for open fires and we seemed to cook everything on them even when we later got a gas grill, the one we never used.
He forced me into gardening, not that I regret it today. We had a little land but not enough for vegetables, so we took over a small plot behind the garage of a neighbor and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, rhubarb, pumpkins and every herb you can imagine. He always said that if I didn't know how to feel soil and dirt in my hands and appreciate it for what it was and what it could do, I'd never understand the earth and my purpose on it.
Balance he said, would enter my life from all directions until the day I died and not having it would derail things along the way. Later I learned he meant both emotional and physical balance but somehow he felt gaining the latter early on in life would help the former as an adult. We did this by walking on narrow fences and standing up on the edge of a canoe while paddling on a regular basis.
Faith was a word we never said out loud, but it was always lingering in the background. Faith was for the times nothing made sense or when life turned to chaos and letting your brain fix the chaos only made things worse. Faith is for believing in a higher purpose far far beyond you I read years later in a love letter he once wrote that showed a far more sentimental side than any of his family ever saw.
Despite this belief system, he was far from "religious" and when he did go to church, you could occasionally hear him snoring away in the back corner. Later he would make it up to the pastor by delivering wood or a pie my grandmother made or telling him a joke he was sure the pastor understood and appreciated, yet I was never so sure. He didn't do this because he felt that snoring in the back was "wrong" however...if the experience made him relax and reduce his stress enough to fall asleep, shouldn't sleeping be a compliment? Oddly, I understood.
Because my grandparents were born in the teens, they were in their wild and healthy years in the 1930s, and martini and manhattan parties were something they frequently had in their upstate New York home. Known as a thrower of great parties, their soirees extended into the sixties and seventies when I entered the scene.
Those years of silver trays, serving, mixing, entertaining, record changing well into the wee hours and dish washing gave me great practice for a career as a publicist. Papa was always the life of the party and singing was a big part of their traditions, a time he showed beautiful vulnerability just like Baron von Trapp did when Maria showed up. I never quite understood why others my age didn't know all the lyrics to Bath Tub Gin and Yes We Have No Bananas.
Possessions would become a "chain around my neck," he said. The sooner I learned how little they mattered, the sooner I'd have peace late at night, well after the sun went down.
For him, being a "real man" aside from being successful in business, was being able to build a house, fence and dock from scratch all at the same time. Combine that with being able to "correctly" tie every kind of knot listed in some outdated Boy Scouts guide and fix a car engine when no mechanic could be found, let's just say that it made bringing men home from "the city" difficult at times.
Everyone should play an instrument he believed and if you didn't like to dance, you were someone who liked to watch life glide by rather than create one. I dated a man once who didn't like music and one afternoon on the front porch of our summer lakeside camp, he shook his head and said to me, "it will never work. A man without music in his soul is like looking into someone's eyes and only seeing one color with no texture at all."
For those who have never heard the song Oh Mein Papa or read the lyrics, find it, listen to it and smile while it brings you far back in time. The words to the song were related by a young woman remembering her beloved, once-famous clown father.
Written by Swiss composer Paul Burkhard in 1939 for a musical called Der Schwarze Hecht (The Black Pike), and reproduced in 1950 as Feuerwerk (Fireworks), it is one of the many songs from the 1930s we sang around the piano and one he loved to hear my grandmother and I play as much as he did Moon River and Misty.
He believed that higher education was crucial but without "street knowledge", you'd never actually see or understand texture in life. It was important to see those textures, understand them and emphathize with them he said. Street knowledge would make you "feel" and education would make you "hear." As new nuances and distinctions would come up in life, chaos would turn to clarity one word at a time.
When I said I'd like to become a dancer at 5, he asked for the date I'd be performing in Times Square so they could plan for it.
When I said I was interested in stars and space at 10, he wondered how I'd turn a telescope into our backyard into a scholarship and when might I be going to the moon.
When the family thought I was sure to become a writer or photojournalist, he spoke of Margaret Mead, and the South Pacific, not the local Leader Herald.
He was the one I called at uncanny times. Hearing his voice on the phone while I was plunging a toilet, drilling a hole in the wall or killing a large spider in our bathrub seemed to turn the "doing" into an act I was no longer aware of...
Sometimes he was my directions, sometimes my memory, and sometimes just a voice of reason when I lost my way. Going any deeper was tough because he didn't allow emotion to surface even when an event may have called for it, like a wedding or a funeral. He was from an era where men didn't cry and women didn't work. An era where men brought women flowers, opened their doors and built them houses. An era where women ran the household, cooked and raised kids and men took "care" of all of them.
Papa wasn't an easy man and many found his presence intense and overbearing albeit electric at the same time. Despite the fact that many of us have unresolved issues and baggage with our fathers, things we can't say or do or opposing beliefs, deep down in a place we rarely access, that bond even if a disfunctional one, carved out a life path we started as children dozens of moons ago.
For all the pain we were dished along the way, we were also given love in whatever ways our dads, fathers and papas were capable of giving with what they had and what they knew.
When he died in my arms seven years ago, I felt an unconditional love many of us only feel for our own children. It is this love I honor on this celebratory day of all fathers, all dads and all papas.
June 01, 2011
Why I Surrender To Tears on Airplanes & Why You Should Find Your Own…..
I write this after watching a movie on a long American Airlines flight. It’s not the first time I had cried after watching a movie on an airplane. It’s also not the first time I noticed that I cried after watching a movie on an airplane. The first few times I figured it was just the movie choice….that random movie choice, which brought on the tears. After many years of observing that I somehow ended up having a good cry after any movie I watched on an airplane, it started to settle in that the tears were a unique occurrence. Related to airplanes? Or, travel?
During my last cross-country flight, I realized it wasn’t related to airplanes or travel specifically, but it was related to reflection after leaving a place, something I have always had time to do while moving from A to B.
When I’m leaving a place, even if its one I’ve been to dozens of times before, there’s always a reflection point…..a particular conversation, a new way of seeing a friend’s life I hadn’t seen before, the repetition of patterns from a conference I had been to ten times, a speaker I heard say the same thing in the past, and yet it resonated differently on the last round. And on and on and on.
The physical journey mapped with the emotion of someone else’s life journey in a movie, is a reminder of life as it is in that moment. Nothing more, nothing less…..
Alas, we are all growing older, wiser and simpler at the same time on this long life journey which we all share.
Sure, a lot of airline movies tend to be dramas or comedies rather than action flicks, but don’t almost all of them have a love story, even if it’s not one between two humans? A love story with a passion can be just as derailing and challenging, whether it’s Kevin Costner’s battle with choosing between love and baseball or Gweneth Paltrow choosing between music and fame or love and life itself.
When a movie is well written, it brings you into the plot as if you’re in the script yourself. You resonate with a character and if it’s not their personality you connect with, it’s the pain they’re feeling.
A good story always has some pain in it, largely because getting through the pain is what makes us grow into something better, bigger, stronger than we were before. Someone once said, “God only gives us as much pain as we can handle in order to learn the lesson.” Whether it’s a God who dishes the lessons out to us, the universe herself or a mishmash of happenstances and people who fall into our path, showing up as both teachers and students, life (and our journey in it) is definitely not a random accident.
Movies, like really good writing, force me to reflect on all of it as I migrate between two worlds. A movie doesn’t necessarily have to have amazing writing to invoke emotion in the way a good novel does. It does need tons of “human moments” and the ability of the actors to bring you into their world as if you are in the storyline yourself.
Whenever I leave a destination, I start to reflect on what I just left, almost immediately. In New York, it always happens the moment I jump into the cab on my way to the airport, in other cities, it may not hit until I’m on the plane and in others, perhaps not until I’m smack in the middle of a movie. The reflection isn’t just about the drama and pain that is happening in the movie, it’s a reflection on everything I just left and everything I am about to embark on, sometimes for the first time and sometimes, into a world where I’m on autopilot.
What happens if there’s no movie? I reflect anyway, and often I write, but the tears don’t always come like they do after a good airplane movie. A well known CEO friend of mine used to talk to me about “walkabouts,” which is an Australian phrase that refers to going off somewhere to clear your head and get back in touch with your heart. (in so many words).
Years later, I not only understand “walkabouts” but need to take them. The in between state – the airplane – brings me to a reflection point where I begin to contemplate a “walkabout” even if it doesn’t bring me into one.
It’s a way of being present….yes, in the middle of a movie. Unlike anywhere else I watch a good movie, I’m aware of everything around me. I’m aware of the person I’m sitting next to whether or not I started a dialogue with them. (Refer to my blog post: Not Just in Aging......)
In sharing an intimate space with them for anywhere from 2 hours to 12, I feel as I’m now part of one of their life chapters just as they are mine, whether or not they’re aware of it or not.
Maybe I’m over-thinking a simple plane journey, and even if that’s the case, who cares if the experience brings me to reflection points, tears and being present. I want as many experiences and moments in my life which are present and sometimes they come naturally (bring me red rock, Cape Point or any ocean or lake), and sometimes I have to pinch myself or meditate to go there.
Being present with someone is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, even if its with yourself. Being present with yourself btw almost always turns into a gift for someone else because for the time you are truly present, that openness creates a door for someone else to enter, even if its for one beautiful moment.
As for others on your path, I’ve noticed that my exchanges are pretty random and in that randomness, I find that I always talk to exactly who I’m supposed to talk to at the time.
The other two things I’m reminded over and over again is that randomness often creates magic moments worth cherishing and there are no accidents on this long journey we call life.
Sometimes when people see me cry, they assume I’m watching a movie about death or a sad love affair if they’re not watching the same movie as me. Other times, they just glance out of the corner of their eye quietly, perhaps wondering why I might be shedding a tear. Even if I am tearing up over something sad or cruel or painful, it’s always a good shed. The clearing through tearing brings on a birth of new ideas and ways of looking at the world, not unlike a new skin which grows back after the old skin sheds from too many hours in the sun.
My sun is my PC and mobile device, and being tethered to them bring me into the most unpresent part of my life – the Internet. When I’m there, I’m reacting to noise, even if I AM learning something new along the way. OR, meeting someone new in a Twitter exchange. Knowledge and productivity are great things and while they are not separate from being present, I find my brain either has room for one or the other and when my brain is overworking, my heart takes a back seat. (Read Nicholas Carr’s What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains and a blog post I wrote called: Hey Digital Maven, How Okay Are You With Silence?).
Having a cry as a way of reflecting on what I just left and what I’m ‘going to’ isn’t a replacement for a good “walkabout” and frankly I think we should all take them, whatever a “walkabout” is for you.
A “walkabout” isn’t necessarily the kind of activity that puts you into your zone, which may be your passion -- skiing, photography, cooking or whatever. A “walkabout” takes you to a quiet place where you’re not going anything at all but connecting to the earth below your feet and the sky above your head.
Here, you’re in a place of silence where you are not only “being” present but you’re “aware of being present” with who and what you just left and where you’re going. Along the way, you’re grateful -- it’s hard not to be grateful when you’re truly in this state btw – and every motion, every thought, every move you make is free flowing. In other words, there’s no resistance, there’s no struggle, there’s no pain, there’s no head, because heart is driving every step of the way. Heart is ruling thought and Heart is making every decision. (Read Eckhart Tolle).
The airplane movie for me is merely a trigger point in the middle of the noise, in between my “walkabouts,” and in between two very distinct worlds, which remind me I haven’t been grateful enough, I’ve lost perspective or gained some, or I haven’t spent enough quality time with people who matter.
It’s almost never about the movie; it’s about a human connection which is brought to the foreground in the movie and it moves from the screen to my minds eye….and then to my heart.
It’s about the fact that I am in fact in “motion” between two places, two cultures, two ways of thinking, two lifestyles, two memories, sometimes an old life versus one which replaced it, sometimes the other way around. So bring on the tears I say. Bring ‘em on for whatever purpose they serve along that long journey we call life.
After all, isn’t it always when we’re in that in between state when we have the most to give ourselves and others in our path? When we’re in a vulnerable beautiful state where the heart drives, not our heads? (Read Pema Chodron - she’s one of my favorites).
Whenever you find out what your trigger points are, you know, the ones that bring on the tears, purposely plant them in your life if they don’t happen naturally. And, more importantly, interject them with “walkabouts.”
While “walkabouts” don’t have to include nature, it’s a good idea even if nature isn’t a primary “go to” for you. Nature and paying attention to it rewards you in ways words can never describe. It IS where we all began and honoring nature will bring you back to your source, that source which will take you on a rollercoaster ride you’ll never want to get off. Trust me. The world really does surrender to a quiet mind.
May 22, 2011
Not Just in Aging that the World Surrenders to a Silent Mind
It was on a flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco, a flight I had made countless times over the years, when I had a deja vu moment about aging. As I glanced over to the woman to my right, I suddenly remembered all the times I had watched the older women in my life as a child and felt as far removed from them then as I do now from a 15 year old male skateboarder from Detroit.
On that flight, a surreal feeling swept over me...as if I was her or could have been a dear friend of hers in a previous life. The moment was short lived but vibrant and incredibly real, and it made me incessantly aware of aging and this precious thing called human life.
She was probably 70 or so, the woman was a petit, short Asian woman with beautiful silver hair, strands of black scattered throughout as the only remnants left of her middle age life. Her skin was glowing despite her obvious fatigue and you could tell she was once a stunner in that way you can about some people; there's a certainty, a quiet sauciness, and a knowing smile that suggests a life fully lived. She was wearing faded jeans, classy gold earrings with just a touch of ruby red and a Victorian blue button up top with a crocheted back that barely covered her neck, just enough to add a sweet balance of feminine energy to her other otherwise masuline aura despite her small frame.
Her face was weathered, not terribly so, but like her glow, certainty and smile, her face and hands exuded a lifetime of stories, over decades of experiences, far far beyond Las Vegas or San Francisco.
My deja vu moment came moments after a visit to the airplane lou where I observed my own weathered skin from years of sun exposure including the most recent trip in an open convertible where the hot desert sun beat on my skin, adding more aging spots which will someday tell a long story, or a series of them, just like the silver-haired neighbor to my right.
Although I was more than 30 years her junior, I felt as if this woman, whose coiled sleeping body next to me, was a kindred spirit somehow, despite the fact that we had yet to exchange a word.
Part of the desert trip included exploring rock ruins, flora and engravings, the latter of which told some of our ancestor's stories during a time that not only knew no computer, but knew no pen, paper or even a primitive chalkboard. I couldn't get enough of the hot Utah sun largely because the sun had become such a foreign oddity as I had somehow become more accustomised to hanging out with words on a screen as Google's Chrome churns them out tab after tab.
Despite the fact that I had "inked" my face up with pure white zink from Australia, the sun took its toll, not just on my face but on every inch of my body except for the six inches which were covered by scarves and shawls.
In the mirror that afternoon, seeing the weathered results of miles of sun and wind, brought back a memory of my South African host sister and I basking in the African sun as teenagers one hot summer afternoon in Durban. We were coated with baby oil as were our neighbors and their neighbors and so on. My host mother would bring out iced tea (roibos) with mint on the hour to make sure we were hydrated and their rotweiler would bark every time she opened the door. White as snow, she came out glaring through the sun to find us spread out on the grass in her 1950s-style apron with printed pansies in oranges and reds. She would shudder as my grandfather would at the amount of time we spent unprotected under the far too close to the equator sky. Like our neighbors, and their neighbors and so on.
As the memories flooded my head, I looked back at my silver-haired friend, who opened one eye on this occasion, just enough to add a small but tired smile as a way to acknowledge my gaze. At the end of the flight, we exchanged one short sentence as we all queued up like cattle waiting our turn to exit the plane.
I felt so connected to this woman I knew nothing about for some reason and yet......an older short, silver-haired Asian woman with gold earrings next to an American auburn haired, blue eyed woman nearly half her age and yet the almost silent exchange was as if.....as if, we had met before in a far away place, in a previous life, at a time when time had no meaning.
When time has no meaning, aging has no meaning. Later, I read an excerpt called Late Ripeness by Czeslaw Milosz that went something like this:
like ships, together with their sorrow.
And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.
It made me think of her, the woman whose name I never learned, nor whose origin I will ever know. Yet when time has no meaning and aging has no meaning, I understand how things in an aging mind might just be ready to describe things better than they were before, and as the brush does in fact come closer, we also appreciate the preciousness of the journey we're on, have more gratitude for what we are becoming and who we encounter along the way.
We also become okay with the silence that blesses us along the way. Just when we think the silence is a "negative" as it reminds us that we are in fact getting older, we realize that it is in fact a gift, the biggest gift we'll ever receive in our lifetimes, for when we live our lives from this place, we are more open, more vulnerable, more authentic and more pure. How appropriate to end with one of my favorite quotes: "The whole world surrenders to a quiet mind."