Some of you may be familiar with the practice of selecting three words to act as beacons for the New Year.  Chris Brogan is the guy who first introduced this concept in one of his blogs some time ago (read his three words).

This year I struggled with the third and last word but here they are:

Deliberate – Consciously make decisions. Allow myself the time to assess what is the next step. No more knee-jerk reactions to situations or environments. I have the power to decide for myself. That doesn’t mean I won’t consult with others, but the decision is mine. 

I think this word comes from a place of control and not fear.

Intentional – And that sounds a lot like deliberate but it means I place some intention with the decision. For example, I believe that intention sets the tone for the action. I will have a fabulous day and surprise … I do. It is creating the experience before I actually have it. There is an element of spirit that accompanies my deliberate choices.

Wordsworth– No, not the poet but the words I write are worthy. I set up a daily writing goal to keep true to this word. I am writing a book that has taken on the feel of a relationship. Some days I am happy with the relationship and other days it looks like divorce court. By being deliberate in my writing, adding intention, my relationship with the process creates words worth reading.

Even when this book is complete, there are other ones waiting in the wings. A new relationship to create, nurture and publish. So, there you have it. The 2014 words Deliberate, Intentional, and Wordsworth.

What are your three words for 2014?

thanksgiving-turkey-dinner

(Photo courtesy Delish.com)

We are nearing the great feast of Thanksgiving. What does it mean for you? Family? Friends? Football? Parades? A day off?

Originally, it was a time to celebrate all the abundance we have. The abundance of food. Our initiative and hard work to place that food upon a table. Family and friends to share in that abundance. It was communal and thankful.

It is interesting that the theme of abundance pervades this holiday yet we have made it a hallmark of scarcity. You are probably thinking I am way off the mark with that remark. Scarcity? Hardly. But let’s look at what this bountiful holiday spirit has become.

There are some retailers who have jumped  into Thanksgiving as a prequel to Black Friday. Now, while you eat your turkey, you can check your shopping list. You can load up on carbs to propel you through marathon shopping later in the day. The deals are time limited. You don’t want to miss out on all the SAVINGS.

Scarcity driving fear.

Instead of the holiday spirit of abundance, there is the anxiety of fulfilling that list.  And, who gains? Well, you … you can save big dollars on stuff. Stuff. Things. Wants. What marketers want to sell to you. Big abundance for the marketers.

And what do you lose?

The abundance of time spent with family and friends. The sharing of a meal meant to celebrate the harvest of the year. Something so earthy and genuine you cannot price it. The simple joy of a meal.

Which version will you pick? Abundance or scarcity?

Masses of people gather to participate in a "rose march" in honour of the victims of Friday's bomb attack and shooting massacre, outside Oslo City Hall(Photo courtesy Reuters Norway)

I attended a fundraiser a few nights ago with a friend who was desperate not to go alone. She said she hates lurking on the sidelines looking for someone familiar. I, however, love the prospect of being anonymous in a crowd of others who are all a mystery to me.

The Excitement/Angst of the Unknown

Most people fall into two categories: those who look for the sameness in life and those who don’t.

I grew up in a family of rituals. Hard core rituals. Vacations always in the same place (photos of the same family pose year after year). Embedded behaviors – Sunday brunch 2 PM sharp. You didn’t veer too much off the expectation of “how we do things”. Predictability reigned supreme. Nothing wrong with it.

Except it is boring.

I suspect it was the result of living through a World War that made sameness a good thing.

I craved different. Different ideas. New and unusual people. Strange places. Someone with whom I had no history. Somewhere exotic that created wonder before my eyes.

Working The “Strangers” Experience

Before the fundraiser, we met for a drink and talked about the event. Venue – a large converted factory into office space and artist lofts. People – mixed group but primarily Hispanic (fundraiser was in support of inner city reclamation of empty property lots into community gardens for self-sufficiency). Outside my experience.

The only two people I knew were my friend and the Executive Director of the non-profit organization whom I met once before.

The excitement of the physical space and non-profit concept was electric. Salsa music blared. Corn chips and quesadillas. Bankers and blue-collar workers. All together in celebration of a program that succeeds for a community that suffers from lack of fresh vegetables. A perfect combination of new ideas, people and places.

Stepping Into Unknown

Consider the following: We don’t know what the next moment will bring. We can plan. We can anticipate. We can expect. But we are all traveling with the next moment as a potential for dramatic change. It’s the blessing or curse of living.

Clinging to a ritual is a nurturing activity. The familiarity helps settle the unease of life’s surprises. We can only navigate our life with our maps – our direct experience of knowledge. It helps us feel connected and in control.

Balance the predictable with the unknown consciously. Do something different today. Try a new food. Start a conversation with someone in the checkout lane. Listen to new music. Make an effort to experience one new thing every day. Keep your comfort zone wide enough to catch wonder happening every moment.

What will you do differently today?

Non-profit Pitch

If the idea of turning abandoned property into green zones clicks with you, check out Groundwork USA

6700482-Portland_Airport_at_Sunset_Tower_Parking_Lots_Portland(Portland Airport at Sunset)

Last night I was rushing from work to get to the local grocery store and then to a cookout. Bam. Bam. Bam. Until I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets stretching over the parking lot. The sky was rosy pink with bits of orange. Just spectacular.

While looking at the sky, I noticed how pleasant the air smelled. I heard the dull drone of traffic from behind a stand of trees. And, because it was an open mall, music was broadcast for the shoppers. I don’t remember the tune.

And then it hit me …

This is like a movie where the main character has an epiphany while the world chugs along uncaring. There was a deep visual quality of the sunset over all the parked cars. And music to help frame the scene.

Here I was in my own movie except it is my life.

It’s like traveling to a foreign land and only looking through the lens of a camera at all the wondrous sights. Taking videos  so you’ll remember how great this moment was without actually experiencing it.

Later when you return to your home, you’ll share your moments. Review them. Savor where you have been. Years later, maybe forget where it was taken.

But were you really there? Has the moment etched into your being on a conscious level or were you just on autopilot saving your “conscious moments” for the really important stuff?

Are you living your life or acting in it?

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Waiting for something to happen is tedious and puts your life in the hands of others. Really. Are you content knowing that someone or something has your life in limbo just because?

Stop being passive in your own destiny. I hear people bemoan and point to other people and circumstances as the reason they lack, didn’t make it, or failed.

Look Inward First 

All the planning in the world won’t do a thing until you move. Until you take that first step. Until you own it. You have everything you need to make the decision to change. But you have to act on that decision. No excuses.

It’s Simple

Once you get that you are the person who decides how you will live, act and speak, then it is simple. Speak your truth. Act your truth.

The Hard Part Is The Introspection

You know what I am talking about. The uncomfortable place where you meet your worst fears. The silent time knowing yourself.  Crying time over loss. Curiosity for what you don’t know. Reassessment of what you value most in life.

Decide today to do something for yourself. Be a participant in the life you breathe. Act every day in a way that supports who you are and mean it.

Do something today. No excuses.

If you don’t see the video, click here .

My daughter sometimes enlightens me like a comet.

We were discussing how I am finally releasing my stuff from storage and going to either sell, donate or trash the possessions that have been sequestered for several years now. I have paid several times over the replacement value for the stuff.

A piano. An old style television container made of wonderful cherry wood. Waterford crystal. Linens. First grade art work. Books. Stuff.

I was struggling with that decision until my daughter recalled a scene from the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade“, the one in which Sean Connery plays Indy’s dad. Indiana is attempting to reach the chalice of eternal life while being held from death by his father. Elsa, another character, had just fallen to her death trying to salvage the chalice in the earlier scene.

Sean Connery says, “Indiana, let it go.”  There is a moment of realization that he, Indiana, must give up trying to recover the chalice and save his own life otherwise be doomed like Elsa.

I remembered the scene vividly. The loss of the historic chalice weighed against his own life.

I faced having to let it go … the stuff that has given me a sense of history. The life I used to have decades ago. It is an anchor to my past. But, like an anchor, you can’t really go anywhere. Never venturing that far from the anchor’s circle.

I don’t want that.

Where in your life do you have to “Let It Go”? Are you circling the same territory? Stuck in the same water, never setting sail?

Time to let it go?

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Even though it’s only 58 degrees F, I ran around the house this morning and opened the windows. Open windows mean I can hear birds, leaves rustle,and the general noises of the city. It’s comforting. It’s a connection.

Never a fan of air conditioning (although I will admit that in certain parts of the world it is necessary), I have spent decades in climate controlled environments. Insulated from the world outside. Kept mildly chilled. Like a wine cellar.

All the internal distractions were human/machine generated. Interruptions by co-workers, whirring of copier machines, clicking of keyboards in use, phones ringing, people speaking loudly. But when you work alone, the solitary work of writing, where is your controlled environment?

The writer’s office is a portable venue. The hum of humanity at a coffee shop fills the void with the activity of a faux connection with people. Writing outside has a serenade of creatures in the trees, insects in the grass, the sounds of life.

Maybe the dead silence of nothing is unnerving to the creative process. That distractions actually spur the creative thought process.

I wonder what did Michelangelo’s studio sound like? Was it the sound of chipping stone that created a brilliant backdrop? Did Edison have a constant boiling beaker for a muse? Did the scratch of chalk on a blackboard enlighten Einstein?

What do I need to hear to channel a character’s dialog?

At present, I hear the chirps of a chickadee and the caws of crows. Little else. No other background noise. Will the words erupt?

Where do you do your best writing? What’s your best environment for thought creation?

autumn leaves

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven …” Ecclesiastes 3

I don’t know about you but I am a summer person. Something about the sunlight, warmth, and energy of nature coming to full blossom. I just vibrate with life. The time of year just radiates movement and expansiveness.

So, when September creeps into the calendar, the weather is still warm and lush but there is a nip of cooler air in the morning, fog, and the subtle shift into decay. The garden vegetables are making their last stand. The trees bear signs of spent leaves. The hours of daylight diminish.

It’s like the end of a great party and the last guests make for the exits.

“Time And Tide Wait For No Man”

I have come to realize that holding on to a time, a place, or a relationship makes for painful living. All the personal resources invested in keeping something just as it was. That cherished moment is nothing more than a point in time. Yes, there are definite emotions wrapped around the instance that have made the event indelible.

But the inevitable happens. The glow of the moment fades with time. The recollection changes. It might soften. Details omitted or new interpretations installed.

In business, you can’t rest on your laurels. You have to constantly be aware of trends or something new in the market place and how this affects your company. Or ever better, be the agent of some radically new product or service. Some brilliant companies like Polaroid and Borders didn’t notice that their season had passed.

In the world of sports, the aging star athlete loses a match. A season has passed.

Relentless Change

The cycle of change always makes a path for rebirth. A next time. A new idea. Whether we like being on the wheel of change is not the point. It’s what you do to make change your friend. Your accomplice. Your partner.

Working with change creates opportunity and openness for possibility. Sure, visit the past but don’t set up camp in the land of has been. There is so much more waiting.

There are four seasons. Each has wonderful aspects – and a purpose under heaven.

Have you embraced change? Where in your life have you been trying to live a single season? What is it about the time, person, or thing that makes you cling to the past? How has it served you?

North Bridge, Concord, MAThere comes a time when death becomes more friendly, almost embracing. My uncle was admitted to a hospice yesterday and doesn’t have much time remaining. The entire transition from being present in life to becoming unaware was a matter of weeks.

The hospice is a subdued environment with welcoming volunteers and medical staff. The gardens are meticulous. The prayer room a place of solitude and solace. There is a noticeable separation from the frantic and directed pace of the living to the quiet and unknowing world of those who are navigating that last journey.

My cousins sit and watch their father die. It’s not a well choreographed event. There are fits and starts. Long pauses of rest. The flat screen tv flickers images that sometime catch attention. It’s a process. An undetermined length of time. Ushering a family member into the next.

And, there are all the memories. The feelings of sorrow and guilt mixed with humor and pain. It’s life. His life. No one should die alone.

Because there is forgiveness. Forgiveness for life’s transgressions. For unpredictable events that shaped other people’s lives. For emotions that tore family ties.

Forgiveness lets you accept and move on with life. To be present with the dying. It’s the grace of being human.

I just stood up on my soap box and proclaimed that critical thinking skills are necessary. Why?

Because our educational systems no longer develop critical thinking skills in our young students. We no longer teach thinking.

We test. Pass or Fail. We aren’t nurturing well read, innovators or delighted students. We are manufacturing human cogs in the wheels of commercial profit. Nope. I am not a socialist. I am a realist and here are some thoughts to consider.

I learned about mortgages in the fourth grade. I had no idea what a mortgage meant but I could figure out the math.

I learned the fundamentals of measurement and division by creating block print lettering in art class.

Music and math held hands for tempo.

Stuff added up, subtracted, divided or multiplied based on a series of classes that involved art, music, science, math and reading.  All the concepts fed the next module in understanding how my world, culture and society functioned. Oddly, it made sense to me as a fourth grader.

Yes, there were tests but as a support system to ensure that I was getting the content.

Why do I remember this so vividly over fifty years later?

An interesting thing happened to me in the fourth grade. I got really sick and ended up being tutored at home. The teacher was a wonderful woman who encouraged thinking, mistakes and the option of REDO.

At the same time, NEW MATH was introduced into the curriculum. That meant I had to learn a new way of doing math instead of the old formulas I learned for the first three years in school. We used the alphabet instead of numbers. Here’s a sample of new math:

Commutative property of addition is a + b = b +a [ the numbers in any order will equal the same.]

I am at best an average math student and this still sticks with me. Why? Because it taught me about numbers in a new way – a relational way which was different from learning things by rote, like memorizing the multiplication table.

The learning held meaning, visually and conceptually.

Once I got that meaning, I could then apply it to other areas for development. Music for time signatures and tempo. Centering my block prints evenly in art class. Understanding the metric system in science.

It was learning how one thing could be applied to other aspects of my life.

So what do we have today? Tests. Tests that validate state mandated teacher performance as well as students (MCAS in Massachusetts). But when does the understanding of the context arrive? We have students and young people entering the workforce who cannot apply what they have learned in life situations.

A familiar refrain I hear is “Just tell me what to do.” And, that works okay for repetitive tasks but fails miserably when brainstorming is required. When problem solving techniques are needed.

Thinking as a skill must not be relegated to private schools. Teaching critical thinking skills must be incorporated into our educational systems to ensure not just a passing grade but skills for survival. Get involved with your child’s schooling and learn what the administration’s most important targets are for success measurement. You might be surprised.

It might be doing mortgage rates proficiently without knowing what a mortgage is.

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