On Memorial Day

 

 

photo credit: James Tourtellotte

As difficult as my working life has been at times, one thing is true: I’ve never had to face enemy fire.

I’ve never had to quickly assess the risk threat and ask my people to advance into certain combat – and possible death.

I’ve never been far from home, hungry and exhausted, in a strange land with a different language and differing customs carrying an eighty pound pack through sandstorms,  snowstorms, rainstorms over mountains, through rivers, in jungles.

I haven’t been on a small boat in a big ocean, looking for the incoming weaponry that could sink my vessel.

I’ve not been in an airplane, tracing a safe route through enemy flak.

No, I’ve not been tested in these ways.

And so today and every day I honor those who served and those who gave their lives in service to their country.

It’s awe-inspiring and humbling to consider the men and the women who simply saw a need and filled it. Who went above and beyond not only because they could but because – in one split second – they knew they had to do something to save the lives of others.

I’m especially moved by those who never expected to be in combat but found themselves there. The nurses, the quartermasters, the cooks – those people who stepped up when duty called, and did what needed to be done.

Some of these people, in fact, lie in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery – their names are not known but their heroism is never forgotten.

All soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen – they are valuable beyond measure, and stand shoulder to shoulder in a line of service which leads from our nation’s earliest days directly to today.

At the Gettysburg battlefield over 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln said:

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Today, I honor the last full measure of devotion of so many. Those honored dead who bravely did what so many of us have not done.

It is to them this day is dedicated, with respect and honor for their great sacrifice and the great sacrifice of the families they left behind.

 

photo credit: James Tourtellotte

 

 

The Thing About Mother Love

 

 

collection of old note paper on white background.I have been known to scrawl down an idea or two (thousand) when they pop into my noggin. Sometimes, it’s something I’ve read, or maybe I heard somewhere. When it comes time for my house to be cleaned out, the biggest impediment will be what to do with the three zillion Post-it notes, four thousand completely used legal pads and three gross of used index cards I have scrawled upon in my daily life.

And that’s just the tally since January 1, 2014.

So, I don’t know where this line came from, but I jotted it down on my desk blotter, which is really just a huge pad of paper I use to blot my ideas. The words form just a fragment, but it’s enough for me to remember and to think about:

“Follow highest excitement”

Did someone say this to me? Did I read it? Did it pop into my head, unbidden, from divine inspiration?

I have no idea.

But I do know what it means. It means that to find your deepest happiness, your most contented joy, your highest fulfillment, you must pursue the thing that lights you up the most.

Some of you know that in this last year I became an empty-nester. Within a few weeks of each other both of my children moved to new places to do new things and I found myself, very suddenly, with a life wide open.

Helpful friends had many suggestions for me. I should travel more. I should get an office downtown so I could be around more people. I should go to grad school. I should be on the TODAY show. I should get married. I should definitely not get married but have a madly passionate dating life.

All well meaning, but as the writer Elizabeth Gilbert wrote: “Someone else’s dream.”

When I look at my “highest excitement”, the thing that lights me up more than any other is something rather mundane. You might even say kind of ordinary.

But it’s not ordinary to me. To me, it’s the most amazing thing in the world.

You see, there is just one thing I will always do first. That I will break plans to attend to. For which I will spend every dollar I have and borrow if I need more. That I will always, always, always make time for.

In fact, my life’s highest excitement is… being a mother to my children.

Sexy, huh?

But, if they ask me to come be with them, I am there.

If they want to talk through things in their lives, I am there.

If they need help, I am there.

If they want to send me a hilarious gif of an Asian baby break dancing with a puppy, I am totally there.

And you might say that now is “me time” and that I’ve paid my dues and it’s time for a big separation and what am I some kind of helicopter parent?

No, in fact, I’m sort of the anti-helicopter parent. I’ve always known that my entire parenting job was to prepare my children to do what they’re doing at this very point in their lives – to make their own decisions, to live their own lives, to love their own ways.

My highest excitement comes from the delicious pleasure of “what next?” in the lives of these extraordinary people. What will they learn that sparks a new way of thinking for them? What will they experience that leads to a greater knowing? Who will come into their lives? How will they be in the world?

To me, this is a sheer and utter delight.

It occurs to me that what I’m really talking about is ”mother love”. That encompassing feeling of good will, delight in the moment and happy hope for the future – so maybe my highest excitement is really about me, and my ability to follow what my heart knows is right and true.

But here’s the thing that also occurs to me: this good will, this delight, this hope – exists plenty of places. Examples abound everywhere, and you don’t have to have given birth or raised a child to experience it.

You just have to live to your fullest expression. To honor what’s most fulfilling to you.

Regardless of gender or station, race or education, when you choose to honor and follow your highest excitement, you bring your own version of powerful mother love to the table.

This is the promise. This is the hope.

This is the possibility.

And today, on Mother’s Day, this is my big idea. Now, let me write it down somewhere.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Joy

 

 

Close Up Of Soap BubbleIn my line of work, I often meet people who feel like their job needs to be… well, work.

It’s supposed to be hard, a challenge, a trial, wearying.

It has to be a difficult challenge, a burden, a slog.

So, when I say to them, “Let’s find a way to base your career on joy”, they look at me as if I just got off the last train from OutThereville.

For these dear, harried souls, “joy” and “work” are never used in the same sentence. Never. Ever.

Of course, until they meet me.

Because I know that when you base your career in something that’s joyful, work doesn’t feel like work - it feels like a pleasure. Like an adventure. Like the most exhilarating learning you’ve ever experienced.

When you can find the joy in what you do, then stuff like toxic people, or unexpected roadblocks, or other setbacks become simply Things That Happen. When you’re operating from a true, deep love of what you’re doing, Things That Happen…happen. And so you deal with them and get back to doing what you love.

Sure, maybe wiser and more experienced, but still deeply joyful.

You want a real world example, don’t you?

So, recently, I had a colonoscopy. Immediately, you’re thinking “joy!”, aren’t you?

When I met with the doctor before the procedure, he told me that he had learned how to do colonoscopies when he was in the Army in Vietnam. I said, “Wow, you must have seen the technology change so much between then and now.”

He looked at me curiously, then said, “I sure have!” and went on to tell me, with a lot of enthusiasm, what’s changed. In that moment, I saw that my doctor loves his work. Loves it. Finds it fascinating. Appreciates the work he does. Feels joy.

And he does colonoscopies for a living.

Someone asked me yesterday how they could have a “bigger” career. How could they push past the barriers and boundaries they encounter and live large?

I replied with: “Start with joy.” Because with joy as your foundation, things come so easily. People find you a pleasure to be around and want to do business with you. Opportunities come. Doors open.

Life gets rich and full.

So, maybe it’s time for you to take a close look at your life. Where are you on joy? How can you get more if you don’t have enough?

How can you shift from the limiting idea that a life worth living is by definition a hard-fought battle, and move toward the bounteous idea that the best life is one founded on pure, unadulterated joy?

Because if you can, everything will break wide open for you.

 

A Blast From The Past

Baby Michele

 

When you look back, what do you see?

Every March, I take a look back – which is pretty natural because it’s my birthday month.

This March I’ll be turning 55 (double nickels, baby) which is older than some and younger than many. I’ve also been asked to moderate a panel for active duty and retired female military officers at a career conferencelater this week. The topic I’m moderating is “A Letter To Your Younger Self.”

Funny how everything’s coming together for me to be even more reflective this March.

In 1960, when I was born, the world was a much different place. Global population was about a third the size it is today, and it felt like there was plenty of open space here and out in the galaxy. We were a year away from a visit to space – the Soviet launch of Yuri Gagarin into Earth’s orbit followed closely by US astronaut Alan Shepard, in a demonstration of the competitiveness of the Cold War.

How surprised would the world have been in 1960 to learn that the Soviet Union would crumble and capitalism would come to Communist nations?

When I was born, the U.S. had segregation – Dr. King had yet to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and even though Brown vs. Board had been settled, few schools had been desegregated.

Could we even have fathomed the relative ordinariness of seeing people of color as CEOs, Presidents, politicians, doctors, lawyers and professors not only in the US, but around the world?

Women, in my childhood, had a slim choice of jobs if they wanted to work: nurse, teacher, secretary, waitress, domestic help or bookkeeper. Even the brightest women faced a thick, impenetrable glass ceiling.

Small Michele might not have believed what’s possible today. Had anyone said that she would grow up to work with executives around the world who want to get better at their jobs, and that she’d do it from home, most often wearing yoga pants and a fleece pullover, while making a very good living, Wee Michele probably would have asked:

“What’s yoga?”

But some things today are exactly the same as they were when I was born. And these are things I’m exceptionally glad for:

People still fall in love.

Folks still have best friends.

Most of us offer help when we see someone in trouble.

Children smile and the world is all right.

We cheer for the underdog and applaud our heroes.

We laugh at each other’s jokes.

Songs are sung.

Meals are shared.

Lips are kissed.

Yes, we humans still see possibilities.

We still make things happen.

We still believe.

And after all these years, and all that change, that’s the world I believe you and I really want.

 

The Thing About Passion

 

 

Pair Of Shoes

There are so many people who will talk to you about Finding Your Passion.

These people, in my experience, tend to dot their i’s with eensy little hearts or smiley faces. In their worlds, Finding Your Passion appears to involve exotic trips, fabulous shoes, wine and botox. Oh, and buff, windswept, sultry people strolling on a beach. And inspiring motivational quotes.

Plenty of inspiring motivational quotes.

I, however, live in a different world and I’ll bet you live pretty close to me, too.

It’s a world where we work for a living and deal with plenty of competing pressures. It’s a world where things change, sometimes at the last possible minute, and what matters is less about the shoes you have on your feet and more about the resilience you have in your heart and mind.

How do you Find Your Passion in our demanding, fast-paced world?

It’s not a rhetorical question, believe me. In just two short weeks last September, I went from being a super-engaged, schedule-driven-by-my-children’s-interests mom to time-on-her hands, working from home middle-aged woman. I even have small dogs.

Yes, it’s true. In two weeks I became a cliché.

Lest you think I’m truly pathetic, let me say that I am thrilled for my kids. My son is engaged in a fabulous one-year entrepreneurial incubator program outside of Boston, and my daughter is in her first year at a really wonderful college.

They are doing what they are supposed to be doing – what I raised them to be able to do – and I could not be happier.

Yet, after years and years of going wherever their sports events were, and spending time on their enthusiasms – hairstyles and the films of Quentin Tarantino, for instance – I have found myself with plenty of time to spend on what I want to do.

Which is, precisely… what?

The first couple of months that they were gone was still a hubbub of activity. I shipped things they forgot or realized they needed, and managed long phone calls processing their new environments. I traveled to visit each of them and devoted time and attention to the logistics around coming home for Thanksgiving, and then Christmas.

But now we’re in the long stretch where no one is coming home for some time. And I’ve even caught them referring to “home” as where they live now.

Which is heart-clenching the first time it happens, and then starts to make sense. Because, they are well and truly launched.

So, back to passion. Specifically, finding yours after a big change or just when you realize that your life is not as fulfilling as you’d like it to be.

The standard question in these moments is “When do you lose track of time?” and that’s a good one. I also add, “When do you feel most engaged and happy?”

Whatever your answer is gives insight into what your passion might be.

But your true passion may lie beneath your answer.

Let’s say you figure out that you are most engaged and happy when you are traveling. OK – let’s go a little deeper, shall we?

What is it about travel that lights you up? Is it new experiences? New cuisine? Observations of differences in cultures? Is it the people you travel with? Is it because you always travel on vacation – away from work and chores?

Don’t say, “All of it!” because that’s too easy. And I am not letting you off the hook that easily.

Nor am I going to start dotting with teeny hearts.

Passion is not about what you do, but how you feel about what you’re doing.

If you figure out that you are driven to travel because you love to observe the differences in culture, then maybe you can also satisfy that passion by making sure to attend cultural festivals in your own town. You could regularly try different cuisines. You could host an exchange student. You could read books about different worlds. You could discover artists from around the world and learn about them.

Because, you see, your passion deserves to be in your life every single day, not just during one big trip a year.

When you live your passion, the world opens up for you. Possibilities become obvious. Connection is easy.

Life feels full and happy. Success is more and more effortless.

It’s pretty great.

As for me, after some deep reflection, I remembered my passions pretty clearly. They’re centered around creativity, mentorship, connecting and learning.

And while I miss the job I was really very good at and completely fulfilled by, I know that the things I am passionate about also fill me up.

So, let’s make a promise, you and I.

Let’s be less about shoes. And more about passion.