Friday, May 24, 2013

Taking A Risk

New Year's Day 2013 approached and as usual I took a look back at 2012 and imagined what 2013 had in store for me. I still make new year's resolutions but I've learned to refine them over the years. Gone are the days that I resolve to lose a ton of weight or just be a better person. Now my resolutions are concrete and a bit more measurable. This year, I had resolved to do 3 things: 1. Cook more, 2. Write more, and 3. Get out of my comfort zone more. Ok, so two were highly measurable and the third well not so much.
It's almost 6 months into 2013 and I can say I've managed to check off all 3. Cooking was easy especially after I announced this to my spouse who promptly held me accountable and used it to her advantage at dinner time. The other two were going to take some thought and diligence on my part.
Several months ago, a poster arrived on my desk for approval. The poster was for an open casting call for a show called "Listen To Your Mother." Listen To Your Mother is a national series of live readings by local writers in celebration of Mother's Day in 24 cities across the country.  I promptly put my initials on it and hung it on our community board. Everyday, I walked past that sign and it would catch my attention. It stared at me, taunted me, and called to me. I tried to put it out of my mind but I couldn't. For those of you following along on this blog you know that I don't share my personal life all that often and this certainly would entail doing so. After a month of kicking the idea around, I decided to just try and write something and see where it went. I was sitting in my doctor's office, whipped out my iPhone and started typing away. The story spewed out of me like hot lava. An hour later with tears streaming down my face (thankfully I was already brought back to a room) but I had written my story. That as I would later find out be the easy part.
I sat on the story for over a month and not once did I say anything to anyone. Finally, the night before the deadline, I sent an email to the director. I pressed send with my eyes closed and my heart racing. Still not the scariest part! The director promptly emailed me back with a time slot, Sunday at 4pm. Somewhat relieved that I would be in Florida during the auditions and couldn't make it. Oh well! It wasn't meant to be! Not so fast, the director replied and said she had a few people that couldn't make it that day and could I make it on Tuesday. Tuesday came and I auditioned for the show. I was nervous not necessarily about the audition but more because what if I actually got picked? A couple hours later, the phone call came, my story was picked to be one of fifteen stories to be shared on Mother's Day.
Rehearsals came and an amazing group of women formed a bond over sharing their very personal stories of being a mother or about their mother. This was way out of my comfort zone but every step of the way the cast, my co-workers and family all supported me in this very scary endeavor. The evening of the performance a weird calmness calm over me and all the nerves just disappeared. The show was a rollercoaster of emotional stories told from various points of view and from as diverse a group of women. The scariest part for me was facing the sold out audience (many whom I knew) after the show and after revealing a very personal story regarding my mother's untimely death.
Here's what I learned from this experience:
1. Support is all around but you have to be willing to ask for it and then accept it.
2. Doing things that are scary is not only good for you but makes you stronger.
3. Writing is a process. It takes patience, nurturing and commitment.
4. Going outside your comfort zone can lead to amazing new friendships and an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime!
Now I have 6 months to sit back and think about my resolutions for 2014. Challenge yourself to do something outside your comfort zone. I promise you won't regret it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

7 Lessons from My Plumbler

"What did I learn today?" I ask myself every night before getting lost in a dream.  I try to set myself into a learning mode every single day, open to learn from everyone and everything, and to be aware of what I'm learning.  My latest lesson came from my plumber.

On the first hour of the first day of what already promised to be a  hectic week, water was coming down from under the kitchen sink, flooding the house - well, that might be an exaggeration on my part, but there was definitely a big pond! It is exactly one of the last things you want to see when you wake up in the morning ready for a busy day. Desperate is how I felt.

I tried to cut the water flow, without success, but thankfully my husband did.  We had no other choice than to call a plumber (for me and for many reasons it felt as painful as calling the dentist!) and I went ahead and canceled all my meetings for that day.

Mr. Plumber arrived with a nice smile on his face and approached the area of disaster very calmly, almost ignoring my anxiety. As soon as I sensed his attitude, I realized that things were under control. From there on, everything turned into a lesson:

  1.  No matter how big the leak is, the attitude we bring into the issue matters! When we are faced with a crisis, we can become the first part of the solution or the problem. If the plumber had walked into my house with the same anxiety I was having, I wouldn't have trusted his ability to solve the problem and he would have become part of the problem himself. As soon as I saw him and because of his attitude, I started to think with more clarity  
  2.   Any leak can be viewed differently: perspective, perspective, perspective! A flood to me was just a small incident for the plumber. The pond looked "terrible" to me - I was already imagining my house flooded and everything destroyed. In reality, the problem was small and easy to fix, just by replacing a tiny inexpensive part.
  3. A leak starts small before it turns into a pond, so pay attention to the first sign of "alarm" and take quick action! I must confess that I knew about a leak for a while, but I chose to ignore it and instead convinced myself that it was "nothing".  Had I handled the problem as soon as it started, I wouldn't have needed a plumber on such short notice. I could then have planned for it with enough time on my schedule, avoid canceling commitments, pay a more reasonable fee, and not experience this desperation.
  4. Be prepared to cut the water supply in case of a leak - know your stuff! This is true for the water but also metaphorically. Be prepared and courageous enough to stop a problem before it grows bigger.
  5. Water leaks require a plumber or handy man - expertise matters! It is ok not to know something, and to call the expert to provide his perspective and skills. Confession number 2: I put some ducting tape when I realized the leak was not stopping, and then hoped for the problem to be solved. What do I know about plumbing? Nothing!
  6. A leak can originate in many places, and the problem is not always what we think it is!  I kept looking at what I believed was the root cause of the leak, but because of that I didn't pay attention to something else that could have been obvious too.
  7. A plumber can teach a coach life lessons. Identify your teachers and become one! The plumber came in, did his job and left. He didn't think of himself as a teacher and yet he was giving me a life lesson. Next time, I will make sure I appreciate my "teacher", and by doing that try to be a teacher and a learner myself.

The week ended up being less hectic than expected, even after this incident...on Friday, there was a perfectly shaped rainbow in the sky. The rainbow taught me that where there is water there can also be sun and something beautiful can happen.

As it turns out, we can always learn a lesson and make our lives a more interesting journey, even when it all starts with a tiny drop that becomes a pond.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lessons from a Visit at the Children's Museum


I’m writing this blog for all the people who have survived.

Survived what? Survived whatever was difficult for you to handle.

A couple of weeks ago I took my daughters to the new children’s museum in our town. We walked around and enjoyed a beautiful exhibition about George Washington. My daughter pointed out a quote on the wall by GW saying   “I had found bullets through my coat and two horses shot under me, and yet escaped unhurt.” General Washington wrote this in a letter to his brother after the battle in Pennsylvania.

Has it ever occurred to you that no matter what you have faced in your life; the hardships, the difficulties, the setbacks, here you are alive reading my blog and realizing that you have survived – hopefully without permanent damage.

As many of us take our daily vitamins to strengthen our bodies and immune system, we should take an opportunity each day to remember the events and experiences that have strengthened our spirits and have helped us become the people we are today.

As we look back, here are a couple of questions to consider:

1) What were the events in my life that had taught me the greatest lessons?
            As for me, thankfully I’ve never had bullets through my coat, but I sure had my share of heartbreak from broken promises, betrayal, as well as being rejected, failing and disappointing others. And yet, after each fall, I got back up equipped with a new lesson about people, life, and most importantly, about myself.

2)  How come I’m still here? Why me?
            Often times when things don’t go the way we expect, we ask “why me?” or “why does this have to happen to me?” What if we ask these questions when the good things happen? “How did I get to be so lucky to have this career? This family? These relationships in my life?” I must have done something right. What is that “something right”? Let us be reminded by the special qualities we possess, the luck we’ve had and the blessings we have experienced.

3)  What’s the bigger picture?
            It is so easy to get caught up with the little annoyances of life but the only thing that can sometimes get me through is looking at the bigger picture. What is the meaning behind all of this? How come I have escaped, unhurt? There must be a very good reason for me to have survived this...and this is where our purpose in life unveils itself. We each have one. Some have found it and others are still searching. George Washington knew that his purpose was to selflessly serve his country. My purpose is to help others be successful in personal life and career.  What is yours?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

There Once was a Little Old Lady


There once was a little old lady from Minsk…or was it Pinsk…or Krakow or Lodz or Timisoara…and I took her picture.

But wait a minute…let me back up and tell you the story.  Once upon a time I travelled a lot…and all of my travel was to visit the Jews of Eastern Europe…what so many of you called the “remnants of the Holocaust.”   I was very blessed in that I had the opportunity to travel with either the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) or with the Jewish Federations of North America (then called UJA or the United Jewish Communities depending on just how far back we are going here).  The other night when I was sitting at a very, very boring speaker I was trying to count just how many of these places I actually visited. (OK, I smiled at the speaker and looked focused and engaged, honest.)  I came up with something like twenty to twenty five visits… seven of those were just one four day trip to Romania with my husband and Zvi Feine of the JDC where we stopped to meet with the “Jewish Community Leadership Board” in each and every shtetlach from Timisoara up to Bucharest. 

And everywhere I went, I took pictures of the beautiful people that I met.  Now some of you are too young to remember the days of something called “film”.  It was this stuff that was in your camera (another foreign concept to many of you) and when you filled up a “roll” of this stuff, you took it to a magical place where the round roll was turned into pictures on paper, and they were almost always in duplicate.  Then you took these pictures home and, if you were as well organized as I was, you tossed them into a drawer.  And if you travelled as much as I did and you took as many pictures as I did and you got duplicate copies as I did and you ended up with lots and lots of drawers of lots and lots of pictures!  Get the picture?

All of this was just fine, unless one day you are asked to write an article about your years of work with the JDC and the Jewish Federations of North America.  And of course since we all know that the facts of our stories from these visits are really best represented by the faces of the people we have met, you need a picture.

And that is where my trouble began.  I opened the first drawer and there were pictures, lots of pictures, all with no names, dates, and worse of all NO PLACES.  I went to the second drawer.  Same thing.  And the third drawer…again…no identifying information.  And everyone looked the same!!  Grey hair ever so neatly combed, lovely small smile, sparkling eyes.   I panicked….how was I going to tell my story without a picture???  And I couldn’t possibly write the first word of my article until I had overcome this miserable feeling of panic.

So, I did what I often do in times of crises?  Yelled at myself, cried, threw things.  And then went for a long walk.   And since the weather was a perfect sunny 60 degrees, within one block I had my epiphany: it absolutely did not matter that I could not tell one face from the other…that I had no idea which lovely woman was from which shtetl, because the point of the story was not that one specific woman, but the fact that she existed at all and that we, the organized world Jewish community, had made her life in this, the 21st Century not only possible, but filled with joy.

And so I went back to my computer and began to type away, telling the story of the amazing Jewish communities of Romania, Hungary, Poland, what was once Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, the Former Soviet Union.  I wrote about how each town has (no matter how teeny tiny that town might be) a cultural center, education programs, Gans, Chesed Avrahams (the JDC version of Jewish Family Service), young leadership programs.  All of the things that make up a Jewish community, even the politics and the grown ups telling the young folks “you can’t do that -- we tried it and it didn’t work”  Honest, I heard it for myself from the Young Adult Division of the Warsaw Jewish Community!!!. And while I am on that topic, a Young Adult Division of the Warsaw Jewish Community??  Who would have believed that would ever, ever, ever be possible back a mere twenty years ago?

And I scanned a picture into the article.  It was a picture of a woman, grey hair ever so neatly combed, lovely small smile, sparkling eyes, and I typed “The Beginning” and hit send.