Category Archives: Personal Influence

it’s a breeze

The Best Advice So Far - it's a breeze - curtain fluttering by an open window

One day last week, I wished a friend of mine a happy birthday. He turned 30 and was feeling old. Interestingly enough, he was a sophomore in high school when I met him, and I was older than he is now. So I was able to paint a convincing picture for him as to just how young he still is.

As we talked about getting older, a famous quote came to mind:

“With age comes wisdom.”

Yet I’m inclined to agree with the second half of Oscar Wilde’s observation on the matter:

“… but sometimes age comes alone.”

I don’t need to look very far to find middle-aged adults who are just as petty, rash, irresponsible or egocentric as they were when they were teenagers. (Some, in fact, are even worse off now than when they were younger.) Likewise, I know many in their twenties who are quite well-adjusted and have exemplary character.

That is, wisdom comes not merely from experience but from intention to ponder that experiences. To learn from it. To make new choices.

To change.

Well, after this exchange with my still-young friend, my eye was immediately drawn to a seemingly trivial bit of movement in my living room—a sight so familiar to me that, if not for that particular conversation, it would certainly not have been noteworthy let alone served as the inspiration for a blog post.

At the open window, the edge of a sheer white curtain floated and fluttered in the spring air.

In that moment, I was transported to a particular night in February back when my birthday friend was still in high school. He and a dozen or so other guys his age were gathered in my home on a Monday night for our weekly meet-up. They crowded onto the olive green sectional or found space on the living room floor, happily munching on pizza, which was the norm.

The conversation that night coalesced around a theme. Many of them expressed that they invited change, that they wanted more for their lives, that they were open to deeper connection with others and a sense of real purpose. They came faithfully each week, ready to absorb. They were honest about who they were and where they excelled or struggled. They took part in discussions and read books. But they hadn’t seen the personal progress they’d expected “by now.” They still weren’t feeling or experiencing whatever it was they thought they should be feeling or experiencing.

One or two of them even hinted that they were disappointed that the other group members hadn’t gone to greater lengths in supporting them during the week between meetings.

Where was the magic that would grant them the life they were looking for?

As they continued sharing their thoughts, I got up and headed for the kitchen, presumably to grab another slice of pizza for myself. What no one noticed was that, on the way, I cranked the heat up another ten degrees.

Even at a moderate 70°, I can tell you that 15 teenage boys will heat up a room quickly. With the thermostat now at 80°, it wasn’t long before the sweat was trickling and they were begging for relief.

Instead of lowering the thermostat, I opened the two windows along one side of the room. “Let’s see if this cools things down quickly.” But even though it was a frigid winter night, the temperature in the room didn’t drop by even one degree. No air was coming in from those open windows.

“That’s not working,” they moaned. “Can you just turn the heat down?”

I had them where I wanted them. Breaking the current flow of conversation, I said, “The windows are wide open. Why do you think the cold air isn’t coming in?”

One of them held his hand up to a screen, as if he thought for a moment that maybe a tropical heat wave had mysteriously descended upon New England. I could see that they were thinking. Another offered, “Maybe there’s no wind tonight.”

After a minute or so more, when I was sure their minds were open, I got up without a word and disappeared down the short hall. I opened my bedroom door (which I knew they would hear). Twenty seconds later, I returned and stood in the center of the room. I pointed to the open windows and, as if I were a sorcerer, freezing air whooshed into the room. In less than a minute, they were bundling up in the hoodies they’d so recently discarded; and within two, they were shivering and had had enough.

I turned down the thermostat, closed one window, leaving the other open just an inch or so as I revealed to them how I’d gotten that air to come in—to transform a stagnant space with something new and refreshing.

My secret? I had…

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the builders

The Best Advice So Far - the builders

I was wakened from a sound sleep by the ungodly grinding of a saw cutting through what sounded like concrete or metal right outside my bedroom wall. The whole place shook, setting the nearby jar candles to skittering. It was immediately clear that this was not going to be a situation solved by fingers in the ears or pillows over the head. So I got up.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, there was a loud crunching and a thunk.

That sounds like it’s right in the house, I thought. And then the noise suddenly cut off. Moments later there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find one of the construction guys there wearing grubby jeans, a tank top and a backward ball cap. His ears were studded and gauged, and one tattooed arm leaned against the wall of the stairwell that leads up to my floor. “Hey, um… what’s on the inside of the wall we’re working on?”

I knew something very bad had happened. “My bedroom,” I informed him. “Bedroom closet to be exact.”

I led him through the entryway and into the bedroom. I live in an old farmhouse with open closets, so I had used the bedroom closet for storage, placing a low white bench with drawers and storage cubbies in front of it on top of which a full-length mirror leaned back against the door opening. I took down the mirror.

The workers had broken through the outside wall into the room, a five-foot strip of the wall revealing daylight beyond. But that wasn’t what caused the sharp inhale or widening of my eyes.

It was the…

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we are the world

My new book, TRIED & (Still) TRUE, just launched this past week. It’s been cause for much celebration.

It’s also been cause for a major lack of sleep.

And staying in sweats all day.

And not showering some days (which, if you knew me, is really saying something).

And, if I’m being completely honest, I even realized after 4:00 PM one day that I hadn’t even brushed my teeth yet.

So Sunday afternoon, when I ventured out for a trip north to visit my cousin, it felt strange to have the sun on my face, to feel the gravel of the drive crunch under my shoe-clad feet, which during the last few days had been bare.

Driving along the winding bucolic roads, passing apple farms and waterfalls that had iced over in motion, and with the sun playing like an old-fashioned projector light through the bare tree branches, I found myself singing aloud at the top of my lungs a song that’s been stuck in my head for the last few days:

We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me

If you don’t recognize it, it’s because didn’t live through the ‘80s or at least weren’t old enough to remember what was going on in 1985. “We Are the World” brought together some of the most well-known pop stars of the day to sing what would become the fastest-selling and highest-grossing single in American history, as well as the first song to ever be certified Multi-Platinum (Quadruple Platinum, in fact, selling over 20 million copies).

If you missed it in 1985, you may have heard it in 2010, when another all-star ensemble reprised the song to raise money for the victims of the devastating Haiti earthquake.

Anyway, there I was belting the song in my car. When I reached my destination, I was still humming it. And I got to wondering why. Why was this 35-year-old song stuck in my head? I hadn’t heard it recently nor talked about it with anyone. (As I say, I’d been holed up in my home for days around the book launch.) So why was this particular song burgeoning inside of me on this particular day?

Before I’d even reached the door, I’d figured it out.

I’ve had hundreds of interactions with people during the first few days since TRIED & (Still) TRUE launched. Calls, texts, emails, blog comments. I’ve read each Amazon and GoodReads review. And I couldn’t help but notice that much of the positivity and praise has been shared alongside a common counterpoint that took this basic form:

“It’s so refreshing to read this encouraging, uplifting book with the world being so negative, divided and scary lately.”

I totally get it. I’ve placed myself on total news blackout for long stretches and turned on ad-blockers so that I can’t even see sidebar headlines when I check my email. If anyone in my friend group happens to mention certain names or events, eyes widen and bodies tense, as if Bloody Mary is on her way through the magic mirror. It’s easy to give in to the sense that “the world” is broken beyond repair. That this is it. The End.

But I don’t believe that.

As I wrote this new book, I delved into the lives of the people who brought us some of the most famous proverbs from history. I didn’t just talk facts. I talked lives, reminding readers constantly that those who penned the words that have become part of our literary legacy were real people just like you and me. They weren’t giants or superheroes. The most famous of them wouldn’t have been known by more of the population than the average person today connects with via social media. They were us. We are them.

And I’m here to tell you—they went through some things.

Subjugation by tyrannical emperors.

Religious purges.

Mysterious and gruesome plagues that killed millions.

Natural disasters on a scale not seen before or since.

They had no running water. No hot water on demand. No showers or baths. No porcelain toilets or toilet paper. No sewage system.

They did not have prenatal care plans and epidurals. Their anesthetic for anything from dentistry to amputation was a few swigs of whiskey and biting down on a stick. There was no counseling or medications for depression and anxiety. No pills to control blood pressure.

No multi-vitamins. No toothpaste and toothbrushes. No Tylenol. No dry skin cream.

In many places and times throughout history, people weren’t out drinking with friends and celebrating on their 21st birthday. They were quietly reflecting on the notion that their life was likely more than halfway over. Living to the age of 40 seemed to them as living to 100 might to us now.

And yet, somehow “the world” continued on, no matter how bad things seemed in the midst of tragedy and hardship.

Here’s a snippet taken from page 26 of my new book:

One thing I have learned is that worry serves no purpose other than to waste otherwise good moments in the present.

I am also convinced, however, that we always have a choice. I cannot choose for a society, or even for a single other person. But I can choose what I myself will do, how I will live—right now.

Let me break down a few lines from that earworm of mine—“We Are The World”—in hopes of…

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big deal

The Best Advice So Far - big deal

This Thanksgiving held changes for my family.

My mom has been putting in long hours for a while now, caring for her own mother, so that my 93-year-old Nana can continue to enjoy the familiarity and comfort of living in her home of more than 60 years.

In addition to being plumb tuckered out most days, mom was also sick heading into Thanksgiving day.

So for the first time ever, we had our small family Thanksgiving out at a local restaurant instead of at my mom’s house. No preparation. No dishes to do afterward. No leftovers to wrap and store. However odd it felt to set aside tradition this year, no one could refute the sense in it.

We were seated at a spacious, horseshoe booth at about 12:30. The meal was catered, buffet style.

Our server was a young woman named Kim. After making introductions around the table, I asked Kim if she would have any time after her shift ended to join her own family for Thanksgiving meal or desert. She paused, smiled in that way people so often do when they are trying to sound positive about something negative, and said, “All of my family has passed away.”

“Oh no…” I replied. “All of them? Or do you mean there’s just no one local?”

Kim sighed, though her half-smile stayed in place. “Well, I have some distant relatives, cousins. But my own family are all gone now. I figured I’d work today so that people who do have families could be with them.”

I took a moment to just hold Kim’s gaze and let that heavy disclosure stand in silence. Then I said, “Well, we will be your family for today. Let us be your comfortable table, no stress, OK?”

Kim was genuinely appreciative as she explained the buffet setup, then went to fill our drink order.

The meal was good. Plenty of offerings. And I was glad for my mother’s reprieve.

Kim stopped by many times to check on us. She was pleasant and did seem to relax and just be herself when she came to our table. After serving dessert, she brought the bill.

“Kim,” I said, “would you consider yourself an open person?”

Her eyes were curious. She nodded. “Yes, I think I am.”

I stood up to face her. “Good to know. Because… [click link below to continue reading this post]

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what to say (reprise)

The Best Advice So Far - what to say (reprise)

Back in the spring, I introduced you to my writer-friend Diana by way of a unique book review with a personal twist. (By the way, this four-book series, The Rose Shield, would make a perfect, no-fail gift for any choosy Fantasy readers you may know; and Diana’s also just released a beautifully illustrated children’s book, Grumpy Ana and the Grouchy Monsters, for the little readers on your list.)

Grump Ana and the Grouchy Monsters

Sally Cronin of Smorgasbord revived one of Diana’s previous posts entitled “Write and Change the World.” It was written nearly three years ago, before I came to know Diana. As I read it early this week for the first time, it felt current. It reminded me of important things. And I would have missed it, had Sally not seen the value in shining the spotlight on it again, these years later.

*****

A couple of days ago, I treated myself to a meal out. It’s second nature to me to ask the server’s name and give my own, and then to ask at least one others-centered question that has nothing to do with waiting ts.

Holly told me she was a Christmas baby … well, her due date was Christmas, but she’d been born on the 21st. My light non-server question was this: “What’s one thing you love to do in your life outside of work?” She smiled broadly and talked about spending time with her Long-Haired German Shepherd, including pictures of “her baby.”

You’d have thought I’d given her a $100 bill, the way she responded to that simple moment of exchanging names and showing even that little bit of interest in her as a person, outside of her role — of what she could do for me. She just kept shaking her head in wonder that anyone would think to do such a thing, thanking me at least three times thereafter when she came back to check on my table.

It struck me once again that what feels quite natural to me … isn’t, for many people.

This interaction with Holly, on the heels of having read Diana’s wonderful post from yesteryear, got me thinking. I’ve been blogging now for nearly seven years. When I first started, I was posting daily (how I ever managed it, I really can’t fathom); and yet that first few months was when my readership was new and quite small. In other words, most current visitors to my blog have never read those early posts, though they were the foundation upon which the entire blog since then has been built.

Add to this the slate gray sky and rain that has presided over the last few days, and waking mornings to find the car encrusted in frost, and my mind was made up.

This week, I’m [click below to continue reading this post]

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fear: two

The Best Advice So Far - fear two

The previous post wound up being a sort of flight of ideas on fear. I had no intention of taking it further than that when I hit “Publish” last week. But the theme of fear has continued to rear its … well … rather common head in the time since then. So it seems worthwhile to take another walk on the dark side.

*****

I wound up getting to the gym quite late last night — 4:15AM to be exact. (Yes, that was late, not early, considering my usual arrival is between midnight and 2:00.) As you might imagine, the place was pretty empty. Other than myself, there were only two people working out.

One of them was a woman. We were busy at opposite ends of the gym, but I noticed her. She was quite thin, perhaps in her mid to late fifties. Her gait was unsteady, hinting at a neuromuscular disease. And she was tearing the place up (in the best of ways). She moved non-stop between machines, taking only minimal breaks between sets before she was back at it.

By the time I moved that way to use the cables, she was on the mats doing bicycles (an ab workout) for durations that would make me cry. I thought about wandering over, introducing myself and telling her that she was putting me to shame. But she was wearing headphones; and so I kept my admiration to myself for the time being.

We both finished up about the same time. The sky was still black with just a hint of cobalt on the horizon as I headed out to the parking lot, only a few yards behind the woman. I walked a bit faster, thinking now might be a good time to introduce myself. Perhaps hearing my footsteps on the pavement, she cast a wide-eyed glance over her shoulder and then turned abruptly, quickening her own pace.

I decided to let the moment pass, heading for my car instead. By the time I got my things inside and was finally situated, the woman was in her own vehicle and slowly rounding the corner in front of me. Just then, she hit the Caution: Pedestrians crosswalk sign. There was a * thunk * as the plastic yellow tower tipped to the side and scraped along her rear fender before righting itself. She stopped, her face worried. She craned around backward but still couldn’t see what she’d hit.

I knew that getting out of the car and back in would be no mean feat for her. So I hopped out to tell her there was nothing to worry about, that there was no damage to the sign or her car. Our eyes met in her rearview mirror. Her brow furrowed more deeply, so I smiled and waved, moving toward the side of her car where she might be able to see me more clearly.

She gunned the gas, tires chirping, and hightailed it out of there.

As I stood there holding my good intentions, it felt odd to consider that anyone would see me as a threat — that I could ever strike fear into someone.

On the drive home, an interesting thought occurred to me…

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brand you

The Best Advice So Far - brand you

This past Wednesday, I was invited to be a guest lecturer at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston, where I taught a group of opticians-in-the-making about branding and marketing.

I love teaching. And by all indications, I’m good at it. But as a rule, I’m more interested in people than I am in imparting information. As such, I found myself naturally sliding into the role of mentor throughout the two-and-a-half-hour class. Whether these students ever wound up becoming opticians or not, I wanted them to go away from our short time together thinking differently about life, themselves and how they interact with others.

It’s actually not all that big a stretch to get personal when talking about branding and marketing. After all, in essence, every single one of us is an individual brand.

That is, whether we like it or not — or are even aware of it — we are constantly engaging in the same core functions as any business where marketing is concerned. We face similar challenges. And we are therefore subject to many of the same “rules” concerning success or failure.

Maybe you rail against commercialism. Maybe it gets your blood up that I’d be using capitalistic terms as a comparison in interpersonal matters. And that’s all well and good. But I’m afraid it won’t exempt you from experiencing gains and losses all the same, based on the foundational principles that follow.

Or perhaps you’d claim that you really don’t give a flying leap what anyone else thinks about you. And that may be true. Nevertheless, just as any company operating with such a mindset would suffer negative consequences, so will an individual who doesn’t qualify that statement and adjust accordingly.

Allow me to share a few terms from my Wednesday class, as well as some thoughts on how they might apply to brand you


hear! hear! (the story behind the audiobook)

The Best Advice So Far- hear hear

I still remember the first time as a mentor that I had to turn someone away.

Until then, no matter how many others I was committed to at the time — no matter how strongly I debated with myself that I couldn’t stretch any further — I found a way for “just one more.” But then there it was: the first I’m sorry, I won’t be able to.

As someone who believes in the difference one person can make in the life of another, and who is deeply empathetic, it was like a punch to the gut.

About the same time, years of “kids” I’d mentored, past and present, along with their families, secretly organized an appreciation dinner in my honor. I have to say, not only was I shocked, the timing was uncanny.

As part of the evening’s events, I was given a seat in the middle of the crowd. I remember meeting eyes around the room, one by one. For more than an hour, people spoke word of affirmation or thanks, expressing what I had meant to their lives. Tears welled up (just as they are even now, as I recall the day). Even being a writer, it’s be hard to put to words what that was like.

One young man, Alex, said something that night that has not only stuck with me, but which has changed the course of things thereafter. Alex said…

 


umbrella

The Best Advice So Far - umbrella

Singin’ in the Rain just may be my favorite movie of all time.

I watch the film at least once a year, and I reference lines or scenes from it often. It still gives me the same feeling it did the very first time I saw it. I laugh just as hard. My eyes still get wide at some of the dance numbers. And, of course, I sing along through the whole thing.

I dare you to watch it and not at least smile.

In Gene Kelly’s big number, his character, Don Lockwood, is feeling giddy with new love; and so, despite the torrential rain, he waves his driver on and walks home, using his umbrella as a dance prop rather than as any sort of protection. Soaked and smiling broadly as the scene ends, he hands his umbrella off to a shrug-shouldered and miserable-looking man passing the other direction.

Between gorgeous sunny streaks, we’ve also had our share of heavy rain here in Florida, where I’m spending the month of August. In fact, within my first 24 hours here, I was caught driving in the most blinding storm I can recall — the sky, road and crushing downpour all blending into one continuous sheet of gray.

And I hadn’t brought an umbrella.

Thing is, I could easily have bought one. But — call me crazy — I just figured, why bother? So I get a little wet. I’m getting wet in the ocean and pools and hot tubs anyway, right?

During one such storm, I ventured out to get a few things at the nearby grocery store. I hadn’t quite stopped dripping by the time I got in line at the register. Yet there in front of me, right in the store, an even bigger storm was brewing, lashing out at everyone nearby…


what not to say

The Best Advice So Far - what not to say

I always seem to have some crazy story or other to tell, don’t I?

I was asked a thoughtful question recently, as my birthday nears: “What would you like to see more of and less of in the year ahead. After The Zinc Fiasco of 2015/2016 and last month’s visit to Death’s door (aka, The Black Pill Debacle of 2017), my “less-of” response seemed a given”

I’d like to have less … in the way of health issues.

Don’t get me wrong. I consider myself very fortunate. Yet when birthday presents past include a medical dictionary marked with sticky strips on every page containing some strange malady I’ve encountered … one might have reason to suspect that something’s up.

And many have told me I’m the healthiest sick person they’ve met so far. (I suppose that’s true to my nature, being a lifelong “balance of extremes” as I call it.)

Well, wouldn’t you know, a week ago today (just after I finished writing last week’s post, in fact), I wound up adding another sticky to that medical dictionary of mine.

The hedge along the driveway had turned into a jungle; and the worker the landlord had hired to take care of it had just informed her that he’d have to postpone — until the second week of September. Well, that was just not an option. The drive would literally be impassable by then. So the landlord asked if I might consider taking care of tedious job for some cash. I agreed.

Picture it if you will:

  • Eight-foot overgrown hedge
  • Five-foot ladder on an uneven gravel drive
  • Electric hedge trimmer

So there I was, tip-toeing on the second-to-last rung of the too-short ladder, stretching as far as I could over the top of the hedge to get those last few outcropping branches at the far side … when the ladder began to wobble.

I reached out instinctively to steady myself … on nothing … and in doing so, let go of the heavy, two-hand-operated saw …