Considering the Magical Properties of Laughter

Last night I attended a show, titled “Murder for Two” at NC Theatre. Alone. It was one of the best decisions I made that day. The laughter vibe bubbled up immediately when I exclaimed, “Murder for One, please,” upon picking up my solo stub at will call ( thank you Donna, Alice and Kim). My seat was in the front row, house left, and I was sandwiched in-between three long-time patrons - two women and a man. I was flattered that they remembered me (after all, I was the CEO for nearly nine years) and the initial banter was concern over their seating. They loved the front row, but was this too far left, was the view obstructed? I insisted that I switch seats and engaged in a thumb war to seal the deal. They would not budge, but we enjoyed a good chuckle!

It’s hard to explain the incessant energy and outsized talent of the two men on stage who sing, act (13 roles), dance, AND play acrobatic piano duets. The show is described as the “perfect blend of music, mayhem and murder,” but it is so much more. The comedic timing and relentless humor had me laughing from start to finish. My seat mates and I exchanged incredulous glances and smiles throughout this nonstop romp. I snorted and belly-laughed in tune with a symphony of audience merriment. At the end I felt slightly exhausted, exhilarated and in awe of how these two actors kept the audience (and each other) engaged and entertained for over 90 minutes. The camaraderie continued as the audience filed out of the theatre - everyone was buzzing and talking and smiling. Bravo NC Theatre!

What a pleasure to take a well-deserved break from the relentless news cycle that can debilitate and divide. Last night was a potent reminder of theatre’s relevant role in building community and uplifting our spirits. Do yourself a favor - indulge in a night of laughter with NC Theatre - you’ll feel its magical properties!

Celebrating National Poetry Month

I set out to write my monthly blog and realized that honoring a beloved, recently departed poet was a far better choice. Mary Oliver lives on in her achingly beautiful poems that celebrate the natural world and impart simple lessons about the importance of paying attention and living in the moment. This month, I will also be designing an invitation to celebrate the life of my recently departed mother-in-law, Eleanor Barrie, who worshipped in the church of nature and always reminded me to “Stop and smell the roses.” I’ll be reading this poem at her ceremony and reminding myself, over and over again, to heed its message.

INVITATION

Oh do you have time to linger for just a little while out of your busy

and very important day for the goldfinches that have gathered in a field of thistles

for a musical battle, to see who can sing the highest note, or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth, or the most tender? Their strong, blunt beaks drink the air

as they strive melodiously not for your sake and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning but for sheer delight and gratitude - believe us, they say,

it is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world. I beg of you,

do not walk by without pausing to attend to this rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something. It could mean everything. It could be what Rilke meant when he wrote:

You must change your life.

~ Mary Oliver

Grounded, Green, Growth and Gratitude

March: the month of spring’s return with renewed hope as new green life, dormant throughout the winter, emerges from the ground. Setting my eyes on Mother Nature’s gifts keeps me grounded and cultivates my leadership well-being. The garden beckons and reminds us that there is much work to be done and new beginnings are possible every day.

I’ve been reading a book by Daniel H. Pink titled “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” It puts the question of “when?” into the center of the conversation, and could be a useful shift to those of us who have been focused on the “why?” It also shares fascinating information about human behavior and explores how mid points in life or projects can result in “slumps” or “sparks.”

Spring and all of its glorious awakenings can be a great catalyst for setting new intentions. Have you spent time considering what new growth will happen for you and when it will emerge?

Seeing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Our family gathered on Martha’s Vineyard over the Christmas holidays to celebrate the season. This trip was different because my husband’s 94-year-old mother died ten days earlier; the last remaining parent/grandparent in our small nuclear family. It’s important to note that she died in her home looked after by a cadre of 24-hour caregivers with her oriental rugs still intact and one final jigger in the bottle of Gordon’s. We sensed that she was ready and it was her time to leave. Like the three elders before her, this passing was filled with a potent mixture of grief and relief that we celebrated and honored to the fullest extent of our overflowing hearts.

Digging through a house filled with memories, saying goodbye and carting old, familiar clothes to the thrift shop, pondering a long-lived life with all of its ebbs and flows. Feeling it all and holding onto the precious moments of togetherness that get blurred in the organizing and doing. Several precious objects caught my eye: cashmere sweaters, vintage pins, silk neck scarves, special pottery, a roll of green velvet ribbon, a box of British stamps, a set of colorful fruit-adorned dessert plates, a letter I wrote after my first son was born, a flannel shirt worn by my father-in-law. Ordinary objects made extraordinary through the passing of time.

With a fresh new year upon us, and a blank slate before us, my wish is that we take the time to slow down just a bit more to pay closer attention to the ordinary yet extraordinary things that are right in front of our eyes. Holding onto these precious moments and the love they express is a timeless gift.   

Choosing what NOT to do in 2019

It’s been nearly two full years since I relinquished the title of CEO to pursue my consulting business and choose with greater clarity and intention where I invest my time and energy. Monthly blogs on my website chart this journey of “getting grounded” and “cultivating leadership well-being” that guides the current framework of my life. Here are the themes that emerged this year: family, gardening, self-awareness, work, travel, accountability, math, aging, politics and love. It’s encouraging to see the shift from work-related energy to self and family-related activities – this was the underlying goal when I set my professional transition in motion.

As last year came to a close, I wrote about “Walking into the Possibilities of 2018,” and asked questions about doing more work that matters, making more positive changes in my community and exploring more opportunities that were not on my radar. Clearly, the operative word was “more” and I can honestly say that I delivered on my promise. It was a fulfilling and productive year: I spread my creative wings and curated my life with more freedom than I ever thought possible while engaging in an interesting variety of activities and projects. More importantly, I gave myself permission to carve out ample time to unwind and restore.

With the new year right around the corner, I’m paying closer attention to the inner voice that is beckoning me to contemplate the ethic of “less is more” coined by architect Mies van der Rohe by starting from a place of choosing what NOT to do. So, what could this practice look like and how can it be implemented? Here are three key themes and accompanying questions to consider:

1.     Prioritize – Take a look at all of the family, work and community-related activities and projects where you invested your time during the past year. Which ones aligned with your values and purpose and brought you joy? Where did you commit yourself out of habit, impulse or a sense of duty? What could you subtract and/or hand off to someone else to stretch their leadership capabilities? Where can you make space for yourself to simply be present with nothing to do but be?

2.     Unsubscribe – How busy is your inbox? How many messages are soliciting you for things you do not need, from someone you do not know and are not serving your best interests? What lands in your snail mail box? How many catalogues, circulars or unsolicited junk mail do you recycle into the landfill? Digital tools allow you to opt into electronic delivery or cancel altogether. All it takes is time and intention to cut back your information overload so you can focus on things that matter.

3.     Organize – How often do you find yourself searching for a file, a possession, an article of clothing, your car keys? How does this affect your performance and overall well-being? Without going minimal because it’s the trendy thing to do, how can you restore order in your home, workplace and/or laptop to move through your day with more ease? What can you throw away, give away, recycle, upcycle and engage your creative spirit? Try shopping your own closets instead of heading to the next sale.

Here’s to a new year of making wise choices to get more grounded! With appreciation and gratitude to Steve Jobs for setting this theory in motion.

Vote, Gather, Love

In this month of Thanksgiving and the end of an interminably long election cycle, contemplating happiness and beauty through the near-universal symbol of the bluebird seemed like the perfect November theme. It’s time to gather at the polls and across the political divide to express our shared values and concerns for human rights, the health of our planet and the civility and decency of our elected officials who we entrust to work together to promote the common good.

And when we gather around our Thanksgiving dinner tables to express gratitude for all of our gifts, perhaps we can broaden our conversations to include different points of view. Perhaps we can take more cues from the natural world about the importance of diversity for a more sustainable planet. What if we dug deeper into the reasons why we should move through the world with more love for ourselves and for others? Wishing you a brighter, happier month ahead!

Savoring the Sojourn to Sixty

Tomorrow, I begin my sixtieth year on this planet. In other words, I turn 59. I’ve always been one to savor my birthdays, stretching them out into week-long celebrations, never playing them down, but raising them up as the most tangible expression of my presence. (And I like receiving cards and presents and eating cake.) My fifties tended to blur together, I often found myself forgetting my age or giving myself a year or two more than I deserved. Perhaps it was because I was parenting teenage sons, tending to aging parents and wearing the mantle of CEO as the economy lurched into a downward spiral. 2008 was both a supremely hopeful and harrowing year from my Libran perspective as I stared down 50. So rather than “turn 60,” I am choosing to give myself a year to contemplate all of the joys and privileges and responsibilities of growing old. If we’re fortunate, it’s the only option we have, so why not leverage it?

Three practices stand out as a beginning frame:

1)    Seek Inner Beauty

It’s hard not to fall prey to the dominant culture’s obsession with a glorified “fountain of youth” and the language around products and activities geared toward “anti-aging” as if growing old was something we should be fighting against. What if we took a deeper dive into what’s on the inside – searching out more knowledge and truth and wisdom, connecting more with heart and empathy and love, recognizing the bonds of our shared humanity? These practices may hold the keys to bringing us together in a time of agonizing polarity.

2)    Deepen Outward Service

There is so much need and so many opportunities to serve one’s community. There’s never been a better time to recommit to spending more time each week in the service of others. Whether its volunteering at your kid’s school, or your place of worship, or investigating board opportunities with your favorite nonprofit or even running for office, there’s a place for you to make a difference to balance out your time spent on self, family and work. These activities are the healthy roots that build stronger communities while feeding our souls and keeping us grounded.

3)    Increase Curiosity and Reflection

More than ever, life seems to be moving at warp speed. As technology accelerates, anxiety grows and we wonder how we can possibly keep up. Perhaps the antidote is to slow down, to flex our curiosity muscles rather than leaping to foregone conclusions, to write stuff down with a pen or pencil in a journal made of paper to make sense of it all. Then to return to what we’ve written and reflect, again and again and again. Practice does not make perfect, because I truly believe there is no perfect, just a relentless desire to show up and do the very best we can.

Making Friends with Math

September always arrives with those unmistakable “Back to School” vibes: crisper air, muted gardens and a heightened sense of hustle. I always enjoyed the timeworn tradition of organizing wardrobes, shopping for clothing and supplies and moving into a new rhythm and schedule. I feel especially fortunate that school was a safe and welcoming place for me. There were no “mean girl” scenarios or bullying that I can recall growing up in Naugatuck, CT. Being allowed to wear pants in fifth grade was a very big deal and playing sports in high school with the passage of Title IX was a downright privilege, although I did not understand the underlying politics and policies at the time. Even though I held the title of “Multiplication Queen,” I was always daunted by math. In fact, we were barely on speaking terms.

I can easily recall sitting at my parent’s kitchen table trying to grasp word problems about different trains leaving different stations at different times or glazing over arcane algebra problems and symbols with my heart racing. I remember reviewing NC Theatre’s audit for the first time as a newly minted CEO and feeling like an imposter. My breakthrough moment came when a friend (who happens to be a CPA) talked about how numbers can reveal the true story behind any organization. How you invest your money reveals what you value. How your numbers change from year to year reflects your strategy. I dug more deeply into data; I learned to love Excel; I embraced the narrative behind the numbers. I truly believe that greater financial understanding and transparency can transform organizations by creating alignment and clarity.

Like anything in life, making friends with math required a strong intention, a shift in perspective, a learning mindset and dedicated follow through. This Labor Day weekend, I may be dividing my time between walking in the woods and delving into a webinar on “Understanding the Form 990.” What better way to stay grounded?

Considering Accountability in August

Sometimes a photograph stops you in your tracks and challenges you to re-examine your beliefs. That was the case with the image in my blog header. It is a common merganser and her brood of 76 chicks photographed recently on a lake in Minnesota. It was an extraordinary sighting that captured the imagination of bird lovers and everyday folks alike. How was this Mama able to take care of such a large flock while remaining seemingly stoic and unflustered? That's taking on some serious responsibility. That is one accountable duck. 

It's a fitting image to dig into August's consideration of "Accountability." Webster's definition is: "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility." I've been thinking a lot about "accountability" lately, especially as it relates to nonprofit governance. When we accept an invitation to join a board, do we fully embrace the fundamental legal duties of "care, loyalty and obedience?" More importantly, have these expectations been clearly communicated in a job description prior to our accepting of the board position? Sometimes it's a good idea to simply revisit the rules

Moving from the professional to the personal, how can we move accountability closer to home? Are we meeting our obligations to our own families and friends? Have we clearly stated what they are and if so, are we following through on promises we've made? Moving into a higher state of self awareness about our own accomplishments or shortcomings is a fine and genuine starting point. Using curiosity as a tool to examine how we behave and checking in with self and trusted others can be a safe place to begin. And what better time than right now?

Begin with a short, specific list of three ways you want to be more accountable in August and check back in at the end of the month. I'll be doing the same. 

 

 

Travel as a Transformative Practice

There is nothing like traveling in another country to get your creative juices flowing and jolt all of your senses into high alert. Entering another time zone, hearing another language, eating different food, seeing new people and places can usher you into a different, more expansive mindset where anything and everything is possible. This was the case during our recent trip to Sweden, with marvelous stops in Gothenburg, Stockholm and Uppsala.

What made this even more memorable was being hosted by friends at the front and back ends of our journey. To see the way other people live, how they decorate their homes, what they plant in their gardens, what they wear, how they spend their time, what they talk and care about — these kinds of intimate experiences make traveling even richer. We were fortunate to time our visit with their Midsummer Celebration filled with eating, drinking and dancing, while wearing handcrafted crowns made from birch branches and flowers!

This heightened state of curiosity is the stuff of great travel. The trick is packing it into your suitcase and carrying it home into your daily life. One week ago, I awoke to a crisp morning in the loft of a small, modern cabin near a fiord on the coast of Sweden. Today, I awoke in my beloved 112-year-old home in the Oakwood/Mordecai neighborhood on a hot, sultry day. Holding onto the mindset that wherever you are, the world is full of wonder and beauty and delight is the gift of travel.