My Compelling Blog: Part 5 (MNOP)

Welcome to the Year of the Earth Pig!

This week millions of people around the world celebrated the Lunar New Year. According to the Chinese zodiac, 2019 is the Year of the Earth Pig.

Fun searching on Google tells us that “A pig represents luck, overall good fortune, wealth, honesty, general prosperity, symbolizing a hard working, a peace-loving person, a truthful, generous, patient, reliable, trusting, sincere, giving, sociable person with a large sense of humor and understanding.”

Part 5 of My Compelling blog series continues with the letters MNO & P which stand for Molding Novel Outlooks and Perspectives.

Scroll past the pigs to see some new ideas.

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Photo by Steve Smull

Random Thoughts and Suggestions

  • Feeling stuck or in a rut? Break out clay, Playdoh or coloring books.
  • Listen to Pink Floyd’s Animals album.  “Pigs on a Wing” and “Sheep” are two of my favorites songs.
  • Read interesting and thought provoking books like:
    • Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel
    • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
    • The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani
    • The Art of Dancing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  • Listen to podcasts to get more in depth analysis and nuance an various subjects (Fresh Air, This American Life, Good Life Project).
  • Take a different route on your way to work or the grocery store.
  • Read Dilbert comic strips.
  • Instead of making lofty new year’s resolutions in January- try setting smaller monthly goals and objectives.
  • Don’t be afraid to wear silly hats.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Read about another country’s history.
  • Take more time to pet your cats, dogs, or other pets.
  • Ask a young child what they think about a specific subject.
  • Watch classic black and white movies.

 

 

My Compelling Blog: Part 4 (JKL)

Life is a crazy rollercoaster and sometimes you just have to laugh at the absolute insanity of it all.

This is why Part 4 of my compelling blog features the phrase “Just Keep Laughing”  for the letters JKL.   I thought this was more helpful and inspirational than “Just Kidding Loser” or worse yet, the dreaded “Just Kidding LOL”.  Is it just me or do you find LOL to be annoying?

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My Mom’s favorite express was “Live, Love, Laugh” and I always admired her warm smile and jolly laugh. She had a tough life with many challenges but she never let it get her down.

So when the crazy/mean/rude/obnoxious people in this world start making you feel like your head is going to explode, remember Just Keep Laughing!

Plus, as an added bonus, laughing has many health benefits for you, including:

  1. Reduces stress hormone levels
  2. Triggers the release of endorphins
  3. Increases your creativity
  4. Works your abs
  5. Boosts your immune system
  6. Lowers blood pressure
  7. Reduces anxiety
  8. Relaxes you and calms your mood
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Photo by Steve Smull

My Compelling Blog: Part 1 (ABC)

2019 is here and it’s time to change things up!  After six years of writing this blog,  I’m ready to step outside the fox and try something new.

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Red Fox in Colorado. Photo by Steve Smull

Thanks to the Toastmasters Pathways program, I am expanding my horizons as it relates to my communication and blogging skills.  To finish up Level 4 on the Effective Coaching path, I need to complete one (1) elective project from a list which included activities such as:  Create a Podcast, Managing a Difficult Audience and Public Relations Strategies.

For many reasons, I chose the “Write a Compelling Blog” project and am ready to take Strong Words and Simple Truths to the next level.

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My new challenge and project objective is to write 8 blogs in a one-month period.

Twice a week I will share my thoughts, ideas and insights on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I plan to use the alphabet as my guide and will run through the 26 letters in 8 weeks ( 3 letters per article with a big bang of V-W-X-Y-Z for the part 8 series finale).

Here we go with Part 1 of my Compelling Blog!

Starting with A, B and C.

WHAT

A- Action, take it.

B- Bold, be it.

C- Creativity, nurture it.

 

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HOW

Here are some tips on how to get started on your WHAT.

  1. “Just Do It’ is easier said then done! Getting going is often the hardest part of taking action.  I recommend starting with small, incremental steps.
  2. To boldly go where no one has gone before is great if you are aboard the USS Enterprise but a bit more daunting for us mere earthlings. A fun way to start being bold is by standing up straight and keeping your shoulders back.  Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose really works to improve your confidence!
  3. Young children seem to have an endless supply of creativity.  I encourage you to tap into this amazing energy and remember what you loved doing when you were 5 years old.

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WHY

The Why is very personal and will vary from person to person.

Knowing your WHY can help you with your HOW.  For me, I’m:

  1. I’m taking Action because I have a new goal I want to achieve this month.
  2. I’m being Bold because it feels good and helps me be more confident.
  3. Being Creative opens up my mind to new ideas and ways of doing things.

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My parting question to you is-  WHAT do you want to do this month and WHY?

How important is it to your health and wellbeing?

Hopefully these thoughts on Bold, Creative Actions will provide some wind to your back and help you achieve what you desire.

The White Elephant in the Room

Eat, drink and be merry for it may just save your life

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I was happy to attend a festive holiday party with my Ahwatukee Toastmaster friends last week and little did I realize that it was supporting an anti-cancer lifestyle.

 

The annual white elephant gift exchange is a lively and often hilarious tradition at many Toastmaster year-end gatherings and this one did not disappoint.  The devious antics played out and the most “stolen” gifts were a Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure and a particular plunger of questionable origin ( new, with tag).

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The biggest gift of the evening came to me a few hours after the party, while I was reading in bed. While scrolling through notification messages on Facebook, I noticed an interesting article posted by my good friend Nancy in Texas.  I clicked on the story and dove into an intriguing piece written by Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, a Houston based Professor and Researcher who introduced the “Mix of Six” as a way to reduce ones risk of developing cancer.

At this point you may be wondering, is the mix of six some new drink recipe?

No, it’s not the latest libation trend but rather group of factors and lifestyle choices which, when combined, can radically transform health and delay or prevent many cancers.

The Mix of Six factors include:

  1. Social and Emotional Support
  2. Stress Management
  3. Sleep
  4. Physical activity
  5. Diet
  6. Environmental toxins

The bonus is that the fun, laughter and social connectedness I enjoyed from the joyous Toastmaster event was supporting my health in ways I never imagined (plus the food, especially the homemade samosas, was delicious).

Bottom line: Emotional support and fellowship is the best medicine for combating loneliness and illness.

The White Elephant in the room could be your best Doctor!

But wait, there’s more!

Research shows that having a strong circle of positive, supportive family and friends helps with stress management which in turn helps with sleep.  It’s like getting a 3 for 1 deal toward your the magical mix of six.

Warning:  Overstuffing on holiday food and drink can be can be slippery slope and should be enjoyed in moderation.  

So be present and give yourself the gift of health this holiday season.   Enjoy connecting with others in the light heartened spirit of sharing, laughing and sometimes “stealing” a white elephant gift!

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Festive gatherings and silly, zany gift exchanges are a fun and wonderful way to share in a circle of wellness and jolly goodwill.

So eat, drink and be merry for it may just save your life.

Happy Mix of Six!

Calm, Steady and Flying Strong

I cautiously boarded a Southwest Airlines flight from Austin to Phoenix last Thursday, two days after the horrific engine failure that took the life of Jennifer Riordan, a bank executive and mother of two.   I quickly found myself a window seat like a normally do but this one was the second row, much closer to the front of the plane than I usually get.  I guess more people were choosing aisle seats that week.

The story of the dramatic emergency landing by Navy veteran Tammi Jo Shults captured my attention and made me reflect on what it means to be a hero. 

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A gift from Angie. Photo by Steve.

The news of the tragic event hit home for me since I have been flying on Southwest in window seats overlooking the engine numerous times this year.   The details of how the plane was forced to make a harrowing and rapid descent after one of the engines exploded in midair was chilling to say the least.

Hero is a word that gets used a lot in the news today and is often associated with masculine acts of strength and bravery.   Stereotypes and Google images bring up muscled men with capes.

Stereotypes Shattered in desert wars and at 30,000 feet

My experience and observations on the battlefield during the first Persian Gulf war were that the women Army officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) I served with in the US Amy were rocks-  strong and solid leaders who were calm under pressure and seemingly less agitated than their male counterparts.

Last week, I was most impressed by the calm and collected voice of Southwest Captain Tammi Jo in comparison to the stressed and strained vocals of the man communicating with her from Air Traffic Control.  The former F-18 fighter pilot was composed, steady and in control of the situation.  Her skill, professionalism and “nerves of steel” were recorded for everyone to hear and I loved it!

And then there was Peggy Phillips, the confidence and self-assured Registered Nurse who performed over 20 minutes of CPR on the battered and severely injured Jennifer Riordan.  There was no question, no hesitation- Peggy just launched into action doing what she was trained to do.

When praised and called heroes these woman replied that they were “simply doing their jobs”. These women were doing what they were trained to do, performing at the high standard they set for themselves.

Yes, Tammi Jo and Peggy did their jobs that day with the strength and the skill of true professionals.   True heroines who were calm and steady and refreshingly humble.

Imagine a world without heroes.   I can’t because I know too many strong, capable women.  Women who are Mothers and above all else love, support and nurture their children. Women who make sacrifices to give their families the best that they can.

The Mothers I know may not be piloting a plane in an emergency landing but day in and day out they work their asses off and make a positive difference in their kid’s lives.  Just like my Mom did for me and my siblings.

Mothers are Heroes.  Women like my Mom, Virginia; my sister, Barbara; my niece, Heather; my sisters-in-law, Shanon and Katie and my dear friends Andrea and Marie.  They all have and continue to impress me.

They are the unsung heroines of the never-ending drama and psychological thriller we know as life.

These heroes may not wear capes but I can visualize a large “S” across each of their chests.    They are more than Super, they are Supreme.

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Mother and child I photographed at a Me Rah Ko “The Photo Mom” seminar in Bastrop, TX

The Super Hero Mothers I know and had the great honor of being raised by may not have piloted an F-18 or a Boeing 737 but they are masterfully navigating, guiding and steering their families under enormous amounts of stress, pressure and sometimes chaos.

It is these women that I deeply respect.  It is to these heroes that I salute.

I thank Tammi Jo Shults and Peggy Phillips for their skills and bravery last week on Southwest flight 1380 for they have rekindled in me the passion and motivation to appreciate and recognize all the calm, steady and strong heroes in our midst.

Thanks Mom!

You Want Me to Change?

 

You want me to change?

What a simple but profound question to ask. What a bold request to make.

Change is hard. Change is painful. Why do I need to Change?

In the spirit of being Agile, I’d rather talk about adaptive transformation. It sounds so much more fun and interesting!

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Looking back in my blog archives, I realize that I have dipped my toe into this topic a few times in articles like “A Tower of Change” and “Dying to Adapt”.  I was having fun with my Tarot cards in late 2016 and the Death and Tower cards kept showing up so I reflected on them and wove them into the chaotic current events of the day.   “A Matter of Perspective” and a few other articles also danced around this difficult and daunting theme.

As I watch the train wreck that has become our nation’s political discourse, I am concerned that people are losing the ability to communicate with each other. How we converse and share information has changed so rapidly and dramatically in just 10 years that it makes my head spin.

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The Facebook and Twitter threads I see today make me wonder, are we able to “change” another person’s mind or position on anything?

As witnessed on social media every day, I don’t see much give and take on ideas where people disagree. I see a whole lot of confirmation bias and reinforcement of one’s existing views and values. I see many instances of digging in on positions and not much changing or adapting.

Why is it so hard to Change?

If I called you live on the phone right now and asked you to describe what change feels like, what would you say?

For me and many others the adjectives painful, stressful and uncomfortable would probably top the list.

The DailyOM blog by Madison Taylor sent me an article last week titled “Anxiety about Change”.   It seems to be on the minds of many people.

Change is Difficult. No Pain, No Gain, right? Every competitive athlete understands this mantra but most people’s default setting is to take the path of least resistance. The easy way and the status quo are like a close, dysfunctional couple and breaking up is hard to do!

At work I keep hearing the words and phrases Transformation, Agile Maturity, Accelerators and Radical Change being used in the context of staying competitive and relevant in the market. Being a disruptive Change Agent is a good thing in today’s world and it is being rewarded with dollars, likes and followers. Adaptive transformation is sometimes critical to one’s survival.

If change is such an important aspect to survive in this world, why is it so hard?

Why do humans usually respond to change with the reflective impulse to resist it?

Most of our major change of life events are made easier and less stressful with rituals and ceremonies that typically involve the abundant intake of food and/or alcohol.

 

Think about graduation parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funeral repasts. These are all times of big and scary change.

 

Evolve or die may seem a bit extreme but is an understood reality in our competitive business and technology world today. Remember what happened to Kodak moments and our once beloved Blackberry devices. They didn’t transform quickly enough and now they are a footnote in history.

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In more tame Agile terms, the iterative process of Build, Test, Inspect and Adapt is a continuous and beautiful flow of events that occurs over and over in short time increments (sprints). This flow makes change easier since it is done is smaller chunks (think baby steps).

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Playdough and Juggling Balls displaying Incremental Change

And if you fail, it is best to Fail Fast and start sprinting again.

I’ll close with the wise words of Ray Dalio from his book “Principles where he states:

“Evolution is good because it is a process of adaption that generally moves things toward improvement.”

“The faster one appropriately adapts, the better.”

I also appreciate Mr. Dalio’s equation: Pain + Reflection = Progress

The question is: Are we ready to embrace the discomfort and potential failure so that we can change and get to a better place?

Are we open to adaptive transformations to get us to a higher level?

None of my questions have simple, easy answers but I do think that if we strive to keep our lenses clear and both eyes open like I discuss in  “A View on Balance”  and “A Matter of Perspective“ then perhaps we can frame our challenges in a new light and take the small, incremental steps to evolve to a different and better way.

Looking at an issue or a challenge from a completely different angle can help us adapt and evolve to improve the situation.

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On the topic of changing other people’s views and opinions on Social Media – upon further reflection, I don’t see this as a reasonable or easily attainable goal and will instead focus on changing myself in the hope that others will see my values in action.

So let’s hear it for real live Adaptive Transformations!

Taken in smaller, bite-sized chunks, change doesn’t have to be so painfully hard.

Fun footnote:

The title of this blog is the chorus of this catchy tune by the group Churchill.

Click here for the fun and  cool video of the song “Change”.

I listened to this tune while writing these words and it gave me additional motivation and inspiration. It greased the skids in my mind and helped me get unblocked. Maybe it can do the same thing for you.

 

Stranger Things Part 2: The Resurgence of D&D

Once upon a time in a land called Spotswood, there lived a small band of boys who wanted to escape to faraway places. Some were heroes and some were villains but all were creatively powerful. The young lads were named Peter, Chris, Bob and Jake. Led by a Dungeon Master, they met every week to map out their adventures and roll the dice for their fate.

The group ducked out of the doldrums of tedious tasks from school and created a magical world beyond anyone’s dreams. It was wondrous place of exploration and discovery where the only limitation was the boundaries of their imaginations.

A small square of land inside the boundaries of the brook and the streets of Bruning, Maiden and Manalapan became mystical whenever the boys met to embark on their adventures by waging war against the monsters.

Each boy became a rich and clever character with varying abilities and they often worked together to strategize, solve problems and overcome challenges. Other times they plotted and schemed and sought more control and power.

Some were Human and some were Elves. Others were Dwarfs or Wizards.

No matter what class they were, they assembled face to face around the table to slay monsters like Dragons, Giants, Orcs and Demogorgons. 

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In my last article “Friends Don’t Lie and other Stranger Things”, I highlighted how the elements of Freedom and Adventure were more prevalent for kids growing up in 1980s and were fostered by the very popular role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). The lack of electronic distractions combined with the creative power of the face-to face interactions with a dedicated group of ongoing characters propelled a generation of geeks and nerds into one of the most innovative and explosive periods of American prosperity, the 1990s.

Dungeons_and_Dragons_-_Chapter_1One of the things that fascinated me most about the Netflix series, Stranger Things, was the central and influential role the D&D-like game played. The plot, time frame and characters were perfectly set and most Generation Xers will proudly tell you that the story line would not have worked as well in another other decade.

 

When I was a young girl, my heroes were Wonder Woman and Samantha Stephens from Bewitched. Science fiction and fantasy were my favorite books thanks to my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Muschla. So as you might imagine, I love the idea of average, ordinary possessing special powers that enables them to kick ass and defeat the stronger villains and monsters.

Role-playing games like D&D are so popular because they so strongly tap into that primal urge to be secure and defeat any threat to one’s safety. It is all the more fun and appealing when you add in a sprinkle of magical powers that help you slay an evil foe with a bit of fire and flair! Merlin and Harry Potter showed us this.

Although I wasn’t an elf or a witch or even a fairy, I had a carefree and adventurous childhood growing up in Spotswood, NJ. Everyone in the neighborhood knew each other by name and we all played together in the streets and explored in the woods and by the outlets, rivers and lakes.

I grew up on a small street called Maiden Lane and soon branched out with friends on Bruning Lane and Manalapan Road. After junior high school my world expanded to include friends from faraway places like East Brunswick, Milltown and Old Bridge (they were really only a few miles away).MaidenLanePorch_cropped

The close-knit friendships we forged in the 1980s were organic and lasting. The creative minds and sense of unlimited potential propelled us on an exciting journies to battle strange enemies and malevolent beings. Little did I know it would send me to the Persian Gulf in 1990 to fight in a war against Saddam Hussein but that is a story for another blog!

During school, my circle of friends was diverse and interesting included a quirky group of kids. They were mostly marching band members who were smart and dare I say slightly dorky. I had the fun and privilege to watch some of them play D&D for hours on end and was fascinated by the creativity and power of the character development. The concept of underdog heroes having powers to stop villains appeals to me and perhaps some of this influence is what planted the seed for me to join the US Army in the late 80s.

I recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with some childhood friends from Spotswood to get their perspectives on Stranger Things and specially the influence of D&D.   Luck would have it that I was Facebook friends Peter C. (Spotswood SHS class of 82) and he has been a Dungeon Master for the past eight years and played with the boys on my block in the early 80s. Jack Pot! What fun we had talking about Stranger Things and strolling down memory lane, if not Maiden Lane.

Pete explained that D&D puts you into the adventure and makes you a hero. It sparks your imagination and for him and his friends it made their comic books come alive.

As a Stranger Things fan, Pete felt that “the D&D connection in the show allows the kids to relate to the weird events having around them. They have readied themselves for these battles. D&D has taught them to be heroes and they are putting it use fighting the Demongorgon in the Upside Down. Mind Flayer and Truesight are also out of D&D and are referenced in Season 2.

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The New Yorker magazine recently published an article by Neima Jahromi titled The Uncanny Resurrection of Dungeons and Dragons” (Oct. 24, 2017) and it summarized well some of the key ideas I had percolating in my mind after binge-watching Stranger Things Season 2.

The themes of escaping and being “off the grid”, connecting with a close and trusted circle of friends and fighting a common enemy are alluring and powerful in any decade.   The creativity that is unleashed by unplugging and sitting face to face around a table for hours is amazing and satisfying for many people. The level of immersion, concentration and focus that results from this type of experience is also something that is lacking our in hyper distracted and multi-tasking world.

This is why! This is the reason why Stranger Things resonated so strongly with me and millions of others.

People long to escape and share their stories and experiences. Role-playing games like D&D bring people together and gives the group sense of camaderie and belonging.

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Like the band of boys from the land of Spotswood, you can enter a magical world that is an exciting place of exploration and discovery where the only limitation is the bounds of your imagination. You can become a long-standing character that can grow in skills and power. You can be a force for good or you can chose to become a monster. No matter what, you will have fun and shared adventures with a trusted circle of friends.