That Time I Saw Walter Isaacson Speak and Spent 8 Days Trying to Write About It

steve jobs book

Obviously, this is when it happens.

I meet the man who basically invented inspiration and my ability to write about it resembles a kindergartener on the first day of typing class. (But a really advanced one!)

For seven days I’ve been wrestling (physically) with writers block, trying to figure out how to put this evening into words.

I’ve been trying to relay the luck I felt to be in this right place at the right time to get some perspective during a hell week at work that included an all-nighter, a boss that thinks “this is shit” is constructive feedback and instructions to my team to redo all the work.

I’ve been struggling to come up with a sequence of words that conveys the extent to which I was nerding out during this speech about the corporate dictator/lunatic genius himself, Steve Jobs, and the things true passion can build.

After all, you don’t hear every day from the man who spent two years taking long walks and discussing Jobs’ life, the legacy he wanted to leave, his regrets, his formative years and insane stories that could only come from someone who started and saw through the very thing that lead to the iPod/iPhone/iPad situation (The situation being their existence, of course).

My eyes were glued to the stage for the entire hour-long speech.  Somehow Isaacson squeezed in what felt like Steve Jobs’ whole life story, added his own personal feelings and threw in examples of bringing in strengths from those around you as demonstrated by Benjamin Franklin and the team of leaders that wrote the United States Constitution (yep).  Isaacson addressed the meanings of “success,” both positive and negative and most importantly, the roads that lead there, the critical interactions that matter and the manner in which these leaders treated those around them.

I’m not sure how he wove these stories together, but strong messages of the entrepreneurial spirit were conveyed.  Knowing about challenges faced by those who achieved greatness gives you appreciation for your own struggles (however small they may seem in comparison).  I felt stronger.  I felt pumped. I somehow felt even more patriotic (??) than usual. (Walt, you sneaky bastard).

A week later, I am still thinking about the messages I heard and the stories that were told.

Clearly the act of conveying these messages is throwing me for a loop.  So I leave you with this.

My main takeaways:

1) Being a successful leader means surrounding yourself with talented and capable people and enabling them to do their best work.  I’m pretty sure Jobs drove 90% of the people he encountered absolutely nuts, but he was smart enough to recognize Steve Wozniak’s technical abilities and the CEO of Corning Glass’ ability to invent a new glass product that would make the iPhone what it is today.  He pushed these people out of their comfort zones because he saw their immense potential and diverse strengths.  In my opinion, this is the sign of true leadership.

2) Even those who reach great success have struggled too.  This might seem obvious, and yet it’s so reaffirming and encouraging to know that the unexpected challenges, road blocks and crossroads we meet are a normal part of the journey.  Jobs was thrown out of the very company he built, and yet, without this turn of events, he would not have found the creativity and innovation that powered the dynamic Apple synergy that exists today

3) How you treat people is important.  Word on the street is that Steve Jobs was kind of a dick.  Although he pushed those around him to greatness, he also broke them down at times.  Whether this type of demeanor is required to achieve the best results is something I’m still mauling over.  I have a feeling that the answer stems somewhere from your own personal values.  As Isaacson put it, not to give Jobs any excuses, but unless you’re planning on re-inventing the face of technology on planet earth, being “lovable” and loving others is a virtue not to shy away from.  (ie don’t be a dick).

He left us with is:

“Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

That’s the plan, Walt.

That’s the plan.

Awesome

Note: At some point during the writer’s block process, I found myself wearing the dress I wore to an 80’s prom party a couple years ago.  TOTALLY NORMAL. The photo shoot just naturally followed.

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Giant Statues and Pink Wallpaper

Day 47 commenced my official countdown to my move from New York City!

I know I’ve mentioned it in previous posts but here it is officially:

I’m leaving the big (crazy, yet fun) apple to head to the windy (more balanced and clean) city.

Friends, followers and random passerby’s, as of around 8pm on October 29, I will officially be a resident of the state of Illinois.

During these last 14 days, I am aiming to soak up the Awesome (what else) in my NYC life (no real complaints here).

I’m going to take this opportunity to count backwards…..

On day -14 I found myself in a living room.  6 flights of stairs up from the ground.  In the middle of one of NYC’s busiest intersections.  Sitting on a (very comfortable and purple) couch. Staring up at the room’s centerpiece:  the famous 70-foot statue built in 1892 of Christopher Columbus.

discovering columbus

I wouldn’t have believed it myself had I not accompanied a friend to the exhibit (one of our last outings!), complained and moaned the entire 6 flights of stairs and spent more time than was allowed in the “living room.”

“Discovering Columbus” is an exhibit created by Tatsu Nishi that allows visitors to experience the famous Columbus statue as if it were in their living room.  The room’s expansive space, covered in pink wallpaper, adorned with modern furniture and over-sized windows, is a surreal and a one-of-a-kind experience for several reasons.

1)       Seeing a 70-foot statue brought to life in touching distance is not an everyday sighting.  Sitting on the couch, I studied the details of the work.  Everything from his dress to his face are etched in a type of accurate precision I would never have suspected

2)      The sheer idea of something so large and grand that one would never see up close to be in a home setting is bewildering (not something you pick up while “antiquing”).  Not surprisingly, my jaw dropped when we turned the corner on the top floor.

3)      The exact views we saw can’t be replicated.  Out the fake living room windows was a sea of lights coming from cars speeding down Central Park West.  The top of buildings on the other side of the island were peeking over trees and Central Park was spread out before us.

central park west

On a personal note, Columbus Circle is one of my favorite parts of this city.  It’s the place where I ate my mac and cheese and sushi rolls during lunch as an intern.  It’s the place where I’ve gone to clear my head.  It’s the fountains my brother and I played in just a few weeks ago (errrr I mean watched the children play).

I loved experiencing this part of the city in a completely different way.

Awesome!

Babs: The Early Years

Barbra Streisand hello, gorgeous book signing

On Day 46, I attended the William J. Mann book signing pertaining to his new work:

Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand.

Yes.  I was the only person there under the age of 62.

Yes.  The older folk and I gave each other weird looks.

Cat’s out of the bag: I’m a Babs fan.  I realize I was born about 20 years after her big break, but I was born to parents who went to Barbra’s concerts, bought me her CD’s and introduced me to her movies.

I’ve seen Hello Dolly about a hundred times and I’ve choreographed about a dozen figure skating programs (as a 12-year old) to Tell Him (a duet with Celine Dion).

Highly reminiscent of my mom’s love for soulful love songs, I immersed myself in her inspirational story.

Some info on Babs: she was born in Brooklyn and lost a parent at a very young age. She didn’t always have the means or the support that was much needed to pursue her dreams.  She fought hard and achieved unbelievable success.

She might be from a different generation, but her story is inspiring and relevant to me just the same.

I listened to people speak up from the audience who had gone to middle school with her.  I thought about how my mom would have enjoyed the event. I met the author (who gave me a surprising and great compliment ;)).

Awesome!

Polenta, Mushrooms and Celebrity Sightings

Day 45 had some random Awesome when I went to a work lunch and got the chance to try some exquisite cuisine and meet a celebrity chef.

I was less than enthused when I was reminded that I had a lunch meeting in the afternoon (and not ONLY because of the fish bone ER incident).

Intent on having dinner at my favorite Spanish tapas place in NYC before my move (Chicago here I come!), I invited a friend to dinner the evening before only to wind up with a smidgen of food poisoning (the restaurant gods are telling me to eat in I think).

Not surprisingly, I wasn’t too excited and headed to North End Grill like a child kicking and screaming (professional I know).

Lunch did not disappoint.

The menu intrigued us with simple yet curious combinations that left my colleagues and I scrambling to make an acceptable choice:  Grilled Egg, Celery and Onion with Paddlefish Caviar??  Block Island Swordfish??  Bacon-Shrimp Burger??

I settled on Fricassee of Wild Mushrooms with “Upma Polenta” and the chicken, lemon and egg soup.

Half way through the mmmmmmmm’s of the meal a colleague mentioned that the head chef was actually Floyd Cardoz from the reality show Top Chef Masters.

Like any obnoxious and self indulgent corporate group, we immediately asked to meet the head chef.

Floyd was super friendly, chatted with us about the restaurant and gave us the inside scoop of the show. Reportedly, what you see is real and nothing about the challenges is fake or over dramatized (the only reality show to date to achieve this).

We finished our meal by agonizing over the dessert menu.

It was unexpectedly… Awesome.

A Moment for Times Square

Times Square at Night

On Day 35 I took in Times Square for the 457th time (give or take a few).

For you New Yorkers: I know what you’re thinking.  5 minutes on the sidewalk in front of the Hard Rock or the giant Forever 21 between 45th and 46th streets is enough to raise your blood pressure and have you running to the nearest clinic for an EKG.

It’s loud.  It’s crowded.  It’s obnoxious.

But it’s happy.  This bright epicenter of New York City is covered with tourists from all over the world who come to see the giant TV screens, the lights of Broadway and the center of the entertainment industry.

Lucky for me, I had a 12-year-old tourist in tow who was thrilled to be seeing those lights for the very first time.  We explored as much of Times Square as we could before needing to duck and cover…

We took a ride on the indoor Ferris wheel at Toys R’ Us (Mr. Potato Head!).  We played in Wonka Land.  We tried on Cinderella accessories at the Disney store.  We ate as many M&M’s from M&M World as we bought. We went into too many NY souvenir shops (serious commitment).   We checked out the Hard Rock.

Finally, we took a moment atop the “stairs” to look out onto the sea of people that had traveled to see this most famous intersection.  Ironically, getting lost in the crowd can offer its own moment of zen.

We stood, we smiled and we ended the night with a slice of New York pizza.

Awesome.

Tourist Adventures… Through the Eyes of a 12-Year-Old

statue of liberty, inspiration, travel

Day 34th‘s Awesome took months of careful planning and serious persuasion (manipulation?).  Finally, my brother and I convinced my dad to put our (12-year-old) sister on a plane headed to NYC by herself.

Before any Awesome could begin, we had to deliver her to the airport and collect her at the other end.  All sounds easy – but in today’s world, picking up a minor at the airport is akin to picking up the Spice Girls for a reunion tour.

Once the maze of security badges, screening, hours of waiting and celebrity-style escort services (yes, obviously it takes 4 people to escort a child off a plane) were complete and we were safely in NYC, we marveled at the city (buildings!  Telephone booth!!  Tall ladders!!  Taxi cabs!!) and proceeded to map out the conquest of the next few days.

First major stop:  Lady Liberty and Ellis Island

The excitement I feel regarding the statue never waivers.  I was about 11 when I first saw the sheer magnitude of her size and was struck with awe from the water.  Now it was sissy’s turn to experience it for herself.

Despite trying to convince me that the Statue of Liberty looked like a man, I think sis loved it and the trip was a success:  we partook in the audio tour; we ate turkey sandwiches by the water; we had a photo-shoot; we bought souvenir bracelets.

After spending a couple hours with the Statue, we embarked on a short ferry ride to Ellis Island.

For those who have passed on the opportunity to see this iconic island, I would get back aboard ship.  This historical site is mesmerizing.

Our favorite part:

The photo exhibit depicting the deterioration of the immigration center before its restoration.

The photographer was the great grandson of a woman who came from Russia and told a tale of bringing empty suitcases on the voyage so Ellis Island security wouldn’t know her family had no possessions to speak of.  He became immersed in the decrepit buildings and spent a month on the small island photographing the site.

His passion seeped through and we became equally immersed in dusty medical equipment, over-grown courtyards and fading plaster on walls that told the story of 12 million immigrants who sailed past Lady Liberty for a chance at freedom.

Awesome.

A Watercraft and Some Reflection

On Day 31 (the milestone is here!!) I found myself on a large floating vessel docked on the Hudson River looking out onto the Statue of Liberty.

How did I end up here?

I took a chance.  On impulse.

Walking by a marina during lunch time, I noticed a couple individuals on a gorgeous boat.  We exchanged waves and smiles.  There were introductory hand gestures, sign language and awkward giggling.

A minute later I decided that life was too short not to run over and make some new friends.  And run I did (ok it was more like a trot in heels and a pencil skirt, mobility was limited).

We shook hands.  We gave our 1-minute life stories.  We planned a possible rendezvous on the yacht (my people will meet your people).

Thus, on this 31st experience, I learned loud and clear what I suspect I’ve been learning all along: 1) life is too short not to live in the moment and go with experiences that are presented and 2) you never know what the day will bring.

I met some incredibly interesting and nice people.  I spent time aboard ship!  I got a totally different perspective on New York from the water. I Learned about film-making, poetry, new technology and the latest Kardashian issues (I had no choice in the matter).

As I stood out on the deck, I thought about my journey thus far on these first kick-ass 31 days.  It’s amazing all the experiences I’ve had just by doing what I love (dancing), experiencing my own culture (Russian events) and letting loose and relaxing (spa anyone?).  Who would have thought when I awoke (late as usual) on this “typical” work day that I would end up discussing the art of film-making aboard a beautiful ship.

There’s a lot more to come… but for now:  I raise my glass of white wine to the journey.

Definitely Awesome.