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.

The big 8-0: the Right Way

Me and Gramps*

Me and Gramps*

It’s official.

Gramps turned 80.

It’s been a long awaited affair that started with frantic calls from my brother a little pre-planning, had some tears thrown in (I love family planning) and included a grand finale (we come through in the end!).

We went all out for him.

The original idea was to take him fishing – his favorite activity. As a kid, my family would go up north for a little cabin-living during the summers and gramps would catch the fish that would feed us for weeks.  Days were spent watching Bewitched Re-runs swimming and trying to grab the fishing rod being grandpa’s little helpers.

At the last minute though, the wish to make this big milestone unforgettable took us away from the lake and had us putting on black-tie appropriate attire.

5 days before the big day, my grandma and I engineered a plan that involved live music, pretty dresses, dancing, toasts and mountains of our favorite Ukrainian food.

80, after all, deserves more than a trip to the lake.

Once the night of the big event came, it was time to begin our favorite tradition: toasting the person of honor.

I didn’t know what to expect.  All I knew was that little bro and I were prepared to bestow love on Gramps.

As I’ve mentioned before, my family has been through a good bit.  There have been divorces, re-marriages, riffs, deaths and re-organizations of sorts.  It’s been a long road.  When I’m not busy filming them for my made-for-TV-movie (MTV are you reading this?), I’m sitting around like a cocker spaniel with my head cocked to one side in disbelief.

My life is kind of like Modern Family.  The traditional family unit we are not.  But serious undeniable love there is.

Good thing this band of misfits is really good at pouring it straight from the heart.

My dad was up first (always) and delivered a speech about the make-up of the family unit and that regardless of life’s changes, my grandpa and he will always be family.

Little bro gave a speech inspired by Will Ferrell in Old School during which he yelled “you are a legend” multiple times and pointed at Gramps.  I have no comment.

Uncle began his toast by giving a summary of every major event that occurred around the world in the year 1933.  He ended the toast by likening Gramps to Christopher Columbus and reminding everyone that without Grandpa’s pioneering efforts, we would have never immigrated to America.  According to the story, after Grandpa’s first trip to the U.S., he came back and announced “one can live there,” after which, my immediate family, aunt, uncle, grandparents, great grandparents and cousin colonized the USA in mid-1991 (and subsequently learned to live off the new land by shopping at Kmart, Farmer Jack (R.I.P.) and CVS Pharmacy).

I spoke last.  I reminisced about the forts Gramps and I used to build out of pillows in Kiev, the 8 AM Saturday morning wake-ups during my competitive figure skating years and the adamant stance he takes on loving grandma and making them one unit.  Grandpa was always my hero as a little girl.  I thought he could move mountains.

There were tears.  There was laughter.  There was caviar.  There was love.

Gramps was beaming all night and even stayed up partying past midnight.

Not bad family.

Awesome.

*Note: Clearly I had a momentary awkward stage as a baby before I became this 4-year old beauty.  OK I don’t want to hear anything more about it.

photo (70)

An Autumn Sail in July

chicago boat

The old saying goes: “it’s all how you look at it.”

Never is this truer than when your oldest friend in the world comes to visit and you plan to bop up and down with a bunch of other boats on Lake Michigan….

And it’s 61 degrees in July.

(Yes, this is a first world problem post)

Let me lay out the significance here.

My friendship with oldest friend was kind of pre-planned in the womb.  Back in Soviet times, when our parents were perfecting the art of homemade vodka distillation well-behaved model Soviet children, their entire high school class started to like one another.  And then married each other.  And then had some babies at the same time (it’s like a backwards Brady Bunch).  And then moved to America around the same time.  And then vacationed every year together.

We were basically destined to be besties.  Mostly because no one else was going to understand the trials and tribulations of having parents who started their life anew in a new country with small children and little knowledge of English … but I digress (I’ll save this enthralling sociological theory for another post).

Back to the significant problem at hand.

Months of preparation, one flight, one taxi, one night of serious dancing and too many hours of hype, we were ready for my promised day out on Lake Michigan (how else was I going to get her to move to Chicago?).

I told her to pack nothing but bathing suits and get ready for pool, beaches and BOATS.

Imagine my surprise when I woke up Saturday morning, felt around for my iPhone, found the weather app while squinting with one eye (daily morning routine) and was told by Yahoo! That it was winter.

I quickly checked the calendar app to make sure I hadn’t slept through July, August and September.

Nope.

It was 61 degrees in Chicago on July 27.

glass half full

The Mother Nature Gods were testing us.

Do we throw in the towel and… see a movie??  Go sight-seeing with sweatshirts and fall scarves??

NO.

We put bikinis on.  Bring hoodies.  Buy snacks.  Go anyway.

After all, having fun is really about whom you’re with and our history shows that we can basically tear it up under any circumstance.  Like when we were 10 and our parents took us to Lake Placid for New Years and we decided to make memory cups by dripping candle wax into wine cups and… set her hair on fire.  We danced all night anyway (tears were brief).

Lucky for our positive attitudes, the friends we were joining (on their boat) were in too.

The ride out to the location of said boat party induced a bit of sea sickness and it was cold but we indulged in the day anyway.

sail

Once anchored and tied to a row of boats (for boat hopping), adrenaline (and beer) took over and we jumped in the water, made friends, played with water toys, took  pictures, laughed, drank, danced and truly vacated.

Most of all, there was a lot of laughter and bonding.  I’m pretty sure that was the whole point anyway.

I’m really glad we got out of bed on July 27 and went out to sea.

It was Awesome.

picstitch (3)

On the Land of the Free and the Brave…

beach

It’s the 4th of July.

Among the obvious reasons (which we will get to), here are some reasons why you might be acting like an excited buffoon today:

  • The day job has released you mid-week to celebrate the (questionable yet wonderful) acts of that little British spin-off group that decided they were moving out of the house and paying their own bills.
  • It’s the one day a year when devouring gross processed meat products hot-dogs is not only OK, but it makes you a better citizen (let’s get real – this reason alone is enough for me).
  • Finally, coordinating all of your red, white and blue clothing is appropriate.  No one is looking at you funny.  They are admiring you (way to be prepared!).
  • Sparklers.  Enough said.
  • Explosive pyrotechnics.

In the past 24 hours, I have engaged in shameless frolicking through the streets of Chicago, drank ‘Merican beers while watching fireworks, spent the afternoon at the beach and drank one too many “Beachside Bloody Marys” and  “Cucumber Summer Flings” (this is a real cocktail).

Of course, when one engages in such behavior for the equivalent of a day, one usually ends up in the fetal position, drooling taking an early nap.

and watching Independence Day with Will Smith… twice.

I think everyone can agree with me on this.  This movie is epic.  For a number of reasons:  We kill aliens. America saves the day (as if we were doubting!).  Will Smith punches an alien, marries a hottie and does some brave s***.  The president and the first lady have the best marriage ever. Everyone gets the girl.  None of the main characters die (only 100,000 random citizens… whatevs). There are planes that fly fast.  We see the inside of an alien ship. Area 51 is everything we thought it was and more. The underdog saves the day.  The Jewish father is H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S. Nations that threaten to blow each other up work together. Morse code still works. The president joins the troops as a fighter pilot despite the fact that putting his life in danger is the worst decision any president can make and will potentially orphan his only daughter. The happy ending.

I watched it for the 56th time…twice.  I teared up twice (that musical score gets you every time).

Despite the cheese-tastic nature of this movie, I felt inspired.

Let’s get mushy on America for just a second.

I love this country and the 4th of July.

22 years ago, my family immigrated to the land of the brave (following the acceptance of our admissions essay).

We were pretty thrilled.

We left a nice apartment in downtown Kiev, friends, jobs and the only way of life my family knew to move to America… and start over.  For my parents, it was no easy task.  They had two kids under the age of 6, they had little money, no jobs and little knowledge of the English language. The choice to make things harder in hopes of making them better is no easy decision but my parents decided it was worth it… for the chance to live in the USA.

I don’t think this country is perfect (understatement) but I do believe it is a great country and I do believe in the American dream.  From personal experience, America offers opportunities, opens its doors and has a melting pot unlike any other nation.  We’re a country that believes in happy endings, is wired to be happy (check the current time article) and is blindly optimistic.

I know we’ve hit some road bumps, but as a walking example of the American dream, I celebrate well on the 4th of July.  I celebrate to honor the independence won by those questionable band of rule-breakers that gave us the chance to dream about what we wanted to be when we grew up; to receive an education despite our religion or personal beliefs; to simply be free.

Today I celebrate because America is Awesome.

Reflection… Book Club Style

siblings brother

My book club met tonight.

This month’s choice: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

If you’ve read either one of Hosseini’s other novels, then you know this book will not be made into a chick-flick.  And you know that probably everyone in the book club cried at one point or another while reading this puppy (I held out to the end.  That’s right.)

Hosseini’s novels are set in Afghanistan, offering an intimate view into a world many know very little about.  Above all else, though, these stories are about universal human struggles.  This one in particular, delves into family and takes the reader on a journey through multiple generations.  The stories show the ways in which the decisions of those who came before us shape our lives today in the same way that we will shape the lives of the next generation (pressure).

One thing the book focused on, above all else, was the sibling relationship.  The story displayed (in heart-wrenching fashion) how sacred a bond between siblings can be and how grateful we should be to have these bundles of joy in our lives.

This above all-else hit me hard.

I thought about my siblings.  I thought about how grateful I am that my parents gave me this gift.

I thought about the stories I’ve been told about my brother’s arrival (I was 4) and the fact that I felt, for whatever reason, very protective of him.  Reportedly, I used to throw myself onto strangers (friends and doctors) who dared approach my little bud and try to take them down (I’m still looking into the validity of this report).

I thought about how to our friends’ great annoyance, my brother and I used to play at recess together everyday during elementary school.

I thought about how my brother and I are now sharing vital information about young adulthood with our little sister.

brother

Lil bud and little sister discussing strategy for the fruit roll up competition about to commence

I thought about the bond I share with two other people who understand the struggles and triumphs unique to our family.

Hosseini has a talent for writing eloquently and beautifully about some tough subjects.  He inspired me with this last one… to argue less with my siblings.  And to cherish the bond we’ve been given.

Awesome.

Lean In and Get Over It

inspiration

Last week was rough.

I was in the midst of working hard (showing off my tan) in my third day back in the office since my Greek odyssey, when I was unexpectedly cast in a commercial for everything-that-Sheryl-Sandberg-leans-in-about.

An unexpected altercation with a female superior left me blind-sided and wondering why certain individuals feel compelled to push others down.

It was a blow.

It was surreal.

It shook me up a bit.

I needed to bounce back. Shrug it off. Stop caring. Look the other way. Forget about it.  Look on the bright side.  Accept the nature of the business (thanks dad).  Learn a lesson.

I took the advice.  I took some deep breaths.  And I went back to re-centering myself in much the same way that started this blog:

Remembering things I love to do (big and small)… and doing them.

Over the past few days I have pushed my physical boundaries by going back to the dance room, this time in the form of the make-your-muscles-shake Bar Method.  This class kicked my butt, but left me feeling accomplished.

Also – I can’t remember the last time I did 40 push-ups.  7th Grade Gym?

bar method

I took my love of tea and the belief that anything can be solved over a hot pot to the Drake Hotel, where a friend and I hashed life out over a tradition known as high tea.

We each had about 5 pots of tea and took some liberties with the butter-on-scone action.  We might not be cut out for Pride and Prejudice the sequel, but we left feeling uplifted (and hydrated).

high tea

I frolicked, danced and swam with friends and family.  This involved seeing my cousins, experiencing a Chicago Beer festival and enjoying the budding Chicago summer on my rooftop.

pool

And I did some shopping.

In the form of a “shopping party” that a friend happened to win that came with champagne and discounts.

(Yes, I’m secretly Cher Horowitz)

(And Celine Dion plays while I’m finding myself at the mall)

shopping finding yourself

At some point during the shopping extravaganza, while trying on dresses with my best girls to the inspiration of Kelly Clarkson appropriately playing in the background, I turned my defeat into mental power.  Re-energized from doing what I love and enjoying my favorite people, I felt calm and empowered.  I remembered the inspirational women I’ve been lucky to have in my life.  I thought about the fact that I too can say that I am a strong, ambitious and passionate woman.

And I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I actually think it’s Awesome.

A Surprise to Remember

surprise

I love surprises.

I think it’s something my mom passed onto me.

I remember waking up every year on my birthday and having some sort of surprise next to my pillow.  I remember my mom telling me to pack on the morning of my 16th birthday without telling me where we were going to end up.  I remember receiving a note from my college study abroad program that I was going to be a couple days late arriving due to “birthday trip with mom.”

Not surprising, that when my little sister called me two weeks ago to discuss birthday ideas for dad, the first thing that came to mind was… let’s surprise him.

The plan was simple.  I was going to fly or train or drive from Chicago to suburban metro Detroit after work on Friday, surprise dad at my aunt’s house and then spend the weekend doing dad’s favorite things.

Plane tickets were inappropriately expensive for a 40-minute flight (it’s called a m-o-n-o-p-o-l-y, Delta) and the train took way too long (let’s join the 21st century, Amtrak).

Rental car it is.

I ran out of work on Friday and headed for the nearest rental car location.  15 minutes later I had somehow finagled an SUV for the price of a full size vehicle and was on my way.

I was really excited.

4 hours and about 20 rounds of Kelly Clarkson’s Catch My Breath and Backstreet Boys’ Larger than Life later, I was pulling up to my aunt’s house 5 minutes behind dad and sis, ready to ring the doorbell and yell surprise.

It was amazing to see the look on his face.

He immediately screamed “what are you doing here” and followed it up with giant bear hugs (customary) followed by Brady Bunch-style group hugs (we have our moments).

Some of the things I learned over the past couple of days:

1)      You’re never too old for a pajama party.  Dad, sis and I overestimated the size of the bed, but had some good laughs trying to sleep in it together.

2)      Your favorite movies never get old.  In our family, two films are quoted, discussed and watched over and over and over again: 1991’s Other People’s Money and 1993’s Adams Family Values.  These films might not seem extra deep, but in our family, no other movies hold more truth, provide more laughs or inspire more Halloween costumes.

3)      Re-telling the stories of our “Childhoods: The Infant Years” rarely grows tiresome.  Dad was dedicated to every detail in this weekend’s re-telling.

We had water fights in our health club’s pool, sat down to a dinner expertly prepared by amateur chef lil sis (sushi) and made the mistake of discussing current events after several glasses of wine.

This weekend was great.

It was Awesome to see dad so happy.

A Birthday At Home

cake

My birthday was last week.

I spent it at home.

In true time honored tradition, I flew to my hometown to see my dad, little sister, grandparents and aunt and uncle to have my cake and eat it too.

It wasn’t your typical shots-at-the-bar fiesta (that came later).

Instead, I asked for a birthday party.

Maybe I was in a reminiscent mood.  Maybe I wanted to celebrate in a grandparent-friendly establishment.  Maybe I had my kick-ass 10th rollerblading birthday at U.S. Blades on my mind or the one that followed when my parents rented out an entire ice arena and I made my friends skate with me (watch me skate).

I wanted cake.  I wanted to wear a dress.  I wanted balloons.  I wanted toasts.

I wanted my home-based family around a table.

My dad made reservations at our favorite Russian restaurant (the only food grandpa said he would eat).  My grandma took me shopping to purchase a new birthday dress.  My little sister spent the morning picking out her most appropriate soon-to-be-a-teen ensemble (sweatpants and over-sized shirt).

The day was everything I hoped it would be.

It was nothing fancy or extreme.  But it was special.

Dad pre-ordered all of my favorite Russian dishes. Each family member took a turn at a toast.  We took pictures.  We laughed.  We reminisced.  We ate cake.

I felt blessed to be celebrating quietly (loudly) with my family (possible sign of oncoming maturity).

Absolutely Awesome.

Living in the Moment (Award)

award

Today I unexpectedly received the following award from Moment Matters:

Awarding the people who live in the moment,
The noble who write and capture the best in life,
The bold who reminded us what really mattered –
Savoring the experience of quality time.

I’m just going to take this moment to be un-sarcastically mushy

This is a pretty humbling mention.

I feel like most of us like the idea of living in the moment and try to attain this fabulous state of being but do find it hard (at least I do).  Living in the moment is something I try to do with this blog and finding the Awesome in daily life makes me get up in the morning wondering what small, exciting or extraordinary event might happen today.

I’ve pasted the rules below as instructed

RULES:

Winners re-post this completely with their acceptance speech. This could be written or video recorded.

Winners have the privilege of awarding the next award! The re-post should include a NEW set of people/blogs worthy of the award; and winners notify them the great news.

I will address said rules with the following bullet points:

  1. There will be no video (let’s not get carried away here)
  2. Acceptance speech: Thank you to my mom, who told me I could do anything.  To my dad, who still finds joy in the little things (like the Bachelor franchise).  To my lil bro, who tells me I’m his best friend everyday (until I don’t do what he wants) and to my grandma, who always felt fulfilled no matter how much or how little she had.
  3. The winner that I’ve chosen ironically made me think about some particular moments in time today: http://tworedtornados.wordpress.com/.  This morning I woke up, logged onto WordPress and came upon this Awesome post called “No More Lies,” in which the writer states:

“We owe it to the young versions of ourselves to fulfill their dreams — those dreams we used to cherish.”

This thought has crossed my mind once or twice before.  When I look at photos of myself when I was really young and I think… this kid has no idea what’s coming, but she’s… pretty thrilled.

Once upon a time I was this girl.  Having my first princess photo shoot (every girl needs one).

I’m going to keep trying to make her proud.

childhood

Axles, Loops and Salchows

figure skates
Today I went back to the rink.

Although it might seem like I skate every day, given the fact that I’ve mentioned it about 63782 times since starting this blog, I actually haven’t laced up my skates in over two years.

I was introduced to figure skating at the age of 4. A family effort – if you will – was mobilized back in the Soviet Union (so they tell me) to let me try this popular Russian sport.

Skates were procured. Sessions for toddlers were found. Transportation was arranged.

On that fateful day, grandpa laced up my skates…and introduced me to my life-long passion.

Skating is one of my earliest memories. I skated when we were newly immigrated and money was tight. I competed through elementary school, middle school and high school. I skated through college. I skated through good times and bad.

Now my recent move back to the Midwest has reignited my desire to lace up my skates once more.

One train and one bus got me there.

I was overwhelmed and excited coming up to the rink. I was an ocean away from where I started and 300 miles away from where I skated most of my life. Yet my surroundings were familiar. It even smelled the same.

I warmed up a bit, laced up my skates, got onto the ice with other skaters at “my” level and picked up on what I suspect I knew all along…

Figure skating is hard.

I wish I could say it’s like riding a bike. But it’s not (unless relearning means toppling over a couple of times on a flat tire).

I was a bit shaky at first and spent half the session doing backwards and forwards crossovers but by the end of the session I was feeling more confident. I tried a couple spins and even threw in a couple (easy) jumps.

Most of all, I just loved being out there again. It was different but it felt the same.

Looking forward to training session number 2.

Awesome.