Surprise Heroes

This week, while on vacation in South Florida, I received an e-mail from one of my managers notifying me that I needed to be present at a meeting in Florida and needed to extend my stay.

And since the high in Chicago this winter resembles the polar ice caps, I was more than happy to oblige.

It had already been an awesome stay.

I reunion-ed with my former roommates, beached it until we needed aloe, partied like it was 2007, had conversations I can’t remember, and made life plans that included first and foremost retiring on the beach (soon).

I took my vacation glow on the road, knowing that I would have little sleep over the next few days, but that seeing my co-workers would bring some necessary (and fun) team bonding.

Friday it occurred to me that I was exhausted.

Wednesday had been an 18-hour day, with dinner and drinks.  Thursday’s schedule wasn’t any less busy and long and I found myself dragging my feet on my way to a large work dinner with people I largely did not know.

And then I was seated next to Mary.

Mary has had a long incredible career.  The kind of career most dream of.

She’s retired now and carries herself like someone who’s lived a lot, loved a lot, seen a shit load, and my guess is made some fabulous friends.  I didn’t know her 20 or 30 years ago, but I’m betting she’s now just as glamorous.  Her laugh is contagious and she drinks like she knows how to indulge in life.

I felt excited to meet this incredibly accomplished woman who was appointed by three different presidents to serve overseas in a multitude of roles.  Someone who has lived in more countries than I’ve probably travelled to, who’s brushed shoulders with influential policy-makers, and who somehow had time to be married for 29 years and raise five children.

I didn’t waste my chance to get to know her.  I immediately notified her that I was going to ask her a thousand questions.

Lucky for me, her gregarious personality lit up.  She took a sip of wine and said, “well, what do you want to know?”

I asked about her career and how she navigated from one role to another.  I asked about her work for diplomats with strong personalities.  I asked about choosing the right person and making a marriage work for that long.

She told me about the 10 years she spent in her first job before applying to work overseas on a whim, setting herself up for a life she couldn’t imagine.  She told me about the characters she’s worked for/with and the trials and triumphs she’s managed through the years.  She told me that she believes the most important thing in a relationship is integrity.

What struck me most was her honesty.  She talked about her career with humor and humility and discussed her family life with passion and a tone that shed light on its importance.

I love meeting people that inspire me.  I love it even more when it takes me completely by surprise.

You can find Mary’s bio here.

Here’s to unexpectedly meeting heroes.

Awesome

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Failing = Awesome

Recently, one topic has been popping up again and again in front of my face.

The necessary and often positive outcomes of failure.

The topic seems messed up, but upon further inquiry, it’s totally dead on.

My first intro to the idea of success through failure came from Barbara Corcoran’s book, If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons On Your Pigtails, in which she describes her turbulent, funny, disastrous, and random path to outrageous real estate empire building success.

I’m not sure she actually writes: failure = success.  But I’m pretty sure, looking back three years, when I first read it, that that’s exactly what I got out of it.

Or to elaborate: although the paths we take may not always seem to lead to the proverbial pot-of-gold, it’s the dead ends, unclear choices, and “failures” along the way that lead us to the outcomes we seek.

I had been thinking about the topic since the New Year began, and then stumbled upon Failing Well, an article Barbara happened to write on January 9 of this month, recounting the time she blew her first profit of $71,000 on an inspired idea to make real estate video tapes, so people could look at apartments for sale from the comfort of their home (what a crazy idea!!!).

It failed.

Apparently, no one wanted the video tapes.  And it seemed like a total waste of funds.

Except that a little while later, this thing called the I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T came to be, and Barbara was the first to put her videos’ contents online and eventually make a killing.

Seems like failing is basically inevitable.  What’s not inevitable, though, is our attitude.

And the more I think about my path to where I am now… the more things become clear.

  • Would I have found the job I have now if I hadn’t left the last one abruptly after the company went through an unfortunate restructure?  Probably not.
  • Would I have found my field of work, a small niche that I am passionate about, if my first job out of college hadn’t sucked / fallen apart during the economic plummet of ‘08?  Probably not.
  • Would I have been a founding member of a new sorority in College, if I had not fallen through the cracks and was not accepted by the sorority of my choice?  Probably not.
  • Would I have switched figure skating clubs and coaches and become the skater I am today if I didn’t fail at that competition and my earlier coach hadn’t lost faith in me?  Probably not.

Out of failure comes success.

I can’t wait to fail in 2014.

Awesome.

Life Lessons for Everyone’s Monday. With Harry. Take II.

photo (92)

My new favorite celebrity popped back into my life this weekend.

This guy is quite charming and recently, I’ve been learning some life lessons from him.

I first mentioned this stud a few weeks ago as part of an Inspiration Friday’s people who were inspiring me that week.

Harry Rosen is at the top of my list these days and I’m psyched by any update from the media as to his whereabouts.

I’m JUST like any serious fan of a famous band, a Hollywood star or like, Selena Gomez, except my recent celeb crush is a 103 (soon to be 4) – year – old guy named Harry.

The world met Harry Rosen a few weeks ago through the eyes of Corey Kilgannon, the New York Times writer, who was lucky enough to eat a meal with him.

Harry is an incredible dude who, at 103, still gets up every single day in his New York City studio, puts on a suite, and makes his way to the city’s finest restaurants.  He usually dines alone.  And he usually makes friends.

He’s been lonely as of late because his wife, and love, of 70 years passed away.  For this reason, he has begun to date.  And is seriously looking for a companion.

This past week, the famed Alan Richman, a contributor to GQ Magazine (I mean clearly this was in GQ, folks) sat down with Harry for a meal at the famed Eleven Madison Park (for a meager $225 per person pre-fix) to taste some food.  For 4 hours.  But really to talk about life.

And if anyone holds the secrets to what the F is going on with this whole life business, I definitely think its Harry.

And I definitely think this has something to do with the reason famous writers, chefs and the general community, young and old, are obsessing over Harry Rosen.

Some things I’ve learned about life from Harry, to ponder as you start your week:

1)      Sometimes, it is not your list of accomplishments that defines you, but your will and drive.  These things can never be taken from you.

2)      Lying about your age is totally cool.  Regardless of how old you are. (Harry uses it as a tactic to draw attention away from himself.  I’m not 103, just 90.)

3)      Dating is hard.  At any age. (direct quote)

4)      It really, really IS the small things.  A glass of wine.  A bite of good fish.

5)      You are never too old to try new things.  Get out there.  (for Harry it was Oysters last week)

6)      Remember the past.  But live in the moment.

7)      The secret to living a long life = sleeping on your back.  (Anyone care to try this experiment and let me know how it goes?)

8)      Should you be fortunate to receive 15 minutes of fame, and you deserve it, take advantage.

9)      Be nice.  You’ll be surprised how easy it is to bring out the best in people.

10)    Don’t take life too seriously.

11)    Life can be a bitch.  Put on something nice and go eat something.

Harry’s reaction to his dinner?

“I didn’t know life would be so good to me”

Makes me think about all of the simple pleasures I enjoy.

Harry is content with life as it is.  He finds energy to get up every morning, which I imagine is a tougher feat for him than for me.

Time to put on a smile and head out there in anticipation of Awesome.

Happy Monday.

Note: I think it’s kind of cool that Harry and I both immigrated from the Eastern European part of the world.  Although I imagine that his journey to America sometime around 1915 was different than my family’s direct flight.

Note2: Read the article here.  It’ll melt your heart.

Inspiration Fridays

inspiration

That time has come upon us.

It’s Friday.

The first day of the weekend.

Time to reflect on the week and plan weekend adventures.

Today I’m getting listy.

Here are the people, in no particular order, that are inspiring me this week:

This Amazing Old Guy

Harry Rosen is 103.

He eats out in New York City’s trendiest restaurants every single night. He gets his usual corner table and he eats by himself, often striking up conversations with people.  He says it “lifts [his] spirits.”

He’s not your typical 103-year-old.

He’s living life and he’s doing his best to enjoy it.  He’s eating out and he’s even trying to date.

He enjoys the simple pleasure of being out among the people.  It helps to be out, since his wife of 70 years passed a few years ago.  Since then, he’s even tried participating in singles groups.

This guy’s enthusiasm makes me want to get up in the morning, throw back the curtains, and declare in one magnificent gesture, hands on hips – like I imagine Tarzan, naked in a loin cloth – TODAAAAY WILL BE THE BEST DAY EVER!!!!!!

He’s also freaking adorable.  And everyone from my 20-something friends to friends’ moms to my grandma want to be his dining companion (I’ve taken a poll).

I think this has something to do with the fact that people tend to be drawn towards the positive.  And Harry – you’ve got it down.  I can only hope to make it to 103 and have half the spirit and drive you do (Rosen says the secret is sleeping on your back).

Absolutely amazing.

A Neighbor

I received some 8AM inspiration from a new neighbor this week.

I overslept one morning and decided to take a cab to work (low point, I know).

While I was waiting, an older gentleman happened to come down to head to work as well.  And we struck up a conversation in my building’s lobby.

This man (probably in his 60s) told me (in the span of 20 minutes) essentially his entire professional life story (I asked).

He told me about the teams he used to work on for automotive clients, dreaming up new inventions for cars (silly things like windshield wipers).  He told me about the 150 patents he penned in the U.S. and abroad.  He told me about how he keeps working now well into his retirement because he loves it.

To quote my new friend Eric: “It’s not always giggles, but I’ve loved what I do for decades.  Life’s way too short not to love what you’re doing.”

This Spunky Personal Training Entrepreneur

My building invited a Chicago personal trainer/life coach to train residents in Yoga and Pilates.

I couldn’t make the classes previously, due to my work schedule, but had the opportunity to attend the last couple.

I love her class – and I love feeding off her energy!

I’ve had some opportunities to chat with her since then and I’ve been pretty inspired.

Stephanie Mansour started her own business in her early 20s (Step it Up With Steph) and five years later is well on her way to building her own personal fitness empire.

I look forward to her blog articles and her advice.  Why?  Because she’s honest.  And anyone who blogs will tell you that being honest is key.  Putting yourself out there is HARD and blogging or sharing your life takes guts (that I’m slowly finding).

Steph believes that her business is “not JUST about exercise and eating right – it’s about emotions and the connection we have to ourselves and others.” (from her blog) – I couldn’t agree more.

She is equal parts inspiration due to her entrepreneurial skills and her attitude about life.

——–

Thanks for the inspiration ya’ll!!

And HAPPY FRIDAY.

Awesome.

Note: None of these people knew that I was going to write about them.  Although, I do wish Harry Rosen knew.

Note 2: Somehow another photo shoot happened this morning.  If you haven’t tried putting on ridiculous things from your closet and being expressive for no reason, I HIGHLY recommend it.  I also recommend dancing around your home/apt/living abode by yourself to music in said outfit.  it’s AWESOME.

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.

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.

For the Love of Role-Modeling

skating coach

This past week, a younger co-worker asked to shadow me at work;

I was offered the opportunity to coach a group of figure skaters ages 6-8;

I was assigned a prospective candidate to interview for my college.

My plate was pretty full and little sleep was had (nothing new)…

But I threw myself into each experience.

And in the process remembered how much I adore mentoring, coaching and passing on wisdom (used loosely here).

Each separate event had me deep in preparation.  I outlined appropriate questions to ask an ambitious high schooler, considered work tasks most interesting and even went on the United States Skating Association website to look up basic skills I may have forgotten (I admit it).

The result was worth the effort.

Offering work advice left me feeling humbled.

Speaking to a high school student determined to surpass insurmountable life obstacles was inspiring.

And helping to mold a new generation of athletic character in the form of 6 and 7 year olds…

Was just plain Awesome.