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“The house does not rest upon the ground, but upon a woman.” ~ Mexican Proverb

I read this and had to chuckle as it is either a statement of profound wisdom or a proclamation made by the Mexican Ambassador to the Lollipop Guild upon seeing the legs and red shoes of the Wicked Witch of the East. Seriously, though, I do feel that women play an important role in the development of nest of home and the heart of any successful business.

Sitting by the fire yesterday evening after having put my sons to bed I found myself reminiscing about the days of my youth. I recalled the great challenge faced by young women my age in high school, namely, that it wasn’t “cool” to get good grades or to appear too smart. How tragic! I don’t know if that paradigm persists, but it certainly placed an artificial limitation on what could have been achieved in school by many who subscribed to that policy.

I am equally thankful for the men and women in my life. Father and mother. Aunts and uncles. Girlfriends and guy friends. All of them made important contributions to the rich nest of home that served as an introduction to me of love and truth.

That said, there were and are certain women I have and continue to be privileged to know. My mother. My childhood girlfriends. My teachers, counselors and professors. Co-workers. My mother-in-law. My wife. Truly phenomenal women. Dedicated. Passionate. Intelligent. Beautiful. Diligent. Devoted. Fearless.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Maya Angelou‘s rhythmic verse describing women, you’re in for a real treat.

Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I would love to hear from you as to what makes a woman a phenomenal woman in your eyes!

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“It is required of every man,” the ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.” ~ Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

How abundantly has your spirit within you walked abroad among your fellow-man? Are there times where you were more at rest with yourself, more willing to let your spirit “travel far and wide” than others? If so, why? What was different?

Many people have lived their lives running to and fro in the earth, desperately seeking a way to extract joy, pleasure, fulfillment and happiness from the world at large, while many others have lived their lives motivated almost exclusively by a deep-rooted fear of loss. Either approach misses the point of life entirely and both tend to end in the same shallow grave.

One of my favorite aspects of my company’s corporate culture is the idea that my team and I can build a safe place where the spirits within us can find safe harbor. I know of no one who has escaped the jaws of life as it now is without a bruise or two, and letting down the barriers and fronts to reveal one’s inner spirit can be a bit daunting at first. Over time, however, the spirit within shines more and more brightly, illuminating the way for others.

This all sounds a bit airy-fairy as I write this, but it is a very real, tangible and at times visceral process. When someone believes in you more than you believe in yourself, when someone trusts you more than you trust yourself and when someone pushes you more than you push yourself you have an opportunity to let go of self-constructed limitations to the expression of who you really are, The Real You.

It will likely take time, as those walls, defenses and scar tissue took time to build and grow, but given the right nourishment and surround, you can and should blossom. Holding back is the only thing that will stunt your growth or retard your progress.

I believe that people can always change for the better. Scrooge did it late in life in what is perhaps one of the most inspiring pieces of literature ever written, and so can you! It is never too late to give more freely of yourself to the world around you.

The question is: will you do what it takes to let your spirit travel farther and wider than you’ve permitted until now? Life is too short to hold back. Whether or not the ghost’s warning is true, I see no reason why anyone should tempt fate and fail to do his or her part in allowing for the unconditional and unrestricted flow of spirit into expression no matter how big or how small the task at hand might be.

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Whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do it well; whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself completely; in great aims and in small I have always thoroughly been in earnest.” ~ Charles Dickens

We recently celebrated my father-in-law’s 70th birthday. His middle name is “Ernest,” a homonym of the word, earnest, that describes him to a “T.” One of the most diligent, dedicated and focused individuals I have ever met, he dedicated his life long ago to serving others, primarily through the profession of sales.

He told me the story of a sales conference convened in the 80s, where he was called on to speak words of inspiration to the assembly. Rather than pump up those attending in the usual fashion, he instead asked them to take 10 minutes to write down what they saw as their purpose in life.

Here’s what happened, in his words:

At first they seemed to be shocked with the question, perhaps even a little resentful to have to think in the terms of “purpose.” Their reaction was understandable; these were independent contractor outside sales reps who had it drilled in them to think almost exclusively in terms of goals.

After a few minutes, a few of them started writing, and pretty quickly all of them were writing. Some of them took quite a while with this exercise, especially those who took a while to get started. However, once they were on a roll they really got it going. Their entire countenance started changing, some of them even starting to smile at me (remember, I was not their manager but was their managers manager)!

At any rate, when they were finished I asked them if any would like to share their purpose with the rest of us. Slowly but surely (again) they started articulating their purpose to all of the others in the room (perhaps 20 of them were there). And here was the common theme: in all cases their purpose had to do with providing for others.

You can imagine the light bulbs that went off in the room during those moments. They actually started thinking of others rather than themselves. So we started comparing goals to purpose and discovered that goals were pretty much about what we could get
and that purpose was about what we could give or provide. We than wove that back into the essence of sales, which is service.

Later many of them had feedback that showed that though their goals changed, their purpose did not.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with wealth or material possessions, what truly matters in life is not what you have but how fully you give of yourself to others. Your fulfillment depends on your ability to assist others to theirs and there are no exceptions to this rule.

It’s never too late to begin to live your life in earnest. Betty White, for instance, lived what was likely one of her most productive and prolific years in 2010, the year she turned 88 (she’s old enough to be my father-in-law’s mother!). Just voted “Entertainer of the Year” by Associated Press, White beat out the cast of Glee, Conan O’Brian and other remarkably talented actors for the title. Were everyone to accomplish so much in their golden years!

In the spirit of my father-in-law’s question to those within earshot 20 plus years ago, I encourage you to take time today to write down – as clearly and as plainly as possible – what your purpose is as you see it right now. Then set about fulfilling it…in earnest!

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“Collaboration is the stuff of growth.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson

Anyone concerned about the future of the world should spend time considering how we educate our children. I have friends who have children in different educational programs – public schools, private schools, Montessori programs, home schools, international schools. religious schools and so on and I know that they would all agree on at least one thing: education is important.

I came across this presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, a remarkable presenter I wrote about months ago in my post called “Bring on the Learning Revolution.” This lecture is well worth the next eleven minutes of your day:

I’ve long felt that education should be more about drawing out the inherent value, talents, radiance, etc. from children than it should be about stuffing them full of facts and figures that will hopefully be useful at some later date. Individuality creative expression suffers in our current system, and this unnatural homogenization is resulting in a pressure that our youth are increasingly incapable of bearing and navigating.

It appears that the presentation stops before you hear Sir Robinson’s suggestions as to how we might best revitalize education in this new era, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

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“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen.  Keep in the sunlight.” ~Benjamin Franklin

Talking somebody down from the wall of worry is not an easy task. To do so you must deftly skirt accusations like “you just don’t understand” and “you’re not hearing me” while reassuring, distracting and refocusing attention on what can be done here and now.

Troubles are fed by the attention you pay to them. Wise is the person who understands the scope of his problems without succumbing to the temptation to fixate on them. Problems are resolved with solutions, not worries.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.” ~ Mark Twain

One of the silliest things you can worry about are those things which you have no control over or any means of influencing. They are what they are and stressing about them will only drain the very battery you will draw upon to handle the challenges that pass through your sphere of influence.

If you have a list of worries, take the time to cross out those about which you can do nothing. Next to those crossed out write something you can handle or influence as things are now. You can either spend time worrying or moving in a productive direction. The choice is yours.

“You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.” ~ Pat Schroeder

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“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

I’ve often marveled at the ingenuity of those standouts in history who dedicated their lives to the restoration of goodness and truth to their rightful place at the apex human understanding and function. It hasn’t been easy. Human beings have resisted this restorative process tooth and nail throughout the ages, giving every reason and excuse for not coming to the point of yielding every ounce of their capacity to the expression of goodness.

“The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.” ~ Albert Einstein

In my estimation, the greatest hindrance to the restoration of sanity on earth is the obsessive pursuit of comfort. Human beings want comfort on their own terms. For each one, it means something a little different, and yet those differences always seem to conflict and contradict rather than complement one another.

Don’t get me wrong. Comfort is not intrinsically bad or evil, but it becomes so when its possession is put ahead of goodness and truth. Comfort achieved at the expense of goodness and truth is fleeting, hence the multitude of comfort-seekers in every corner of the earth.

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” ~ C.S. Lewis

What percent of your energies do you devote to the development of a greater understanding of truth? What is truth to you? To me, truth is the pattern of principle, purpose, design and control that govern the expression of life as well as all creative activity.

The principles of truth are eternal, while their application is specific in relation to the need at hand. There is no “your truth and my truth,” for the truth is holistic and more importantly, never in conflict with itself.

The truth is the one thing that will set you free from a life of wishful thinking and despair. Get to know it and you will not be left comfortless! No matter how much the world challenges, criticizes and condemns you, you will be at rest if goodness and truth are your central concern.

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“Righteousness is easy in retrospect.” ~Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

How true is that?!? More often than not the right thing to do is the least popular thing to do. Politicians find themselves between a rock and a hard place on this point as reelection concerns are often pitted against the need to support unpopular but clearly necessary legislation.

If you’ve ever had to take an unpopular stand with your family because it was the right thing to do you likely faced chastisement, disdain and perhaps even rejection. For whatever reason, mankind tends to prefer the comfort of the known to the discomfort that often accompanies the road of integrity, which, incidentally, is typically the road less traveled.

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters.  If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” ~Alan Simpson

To that I would add: “…neither friends nor family, worldly possessions nor reputation.” Your value as an individual requires that your character stand above all these. I repeat. Your value as an individual requires that your character stand above all these.

If righteousness requires that you take a stand, then stand! Don’t apologize. Don’t be afraid. Don’t lord it over those around you. If the stand you are taking is the right thing to do, you will feel good about yourself, you will be at peace with yourself. And that, my friends, is the perfect starting point.

I’ve made decisions in my life that took years to come to fruition. You must be careful not to set fixed expectations as to how and when the harvest should appear, for what you send out in righteousness rarely comes back in the size, shape or timing you anticipated.

Many people have nullified what could have been tremendous if not miraculous blessings because they reacted unnecessarily to the time between the planting and the harvest. Reactive proclamations like “Well I didn’t think it would take so long to work out” or “I made the right choice and I have lost so much” turn into attitudes and actions that abort the creative process.

While it is true that righteousness is easy in retrospect, I would be remiss were I not to mention a balancing factor. The French have a proverb which clothes this balancing point nicely: “Une bonne conscience est un doux oreiller(“A good conscience is a soft pillow”). Even if the world turns against you, if you have done the right thing and you know it you will be at rest with yourself, a rare state of being that can only be described as “priceless.”

To William Lloyd Garrison’s question posed over a century-and-a-half ago…”Are right and wrong convertible terms, dependant upon popular opinion?” I reply: absolutely not!

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