Archive for the 'Modern Life' Category

Time is the coin of your life

Hourglass

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

Carl Sandburg

 

 

I believe two of the most precious gifts in life are good health – and time.

While we cannot always control our health, we can control how we spend our time.

I have found no shortage of people eager to suggest how I should spend my time. Often, it is a casual acquaintance eager for me to spend time doing something I have little or no interest doing. I have learned to politely decline these invitations.

Instead, I prefer to spend my time with family and friends – and sharing it with those who can use a helping hand.

Time is the coin of my life, and I intend to spend it wisely.

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College is about more than finding a good job

DiplomaSome young people today think college isn’t worth the time or money, but such thinking may be shortsighted.

If your only goal in attending college is to land a high-paying job, or if you’re confident you can be successful in life without attending, then I understand why skipping college is an attractive option.

In fact, a wealthy California man is now awarding fellowships worth $100,000 each to 24 young people if they skip college for at least two years and instead spend the time chasing their entrepreneurial dreams. The recipients were selected based on their potential to make major contributions to society without going to college, much like Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard to grow Facebook.com.

The millionaire offering the $100,000 fellowships is Peter Thiel, who made his fortune by co-founding the online payment service PayPal (after graduating from Stanford Law School).

Thiel’s idea continues a theme which has been building for several years: some high school graduates want to pass on formal higher education and jump right into the working world to make their mark.

While I love the idea of giving young people the means to pursue their dreams, particularly those with great ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit, college is more than a means to land a good job. It can help you prepare for life’s challenges.

Most of what I learned in college came from outside the classroom: the discussions in the dorm and student organizations; the debates while out with friends; the exposure to ideas different from my own; the ability to create and grow relationships, resolve conflicts and solve problems; the opportunity to meet and make friends with people whose cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds were different from mine.

Of course, the classroom work was valuable, too, particularly learning critical thinking skills which continue to serve me well both personally and professionally.

I don’t think college is for everyone. And many people, including Mark Zuckerberg, achieve great success without finishing college, among them Mary Kay Ash (of Mary Kay cosmetics), Michael Dell (founder of Dell computers), former ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings, film director Steve Spielberg, and software mogul Bill Gates.

But if you’re not the next Steven Spielberg or Bill Gates – and most of us are not – I wouldn’t pass on higher education. College can be so much more than just a ticket to a good job….

Giving children “everything” without giving too much

Like most parents, my wife and I try to give the best to our daughter without spoiling her. Sometimes, it’s tough knowing where to draw the line.

Just for fun, we once took a weekend trip to Charleston, South Carolina. As we strolled through an outdoor market in the town’s historic district, we came upon a table of hand-made Russian nesting dolls. There were about two dozen sets of the colorful matryoshka, each presented in a different theme: animals, children, flowers.

The dolls were beautiful; my 7-year-old daughter was mesmerized. She eyed each set carefully, working up the courage to ask if I’d buy her one.

I silently mulled how I’d answer her. These weren’t children’s dolls; these were collectibles. The cheapest set was $28, and they escalated in price to about $120. She was looking at a cute set of Panda bears that ran $40.

Candidly, price was not the real issue. I had other concerns. I wondered if she’d enjoy the dolls for an afternoon and then relegate them to a box in her room – home to many other “gotta have it” toys and dolls.

In fairness, on occasion she’ll pull out a stuffed bear or ignored souvenir from another vacation, using it to help recall a fun memory from the trip. Maybe she’d assign a warm memory to the dolls.

On the other hand, my daughter was going through a “I-want-to-buy-something-everywhere-we-go” phase. We often said yes – too often.

Ultimately, I said “no” to the dolls. They were too extravagant for a casual souvenir. My daughter curled her lip for a minute but didn’t complain. I think she understood. Later, we let her choose an $8 children’s book from another booth, and she was happy.

Did I draw the line at the right time – or did I deny her the chance to begin a lifetime love of collecting Russian dolls?

I think I made the right decision, but I’m constantly wondering where to draw that line…..

Life is short: pursue your passion

BD18261I “It is only by following your deepest instinct that you can lead a rich life. If you let your fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, then your life will be safe, expedient and thin.”

                                                – Katharine Butler Hathaway

 

In the 1991 movie “City Slickers,” the tough-as-nails cowboy played by the late Jack Palance engages Billy Crystal’s character – mired in a mid-life crisis – in a discussion about life and happiness.

“The secret to life is only one thing,” says Palance’s wise and wizened cowboy, Curly.

“What?” asks Crystal’s character.

“That’s what you’ve got to figure out,” says Curly.

I’ve seen the movie more than once, and I always get a kick out of that line: it speaks to the idea that one secret to happiness is to find something you’re passionate about and then to doggedly pursue it.

Good advice, I believe, but easier said than done.

To me, it seems a two step challenge. First, you have to discover your true passion. Then, you must muster the courage to puruse it.

Some people make the discovery at an early age; equally important, they act on it.

In his autobiography Lucky Man, the actor Michael J. Fox says he knew as a youngster that he wanted to be an actor. Indeed, by age 14 or so he was starring on Canadian TV, and then at 18 he skipped college to move to Los Angeles to pursue his passion. Of course, he was enormously successful.

Similarly, Larry King’s 7th grade year book announces his life ambition to be a “radio announcer.” According to King’s autobiography, A Remarkable Journey, a father figure brushed aside King’s talk of working in radio, urging him instead to accept a job working in his factory after high school. Of course, King ignored the advice and pursued his passion, becoming one of the great media personalities in U.S. history.

While not everyone who pursues his or her dream ends up happy, at least they took a shot. Most of us never even chase the dream.

Why not?

For some of us, we never discover our true passion; for others, we find the dream but not the courage to pursue it. Either way, we’re usually too busy playing out roles expected of us: getting married, working a regular job, paying down a mortgage, raising children.

Of course, there are great joys to be had living a simple and honest life, finding stable work and raising a family. It’s the life I’ve chosen, and the rewards are many. Also, not all passions require running away to join the circus or abandoning your day job: it could be as simple as finally learning to play a musical instrument or diving into that hobby you’ve quietly dreamed of trying.

Whether the dream is large or small, it’s worth pursuing. U.S. Army General Omar Bradley said, “We are given one life and the decision is ours whether to wait for circumstances to make up our mind, or whether to act and, in acting, live.”

I think that pursuing your passion is the act of living. My wish is that we all find the courage to discover and pursue what is truly, deeply in our hearts.

I’m careful how I spend my time

CB068219“Lost time is never found again.”

Benjamin Franklin

 

 

Nothing is more important to me than my family, so I’m protective of the time I spend with loved ones.

I mention this because my life is full of prospective time robbers – usually well-meaning people who pull and tug at me for my time. Could I attend a breakfast meeting before work? Am I available for a meeting with a local nonprofit after work? Would I mind staffing an educational booth for another group this weekend?

No single request is particularly onerous, but the cumulative effect is pronounced. On occasion, I leave home before my daughter gets up for school and return when she’s climbing back into bed.

Thankfully, those days are now rare, but it took a conscious effort to make it so. I simply had to begin saying “Sorry, but no.” Some people are taken aback when I tell them I’m not available all the time anymore, even when I explain that I’m going home to spend time with my family.

Of course, I haven’t cut myself off completely from off-hours work. I enjoy my job, and the very nature of public relations/marketing work requires an “available at all hours” attitude. No problem, there. I also enjoy volunteer work. But I’ve learned that moderation is the key. Saying “no” is not a crime. In fact, it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. Consider:

  • My father turned 80 this year, and I no longer tell him I can’t play golf on Saturdays.
  • My daughter is already 7 years old. I know I have precious few years remaining to be “cool” in her eyes, when she still wants to show me her drawings and take bike rides together.
  • And just recently, a friend died from a stroke. Her sudden death was a striking reminder that time is so precious.

Samuel Johnson, the 18th century British author, said “Life is not long, and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation of how it shall be spent.”

I know how I want to spend my time. Yes, I want to volunteer, to help others, to be a valued employee and a good citizen of my community.

Mostly, though, I want to be a good husband, father, son and friend. I do that best by deciding how I spend my time.

Mom’s tough life provides perspective

j0438579It’s a well-worn ritual for young people to roll their eyes as their elders lament how tough life was years ago. Every grandparent has a story about walking to school in the snow (uphill, both ways) or living without some modern convenience.

I catch myself now and again telling my 7-year-old daughter about my own childhood – life before the personal computer, the Internet, email, cell phones, cable TV or the myriad of other indulgences she takes for granted.

I’m just continuing the tradition. I remember my father telling me about his first job, delivering ice for “ice boxes” before the days of modern refrigeration.

My mother, though, had the most sobering stories. She never complained.

Mom, a British citizen, was born in 1930, during the United Kingdom’s Great Depression. Both her parents died when she was young, and she grew up in London in the middle of WW II. The city was under heavy Nazi bombing, which killed more than one of her young friends. As air raid warnings blew and Nazi planes dropped bombs overhead, Mom frequently dove into muddy ditches on the way to school. To make money after school, she cleaned houses; food and clothes were rationed. During the war, no light could be visible from any home after sunset, so she spent her nights in the dark.

Mom finished her formal schooling in her mid teens, then worked in a factory for a year or so before joining the Royal Air Force. At 22, she married my father and had eight children – seven boys and one girl, over a 14 year period, all while moving around the world every two or three years. Dad focused his energy at work in the military; Mom raised all eight of us and still found time to volunteer at our schools and in the community. 

My mother never smoked a day in her life but died of a lung disease at the age of 71. Throughout her life, my mother had great common sense and lived by the Golden Rule. She taught her children the importance of personal responsibility. She appreciated the simple things in life.   

I think about Mom’s life whenever someone complains about a minor annoyance, like the satellite TV going out during a storm or the GPS suggesting a wrong turn to a new restaurant.

Her life still provides me with a sobering perspective.

Mom taught me to think for myself

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  The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.”

Frank A. Clark

 

 

Years ago, I came home from school one day and promptly sat across from my mother at the kitchen table. I was about 11 years old, and I had a question.

A teacher had challenged the class by posing some dilemma we had to solve. The details are lost to memory, but I vaguely remember the teacher creating some scenario in which the answer was not clear, each potential solution fraught with problems. I found it frustrating.

I was quite good at memorizing facts and figures, and most of our lessons and tests consisted of reading material and then regurgitating cold, hard facts. This whole “thinking through a problem” stuff seemed like a waste of time; just tell me the information to memorize.

My mother, of course, had a different perspective.

“This is good practice for solving real problems,” my mother said. “You’ll find times in life when the answers are not so clear, and you’ll have to work things out.”

I was skeptical, but Mom pressed me.

“What if you’re facing a situation without a simple answer? What will you do if you haven’t worked on difficult problems before?” she asked.

“I’ll ask you!” I said earnestly. I always turned to my mom for guidance.

“What if I’m not here?” Mom asked.

“I’ll find you,” I said.

“But I won’t always be here,” Mom said with a faint smile.

I took her words literally, as if she might be away shopping at the very moment I needed her, or worse, be out of town for the weekend. I still didn’t understand the need to learn this whole problem solving stuff.

At Mom’s urging, though, I worked on my critical thinking skills. Eventually, I became good at identifying and solving problems, both in the classroom and in the real world.

But it wasn’t until college that her words at the kitchen table finally sank in: I realized Mom was trying to tell me she wouldn’t live forever; I needed to learn to solve problems on my own.

Mom passed several years ago. One of her many gifts was helping me to learn to think critically. I still miss bouncing ideas off her and the way she would challenge my assumptions about a path I intended to take. In the end, though, she always required me to work through my own problems and make my own decisions – and take responsibility for them.

My daughter is only seven, but I’ve already begun to teach her some of the same lessons about thinking for herself. As much I as desire it, I won’t always be here for her….

Encourage kids to keep dreaming

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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Howard Thurman

 

Do we give up on our dreams too easily?

A colleague recently mentioned that his 20-year-old stepson had just achieved his dream of playing professional football. He caught on with a minor league team in Utah – not the NFL – but a thrilling achievement for the young man.

My friend proudly recalled a walk on the beach some 13 years earlier, when he told his (then) 7-year-old that when he grew up he could be anything he wanted to be. The young man apparently took it to heart and realized his dream.

I wonder if Sonia Sotomayor, recently nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, ever dreamed of reaching such an incredible professional height while growing up in a South Bronx housing project. I wonder if she first dreamed of graduating with honors from Princeton University and then Yale Law School, as she did, and becoming the first Latina to serve on the High Court. My guess is she had grand dreams, encouraged by her mother, and she saw them through.

I don’t think most people are like my friend’s son or Sonia Sotomayor. I think most people give up on the dream, too quickly, too easily. For most of us, life gets in the way: a job, a mortgage, kids. Some people have health issues. Others are a little lazy. There’s always a ready excuse.

My daughter turns seven next week. Today, she wants to be a zookeeper or a veterinarian. Maybe that’s really her dream, or it might change. Either way, I think she’ll come to know one day whatever dream burns inside of her. I hope she shares it with me because we live just a few minutes from the beach. It’s time for me to take her for a walk and tell her again and again: You can be anything you want to be…..

Dying children teach us about living

j0439246Sometimes I read a news story that puts life’s trivial troubles into humble perspective.

 

Case in point: the recent story of 9-year-old Jayla Cooper, who doctors say will die within weeks of leukemia.  

 

Jayla’s dying wish was to have a wedding, and she did. She “married” her 7-year-old friend, Jose Griggs, who himself is battling a more curable form of leukemia. The ceremony, of course, is non-binding, with no paperwork, but 150 guests attended the event, likely one of the last of Jayla’s life. According to ABC News, the two met at a Halloween party while they were both being treated at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.

 

The ABC news story notes Jayla says she is ready to “see Jesus and go to heaven,” and she tells her brother that she’ll “come down from heaven one night and tickle your tummy.”

 

The same ABC News story also notes the story of 11-year-old Brenden Foster, who only had two weeks to live – and made a dying wish to feed some homeless people he saw on the way home from the hospital in Lynnwood, Washington. Before he succumbed to Leukemia, a local group touched by his request made 200 sandwiches and delivered them to the homeless. Brenden died last November.

 

I think about these children and feel for their parents. I also don’t worry so much now that I haven’t trimmed the bushes in front of the house, or about that “big project” at work, or that someone cut me off in traffic. Once again, I’ve been reminded about the fragility of life and to appreciate my incredible good fortune to worry about the silly things I do….

Life isn’t the same without “Sammy”

sammy25About two years ago, I had to put my 13-year-old cat to sleep.

Samantha – I called her “Sammy” – was a beautiful orange tabby with a ringed tail and seven toes on each front paw. A real Hemingway polydactyl. Barely two months before the end, we discovered she had quietly developed kidney failure. We did everything possible until her discomfort turned to pain. The vet ended it quickly.

I had raised her from a kitten. She grew into a great indoor cat, following me into every room of the house, sleeping with me every night during my bachelor days and then into my marriage, letting me hold her like a baby – and staring wide-eyed at me when we brought the real baby home from the hospital. At anytime, I could just look at Sammy and I swear she knew what I was thinking,

My daughter was only four when Sammy died. She wanted to know where Sammy lived now and when we could visit her. I tried to explain that Sammy was high up in the clouds. A few weeks later, the family was packing for a long flight when my daughter walked into the room with a big smile.

“Good news!” she said. “When we’re in the airplane, we’ll be up in the clouds, so we can visit Sammy!”

I explained that while we still couldn’t see Sammy, she was in a special place.

We have two cats now: a gentle female we’ve had almost as long as Sammy and a two-year-old calico born of a feral mother. The older cat is sweet, while the younger one is still learning how to behave like a proper indoor animal. Both cats have their good points, but still….. it’ll sound silly to some people, but I really miss my Sammy.


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