Photo Op

Photo Photo Op

Late again! She ran through the house, grabbing her coffee and her car keys. Her arms were full, so she held her breakfast, a whole piece of toast, in her teeth. She gave her mom a thumbs-up and barely paid attention to her comments, only hearing that her mom and her beau were going out again (this time to the opera), so she was on her own for dinner.

Meredith took a deep breath and started her car. Even though she hated the commute from her mom’s suburban home into the city each day, it was the only time she had any peace. Her mom meant well, but she was tired of her eye rolling every time Meredith ate junk food. Her suggestions that Meredith get a haircut or try some new makeup or lose a little weight were not inspiring her to act on any of them in the near future.

She knew she would have to stay late again to make up the time. At first, she had thought herself lucky to be able to come and go unnoticed and set her own hours, but later realized that it was a measure of her insignificance to the hospital department that she was a part of.

On this particular day, she watched her copies run through the copy machine and, for a few minutes, lost herself in thought. How did her life become so mundane? Her growling stomach brought her back to reality. Walking to the cafeteria, she almost tripped on a frame that lay in the middle of the hall. She picked it up and was quite taken with the picture of the handsome man smiling back at her, even though it was the one that came with the frame. She stuck it in her purse and continued on.

The usual long line greeted her at the cafeteria door. With a big sigh, she prepared herself for the wait, when she heard a man’s voice behind her say “…Anything good here? I noticed your employee badge, so thought you might have some recommendations…” Meredith was speechless. Was she hallucinating or did this man look a little like the photo in the frame? She finally sputtered a few words and before she knew it, they were sharing a table and dining together.

Everything about him was charming. She hung on his every word and almost forgot to eat. He said he was a new volunteer, still trying to figure out what his calling would be. He seemed so interested in what she had to say. She cared little about what time it was when she finally returned to work and spent the rest of the afternoon daydreaming.

She surprised herself and her mom by being up early the next morning. She left right on time and couldn’t help but smile at her mom’s comments about her appearance. She had made sure to take extra time choosing an outfit, styling her hair and actually applying makeup. Maybe this weekend she would take her mom up on her offer to treat her to a new haircut.

Lunch couldn’t come quickly enough each day. All the next week, she found her handsome stranger on the cafeteria line. They’d trade smiles and sit together at the same table. She noticed that her lunch choices were now not only healthy, but half the size of what they used to be. From their conversations about her goals in life and how she could pursue them, she walked with a new-found confidence.

She purposefully kept the framed picture in her car’s glove compartment, away from her mom’s intrusive prying, so it was with surprise that she noticed it was gone that Saturday afternoon. She ran back into the house and, out of breath, asked her mom if she knew of its whereabouts. Nonchalantly, her mom responded “…I threw the picture away that came with the frame, cleaned it up and put it in your room, so you could make use of it…”

The words stung Meredith and as her mind raced through the past couple of days, she realized that yesterday, she had left her mom alone in her car when she ran into the drugstore to pick up a prescription for her. At that moment, she made up her mind that it was time for her to move to a place of her own.

Mondays were usually the worst day of her week, but Meredith rushed to the cafeteria with a spring in her step. She didn’t see her stranger, so waited at the entrance for a while. When he didn’t show up, she decided to sit and eat alone at their favorite table. Disappointed, she decided to walk over to the volunteer department to see if he was working today.

She realized that she only knew his first name and was startled when Sister Jean, the nun who sat at the front desk, stated that there was no Theodore listed as a volunteer. Determined to find him, Meredith took the time to describe her stranger and mention what little she knew about him. Sister Jean could only listen and nod, but felt as if she had to respond in some way to this agitated young woman. “…Did you know that the meaning of the name Theodore is God’s present?..,” she said softly.

Meredith smiled and thanked the nun for her time. She felt a wave of happiness wash over her and she walked back to her office with determination and wrote the resignation letter that she would send as soon as she was accepted into college. She called her sister and said she would take her up on her offer to live in her guesthouse if she took on some nanny duties for her nieces. It would be good practice for the teaching degree that she planned to receive.

She smiled, put her hands through her newly coifed hair, and said  “…Thank you…” out loud. She placed the frame on her desk and gazed at its cardboard backing. There was no need to replace the original photo with any other. In that way, she could picture just what she wanted to, as she made her way back into the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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Beyonce and Me: Honing Our Zoning Skills

Photo Zones

Now that I have your attention, let me tell you about a ritual of hers. When she is on tour, Beyonce makes it a practice to return to her hotel room immediately after each concert, watch the video of her performance and note any areas for improvement. Her notes are then typed and passed out to everyone involved. In this way, adjustments can be made before the next show.

In his Ted Talk entitled “How to Get Better at the Things You Care About,” Eduardo Briceño, uses Beyonce as an example of how the most effective people alternate between the activity zone and the performance zone in order to achieve maximum success in life.

In the activity zone, our full attention is on deliberate practice in order to improve our skills. We develop new strategies, work to improve ourselves and use any mistakes we make as learning tools.

The performance zone is where we execute what we have already mastered. Our goal here is to minimize mistakes and get things done.

According to Briceño, working hard doesn’t always equal success. Many of us hit a performance plateau, satisfied that we are doing a good enough job, and neglect the activity zone. This is where those feelings of frustration and stagnation come from.

With little formal education and no financial backing, I watched my dad methodically elevate himself, rung by rung, up the ladder of success. The owner of a construction company, he read self-help books, learned from professionals, constantly pushed himself and never stopped being curious and inquisitive. That combined with street smarts and a bit of showmanship was the perfect formula that worked for him.

My interest in business sparked when I realized that it was an opportunity to have my dad all to myself. In a high school business contest, he helped me formulate a sales presentation for aluminum siding that won me first prize. The judges commented that my product selection and my innate knowledge of every aspect of it took them by surprise. Thanks to my dad, this began my relentless practice of striving for excellence (I can still hear him saying “…Do it right or don’t do it at all..”)

Our father/daughter dinners started when I began my career. I relished our time alone, the fancy Manhattan restaurants and his commanding presence. I listened intently to him as he chronicled the ups and downs of his day (never dull), answered my questions and advised me. Not surprising, many of his ideas and suggestions were the basis of an MBA, without the fancy titles.

We develop confidence through ongoing learning. I’ve learned that a curiosity and a willingness to explore, to observe and to reflect are just as important as the achievements themselves. Rather than keeping our heads down, we need to look up once in a while, pay attention and strive for that balance between the activity and the performance zones.

Let’s create momentum and put our energy into keeping it going. Let’s find a willing mentor, exchange ideas with others, read, take a class, explore and create a better version of ourselves.

 

 

 

Go Where Your Heart Moves You

Photo Valentines Day

 

I always thought that I was the one that initiated our relationship. After eyeing the cover of that GQ at a newsstand, the photo of that young man in the pin stripe suit and horn-rimmed glasses became the basis of my positive thinking exercises until the hair on my arms stood straight up on the day that I met Mr. Wiz*.

He says he saw me in the taxi next to his at a red light and thought to himself that he’d like to meet me. When he noticed that the man sitting next to me was one of his co-workers, he knew he’d have that chance very soon.

Ours was initially a professional relationship and then a friendship, which blossomed into a business partnership. We spent 24/7 together, working hard to build our housewares sales representation agency. Prospective clients were never invited to our tony business card address; little did they know it was Mr. Wiz’s Park Avenue South studio apartment, chock full of product samples and files.

After our first big sale to a store in the then new and trendy SOHO neighborhood, Mr. Wiz suggested a celebratory dinner in a new restaurant. I remember thinking it might be more prudent to wait until we actually got paid, but his “go big or go home” attitude mirrored my dad’s philosophy and I was smitten. So much so that when he showed me on paper that by moving in together we could afford to rent a Fifth Avenue showroom, I was in.

Our yin and yang continued successfully after we married and Mr. Wiz was offered the chance to run a company in Chicago. From there, we headed to Arkansas for another job opportunity. It was there that he blindfolded me, surprising me with the idea to buy a derelict car dealership in the middle of a tourist town and turn it into a store. Mr. Wiz was a partner in a blacksmithing company when Big A* was born and we traveled to trade shows in a big truck, with Big A sitting happily between us in a specially designed car seat custom built by the company’s welders.

For a while, it was fun living in what I liked to describe as the movie set of “Little House on the Prairie,” but we missed the city life that we were accustomed to. A brief move back to New York left us thinking that maybe we should pick the city rather than the job, which brought us to Chicago.

Losing the vote to move from the area, Mr. Wiz was content to rehab units in our condo building and Big A and I were happy that our only move was from one floor to another. Years later, we would finally bid Chicago farewell, retire early and head to Austin, Texas where we currently reside. Soon after arriving in Texas and in order to keep the momentum going, Mr. Wiz invited me to walk 500 miles across Spain on the Camino with him.

After all these years, I still see the same sparkle in Mr. Wiz’s eyes and that smirk on his face as he conjures up another adventure. We are still two peas in a pod, though the pod has now become the vessel that moves us from one exploit to another. Sometimes I wonder where I’d be now, had I not taken a chance on someone who was more like the person I wanted to be than the person that I actually was.

When Gloria Estefan was asked the secret of her loving relationship with Emilio, her spouse of many years, she smiled and answered “…Remember to shave your legs…” I knew exactly what she meant; don’t take any of the facets of your relationship for granted. Keep those first date feelings close and use them to propel each day into an environment that houses a bit of mystery and romance; live, laugh and go where life takes you.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mr. Wiz!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology Trauma

Photo Tech Trauma

After months of research on new iPhone deals that we never seemed to qualify for, Mr. Wiz*, JC* and I all of a sudden find ourselves in a T Mobile store. Giddy, we opt for the BOGO deal (buy one, get one free) and negotiate between ourselves, splitting the price of the free phone.

We’re feeling pretty savvy, until we begin the data transfer process. For the next two and one-half hours, we are held captive. Under the harsh, bright store lights, we are individually interrogated as to every password we have on record. We laugh later, wondering what type of intense training the staff must endure at T Mobile boot camp. Whether we ask the same question more than once or all at once, our representative is unruffled and never stops smiling.

On a roll, we decide to set up our new printer the next morning. We’re impressed that the printer will be connected to the computer via Bluetooth, rather than needing to be plugged in. Not surprising, we enlist the assistance of the HP customer service line. While Mr. Wiz is on the phone with them, he asks that I get Apple on the phone to respond to a computer question that we are not able to answer.

Once again, we find ourselves in limbo. Jake from HP has asked permission to take over our computer screen and is now speaking directly to Kimberly from Apple. No one seems to want to interface with us and we are left holding the two phones close enough so they can communicate. At one point, I almost think that Jake is going to ask Kimberly out. Before I can say “…Get a room…,” the issues are all rectified, goodbyes are said all-around and Jake wishes us “…An applelicious day…”

Undaunted, we pull ourselves together and venture forward. We still need to shop for protective phone cases; the place where our iPhones will be nestled and kept safe from all harm. I don’t remember doing this much research for Big A’s* crib. After a presentation from a Best Buy salesperson that warranted applause, we all opt for an indestructible screen protector, whose components were originally designed to protect military helicopter blades.

Together, we’ve endured all that technology could throw at us within a 48-hour period and have emerged unscathed. I fall asleep with visions of sugarplum emojis in my head, but my sweet dreams soon turn into nightmares. I see my Fitbit communicate to my refrigerator that we are on lockdown until I begin exercising again. My self-driving car leaves without me. A drone has accidently delivered a gift I was expecting, to my neighbor’s roof and I wonder how long a cheesecake can last without refrigeration.

I wake up in a cold sweat and decide that I need to get my operating system back in order. I thought I didn’t have the bandwith to handle the hard driving world of software, but so far, my technology intelligence, though somewhat artificial, has gotten me through every curve that’s has been thrown at me.

The way I see it, I had two choices: I could have settled into a low gig life with my out of date iPhone 4 or I could release my inner geek, grab my anxiety by the horns and ride into cyberspace on an iCloud filled with endless app possibilities.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Worry: Concerns Gone Crazy

Photo Worry

“…Stop!..” I yelled out loud and hoped that no one was behind me as I walked down the street. I was doing it again; replaying a worrisome thought over and over in my head until it took over all my thoughts. I promised myself then and there that I would make it a priority to overcome this pattern.

When I walked into work that morning and greeted the receptionist, I couldn’t help but notice the book that was sitting right in front of her. “… Where did that come from?..” I yelled, startling her. “…Oh, this is my go to book. I reread it anytime I need to …” she responded.

Before you could say “serendipity,” I was devouring my own copy of the book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie. Little by little, it inspired me to learn how to combat those worry filled thoughts.

It seemed as though most woman I knew shared in this habit. There is something in our genetic composition that seems to trigger the worry gene. Unlike many men, who can be nonchalant about almost any subject, we seem to need to delve, working our Ifs, ands or buts off.

I pride myself on always doing the best that I can, but did not realize that I was allowing a bad habit (disguised as an inclination) to infiltrate my emotions. I could worry in the past, the present and the future. I could fret in black and white or Technicolor, creating an imaginary storyline that rivaled any soap opera. I was able to multi task by stewing in Spanish. My anxiety ridden thoughts were for you or about you, so that I also became adept at the art of worrying for two.

Dale Carnegie’s message and inspirational stories are as relevant as they were when his book was originally published back in the 1940s. The more I read, the more I realized that I could easily conquer worry using his techniques:

  • Shut the doors on the past and the future and live in day-tight compartments.
  • See the funny side of life.
  • Keep busy.
  • Examine the record: What are the chances, according to the law of averages that this event you are worrying about will ever occur?
  • Do the best you can.
  • Count your blessings, not your troubles.
  • Forget yourself by becoming interested in others. Every day do a good deed that will put a smile on someone’s face.

Worry was not going to have the chance to increase my stress levels, give me premature wrinkles or insomnia. Now if I am ever walking down the street and catch myself starting to stew, I just hum a song out loud as a reminder, with no concern as to who might be walking behind me. They can change their path, I’m not planning on changing mine.

Sheepishly Admitting to the Blaaaaahs

Photo Blah

It happens to the best of us. One sleepless night, one touch of a cold, one too many stressful days and we are transformed into someone we no longer recognize in the mirror. When did wearing two pairs of socks and a sweatshirt over mismatched PJs become our uniform? Why are the sticking uppers in our hair the size of Cleveland, Ohio? Who is that person under the covers at two in the afternoon? Where has the get up and go gone?

I am currently in the middle of a blah day (different from a spa day) and am reporting to you live. I can’t remember when I did not get up and embrace the day with a cup of tea, some quiet time and exercise. Today, the tea is the only constant and the only thing holding me up are the pillows propping me up in bed. My lap top is balanced on my legs and my fingers are the only things willing to move. I can think of a hundred things that I should be doing, but have no interest in pursuing any of them. I’m hungry, but not enough to move again and my head is pounding to the pulse of the cursor on my lap top screen.

All of a sudden, one of my high school teachers comes to mind. He would always suggest that when all else fails, take a nap and you are guaranteed to awake to a new day. Today, this seems to be the only logical solution. One hour later, I open my eyes, but cannot see; the world is black. Before I start to panic, I remember to remove my eye mask and am relieved to welcome the bright day still patiently waiting for me to join it.

In the whole scheme of things, a blah day is nothing more than a healthy reminder that we sometimes just need to reboot ourselves. We think nothing of shutting down our computers and then restarting them, but what about when we have an internal glitch; don’t we get a chance for a fresh start?

The day wasn’t what I had planned, but all in all, I’m glad I took the inner hint and surrendered to a temporary system shutdown. Once I shower and dress, I’m starting to feel like myself again. I’m up and running, reprogrammed and back up to speed. A blah day is just a spa day in disguise, but without the price tag. Embrace it and restore yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Made in Manhattan

Photo Made Manhattan

Every Monday morning, she would greet us, walking fast and out of breath, her soft, Gucci leather carry-on swinging from her shoulder, her long, perfect hair swaying back and forth, her designer outfits perfectly accessorized. As she gracefully moved past us and flashed her “million dollar” smile, we would all take a deep breath in unison and inhale her expensive perfume.

We were fresh out of high school, still carrying the baby fat that once made us cute, and now akwardly settling in as college freshmen in New York City, hanging on to the promise that one day we would be career women.

It was rumored that she would jet in on her older boyfriend’s plane each Monday. She was an ex Ford model (then again, are you ever really an ex Ford model?) who was hired to mold us into confident, well-dressed, women of the world. I wondered if she realized just what a challenge she had in front of her.

We were given an appointment time and one by one, would meet with her for private consultations. Before my first meeting, I was taken aback when the door burst open and Callie, a beautiful blonde student from Texas, dramatically announced to us all in her Southern drawl that she had to call her Daddy immediately to tell him that an allowance increase was necessary, now having to trade in her white mink coat, knee socks and plaid skirts for a whole new business wardrobe.

My stomach churned (as it always did when I was nervous) as I shut the door, smiled faintly and sat across from her. She greeted me and started right in, suggesting make up products that were soon to be introduced (what other undercover information were ex Ford models privy to?) and what styles and colors to wear. She showed me how to pull back my long hair into a bun and suggested that I buy a braid and wrap it around the bun for a more polished look. She stifled a laugh when she tactfully suggested some exercises for me to do and I naively replied “…Do them now?..” Yes, I was her style starved puppet and would have dropped down and “given her 50” in a heartbeat.

One by one, we were all transfixed by her and happily settled into our new existences, leaving telltale signs all-around us. To the dismay of the posh deli owner down the street, we said goodbye to his famous roast beef sandwiches for lunch and instead “feasted” on her favorite brand of yogurt. We all ate with demitasse spoons and cocktail forks (hers were sterling silver), her secret for eating slower. We stayed up late to re polish our nails, so we were perfectly color coordinated the next day. We took extra time to dress and make up. We learned how to walk and carry ourselves properly. We were invited to attend social functions in order to practice the art of small talk and learn how to be a good listener. We were taught the social graces and how important manners were.

As it turned out that finishing school instruction was just as important as our formal education. When do you get the opportunity to just stand there and be constructively critiqued from head to toe? Just as in the military, it was a form of breaking us down and rebuilding us from the bottom up, in order to make us the best we could be.

I still think about her. I wonder if she knew just how important she was to the lives of us young girls. She taught us that if you look the part, you are the part. She transformed us from insecure, plain janes to confident, chic women. She was my first role model and all these years later, after I carefully dress and check my nail polish, I raise my cocktail fork to her and say a silent “thank you” from the bottom of my style conscious heart.