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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

They Don’t Supersize in Spain (And Other Extra-Large Observations)

Photo Spain

I am a Hispanophile. I have a strong affinity for Spain and all things Spanish. It is not only part of my heritage, but it’s also become my fascination.

When I visit, it always takes me a few days to fall back into the rhythm of the culture. There is a lovely, peaceful feeling there of having all the time in the world. Life has an elegance to it.

Food is considered something to be savored, rather than supersized. Meals are served in small courses, always with dessert. “Tapas” (Spanish for “hors d’ oeuvres”) are typically not large servings either. This offers a way to taste, but not to overdue (unlike the U.S., obesity is not a national problem there).

Nothing is ever eaten on the run. I’ve been mesmerized watching just how slowly a Spaniard can actually sip an espresso style coffee, making it last while reading an entire newspaper. You never see anyone running down the street with a to-go container in hand (are they even an option)?

Each meal is a gastronomic experience and if it seems as if Spaniards are eating and drinking all day and all night, that’s because they are. Here is a typical daily meal schedule:

Breakfast: Coffee and bread or pastry
Midmorning: Coffee and a quick bite.
2-3:30 p.m.:  Lunch is the main meal of the day. Most head home to eat during the
workweek; a nap (siesta) is optional.
Early Evening: A drink and/or tapas.
9:30-10 p.m.: Dinner is served (begins even later on weekends).
After Dinner: Nightcap anyone?

One evening, while enjoying cocktails at an outside cafe, I noticed a large family congregating. As each new member joined the group and received a kiss on each cheek, the circle was made larger to accommodate the newest arrival and the conversation didn’t miss a beat. The children played quietly next to the circle. You could sense the level of respect shown to the older family members, as everyone leaned over to hear what those wise sages were speaking about. When we passed by after dinner at midnight, the group was still there, now inside at a table, and did not look like they were heading home any time soon. This all took place on a weeknight, which made me wonder: doesn’t anyone around here have to go to work tomorrow?

I was told by a Spanish friend that what I had viewed was called a “sobremesa” (Spanish for “chatting over the remains of the meal”) and can sometimes last for hours. Spaniards tend to work to live (rather than live to work) and are very respectful of both their work time and their leisure time. Vacations are taken and time off is enjoyed.

In times past, townspeople would ride their horse and carriages up and down the main thoroughfare to see and be seen. The tradition continues today with the “paseo” (Spanish for “a leisurely stroll on a public walkway or boulevard”). It’s a lovely ritual, as people of all ages promenade and meet up with friends and family, stop for a drink, tapas or a sweet and chat. The plaza in each town’s center also brings people together and the impromptu live music creates a celebratory feeling.

There is an unspoken dress code that does not include sweatsuits or sneakers. You can’t help but notice that every man, woman and child is smartly dressed, donning a stylishly tied scarf (very European chic). Even the style of the baby carriages are impressive, as they chauffeur their well-dressed passengers around, all decked out in their little leather shoes that match their outfits and hats.

It was while walking the Camino that I had the chance to glimpse into the daily rhythm of Spain’s smaller towns (the tiniest with a population of 18). The contentment shared by the townspeople made me question if maybe less is more. I began to learn to appreciate the abundance of simplicity, a concept that I hope to never forget.

Each time I say goodbye to Spain, I promise myself that I will try to incorporate another part of their lifestyle into my own and create my own version of the best of my both worlds.