Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hitting the First Milestone of a Goal: How Good it Feels!

A few weeks ago I sheepishly walked by a bunch of talkative, happy people who all had great legs, cute running shorts and shoes, and who genuinely seemed to care about one another. I longingly looked at the group and remembered how fun it was to be a part of a group like that. I was a Masters Swimmer up until last year when I lived in Charlotte, NC; and while I loved the camaraderie more than the practices, I continued to show up and eventually got in shape.

This group was different! They were runners! This was the type of group that has always intimidated me. But still, I wanted to belong and I knew I wanted to run.

That day, I happened to ask one of the trainers at the YMCA who that group was, and rather than just tell me, he WALKED me out to find the Founder of the group. Within seconds, I was being invited to join in on the fun. Of course, as with any goal that a person sets, there is a certain amount of fear involved, so of course the next day when I showed up, the intimidation welled up inside of me and I quickly ducked my head as I walked by John, the coach, and sauntered into the Y so I wouldn’t be noticed. As anyone who is crying out for support, I emailed John that day and explained my fear through excuse after excuse. “I’m not good enough, I’m out of shape, You’re all so fast, yada, yada, yada”. John, in his ultimate wisdom and brilliant coaching style, gently coaxed me into just showing up and doing what I could. But, he made me PROMISE to show up, and that was exactly what did it for me. I showed up! Now I was hooked!

The first few weeks have been hard. My body hasn’t worked this hard in a long time. I’m tired, but in a good way. I’ve even sweat so much that I had to ring out my clothes after I ran. I am starting to feel the strength build, and I have the desire to start eating better because I’m starting to notice how my body feels now. It’s strange, but when you aren’t in shape, you just don’t notice your body that much in how it moves and how it feels. When you start to notice it, and start to notice that the muscles are being worked, you start to believe that if you work it harder, it’ll continue to get stronger. So you push just a little more every time.

Over these past few weeks, I’ve had to face the disgusting fact that I let myself get out of shape. I have had to admit it to myself that I’ve succumbed to the horrible American diet which is carb based and that my body is probably not as healthy as it could be. I’ve realized that I’ve been lazy but I also now see that I can get support when I’m weak and when I’m around people who are better than me, who have achieved more than me, there is a certain hope that begins to emerge. After a few of these runs, just getting a “good job today Mary” from my coach keeps me eager to strive for more. When I hear from the other runners “keep going Mary”, I want to do better! It’s been their encouragement that has kept me going, even when I knew I was by far the worst runner in the pack.

This helps me understand how absolutely important that it is for each of us, as parents, to never criticize our kids when they really aren’t living up to our standards. We have to share with them that they can keep going, they can do it, they’re strong, and they’re going to be great. I understand now, because it’s the faith of others in us that literally carries us when we have absolutely no belief in ourselves.

My goal is to run a ½ a marathon. My coach believes I can do more. I’ve seen his faith and encouragement carry me to new heights already because today I ran a longer distance than I’ve ever run in my life…. even without walking!!! I ran with two amazing women, Juliette and Susan, (AKA, Grinner and Fluffy), who ran a slow but steady pace, but we ran just over 5 miles, which had been my previous record. We ran 5.3 miles today.

So today, I’m feeling great. I’m moving towards a goal that has always intrigued me, but terrified me. I knew in my heart that I wanted it, but that I didn’t have the mental toughness to do it. What I didn’t realize, is that I can borrow the faith and toughness from my new friends, and just count on my legs to do what my friends tell me they can do.

Today, I’m moving towards a personal goal and it feels great. I’m starting to have a tiny bit of faith on my own now, that I can continue to grow stronger and will be able to achieve my goal. I know that many hills, muscle aches and sweaty days are ahead, but if today is any indication, so are many inspiring conversations, goals being achieved and the incredible richness of having good friends.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How a Young Death Can Transform a Life

Two young men, at opposite ends of the country, gone. Both were complete champions in life, the type that everyone loved to be around, they were the type that were successful at everything they did, and were champions in their sports and in their hobbies. Both of their deaths, shook the very core of the communities in which they lived, and now the parents, and their friends are left trying to piece their lives back together.

These two young men have transformed my life. I’ve learned more from their deaths about how we are supposed to live, than any other event that has occurred to me in a long time.

One of them, Nathan Timmes, was a 20 year old Eagle Scout, and the nephew of a high school friend, was a motorcycle racer, mountain climber, pilot, sky diver, white water rafting exciting young man who was studying aviation in college. He died earlier this year in a car accident. This young man lived his life completely fully. He did everything by giving 100%. He loved his friends, his hobbies and his family with complete intensity. At the funeral, they displayed dozens of pictures of him on top of mountains, jumping out of planes, on motorcycles, with his friends, always experiencing out door adventure, above everything, he lived without fear, and always, loving life. To remind me of how I should live every day, I’ve kept his picture from the funeral on my bulletin board. This young boys’ life, which I found out by because of his death, transformed me.

The other boy, Dan Lunger, the son of a high school friend, was a state champion swimmer who had just made junior nationals. He was also an eagle scout, and the type of person that loved life as much as anyone could. His dad, Howard told me on the phone from Colorado yesterday, that his son had experienced true love, the gift of friendship, the gift of being a champion and that he wasn’t afraid to give his dad a hug in front of his buddies. At the funeral, dozens of kids who knew this boy Dan, went up to his parents and told them story after story of how friendly Dan always was and how he always took time to say Hi and to care about everyone, even if they weren’t in his circle of friends. He attracted the “Jocks to the Goths”, and everyone, everywhere, was touched by his zest for life. This 16 year old boy, who I never met, has affected my life in ways I never knew he could.

Yesterday, I spent 45 minutes on the phone with my friend Howard, and as he told me the stories of his son Dan, and how an undetected heart ailment stole his young life within minutes. While on the phone and hearing the tragic story, I got a glimpse of his extraordinary life in Colorado. Howard told me how many, many lives were touched by just a friendly “hello” every day, or by the easy attitude he had about his grades, or even about his sport that he loved, swimming. Dan didn’t get weighed down by the normal stresses of life, and he attempted to bring a friendly conversation or a little comfort to whoever he met, whether it be in class, or at a swim meet with his biggest competitor.

I don’t know if the parents of these boys will ever understand how God could allow their incredible young lives to end so suddenly. It’s got to be the most painful thing in the world to see your child die. But both families, somehow, were given amazing grace, to stand up and speak with each person who told them of how their son personally effected their lives.

My friend Howard told me that no one will ever get a true glimpse of a person’s life, until they die. People that he’d never met came to the funeral to share their stories of Dan and his life and what he meant to others. Over and over, Howard and his wife were just stunned of the impact that their 16 year old had on others. He lived the way we’re supposed to live.

When I think about my life, of how I’ve worried about the smallest things, or have obsessed over my career, or about the car I drive or the clothes I wear, I realize that I’m wasting my precious energy. I believe that God has us here on earth, to love others. Period. That’s our job. We are to do that through our work, and by being a good neighbor, by being a devoted wife, mother, friend, spouse, sister, brother, or whatever the different roles that we play. It’s the people that are important. It’s the people’s lives that we touch that are important. We are supposed to live life fully, by going out and experiencing it and not being fearful of it. We’re supposed to support one another, to we are supposed to tell others that we care for them. We are supposed to love our neighbors as our selves, and we are supposed to love and serve God above all else. To me, that means to serve Him by serving others. It means that my attitude at all times, is the most important thing going on at the moment. If I encounter a stressful moment, the most important thing is the attitude of peace and comfort that should accompany that stressful moment.

None of us are promised another day. A car accident or an undetected heart problem or something else could take us from the earth on this very day. And what would the streams of people say at our funerals? Would they say that we were well loved and always seemed to bring comfort or a kind word to others, or would they say simply to the survivors, “I’m sorry for your loss?”

How are we affecting the people we meet each day? Are we meeting others with a smile and a kind word, or with a stressful glance as we hurry on by. Are we taking the time to share with people or are we too busy to care? Are we saying “I love you” to our friends and families when we walk away or hang up the phone? Or are we consumed with how much extra weight we’re carrying around or what outfit to wear to an upcoming reunion?

I’ve been guilty of having the wrong attitude and have focused on the wrong things. But I see these two young mens’ lives, and now deeply understand the truth about my own life. We all have a purpose. We’re here to love, and to serve. Through our serving others, we glorify God, and by sharing ourselves deeply with others we give each other comfort. God uses us to help others, and we in turn are inspired by others. We’re all connected. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Today, these two young men, continue to live on in our hearts and minds. Their lives gave love to many when they lived, and in their death, they give hope. I pray that their families know that their lives served a great purpose, even in their deaths.

Their untimely deaths, inspired many to develop a new life. Their deaths encourage us to live a life without fear, and lives filled with adventure, fun, happy times, acceptance, calmness, friendship and love. It all seems so familiar now. It’s happened before, and perhaps this was a current day reminder. Two thousand years ago, God the Father, gave his Son to die for our sins, so that we might have a new life and that we might have it abundantly. Even today, he shows us how to live our lives. It all makes sense to me now.

As we are reminded of their lives and deaths, we can chose to live our lives fully, and we, can be free.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Feeling of Terror: The Start of a New Goal

I admit it. It terrifies me. I’ve committed to a new goal.

This shouldn’t be so difficult. After all, I’ve visualized this for years and years. I saw this person in my mind that could do this particular activity well and was in tip top shape to do it. Yet, the other day, when I showed up to do this particular thing, I chickened out, and was intimidated by those around me who made this thing look so easy, and they had no nerves about them at all. They were laughing and joking like it was the most natural thing in the world, and I stared at the group, and then slowly slipped by them into oblivion. I admit it, I didn’t have the guts.

But now? I’ve faced my fears. I told the coach that I really wanted to do it but was nervous about whether I could really do it and he has convinced me that I can; and now? I’ve done it. I’ve actually done it.

I’ve joined a running club!

I know, I know, I can hear you now! What’s the big deal? Grab a pair of running shoes, hydrate your body and go for a run. I know, I do it all the time too. But what I have just committed to was regular coaching, time trials, regular workouts, and a team of other runners who will keep me going even when I want to quit. And if I know myself, I know that might be more often than most.

I have always prided myself on being an athlete. I was always one of the fastest kids in elementary school and had trophies to prove it! I was a competitive swimmer and made it to state meet in high school and placed in the top 12 of my stroke. I was on a nationally ranked medley relay team and actually swam in the lane next to Tracy Caukins, the amazing All- American swimmer in the 80s. (I said in the LANE next to her, not NEXT to her!)

Even now, I feel athletic. I go to the YMCA and do my workouts several times a week. I was a member of a masters swim team for a few years and diligently showed up at 5:30am practice 3-4 days a week. And I go for runs in my neighborhood to break a sweat.

Why is this different? Well, have you ever looked at something with those wishful eyes, knowing in your heart that it could be you, it should be you, yet there is something holding you back? Have you ever seen someone accomplish the exact goal that you set out to do, but something happened that didn’t allow you to complete your goal? Did you feel the jealousy? Did you feel the pain? Did you feel the envy? Or how about the anger at yourself for not doing it! Then, come the excuses and then, nothing. For me, it’s always been a lame attempt to achieve a goal that I thought just wasn’t meant to be. I did a few small races, and trained for some triathlons, but never ran in a race where I was really competing. I didn’t feel like I could do it well, so I didn’t even try.

Years ago, I remember standing in NYC on the first New Years Eve that we lived there, watching all of the runners dressed up in crazy costumes, ready to do the midnight 5K run. They had groups of people from all over the city, office workers who banded together to support one another on this wacky and fun night, all running together. I stood by many times watching the NYC Marathon runners, and the ones that brought tears to my eyes were the ones that finished 12, 15 and 20 hours later. They were the ones who were walking with prosthetics, or were blind, or walking to prove that they could still compete in the existence we know as life. I watched with utter respect, amazement and awe, and always wanted it to be me.

I stood on the sidelines, wishing.

And now? I’ve committed to give it my best shot. I’ve committed to show up and run with this committed group of runners a few times a week, even if I’m the last one to finish. My coach is an avid runner with such enthusiasm for the sport and for other people, that he makes it even sound fun! He won’t stand for an attitude of anything but positive, so I’m now recharging my thoughts with positive messages that I’ll call upon when I’m in pain and want to quit.

Today, I’m facing the terror. Tomorrow I face the stop watch.

And one day, I’ll be writing the day before my first race. By then, I’ll have hopefully put in many miles on my shoes, and I’ll be facing my nerves from a different place. My body will be ready to meet the miles with strength and endurance. My goal of a ½ a marathon may turn into something more.

But now, its one day at a time. I’m facing the fear and doing it anyway.

This time, it feels good.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Yesterday was the 5th year anniversary of 9/11. As a former New Yorker who was in NY on that awful day, I can look back with the sadness that has filled every one of our hearts, but also with great awe of some things that happened that day. The day was also filled with thousands upon thousands of stories of miracles and people who knew that they were saved from disaster.

Remembering back to the day, I was watching Katie and Matt on TV when the whole thing happened. The first thing I did was to call my husband who was in midtown working for Morgan Stanley. I told him to turn on the TV and when they did, they all knew within minutes that thousands of other workers from their company were in the towers and watched in horror knowing that some of them could have perished. My own husband had an offer to work in the towers for Morgan Stanley in a different department. Somehow, he ended up in the mid town offices instead. That decision may have saved his life.

I regularly was a trainer for a Wall Street firm who held our trainings at Windows of the World. I wasn’t working that day, however, I had a friend, Monica, who was supposed to be at a writers conference that morning at Windows of the World. She decided not to attend the conference that day. That simple decision probably saved her life because most of the people who were at the conference perished.

Days after the towers collapsed, nearly everyone I spoke with had a similar story. I spoke with one man, Bill Throurlby, the original Marlboro man, who said a guy came up to him and said, “Mr. Throurlby, you saved my life! I remember hearing your words that morning in my head from an earlier speech you gave, that ‘successful people are busy people’ so I left the Towers and went to a meeting about 10 minutes before the disaster. Had I stayed, I could have died.”

Another friend was frantically looking for his roommate that day but he decided to be late to work that day and never even made it in. That decision probably saved his life.

There were literally thousands of these stories from people who were supposed to be there that day, and for some reason, they didn’t go to work, or were going in late. The numbers of death could have reached 20,000, yet somehow, only 2700+ died. It is 2700 too many of course, and we’ll never forget the terror of watching the towers come down. We’ll never forget hearing the voices of the scared workers who were trapped in a burning building and we’ll never forget the firefighters who gave their lives saving others.

I’ll never forget the thousands of flyers posted at Grand Central Station, trying to find the men and women that were missing, or the millions of flowers that were placed at the fire station around the corner from our apartment. I’ll never forget how thousands of helpless people ran to stand in line at the Red Cross to donate blood, hoping to help someone, somehow, during this meaningless tragedy.

That day will forever be scarred in my memory. Upon seeing my friends appear at the apartment grounds and the scared look in their eyes and the dust on their clothes, I remember feeling gratitude and thanking God that they were alright. I remember feeling loved and prayed for when hundreds of emails flooded my mailbox from friends all over just checking on me to make sure I was alright.

Since that time, a good friend who volunteered day and night to pass out food to the workers has now developed cancer. She’s one of many that probably has lingering physical effects of that day, whereas most of us endure the emotional scars.

As I reflect back to that day, I pray for all of the victims’ families who are left wondering why their loved ones didn’t make it back safe. I pray that God will bring them comfort and that one day, they’ll feel that there was a bigger purpose at stake, but we must never forget to pray for their comfort.

9/11 brought sorrow, tears and pain, but it also brought gratitude, comfort and joy to others who somehow made it out alive. We’ve all changed since then. We’re not so na├»ve, and we’re not so blind to the evil in the world. We’re stronger because we know that we have to fight for what we believe in, and with that belief, comes sacrifice.

9/11, forever in our memory, and in our hearts.

May God Bless America.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Employee with a Chip on His Shoulder… Harms the Whole Company!

Every once in a while you come across an individual who has an entitlement attitude. They feel that they’re blessed with unusual ability that far exceeds the rest of God’s creatures and that the people they’re forced to deal with are just mere servants that should be catering to them. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone.

This week I was calling upon a new customer and he had been used to dealing with our president and so speaking with me seemed to be lower than low. He cut me off in the conversation numerous times and kept telling me that I was making assumptions that weren’t correct. He was condescending and arrogant and I kept thinking to myself how his attitude wasn’t going to gain any bonus points with me!

My tactic was to slow down and listen to his opinions with as much intensity and understanding as I could possibly muster up. But even before that, I apologized for stating to him that some of the information that I needed to gather from him was administrative in nature and that anyone could deliver it to me. That’s when the hairs on the back of his neck must have flown up because he came back to me and said, “and you think that I’m an administrative person?” I quickly apologized and said, “no, of course not! I’m just saying that some of the information I need isn’t complicated, and that anyone can get it to me.” It was that statement from which he judged me going forward and from that moment on, he was unbelievably difficult to deal with as a person. He obviously viewed life from a place where he felt judged, so he treated me like I was judging him. I was not, I was merely asking for assistance from him.

Each of us have had momentary encounters with other human beings that are just not that great. We’ve all been in a place where we aren’t in the best situation and our attitude isn’t the best. Perhaps we didn’t take our Noni juice or Stress B Gone juice that morning, and we’re not the most “happy go lucky” individual every moment of the day. Or perhaps we are stressed and just too busy to stop and be personable with every person that we meet. Unfortunately, when we have about 3-10 seconds to create a first impression and the impression isn’t a good one, then we have to make it up by spending about 2 ½ positive hours winning that person back.

This individual who spoke down to me is a customer. That means that he deserves my respect and my courtesy. But that does NOT mean that he can run all over me and pound me into the ground. I’ve given him the first round and was gracious and promised to provide a wonderful service. But at this point, I see what sort of “stellar” human being he is and it’s not that pretty! He’s the type who is unable to just get a job done, regardless of what his title is. He’s caught up with his own impression of himself that he is too important to pitch in and help where the help is needed. This sort of attitude is hurtful for his company. He’s likely to lose a good vendor because of his condescending attitude, and certainly any of the perks that could have come along with having a great rapport. He’s also unlikely to receive any price breaks if there are any, or to receive upgrades that we might give to our valued customers.

People with chips on their shoulder should know that people are watching how you treat your vendors. People watch how you treat service individuals and whether or not you treat others with respect. People are watching you on the job, and they can tell if you’re a hard worker or just getting by with the least amount as possible. If you’re lazy, talking too much on the phone, spending too much time on the internet or emails, or if you won’t jump in when work needs to be done, you’re not going to be respected much, and you’re not going to be well liked by your co-workers even if they act like your friends. Trust me, they’re talking behind your back, and planning your demise. You’ll also lose business, which translates into money, which can translate into freedom. And hopefully, you’ll lose your job and continue to do so until you wake up and learn what makes a good employee.

I want our company to be known for its incredible service. I want to have a product that is second to none and I want our customers to be raving fans. It’s taking hard work, long hours and some personal sacrifice, but I’m excited to be a part of a team who cares enough to make our company great. One day I’ll have enough customers who want to work with us that I won’t HAVE to take everyone that comes along. And that is when I’ll be in the position to tell those customers who don’t quite fit our profile that they’d be better served by someone else.

Until that day, I’ll suck it up, make nice, and focus on the many customers I have who are delightful and respectful and who make me get up in the morning. Those people are great and make my job fun.

And in the meantime, to all of the “Mr. and Ms’ Chips on your Shoulder”… get off your high horse, crop a good attitude and work hard. You’re in the way of many productive and great people who want to do a good job and serve the company. You’re a drag to your employer and to many people around you.

You can make changes by deciding to work hard when no one is watching. You can decide to make each day count and you can decide that you want to serve others to make their lives better. You can decide to think about others instead of just yourself, and you can decide to sacrifice your bad attitude for the benefit of the company at whole. If you do this, you’ll quickly become a valued member of the team, and then we’d welcome you back with open arms.

Please Mr. Chip, you can make the changes. Decide right now that you’re making a change. Each day will get better and better until you realize, that you have changed. And that is when you have become a valued member of your company, your industry, and of our world.