Posted on Leave a comment

What Are You Grateful For Today?

Did you take a moment to be grateful today? Gratitude consists of being fully aware of your current circumstances with all its worrying details, both big and small, and being able to recognize the good.

“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In our modern daily lives, it is easy to take for granted the gifts we have been given by the many thousands of people who have gone before us. It is mind-boggling to try to fathom the effort that has gone into giving us the lives we enjoy simply by virtue of having been born in the 20th century.

Consider the desktop computer, laptop, handheld tablet or smart phone on which you are reading this post. Only a genius could fully comprehend all the details, the intricate science, engineering and technology used to develop and manufacture it. Try to imagine the time and effort that went into making each item of clothing you are wearing now – how the cotton was grown, and picked and spun and then woven into cloth, and dyed into interesting fabric. Think of the designers who envisioned the cut and style of the garments. Ponder the work of the people involved in creating and sewing the patterns. Contemplate the last meal you ate—even if it was only as modest as a can of beans or a bowl of ramen noodles. What about the  transportation you take each day? Could you reproduce any of these items completely on your own?

Reflect on the brilliant minds over thousands of years that devoted themselves to inventing and perfecting the modern comforts and luxuries we take for granted. Innumerable men and women cared enough to make their lives count for something, so that we can all enjoy better standards of living today. Life has given us so much more than we can ever return to it.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

I encourage you to spend just a few moments now and each day in quiet reflection on the good things in your life.
All day long, make a habit of noticing all the gifts around you, the people, companies and technologies that serve you. Think of your health. It may not be perfect, but focus on the miracle of the things that work – your eyes to see, ears to hear, skin to protect all your internal organs, legs to take you were you need to go. Take responsibility for consciously feeling grateful for all the gifts life has presented to you. Express your appreciation. Say “thank you” as often as possible, to as many people as possible.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” — Meister Eckhart

I spent my time in gratitude this morning with my dog, Frisky, on Ffreyes Beach—just three minutes from my home. I stood in awe of the natural beauty that surrounded me, and felt overwhelmed with appreciation (as I always do), for this little island of Antigua, which I call home. I snapped a few seconds of video. Enjoy!

Posted on 3 Comments

Today I’m Inspired by: Jeff Hadeed

The Global Financial Crisis

In October 2008, a seasoned accounting professional with eight years of public accounting experience and several years in the hospitality and real estate industry, I found myself out of work — a casualty of the global financial crisis. The five-star resort where I had recently been hired as Financial Controller failed to open after many months of preparation and millions of dollars in refurbishment. The Icelandic bank that funded it had crashed. The demise of my most recent job could not have come at a worse time. I had been through a series of personal challenges including the sudden death of my father and tragic death of my 21-year old brother, a stint in ICU with meningitis, and major surgery. My entire savings had been depleted. And then, I got a call with a job offer from Jeff Hadeed.

Big Banana

This was to be second stint in Jeff’s employment. Fifteen years earlier it was the early nineties, I was in my teens, and Jeff was the co-proprietor of one of the most popular restaurants on Antigua. Jeff hired me to create a computer catalogue of the Big Banana restaurant’s impressive collection of CDs, which lined the wall from bar to the ceiling. I can remember being somewhat shell-shocked by the frenetic environment of the hotspot. Nestled in St. John’s historic Redcliffe Quay, the restaurant itself was beautiful, with its long wooden bar stretching the length of the converted ancient brickwork rum warehouse.  It had a welcoming island-chic decor: terra-cotta tiles, wooden tables and chairs and stunning black and white photos of island life. Huge brick arches led the way to the outdoor area, where patrons laughed heartily with friends and family, enjoying the best pizza on the island, under a canopy of tropical branches. At night, both tourists and residents alike grooved to the live music of local bands, with a steady flow of Wadadli beer and Cavalier rum served up by tight-jeans wearing servers in their iconic Big Banana tee-shirts.

I worked at a computer in the tiny office above the bar which was accessed by climbing a creaky wooden spiral staircase. Sounds and smells wafted upwards all day long. The office pulsated with musical rhythms and the sounds of clinking glasses, orders being taken, delivery boxes packed and of course the ever-present smell of delicious pizza. Jeff was both exacting and well-respected by his staff. It was a fast-paced environment– vibrant and alive, with high standards and an air of excellence. It only took a few days to finish listing the CDs but it was exciting. I felt a sense of accomplishment when I was finished, because I knew that somehow I had contributed and been a part of it. I have always been grateful for the much-needed funds, and the short but enriching experience.

The Passionate Perfectionist with a Heart of Gold

And now here was Jeff once again, rescuing me in a time of need. Jeff Hadeed completed a business degree in the United States and studied design in Italy. Returning to Antigua in the mid-1980’s, he started the Big Banana chain of restaurants with two of his siblings. These restaurants have earned the reputation of being Antigua’s chicest, most loved casual dining hotspots for over twenty-five years, thanks largely to Jeff’s managerial oversight, keen marketing insight and relentless relationship-building.

In the eight or so months that I worked with Jeff as a project accountant at Next International and ROLS Limited, I developed a deep respect for Jeff as a person and as an entrepreneur. Armed with sparkling brown eyes, and a finely tuned esthetic instinct, he is a passionate perfectionist. He is stubbornly committed to doing everything he attempts to the highest possible standard. There is a dichotomy about Jeff. He has both talent and heart. Having little patience with mediocrity, his fiery temper is legendary. I’ve seen many wither under Jeff’s fury after having his exacting standards compromised. And yet, forever in his uniform of tee-shirt and jeans, he is both unpretentious and approachable. Loyal to a fault, he quickly cultivates long-lasting friendships, never thinking twice about going out of his way to help a friend.

An Entrepreneurial Success Story

Jeff recently turned 50. His shaved head and slim, youthful physique belie his years. One of the great things about living on an island is that you can leave your mark and change its landscape, if you really want to. In the past 25 years, Jeff’s authenticity, creativity and dedication have had just that kind of impact.  South Point (see photos here), a beautiful waterside development nestled in Antigua’s picturesque Falmouth Harbour, is Jeff’s newest venture. It is a labor of love for him, years in the making. Through his eye for detail, warmth for people and exacting standards, he has created hundreds of thousands of unique experiences for his employees, friends  and patrons over the years. Railing against lax island standards, Jeff has committed himself to building brands that have stood the test of time. In essence, this is what being an entrepreneur is all about. It is about creating something greater than yourself, and truly believing in what you do. This is why I enjoyed working for Jeff, why I respect him, and why I am inspired by him today.

Jeff, I wish you continued success in everything you do and many more happy years to come. Happy birthday, and thank you!

Posted on 8 Comments

Today I’m Inspired by: Alice Herz-Sommer

The oldest living Holocaust survivor

At 108 years old, Alice Herz-Sommer is both the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor and the world’s oldest concert pianist. She was eight years old when the Titanic sank, saw the start and end of the first world war, survived the atrocities of the Nazi prison camps, outlived her mother, husband and only son, and is a twenty-five year cancer survivor. Through unspeakable tragedy, Alice is still smiling, victorious over the anguish, pain and death that could have killed her shining spirit many decades ago. Alice is an incurable optimist.

A life of privilege

Alice Herz was born in Prague in November 1903, into a privileged secular Jewish family of five siblings. Her father, Friedrich, was a successful merchant and her mother, Sofie, was highly educated and moved in circles of well-known artists, composers and writers of the time. Alice started learning the piano from her older sister at 5 years old. At 16, she became the youngest student a the German Music Academy. Through hard work and enviable diligence, by the end of her teens, Alice had established a solid career for herself as a concert pianist and teacher. By her late twenties she was well-known throughout Central Europe. In 1931, Alice met and married Leopold Sommer, a kind-hearted business man and amateur musician, who spoke five languages. Alice fondly remembers him as “an extremely gifted man, extremely gifted”. Their son Raphael was born in 1937.

An idyllic life shattered

At the age of 35, Alice’s seemingly comfortable, secure and cultured existence was about to be shattered. Hitler’s army invaded Prague in March 1939; the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia had begun. “Everything was forbidden” Alice remembers,”we couldn’t buy groceries, take the tram, or go to the park.” Although for a while, Alice and her small family were allowed to continue living in their flat, they were surrounded by Nazis, and most Jews were sent to live in the ghetto. “We had to give away all our belongings. We had nothing.”

A bad situation became suddenly worse in 1942, when Sommer’s frail and sickly 72-year old mother was plucked from their lives and sent to a death camp. Soon after, Alice, her husband and 6 year old son were shipped off to the Theresienstadt concentration camp at the fortress town of Terezin. Described as a “purgatory for artists and musicians”, the camp housed the Jewish cultural elite of Europe. It was no spa town as advertised by the Nazis. There, she engaged in hard labor splitting mica chips for war production. They lived on watered down black coffee and watery soup. “we were so weak”, Alice remembers.

The highly-fortified and remote Terezin camp was used by the Nazis to fool the outside world. They allowed the Red Cross to visit three times per year, while in reality it was merely a transit camp to the gas chambers. Hitler’s army eventually tolerated cultural activities there, and used it to their own advantage. Jewish inmates were allowed to practice their music, and Alice gave over 100 concerts playing Beethoven, Bach and Schubert two or three times a week from memory to sick, hopelessly hungry and dying fellow inmates. “It was propaganda,” Sommer says. “This was something they could show the world, while in reality they were killing us.” But the music helped to sustain their souls. “There was no food. Music was our food. Through music we were kept alive” Alice recalls.

Redemption

In May 1945, the camp was liberated by the Russians. By then, it estimated that almost 140,000 Jews passed through Terezin to their deaths. Alice and Raphael were free. Alice’s husband had been sent to the notorious death camp, Auschwitz 8 months earlier, and although he survived his internment there, she would never see him again as he died of Typhus only six weeks before the end of the war.

Alice’s son was one of only 130 children known to leave Terezin alive of the over 15,000 children sent there during the war. Many died of starvation, cruelty and sickness, while the rest taken to deaths in the gas chambers. The survival of Alice’s son is the most extraordinary testament to her unwavering optimism. Alice remembers Raphael would keep asking, ‘What is war? Why are we hungry?”, as hundreds and hundreds died around them every day. Alice recounts, “it’s not easy for a mother to see her child crying, and to know that she does not even have a little bread to give him.” “But… I shielded him” she states triumphantly.  “We were always talking and laughing”. “Never did I let my son see my fear or worry. Laughter was our only medicine.” And even after the nightmare was over, Alice says “I never spoke a word about it because I didn’t want my child to grow up with hatred because hatred brings hatred. I succeeded. And I never hated either, never, never.”

Alice moved to Israel in 1949 where she lived for almost 40 years before her son convinced her to join him in London in 1986. In 2001, Raphael, who had gone on to study at the Paris Conservatory and to become a celebrated professional solo cellist, died suddenly of an aneurism while on tour at the age of 65.

Alice today

Today, living in a cozy one-room flat in London, Alice is contented with life, and still smiling. She sticks to her daily routine with ferocious discipline, starting her piano at 10am sharp. “I have trouble moving these two fingers,” she says smiling, slightly embarrassed. She was swimming daily up to the age of 97. She also reads every day, holding a giant magnifying glass. She takes long walks daily, shunning both walker and hearing aid, and still cooks for herself. “If Hitler could have heard me playing my music I’m sure he would have been a better man.”

At 108, Alice is still witty and coherent, even flirtatious, with a ready laugh. When asked the secret to her long life, Alice responds, “in a word: optimism. I look at the good. When you are relaxed, your body is always relaxed. When you are pessimistic, your body behaves in an unnatural way. It is up to us whether we look at the good or the bad. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive.” Even at her advanced age, Sommers’ joy for living still shines through “I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times… Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.” Alice is not afraid of death, she says “when I die I can have a good feeling. I believe I lived my life the right way.”

Alice’s Survival Lessons

Here are 8 lessons we can learn from the life of this extraordinary woman:

1. Learn, learn, learn.

Alice’s mother had a love of learning and instilled in her children a desire to hungrily pursue knowledge, “to learn, to learn, to learn, to know, to know” Alice remembers. All through her life, it is the strength of Sommers’ mind that sustained her. She believes in putting something in your mind everyday that no one can take from you. Up to the age of 104, Alice would make the trek three times per week to a nearby university to study history, and philosophy. Even now, every Saturday, she keeps her intellectual brain limber by playing Scrabble with a friend.

2. Be disciplined. Work hard.

According to Alice, “Work is the best invention, the best.” Even past the age of 100, playing the piano is still a discipline for her. Every day she starts with an hour of Bach followed by the rest of her pieces, in order not to forget. It is not easy, and she has to play with only eight of her fingers. But, she says “It makes you happy to have something”.  According to Alice, we must always be purposefully engaged. “The worst thing is life, in my opinion, is boredom – when people don’t know what to do with themselves”. Alice asserts, “boredom is dangerous”. When it comes to diet, Alice applies discipline, too. “For 30 years I have eaten the same, fish or chicken. Good soup, and this is all. I don’t drink, not tea, not coffee, not alcohol. Hot water.” As for exercise, even at her age, Alice says “I walk a lot with terrible pains, but after 20 minutes it is much better. Sitting or lying is not good.”

3. Laugh.

Alice’s strategy has not only been to think happy thoughts, but to show it by laughing. She is convinced this is what kept her young son alive, even as he witnessed daily atrocities for two years in the Nazi camps. “Everything is good and bad. So look at the good side and laugh.” “And I was always laughing – even there, I was always laughing.” Many people may have called Alice’s attitude fake along the way, or even accused her of being in denial, but Alice has had the last laugh, and the best.

4. Look inside yourself for strength.

Alice’s bond with her mother was so strong, that when Alice’s mother was taken away by the Nazis, she experienced grief that she thought would crush her. A small voice within told her that the strength to overcome would not come from outside help, not from her friends, her husband or her son. “You alone can help yourself”, Alice remembers stoically. She found that strength by rigorously practicing “for hours and hours” one of the most technically challenging pieces for any pianist, Chopin’s ’24 Etudes’. Her ability to master the difficult music led to her conquering her grief.

5. Don’t complain.

Complaining about a situation never ever changes it. Alice cautions: “All that complain, ‘This is terrible’, it’s not so terrible after all. Complaining changes nothing.” “When you are not complaining…everybody loves you.”

6. Be optimistic. Look for the good things.

“Every day in life is beautiful – if we only look up from our reality”, Alice admonishes. Pessimists “wait for catastrophes, and sometimes the catastrophes come” she says, almost mockingly. “Always look for the good things in life: the world is wonderful, it’s full of beauty and miracles.” Alice credits her longevity to her optimism, saying “this is the reason I am so old, I know about the bad things but I look only for the good things.” “I think about the good. That takes a lot of practice.”

7. Never hate.

“When you know history – wars and wars and wars … It begins with this: that we are born half-good and half-bad – everybody, everybody. And there are situations where the bad comes out and situations where the good comes out.” Alice zealously expresses. “Never, never hate. I don’t hate the Germans. They are wonderful people, no worse than others. Evil has always existed and always will. It is part of our life.” As for Hitler, Sommer dismisses him simply as “a madman”. “I never hate. I will never hate. Hatred brings only hatred.”

8. Be grateful.

When asked what the greatest lesson of her life has been, Alice’s reply is “thankfulness”. “Be thankful for everything, being in good health, seeing the sun, hearing a nice word”, Alice advises. She laments, “Young people take everything for granted… There is electricity, cars, telegraph, telephone, Internet. We also have hot water all day long. We live like kings.” Alice is even thankful for her experience in the camp. “I am thankful to have been there… I am richer than other people.” And to sum her 108 year, Alice says “I have had such a beautiful life”. And when asked about her philosophy of life in a nutshell, this peerless lady surmises simply: “Everything we experience is a gift. Everything is a present.”

For more on Alice Herz-Sommer’s inspiring life, I recommend Caroline Stoessinger’s biography ‘A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor‘.

 

Posted on 8 Comments

21 Inspiring Quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born the son of a minister in Boston, Massachusetts in 1803. After attending the prestigious Harvard College, Emerson initially followed in his father’s footsteps and became an ordained minister. While still a young man, however, he left the clergy to pursue a career as an essayist and public speaker. Over the course of his career, he became one of the most influential nineteenth century literary figures. His two most famous works, essays ‘Nature’ and ‘Self Reliance’ serve to clearly outline his distinct philosophy of life which emphasized optimism, individuality, the unity of all things, the difference between right and wrong and the power of human potential.

Here are 21 of his most inspiring quotes:

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On achieving your dreams

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Ralph Waldo Emerson – On optimism

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Ralph Waldo Emerson – On personal growth

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Ralph Waldo Emerson – On using time wisely

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting… Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Ralph Waldo Emerson – On recognizing greatness in others

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On friendship and love

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Love, and you shall be loved.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On character.

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On gratitude

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On starting each day anew

“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On not taking life too seriously

“Be silly. Be honest. Be kind.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Posted on 1 Comment

Today I Stand In Awe

In the hours since the breaking news of Whitney Houston‘s passing, I have seen a range of reactions. There have been expressions of shock and genuine grief from her myriad fans. There have also been reactions of a less supportive nature. Some have expressed confusion and disgust at the outpouring of sorrow.

Art, music and love are some of the inexplicable things that make life beautiful. Our ability to fully appreciate and experience these sublime delights makes us human. How dull life would be without music. When someone as gifted as Whitney reaches super stardom, their talents reach out, touching the lives of millions, on a level that is individual and not fully comprehensible. Through her music, Whitney walked with her fans through the depths of sorrow, heartbreak and betrayal and floated with them to the heights of infatuation, inspiration, and joy. And because of this, there is a felt connection.

I have also shed some tears because of Whitney Houston’s passing. I have cried selfishly; because her music has taken me through the decades. When I listen to her song “One Moment in Time’, vivid memories come flooding back.  I relive emotions from the historic 1988 Summer Olympic games held in Seoul, South Korea. Through the technological marvel of all-day cable TV coverage, the profound struggles and triumphs of the world’s athletes were set to music in a way I will never forget. Whitney features prominently in the soundtrack of my life.

I have also cried selflessly, as I reflect on the turbulence of Whitney’s later years. How could someone so gifted, whose talents touched so many have fallen prey to her own demons and thrown so much away? Is it that she didn’t know how much she was loved? Didn’t she know how much she mattered to so many people? Self-destructive tendencies are often inexplicable. And yet, in spite of all of this, her death should still be mourned.

Albert Einstein once said that “he who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed’. So today, I pause in wonder to listen and to appreciate the extraordinarily powerful range of an angelic voice. I stand in awe of the incomparable talent that was Whitney Houston. And I am grateful.

Posted on 3 Comments

Today I am Grateful for: Charles Dickens

It is February 7th. Had Charles Dickens miraculously lived, today would have been his 200th birthday. His brilliant literary works have brought joy to millions over the generations. Even 140 years after his death, many of his writings have never gone out of print. I recently re-read ‘David Copperfield’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. Some of his other well-loved books include. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘Great Expectations’. When you do great work, your legacy lives on long after you are gone.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” ~Steve Jobs.

Be inspired to leave a legacy. Do great work, and live your best life today.

Posted on 3 Comments

A Brand New Year

A Brand New Year

A brand new year stretches before us, an uncertain road not yet traveled.  Traditionally a period of festivity and reflection, the close of each year takes us tumbling through a mishmash of memories – twelve months worth of joys and sorrows,  lucky breaks and challenges, resolutions and regrets.

We giddily relive the delicious moments of dancing until dawn, the kiss that took our breath away.  Reminiscing on the joy weddings and the arrival of new family members brings the comforting warmth of nostalgia. The exhilaration of new projects and challenges – plans for a new home, a promotion, college acceptance  – inspires us with a sense of purposeful anticipation, yearning and optimism for the days ahead.

In contrast, many of us find ourselves facing the New Year with trepidation; we feel weighed down by the not so awe-inspiring occurrences of the year just passed. Our eyes cloud with tears as we reflect on the loss of a loved one gone too soon. The insecurity of not having a stable income, or the pain of living with a critical illness may leave our stomachs in knots. We find ourselves plummeting into despair again and again, as we recall the feelings of loneliness, guilt and betrayal caused by broken friendships and relationships. There is inevitably a string of goals not met, bills not paid, pounds not lost, addictions not conquered and exams not passed. A general sense of foreboding hangs as thickly as a dark fog – a never-ending news of war and famine, recession, political turmoil and protests worldwide.

The Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian holocaust survivor. In his best-selling book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, he details the experiences of daily life in Nazi death camps from the unique perspective of a neurologist and psychiatrist.  He lost everything, his possessions, his wife and his family, and yet concluded that even in the circumstances of the worst kind of suffering imaginable, it is possible for life to have meaning. Based on his experience, the differentiating factor between the people who died in the Nazi concentration camps and those who survived, was their attitude. Viktor Frankl’s writings challenge us to adopt an attitude of responsibility, which focuses on the future. He asks us to ask ourselves what we will offer to life, instead of brooding over what life might owe to us.

Our Lives Only Become Rich with Gratitude

The most important lesson I plan on taking into the future can be expressed in a single word – gratitude. Gratitude consists of being fully aware of your current circumstances and being able to recognize the good that exists, no matter how small.

““In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As we stand at the threshold of a new year, take a moment to think about how much you have been given. It is mind-boggling to try to fathom the effort that has gone into giving us the lives we enjoy, simply by virtue of having been born in the 20th century. Only a genius can fully understand the intricate science and technology used to develop and manufacture the laptop or smart phone on which you are reading this post. Consider the time and effort that went into making the clothes you are wearing now, the last meal that you ate and the transportation you take each day. Could you reproduce it on your own? Reflect on all the brilliant minds over thousands of years that devoted themselves to inventing and perfecting all the luxuries we enjoy today. Countless men and women cared enough to make their lives count so that we can all enjoy better standards of living today. Life has given us so much more than we can ever return to it.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

I challenge you to make this your year of gratitude:

  • Commit to spending just a few minutes each day quietly reflecting on the good things in your life.
  • All day long, make a habit of noticing all the good around you, the people, companies and technologies that serve you.
  • Develop the habit of consciously feeling grateful, all the gifts life has presented to you.
  • Express your appreciation. Say “thank you” as often as possible, to as many people as possible.

 

Start Something that Matters

Right now, instead of focusing on the wrong that may have been done to you, focus on all the gifts you have been given. Instead of focusing on what you haven’t done in the past, focus on what you can do in the future. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by negative experiences, think of ways to create positive experiences for yourself and others.  Banish apathy and fear. Make a decision to do all that you can do, and be the best that you can be. Take responsibility for the good that you can create in the world.

Below is a link to David Bowden’s performance of his poem titled “Start Something that Matters”, inspired by the eponymous book authored by the founder of the TOMS shoe company. I found it uplifting, and I hope you do too.

Paint all you painters, paint something that captures.
Write all you writers, write something that answers.
Build all you builders, build something that shelters.
Start all you starters, start something that matters.

May this be your BEST year EVER!

Posted on 3 Comments

The Optimist’s Creed: I Promise Myself Today


I am not naturally a morning person. In fact, I am the opposite. I am something of a forcibly reformed night owl. My alarm goes off at 5:30am seven days per week. Seven days per week, I hit the five-minute snooze button at least once, and often several times before reluctantly accepting that another day must now begin. That said, I have to admit that mornings are wonderful. They give us a chance to start each new day afresh.

Every morning, I reserve a few moments—before bounding (or crawling) out of bed—to be quiet. During these quiet moments, I meditate on, read and listen to words which will uplift my spirit and bring perspective as I start another day’s adventure. I reserve a few moments to be grateful. I focus on all the wonderful people in my life, the blessings I enjoy, and the people I admire. I remind myself of my goals and the person I would like to become.

One of my most meaningful morning meditations is Christian D. Larson’s ‘Optimist’s Creed’. Treasured by millions for almost one hundred years, the Optimist’s Creed challenges me to take full responsibility for my day, for my own actions and for the day’s outcomes.

By replacing the words “Promise yourself” with “I promise myself today” in each line, I picture myself living up to these timeless affirmations. I’m sharing the adapted version I recorded for myself with you. I hope that as you listen, these beautiful words will enrich your life as much as they have enriched mine.

Posted on 9 Comments

Thank You, Steve!

David Suchet as M. Hercule Poirot

As a child, between the ages of eight and ten years old, I devoured books. I have a natural love of learning, and the reading program introduced at my elementary school really stirred this. We were treated to weekly visits to the public library, and our parents were given the opportunity to purchase in bulk from Scholastic books. The rich and imaginative world of literature opened up to me as I read classic children’s novels such as ‘Veronica the Showoff’ and ‘The House on the Hill’ and every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery novel I could get my little fingers on. I read Agatha Christie, and fell in love with Monsieur Hercule Poirot – detective magnifique! I also kept long lists of the books I’d read, and wrote book reports about my favorites in my journal.  I was even selected winner of a book report competition I entered and had the chance to read one of my reviews on the radio.

In my early teens, my insatiable appetite for books seemed to be diminishing. In high school, most of my friends had their noses buried in the Sweet Valley High series and serial romance novels. To me, these seemed like a waste of time, and I only ever managed to get through one of them. My love affair with books had come to an abrupt end.

Throughout my twenties, I read only while on vacation, between jobs or during other periods down time or transition. I had several bookshelves lined with books – most of which I actually did start reading, but never quite got around to finishing.

Fast forward to April 2009. Now in my mid-thirties, I received the gift of a sparkling new iPhone, a white one. Delighted, I quickly learned the truth that belied the catch-phrase “there’s an app for that”. It turns out there was an app to fix my twenty-year reading slump. Using the Kindle app, which I downloaded for free, I could buy and read the titles I wanted, whenever I wanted with just a motion of my finger on a sleek touchscreen. What a relief it was to no longer be at the mercy of the narrow offerings at the local bookstore. No more did I have to wait weeks for international shipping to the Caribbean.

Frisky on one of Antigua's famed 365 beaches

With my iPhone with me all the time, it became so easy to read in my spare moments. I took to reading in all while walking my dog, Frisky, early every morning.  As strange as it may sound, reading while walking my dog was not much of a challenge. As you can see, Frisky is a little terrier, with very short legs. At fifteen years old, she is content to walk quite slowly, pausing to sniff at  blades of grass, rocks or most anything that takes her fancy – every few paces.

When the new iPad was released, reading became even more of a pleasure.

Last year, on August 21, 2010, I added the most powerful weapon to my new arsenal – audible.com. Using Audible, I could now purchase audio books and devour them while driving, washing the dishes or getting ready for bed. Suddenly, the morning and evening commute moved from being largely an exercise in frustration, to real “me time” I could look forward to.

With these new gifts of technology at my disposal, I decided that it was time to catch up on the twenty years of reading I had missed. Even with the demanding job of running a company, I set myself a goal of reading 50 books in the course of the coming twelve months. I committed to reading about one book per week, no excuses.

It’s July, and I’ve surpassed my goal. I’ve consumed 77 books in less than a year. Some of them I have read using the Kindle app on my iPod touch or iPad, and some I have listened to via audible, but none of them has been made of paper. Thank you, Steve Jobs!

End note: If you love reading, but think you’re too busy to do it, now is the time to log on to www.audible.com and become a member. With a monthly subscription, Audible will deliver a minimum of one book credit per month. You will have the flexibility of being able to download and listen to your books on your laptop, blackberry, iPhone, iPad and a range of other platforms. You won’t regret it!