Choose Life

Each day, there are choices set before us: life or death, love or loneliness, abundance or poverty, beauty or unpleasantness, creativity or lassitude, excitement or boredom, fulfillment or frustration, freedom or confinement, health or sickness, happiness or misery, peace or struggles, prosperity or misfortune, blessings or curses, success or failure, .

Today, I choose life. I choose love. I choose abundance. I choose beauty. I choose creativity. I choose excitement. I choose fulfillment. I choose freedom. I choose health. I choose happiness. I choose peace. I choose prosperity. I choose blessings. I choose success. And I hope you will, too!

Today I Am Inspired by: Benjamin Franklin

I am thrilled to have just started a new biography: ‘Benjamin Franklin: An American Life’ by Walter Isaacson. Isaacson, has also written biographies of Einstein (which I absolutely adore and highly recommend), Steve Jobs (which I have not yet finished) and Kissinger. So, I am excited to get started on the story of Benjamin Franklin. The publisher’s note describes him as “the founding father who winks at us”. Indeed, I have been fascinated with Benjamin Franklin since childhood.

Growing up on the Caribbean island of Antigua, two years of my early education were spent at a church-run school, St. John’s Lutheran. For better or for worse, the American-run school had the unusual feature of a 100% U.S. curriculum. In history class, we learned about the Unites States founding fathers. I read about Benjamin Franklin’s inventions and misadventures, and about his famous publication “Poor Richard’s Almanack”. A truly self-made man, Benjamin Franklin was a noted scientist, inventor, statesman and diplomat; he invented the lightning rod and bifocals, and was one of the Committee of Five that drafted the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Born into a large Boston family in 1706, Benjamin Franklin focused early on the importance of developing character. As a young man, Franklin composed a list of thirteen virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. He believed that these were the qualities to strive for in order to live a good life. He carried checklists of these virtues in his pockets for many years, and tried to live by them until his death at age 84.

Although he lived over 300 years ago, Benjamin Franklin‘s pithy wisdom continues to permeate modern life. He left a legacy of political, scientific and social achievement. He is noted as the first to outline the social concept of “paying it forward”. Having coined the slightly misquoted aphorism “a penny saved is a penny earned”, his image adorns US $100 notes today. He also believed in rising early (see my post about getting up early here). Who does not remember hearing his axiom “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”? .

In studying the life of Benjamin Franklin, we discover that he believed that being healthy, wealthy and wise lay not only in rising early, but also in doing good. His formula for success included starting each day at 5am and asking the essential question “What good shall I do today?”.  He believed that grand accomplishments are not achieved overnight, but take place by slowing building character by doing smaller daily good. What good will you do today?

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.

Dalai Lama Morning Meditation

Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive.
I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.
I am going to use all my energies to develop myself,
To expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the
benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others.
I am not going to get angry, or think badly about others.
I am going to benefit others as much as I can

-Dalai Lama

Taking Your Foot Off the Gas Pedal or Sophie’s Choice

Don’t Leave Before You Leave
A few days ago I wrote a post about Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg. I shared a link to her TED speech where she addresses the reasons why there are so few women at the top of their fields and gives advice to women reaching for success. One of her tips is “Don’t leave before you leave”. Sandberg talks about how women take their foot off the gas pedal, contemplating how to manage married lives and families they do not yet have, to the detriment of career advancement. She is right. While at least 50% of University grads are women, there is still a marked absence of women on corporate boards, as CEOs and in the political arena. At some point after graduating, women are leaning back.

Kiss My Tiara
Nine years ago, I read a book which I credit with teaching me my first important lessons in negotiating. ‘Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a Smartmouth Goddess” by Susan Jane Gilman is an extremely irreverent book, and one that some might find offensive. Looking back, I think Ms. Gilman shaped more than just my negotiating skills. The Introduction is titled “Forget Rules for Catching a Husband. How ’bout Rules for Catching a Life?”.

Sophie’s Choice
“Too often, women are confronted with the social equivalent of Sophie’s choice. Which “children” are we willing to sacrifice: our hearts or our minds? our independence or the prospect of intimacy? our careers or our families?”. These are words echoed by Gilman in Part 1 of the book, titled “Mistress of Our Domain”. As a 37 year old woman who has never been married and never been pregnant, I can relate to having to make that choice. Not overtly, just subtly, little by little every day. While I can’t claim that I have driven my career hard, stayed at the table and kept my hand up 100% of the time, my professional pursuits have been a priority for me. I have always looked for opportunities to grow. And while I have been thrown a few career curve balls, I have been fortunate enough to do that. Younger women are often shocked to hear that I have always wanted to have a family. They assume that successful professional women make a cold-hearted decision to close the door on domestic possibilities.

Choose Wisely
It really isn’t fair that, generally speaking, babies need to come within a specified time frame. Reproductive years are limited. The biological clock is not a figment of women’s imaginations. It also isn’t fair that, as Sheryl Sandberg notes, likeability and success are negatively correlated for women, but positively correlated for men. What that means is that as men become more successful, both men and women like them more. However as women reach the top at work, the opposite occurs – both men and women find them less likeable. So what do you think that means for dating prospects? Successful women need love too, but let’s face it, it will be harder for them to find. This is why a woman who holds having a family in high priority may be lead to believe she has to take her foot off the gas pedal just to find a mate.

So who’s right? Gilman or Sandberg? Gilman is successful and single. With her book, she made lots of money encouraging women to be self-sufficient, while sneering at the fantasy most women have about going down the aisle in a frothy white gown. Sandberg on the other hand, is poised to become one of the wealthiest self-made women in the world, and is the twice married mother of two young children. She got to the top making day care runs and changing diapers. The difference is that (at least on her second try) she chose a partner who could be a partner, providing 50/50 support as she pursued her career goals too.

Women Can Have It All
In my opinion, and with the benefit of hindsight, Susan Gilman’s position is wrong. I drank her Kool-Aid almost ten years ago. I went through my late twenties and thirties believing that having a successful career meant “putting off” or even giving up on finding a mate and starting a family. Sandberg, as one of the most successful corporate executives on earth, knows that you can have it all. But you have to choose it.  Whether you want a family, or a successful career, or both — and I suspect most women would choose both if they knew it was a real option — you will need to decide what you’re going after. As with anything else in life, you will then need to actively DO the things that will move you in the direction of your dreams. Sophie’s choice only exists if you let it. Don’t limit yourself to either/or. Choose wisely.

Today I’m Inspired by: Aristotle

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” – Aristotle

Aristotle was born in ancient Greece in the year 384 BC. He is recognized as one of the most influential minds to impact Greek thought and Western civilization. A founding father of modern philosophy and science, Aristotle’s areas of interest, study and expertise spanned art, biology, ethics, linguistics, logic, poetry, physics, music, mathematics, theater and politics. He even studied astronomy and knew that the earth is round. Aristotle devoted his entire life to study, and to understanding the world through his “scientific method”. The strides he made formed the foundations for physics, biology and logic that lasted for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Today, I am inspired by some of the many brilliant quotes that form his legacy. I hope his words also inspire you to be your best self every day, and even better than you were the day before — remembering that choice, not chance determines your destiny!

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

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.

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!

10 Little Things I’ve Learned as a Female Executive

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years, and continue to learn every day.

1. Work Hard

There really is no substitute for hard work. The law of sowing and reaping and Newton’s third law hold true in nature, and are equally applicable to everyday life. Don’t expect to ever get more than you put in. Don’t expect to ever be paid more than you deserve. And if it happens, don’t expect it to last long. Compete only with yourself; strive every day to be better than you were the day before.

2. If You Don’t Ask, the Answer is Always “No”

One of the main reasons some women succeed at landing the tough assignments and earning salaries comparable to those of their male counterparts is because they’ve learned to speak up. Life is not fair and neither is the work place. Take an active role in making sure you convert your diligence into rewards — this will not happen automatically. Ask how you’re performing, ask for more responsibility, let others know when you’re being treated unfairly and toot your own horn.

3. Don’t Scratch with the Chickens

Choosing the wrong people to keep company with at work can really drag you down. Gossips are great at identifying who did what wrong, but don’t put any energy into making things right. Similarly, complainers cast blame, but take no personal responsibility. Both consistently expect the worse and both tend to consistently get the worse. When you’ve suffered a set-back, take it in your stride and move on. It is a mistake to whine or bitterly complaining to whoever will listen. Hone your skills and keep your eyes peeled for the next available opportunity. Prepare to soar with the eagles instead.

4. Flaunt Your Skills, Not Your Sexuality

Make the office a strictly “no-flirting” zone. Being inconsistent on this point may land you in compromising situations that may be difficult for you to recover from. On the other hand, celebrate the fact that you’re a woman. There is no need to forgo lipstick or try to “be one of the boys” to be taken seriously. Maintain a balance; people will find it easier to listen to what you’re saying if they aren’t being blinded by your fluorescent blue eyeshadow.

5. Lighten Up

Take the time to get to know those around you. Don’t be afraid to share a laugh or have fun at work. Embrace the concept of LBWA – leading by walking around. When people like and connect with you as an individual, they will be much more likely to support you when you really need it.

6. You Can’t Fix Everything

Being a perfectionist is an incredible waste of time and energy. Get your priorities straight, and make a habit of always working on your most important tasks first. Make a list every day. If you start your day tackling the easy stuff and then reacting to every email that pops into your in-box, you will find yourself both inefficient and over-stressed. Always put first things first, and learn to delegate or drop the things that aren’t worth your immediate time and energy.

7. Trust Your Passion

The more you enjoy what you do, the greater the likelihood of being successful and enjoying that success. Figure out what you enjoy and find ways to do more of the things you love in your job. It won’t necessarily happen overnight, but create a plan and work with it.

8. Make Time For You 

Make time to enjoy your life, and be happy and healthy. Cultivate interests outside of work – stimulate all your senses, eat well and move your body. Most of all, spend quality time with your friends and family.

9. It’s Okay to Cry

Frustrations will come, and so will the tears. When you break down emotionally on the job, it leaves people wondering if you can handle the task you’ve been entrusted with. Crying in front of bosses and coworkers will make you to lose credibility fast. Be tough on the job and save the tears for the drive home.

10. Never Stop Learning

My boss shared this gem with me just recently in a rare one-on-one moment. I embrace learning by reading voraciously on subjects that interest me. What he was talking about was learning the art of extracting ideas and solutions from everyone around. Asking others “what would you do?” is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of real strength. It could make the difference between success and failure, particularly in really challenging times.

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 – 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 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!