Friday, July 24, 2009

Gone fishin' (in the Great Salt Lake)

All will be relatively quiet on the eastern front for the next 10 days, because I will be on the western front -- that is to say, Salt Lake City.

Better prepared bloggers than I would have lined up guest posts for next week, or pre-published thought-provoking pieces, or found a way to get Internet access on the highest mountain or in the deepest ocean so they can write in real time.

I, however, have opted to actually have a vacation. Which is to say I'm living out the novel idea of having a life beyond blogging.

And then I'll come back and blog about it. Because I can't stop myself.

But until then, I will be swimming and hiking and gabbing and flying and jamming and cooking and visiting. Honest.

Have two beautiful weekends and a productive week, my friends! I look forward to chatting again post-refreshment and -rejuvenation. :)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How to pack a suitcase in 20 steps

Photo by Fatty Tuna

1. Empty out all dirt, sand, bugs, glitter, and other remnants of your last trip from your suitcase.

2. Lay suitcase on floor. Unzip all zippers. You'll need the space.

3. On bed, compile clothing for all meteorological eventualities. This includes but is not limited to: parka, bathing suit, snow pants, ski helmet, cover-up, T-shirts, exercise pants, linen suit, jeans, pith helmet, wet suit, sports bra, sundress, hoodie, and -- if you're really in the mood to be prepared -- ballgown.

4. Pack one set of underwear for each day of travel, plus two in case you're accident-prone.

5. Pack the appropriate foot gear. This includes but is not limited to: hiking boots, flip flops, strappy heels, flats, sneakers, slippers, galoshes, and -- if it's really going to be wet -- flippers.

6. Realize you don't have enough clean underwear. Curse. Throw load of laundry in.

7. Call repairman when washer breaks. Rediscover pioneer-like satisfaction of drying clothes on line.

8. Unpack galoshes to go out to clothesline to save traveling outfits from sudden thunderstorm.

9. Fold up other clothing in meantime. Layer in suitcase.

10. Sit on suitcase to close suitcase. Force zipper.

11. Get it caught in escaping shoe lace. Break zipper.

12. Duct-tape zipper!

13. Go back to folding clothes. Include freshly laundered underwear which has, by this point, dried.

14. Sit on suitcase again. Force shut.

15. Celebrate victory with bottle glass of wine.

16. Realize you forgot to pack toothbrush. Resolve not to kiss anyone.

17. Rethink strategy and put toothbrush in purse.

18. Place heavy books on suitcase so it doesn't explode in the night and kill a neighbor.

19. Once satisfied and confident, go to sleep so visions of passport stickers dance in your head.

20. And when you wake up, remember that your toothbrush is now in your purse.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dry-cleaning my birthday suit: Reflection on another year of life in this crazy world

(l. to r.) Baby Julia, her mother, and her Gooma Dee.

One year ago, I was sitting in an emergency room, fairly certain that my warranty had prematurely expired and that I was going to die.

That turned out not to be the case (obviously). I survived with a squeaky clean bill of health and a mandate to beware of stuffy Metro stops. But somewhere in the back of my noisy brain, an idea lodged that wouldn't leave: I have an expiration date.

I thought about it on top of a mountain in Shenandoah Valley with my bestest on her birthday. I remembered it when the promise of steady employment was whisked out from under me, and I was reevaluating the landscape as far as I could. And it was front and center when I recommitted to pursuing my wildest, truest dream because, hey, life is short, right?

Please believe me when I tell you this rumination was never morbid, brooding, or depressive. (Put the phone down, Mom.) Instead, allowing it to roll around without dwelling on it was a healthy acknowledgment that I have already/only 25 years -- a solid quarter-century -- under my belt, and that I best start tending to the happiness and productivity of the next few batches now.

That said, turning 26 still sticks in my craw a little bit. But why? It's just a number. I've hit 25 other numbers in past years, and they didn't bother me. So why this one?

Because I saw myself in these horrid Sally Jesse glasses again?

Perhaps it's because this year I absorbed the march of time and my place in relation to it. I've changed jobs. Dear friends got married. I'm seven pounds lighter. There's no S.O. on the scene. I'm fighting off a constant itch and twitch to bolt.

Or maybe it's because I realized how jam-packed our lives can be, how different our paths are, how much we can experience -- and the idea of crafting a to-do list that captures it all exhausts me.

Or maybe it's because I like odd numbers more than even numbers. Who knows. Point is, none of these strike at the real heart of the issue. But this thought does:

My 25th year marked my acceptance that I feel destined for great things, and my daunting realization that I have no idea how to get there.

The result, dear friends, is agita.

Still, I have reason to hope. Consider the following (emphasis mine):
He felt "anxious, eager for something," but what it was he did not know. "I feel my own ignorance. I feel concern for knowledge. I have ... a strong desire for distinction. I shall never shine, 'til some animating occasion calls forth my powers."

The year? 1760. Who wrote it? John Adams. How old was he? Twenty-five.

So that's what I keep looking 'round the river bend for -- an animating occasion, my own revolution, that calls forth the powers I know are rattling around in this still-young body, yet which I don't know how to summon. And it will come, I have no doubt. I just gotta blow out the candles and cut the cake and keep celebrating until it arrives.

Happy Birthday, Me -- you'll be meaningful yet.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Julia's greatest hits: My interviews with Penelope Trunk and Seth Godin

My dad likes to say, "You know, I used to be cool before I had you." Well kids, I used to be cool before I had a blog.

So cool, in fact, that I interviewed career expert Penelope Trunk AND marketing expert Seth Godin. Within months of each other. When I was just a punk 23-year-old without a clue but with a mic.

Now, you're probably thinking 1 of 3 things right now:

a. Smug much, are we? Come closer so I can hit you.
b. Wow, that's really neat, Julia! You're so cool. Can we be friends?
c. Um, who are Penelope Trunk and Seth Godin?

To which I respond:

a. How 'bout I stay over here? Kthxbai.
b. Why of course we can be friends! You can even touch me if you'd like.
c. Keep reading this blog post, so we can welcome you to the not so inner sanctum.

Let's look at Penelope Trunk first. Love her or hate her, she's one of the more provocative career advisers writing out there right now. Though a Gen X-er herself, Penelope has long distinguished herself as a medium for the Gen Y work mindset, most notably at her blog The Brazen Careerist (also the name of her book and career social network).

I intersected her for an exciting 30 minutes in history thanks to the chutzpah of my friend, mentor, and first boss Rich Levin, who had the audacious idea to -- wait for it -- ask her if she'd do an interview with us on behalf of a client. (Brilliant! Who knew??) Which is how I -- already an ardent reader -- came to be lining up my questions and picking her brain over the phone.

And to Penelope's credit, her advice on leading a "braided life" has not lost any luster in the past two years. Quite the opposite -- her ideas have gained new heft given the new reality the recession has handed us.

Listen to my podcast interview with Penelope Trunk here.

Ok, now Seth Godin. In a word (or three), he's "America's greatest marketer." Communicators revere him. He is the author of The Purple Cow, The Dip, and many other best-selling classics. Oh, and Seth writes a blog and somehow managed to find time to found Squidoo along the way.

Again, simply asking Seth to chat did the trick, so I dug into Seth's background, strapped on the podcast headset, set levels with Rich, and got on the phone. I don't know what I was expecting -- angels singing behind him? his agent yelling at us? -- because I was rather surprised by how ... normal he was. He was like any smart guy I'd run into at a coffee shop and happen to ask for small business marketing advice. Remarkable.

Anyway, that's Seth and my experience with him. Ta-da!

You can listen to my podcast interview with Seth Godin here.

And there you have it -- two social media superstars and my brush with their wisdom. Dare I dream of the day I get to talk to Guy Kawasaki, Hugh MacLeod, Pam Slim, Gretchen Rubin, and all the other folks who continue to shape my thinking about this space and my place in it ... ?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Prayer #75: Joy Joy

I buzzed at church today.

I was just sitting there, minding my own business, when I began to tingle. First it started in my toes. Then it shimmied into my stomach. Next, it trickled down my arms. And finally it landed, warm and sparkly, in my head.

I stayed very, very still.

"Joy?" I whispered. "Is that you?"

The tingling increased -- nodded.

"Oooh. Good. I thought you'd left me."

The tingling became a caress.

"Why did you abandon me?"

And there I sat, elbow on pew side, head in hand, thinking over the sunlight on the altar, the organ echo in the rafters, and the elusive contentment pooling at my feet -- while joy buzzed throughout me and made manifest the answer:

You abandoned me.

Prayer #75: Joy Joy

Joy for joy's sake.

It's an oil well in an arid landscape, a thick and deep vein pulsing beneath everyday reality. I seek it for the riches it brings, never knowing that for all my scouring and scowling, it's right under my feet.

Joy for joy's sake.

Joy is not to be manufactured or manipulated. You can't tap your foot, check your watch, and tsk-tsk it to be on time. Joy is free, and thus pervasive -- it exists unto itself, and knows no master.

Joy for joy's sake.

Lord, thank you for reminding me that inherent joy is always ripe for picking, no matter the season or reason, and feel free to move the earth beneath me when I forget that

joy lives for joy's sake.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Piacere, Cugini: Finding relatives on the other side of the world (part 2)

Forget Rome. Italian relatives are the main attraction. Here is the second part (part 1 here) of my family's magical trip in 2005 when we discovered our life blood in Italy. The scene: We are hopelessly lost in the Italian countryside, waiting at a McDonald's, trying to find our relatives.

We were doing great until we got off the highway. And took a wrong turn. And another. At this point we became so hopelessly turned around that we could have ended up in France, and not been surprised.

This is how dire the situation became: I’m not ashamed to say that for the first time in my traveling life, the Golden Arches were a symbol of hope and rescue, an American oasis in a foreign landscape.

We grinded to a halt and dialed Laura frantically. After shouting “Good night, the cheese is in the car with the McDonald’s bathroom!” several times over our erratic cell phone signal, our relatives miraculously divined our location. They told us to stay put. They would meet us there, and lead the way back up the unmarked mountain roads to Fiugni.

The crisis was averted for the moment. Salvation was on its way. As we waited in the steaming parking lot, I reviewed our massive, gnarled family tree. Laura was Dad’s second cousin Laura. Her father was Mario DiMarcantonio,, my grandfather Mario Rocchi’s cousin. And Mario D.’s mother Maria and Mario R.’s father Pasquale were siblings. All this made Laura’s little children Simone and Francesca my third cousins, and my head one aching mess.

Then came an unholy tire screech. A black car swerved into the parking lot and squealed into the parking spot adjacent to ours. A young, pretty woman with blonde hair was waving frantically from the window. Then she became a blur, a smudge in a tan suit, a whirlwind of gestures and exclamations as she opened the door and flew out of the car. Before we had time to register what was happening, she was in my father’s arms, crying, laughing, and hugging him as if he were leaving for America again in the next moment.

Here was Laura. This was our cousin. Not a melancholy subject in a photograph, not a disembodied voice on an answering machine, but a real, live human being. I was impressed by the unabashed sincerity of her welcome. She was lovely, warm, emotional, not at all reserved with us, foreign relatives she had known for truly 10 seconds. And when it came time for her to hug me, and our arms encircled one another, I realized why no hesitation existed.

Blood really is thicker than water. It transcends the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic. It runs in the well that sits at the center of our shared ancestor’s village. Yet her family stayed, and mine chose to go to America. So we now live half a world apart, going to school, marrying, buying homes, raising children, and growing old in infinite parallels.

Such distance tests the strength of the original connection. But we know it’s still there, because on each side of the Atlantic, we feel a lonely tickle, a small emptiness that reminds us of the old separation -- however necessary it was -- and we mourn it all the same.

With my cousin in front of me, that unnamed sorrow vanished. Laura was the photographic negative of my American immigrant past. She was the homeland.

Moved to tears, I watched Laura caress my father’s overjoyed face. In her emotion, she alternated between English and Italian terms of endearment. Her husband Marco grinned in the background, a dark and jovial bodyguard, and their two children peeked out at us from behind their father’s legs. Laura beamed and spread her arms.

“We all go to my mother now, si?” she said. “We eat?”

Eat! Now there was a word that needed no translation. Everyone broke into laughter, a harmony of old and young voices. I wiped away the last tear clinging to my cheek, and got back in the car to follow Laura home.

Francis, me, and two of our cousins.

Dad and Laura.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Piacere, Cugini: Finding relatives on the other side of the world (part 1)

Forget Rome. Italian relatives are the main attraction. Here in two parts is my retelling of my family's magical trip in 2005 when we discovered our life blood in Italy. First written for my cousin Lisa's travel magazine Puddle Jumper (never published).

We flew halfway around the world. We drove the width of a country. We sped the length of the Auto Strata.

Yet we still managed to find ourselves at a McDonald’s.

We were lost, actually. Disoriented. Stranded in a Mickey D’s parking lot in the Italian countryside, trying to use a cell phone that barely worked, in a language we hardly spoke, from a town we couldn’t name, to call relatives we’d never met.

This unfortunate scene happened the first week of July 2005, which was the second week of our family vacation to Italy—an all-inclusive graduation present from my parents for me and my brother Francis. We had just graduated from college and high school, respectively.

While this trip was my first in-depth one to the motherland, it was Francis’s first trip off of American soil, period. So the intensity of our excitement and awe was only rivaled by the stifling heat wave in the region, which we ignored by eating gelato at every available opportunity.

Venice, Florence, Rome. We whirled through these storied cities in a blaze of artwork, restaurants, and church tours. We pointed out sites we remembered studying in dusty Latin textbooks, and gasped at their staggering antiquity. With 35 words of Italian among the four of us, we somehow managed to sleep and eat without interruption, though I’m sure many a cameriere wondered why we kept smiling and asking, “Good day, is my cheese family dear and old?”

But all these wonders paled in comparison to the final leg of the trip: the Meeting of Dad’s Relatives, an event of such import that I mentally capitalized it. We already knew my mother’s relatives, thanks to their correspondence with my grandmother and their occasional visits to the U.S.

Dad’s family, on the other hand, was more mysterious, known only to us through somber wedding photographs that featured outdated ‘80s fashion and tight-lipped smiles. They looked forbidding to me. But Dad was determined to meet them.

With some good old-fashioned detective work through extended relatives, he tracked them down and sent a letter. Imagine our delight when we all came home from work one day to hear a lilting Italian accent on our answering machine. The DiMarcantonios had made contact.

“Hello Pasquale, I’m Laura from Italy,” the woman said. It was my father’s second cousin. “I’m very happy to know you and your family. I speak only a little English, but you don’t worry, because for when you are here soon, we understand, ok? My family and I are very, very happy to receive you and your family for a long time, ok? Bye-bye. See you later!”

Thank God -- she spoke English better that we spoke Italian. This relationship had a chance.

A few excited international phone calls later, Dad and Laura established a day when we would visit them in Fiugni, the mountain village of my great-grandfather Pasquale, for whom my father is named.

And that’s how we found ourselves in a rental car, hurtling east toward Abruzzo and the Adriatic, with the Gran Sasso mountain range looming before us as a craggy welcome mat to our relatives’ world.

Until we got off the highway.

To be continued ...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Help a brother out -- read his blog

Actually, I do have a brother, and he IS heavy, but not in an addicted-to-Pringles or life-is-so-tough-as-a-hipster way. He's heavy because he's The Big Friendly Giant, a blogger of great heft and humor marking his territory on the other end of cyberspace from me.

Nobody quite sees the world like my sib. Some days I think this is a blessing for mankind; other days, its greatest misfortune. But no matter where it's falling, it makes for damn good, pull-no-punches reading.

Want to follow a writer's journey? Commiserate on the job search? Read an awesomely funny e-zine before it hits the big time? And do it all with piss, vinegar, and calculated profanity? He's your man. And also my brother. Francis Rocchi. Soon-to-be-famous person.

So help a brother out and give mine a look-see. The future of writing thanks you.

She ain't heavy, she's my sister.
(Plus, I have really big muscles, so she could be heavy but I wouldn't know it.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stretch your way to a better day (and win free stuff!)

Want to win a free Pilates kit, 10 relaxation CDs, and a one-year subscription to Total Health Magazine? It's as simple as reading this post ...

Snooze buttons, beware: This lady is about to start training for a relay sprint triathlon, and she won't let a little thing called "sleep" stand in her way.

Veteran triathlete Sus has cajoled threatened brainwashed convinced me and Jacob to join her in the Giant Acorn Triathlon, a feat of reasonable human endurance set among the lovely vistas of Bumpass, Va.

Yes. Bumpass. Moving on.

We have less than 14 weeks to get our own bumpasses in gear so we can complete the relay course with some dignity intact. I will be swimming, thanks to a merciful God who gave me friends who enjoy running and biking.

Besides the warm-up, cool-down, tapering, emergency room visits, and whatnot, an integral part of my training regimen will be stretching so my muscles stay limber and my stress levels stay low. But it turns out stretching benefits everyone, not just those being forcibly woken every morning to swim training for an athletic event.

Check out this video from this week's The Juice to learn handy stretches you can do at your desk and in your home to release tension and improve focus:

Added bonus to taking time out of a busy schedule for a mental/body stretch break: You can focus your newly restored mind on winning a blissful prize pack from BlogHer's online community The Juice, sponsored by Tropicana Trop50.

Just leave a comment below sharing your favorite stretch or relaxation activity, and you'll be entered to win the following:
* Complete Pilates Kit

* Set of 10 Relaxing CDs

* 1-Year subscription to Natural Health Magazine
That's all worth over $100 -- and that figure doesn't even include the value of my hard-earned sweat and tears in training for this sprint triathlon and blogging about it. Bargain!

So get your stretch on, brighten your day, and stay tuned for the announcement of the winner (not to mention occasional updates on my path to athletic prowess). Thanks everyone!

P.S. You can also check out the last post I wrote for a Juice contest, all about turning your spare change into social change.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Prayer #74: Is This Thing On?

Take a cup of antics, throw in a handful of twitterpation, and ask the wolf at the door to give it a stir. Makes 1 new prayer and 6 gray hairs.

Prayer #74: Is This Thing On?

We need to have a chat, God.

Nothing is clear right now. Nothing. I tried to figure things out. That didn't work. Then I tried to not figure things out. That didn't work either. Now I'm trying to figure out how not to figure things out so that I can stop trying to figure things out. And oh. It's not working.

How are You calling me to work? How are You calling me to (fall in?) love? How are You calling me to decide? How are You calling me to move? Hell, are You calling me at all?

I can't connect with You on even one of these questions right now. How then do You expect me to address them all?

Maybe I haven't handed the confusion over to You as totally as I thought. But maybe I DID hand it over and You dropped the ball. Or maybe You handed them back to me and I dropped the ball.

I don't know. And I don't know because I can't seem to tune into Your explanation. Mind, heart, body -- all are too noisy. All are too frustrated. All are too worn out with beating ceaselessly against the rocks.

So just answer me this, God -- are You listening? Or do You not hear me as clearly as I don't hear You?


Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Fun: A video you're not ashamed to love

Warning: Several copyright lawyers were kidnapped in the posting of this clip. But the effort was worth it, because this one minute of film encapsulates everything awesome about Friday afternoons and celebrating a weekend well-earned.

Enjoy, and don't forget to move all your ambassador appointments to more convenient hours to accommodate your DANCING. See you next week with a fresh batch of posts!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Will our digital content stand the test of time?

Image by Esther_G

Burning question: In 500 years, will historians peer through their space helmets at all of our emails, Tweets, blog posts, and FriendFeed threads, and understand our place and time in history?

Or to put it another way -- will/can digital trails have more or less longevity than paper trails?

Here's why I ask. I'm on a bit of a history kick right now, having just wrapped up Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates and diving into David McCullough's John Adams (yes, because I loved the lessons from the miniseries). And the only reason these books are as rich with details and insight about bygone eras as they are is due to the extensive preserved literary records of the time (17th and 18th centuries, respectively).

Case in point: The very title of Vowell's book tips its hat to the Puritans' love of correspondence and publishing, while McCullough found decades' worth of journals, letters, pamphlets, and more in libraries that informed his view of Adams.

But will this be the case for our era, given our increasing volume of digital, electronic, and multimedia content (in addition to paper)? As I see it, here are some potential positives and my correlating fears about them:

POSITIVE: Communication continues unabated, even accelerated, thanks to the speed and frequency of our technology.

FEAR: The result: exponential content creation. Finding every tidbit a person wrote might prove difficult or impossible, leaving an incomplete picture of their contributions.

POSITIVE: We talk on many more platforms to various degrees of depth.

FEAR: Is the range of "shallow to complex" balanced? Will the sum of all content pieces amount to anything meaningful or complex?

POSITIVE: We leave digital footprints that can't be destroyed by wind, fire, or poor storage.

FEAR: We leave digital footprints on technology that will become outmoded, rendering our information irretrievable.

Believe me, I want it ALL to last through time. That's why I journal at night, blog during the day, write letters to my pen pal in Florida, email with friends, tweet constantly. I want my grandchildren to see themselves in me, biographers to peer into my soul, and future folks to know what life was like at the turn of the 21st century.

Narcissistic? Probably. But my words are my only shot at immortality, and I want to ensure they -- I -- survive.

So in my more optimistic moments, I'm convinced our records and interactions will be saved, and our sophisticated archival technology will preserve our paper trail too -- which would amount to an astonishing breadth of material, the likes of which the world has never known.

But then my Internet crashes or my hard drive wipes out, and I break into a cold sweat that our modern communications are too intangible or ephemeral, our tools too finicky, to capture us for posterity.

Please, help a girl get some sleep, and let me know in the comments where you think we're going to end up, be it the history books or cyber graveyard. Your incentive: If I get really famous and have my writing preserved for all time, your thoughts will be coming with me. ;) Thanks!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

How to recognize you must escape

Photo by dev null

My hands shake as I pass through security at Reagan National Airport.

It's 3 p.m on a Friday, the day before Independence Day. My flight has already been canceled once, cutting a day off my long-anticipated vacation. Departure time is good-god-get-me-out-here-three-months-ago. And all my anxiety is bottled in 3-oz containers safely stowed on my carry-on.

What worries me? Not the possibility I might never arrive, but that I might never leave. I lose my breath looking at the sweeping arches in the main terminal. Exploration pulses under under my skin, a throb that signals the desire -- no, the need -- to bolt.

If I don't run (away? to?), I will explode. I must plant my feet on different terra firma or risk rotting on the vine. I must gather different faces around me or threaten my friendships with the usual suspects. I must sleep on a different pillow, hold fresh conversations, encounter uncommon smells, and above all renew my sense that I am NOT a boring homebody, NOT a caged animal, NOT a host or coworker or roommate.

For one weekend, I must be only me, and my life must not look the same as it has for the past 6, 8, 10, god-I-can't-even-remember months.

I collect my boarding pass. I wander through the bathroom. I make some phone calls, jot notes in my journal. I breathe deep, so for a brief moment, I'm not suffocating beneath the helplessness that has dogged me for several seasons.

I know escape doesn't solve problems, but it sure can alleviate them. For that reason above all others, get me the hell out of Dodge.

Ah, time to board. My heart bounces down the ramp, buckles its seatbelt. And then Earth as I know it falls away, obscured by clouds.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Prayer #73: Giddy Up/Down

Giddy, adj. dizzy; having or causing a whirling sensation; liable to falling.

Giddy up, n. A command by a rider to a horse, exhorting the animal to start running in a fast gallop.

Giddiupdown, n. The experience of losing focus and walking in circles; the sensation of events moving at greater speed beyond one's control; constant vague nausea; unpredictable fluctuation between hope and despair.

Prayer #73: Giddy Up/Down

Lord, carry our unpredictable hearts close to Your chest, so their proximity to each other and to You unifies their beating and shows them they are not alone.

Mend the broken ones. Heal the wounded ones. Empower the timid ones. Steady the fluttering ones. Reassure the worried ones. Enlighten the confused ones. Sustain the hopeful ones.

In this way, may You make these organs vital to our holiness, and us vital to the world.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

Am I making good use? A reflection for the 4th of July

This Independence Day, in between the hot dogs and fireworks, before the parade and after the festival, take a minute to ask yourself: Am I making good use of my freedom?

Do I vote?
Do I serve?
Do I educate myself and others?
Do I participate?

Do I fully justify the centuries of ideals, blood, risks, mistakes, triumphs, lies, values, ideas, and visions that make up today's United States of America?

God, I hope so. And if I don't, may I start today.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Friday Fun: Web Site Story

Oh, how I love a good parody. Even better if it's set to music from West Side Story. And it's downright fabulous if it involves snarky commentary on the Web's current "cool kids," from Evite to Twitter and every oddly named/bubble-logo'd service in between.

So, my heart was a-flutter over CollegeHumor's Web Site Story. And when my heart's a-flutter, I want to share the joy with you:

Happy Friday, everyone! May all your lyric-writing be merry and your lip-synching tight this weekend.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Rejoice evermore: More leadership lessons from John Adams

Most people cry at movies like The Notebook. I weep at death scenes in a miniseries about John Adams.

Yes folks, I did finish the series last night (shocker, everyone died). And yes, when it was Abigail's time, I was approaching wreck status, except that Jacob walked in and I felt like a big dork so I sucked it all up.

But what I couldn’t squelch were my deeper feelings about these people’s lives. For while I talked last week about leadership lessons from John Adams, I am more affected by the fact these historical figures were really ... well, real. They laughed, fought, cried, cleaned, worried, loved, resented, forgave -- in short, were human.

That’s why in this follow-up post, I’m looking at leadership’s more intangible side. Because authentic, lasting leadership isn’t really about strategy or bottom lines -- it’s about relying on our common humanity to see us through.

Let's see how John Adams' life demonstrated that:

* Know when to stick to your muskets.

As president, John faced dicey diplomatic circumstances with France and Britain that threatened to throw the toddling U.S. into another war. He was firm in his conviction to pursue peace, yet everyone -- from his Cabinet to his old friend Jefferson -- disagreed with him. Still, despite being alone and unpopular, Adams stood his ground, and with time the problem solved itself when France became willing to reach a peaceful resolution. Lesson: Trusting your gut is the closest you'll ever get to omniscience.

* Keep your friends close, and the love of your life closer.

I don't know if John and Abigail's partnership is remarkable because it was unusual for the time, or simply because it was the best-recorded. Either way, their relationship and friendship played a huge role in enabling John's achievements -- and he knew it. No wonder he felt bereft when she died. Thankfully, Jefferson returned to John's life at that point, and the "North and South poles of our revolution" came to terms with their lives and deaths -- together. Lesson: Let others into your life so they might fortify you.

* Acknowledge your humanity, and "rejoice evermore" in it.

As John says in the series, "The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, the more anxiously I inquire ... the less I seem to know." In his old age, the blustery know-it-all finally learned humility -- but then took it too far. Rather than appreciate his accomplishments, John diminished his contributions and lost confidence in his worth. Still, an older, wiser John also acknowledged that a satisfied mind could exist beyond earthly wins, and he learned how to revel in the small beauties around him. Lesson: Do all you can, but not to the point of forfeiting your happiness.

If you take nothing else away, remember that John Adams signed the Declaration of Independence when he was 40. He died when he was 90, on the 50th anniversary of the signing. That means he lived more than HALF his life AFTER an event history remembers him most for. And look at everything else he achieved in that time -- a presidency, a family, a marriage, and a life fully lived.

John Adams' life -- like any of ours -- was the sum of innumerable decisions. He wasn't always elegant or smooth in his approach, and he certainly wasn't always right. But he acted nonetheless. And in acting, in moving forward, in just flat out trying, John Adams arrived at history.

So in this week of annual patriotic fervor, I'd like to leave you with words from the man himself that present a noble goal for all of our lifetimes.
There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live. -- John Adams