The Power of “So What?”

Aimee_Mullins_HeadshotSo What if I’m a double amputee below the knees.  I can still run that race.”  There’s nothing more enabling than the power of positive thinking, the ability for all of us to face great challenges and fears with a will to figure out how to conquer them.

I had the privilege of hearing Aimee Mullins speak this week.  Actress, model, one of People Magazine’s Top 50 Most Beautiful People, track star & world record holder, Olympian, and, oh yeah, double amputee.

Born with a genetic defect, Aimee lost both legs as a toddler, and learned how to adapt with her new prosthetic legs.  She was dealt a tough card at the beginning of life, but approached life as a matter of course.  Did she have a disability?  Not at all.  She was just a bit different, just as any person has their own unique differences.  Whether Catholic vs. Jewish, white vs. black, Italian vs. Polish, she was the one with her legs made just a bit differently.  And these legs did not stop her from doing anything.  She was just as much of a contender in her large family’s sporting events as anyone else.

When Aimee went off to Georgetown, a person she met asked if she had ever considered competing in sports as a disabled person.  Initially affronted (again as it wasn’t her mindset to be disabled), she took it into consideration, and signed up to compete in an event at MIT.  So now it was time to figure out just what she would do.  She tried the 100 meter.  By the time she went to the event, she had tried to run the 100 meter three times.  Not one of those times was she able to complete the distance.  Arriving at the event, she immediately took note of the competition.  Their prosthetics were technologically advanced (think Robo Cop) compared to her traditional wood and rubberized legs.  The whistle sounded and she was off – picturing a big hairy monster behind her.  She won, beating by a nose the current national record holder.   A year later, she was the world record holder.

Amazing story.  Her challenges and experiences have created an extremely wise woman.  The primary premise of her speech was on leadership – how to face obstacles and creatively overcome them.  As she noted, successful people train themselves to see adversity differently.  It’s not a road block, but just maybe a bumpy turn in the road.

Below are some of Aimee’s wise thoughts.  They’re worth taking note of.

1.  Know thyself – it is the cornerstone of integrity.  Self reflection is key.  Remember that you are no good to others if you’re not good to yourself first.  Think about what you want to change about yourself.  What is your disability?  Always remember not to overlook the advantage of being different.  Be proud of yourself.  Your best self celebrates all of your triumphs and challenges.

2.  Our greatest creative fuel is facing our challenges.  We survive when we move forward and adapt.  Don’t figure out the ending before you’ve run the race.  Hold onto your imagination and creativity – the regiments of adulthood can present huge barriers for progress.  Never stop thinking like a child.

3.  No one achieves greatness alone.  Bring others along and make them feel great as well.  Be determined.  Be disciplined.  And dream.

4.  Embrace change and discomfort.  Nothing else can make us grow as much. True to Darwin’s theory, it’s not the strongest or the most intelligent people that succeed; it’s the ones that are the most adaptable to change.


Gadgets, Apps and Fridges – Oh My!

fridge-peekWhen it comes to food storage, I’m a tosser. I’m vigilant about ferreting out food items that are past their prime, and I only save leftovers that are likely to be eaten. Thus, the space-hogging cups of blue jello that Caitlin made last week that remain untouched in our fridge – GONE in my clean sweep from last night!

I believe this is an inherited trait from my maternal side. As I think back to forays inside my mother’s fridge and my mother’s mother’s fridge, I recall easy navigation among the relatively few, but always good, foodstuffs.

In Peek Inside Elaine’s Fridge, a post from nearly two years ago (!), I chronicled the contents of my fridge and noted some differences between tossers and keepers (those folks who have overflowing refrigerators and throw out items only duress).

I was reminded of these musings when I recently read about a new gadget that could help with my vigilance: a digital day counter that attaches to food and monitors the number of days it resides in the recesses of your refrigerator or freezers.

My inner tosser is delighted!

At $4 a timer, I won’t go crazy, but I am ordering a few of these today. Other uses for the gadget? On plants (“Hmmm, when did I last water that  plant?”), furnace filters, bottles of wine, Toby’s heart worm pill, just to name a few.

The icing on the cake (still fresh, of course)? The DaysAgo counter was “born” when two Wise Women had a Eureka moment. The new moms were taking a break from their brainstorming session about business ventures to feed their babies and couldn’t remember which of the many jars of opened baby foods were still OK to use. Talk about necessity being the mother of invention (and good timing!)

Don’t you just love new gadgets? It reminds me of the excitement generated when there’s a cool, new app for a phone or handheld device. Of course, I don’t know how to use most apps, so I’ll just be enthused about the brilliantly simple DaysAgo counter.

What gadgets do other Wise Women use?

It’s All About the Small Things…

fs_985330It’s the forties curse.  I remember when I had just turned 40, a slightly older friend told me that I would not pass through this decade without the probable loss of a parent.  An eerie predicition, and I am sad to say, my wonderful mother passed away unexpectedly on January 28th.  While her health and ability to enjoy the simple pleasures in life were on the decline, her voice was still strong and cheerful on the other end of the phone line.  How awful to lose someone so dear, and to suppress the pain, I find myself rationalizing her passing:

  • She lived a full 75 years – touching and shaping many lives, full of smiles and wonderful experiences
  • Despite declining health, she had no pain and was quickly taken away from us in a peaceful passing; we were truly lucky to not witness suffering or the loss of independence that a nursing home would have subjected her to down the road
  • I feel grateful that she celebrated momentous milestones in her life – the marriage to a wonderful, “always fun around the corner” type husband, the birth of two daughters and six grandchildren, and the celebration of 50 years of marriage.

While she will be sorely missed, I am so grateful she lived a long, meaningful and giving life. Her posititive and loving imprint is on all of us that she knew.  In reflection, as a mother, it makes you think about what it is that your children will remember about you – what are the most meaningful imprints you can impart?

I find the imprints of the fabric my mother wove for me are comprised of many of the small things in life – whether it is the late night snacks of anchovies on butter and saltine crackers (yes, weird I know), her bravery to take teenage girls abroad on extended travel (I would never have the guts to do so), her ability to make everything so nice with her special little touches (even down to the way she folded the bath towels), making me steak and egg breakfasts on the days of my swim meets, the monthly package of newspaper clippings from our hometown paper that she sent my sister and I to keep us informed of local news and happenings after we left home, her meticulous way of writing thank you notes, mentioning every gift, how much she liked it, and how she was using it.

These memories are just the tip of the iceberg of the many small things that you can almost take for granted when they are happening, but upon reflection you realize that it’s the small things that make the big lasting imprint and tell the greatest story of love and caring.

Here’s to Nancy Garfield Rice – one truly fantastic lady.

To Lead Or Not To Lead

leadershipIn a moment of holiday insanity cheer, I signed up for my department’s Secret Santa exchange. I drew the name of a young woman whom I never met and whose job is to foster student leadership. I decided today’s “gift” would be a list of inspiring quotes about leadership, a nice way for her to start the day and for me to keep under the $10 cap.

I went to my usual haunts for quotes – and The Quotations Page – and pulled up a couple that struck a chord:

  • A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done. – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves. – Stephen Covey
  • I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. – Ralph Nader
  • Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.  – George S. Patton

Noticing that I had picked quotes from a fairly homogeneous group of authors, I set out to find a few inspiring quotes from women. Unfortunately, the handful of female-uttered quotes on these sites did nothing for me.

The quote I saw most frequently was:

  • The leadership instinct you are born with is the backbone. You develop the funny bone and the wishbone that go with it. – Elaine Agather

Notwithstanding the interesting play on words and the similarity in our names, the quote left me flat.

So, I expanded my search, checked out several more sites, scrolled through hundereds of quotes, only to see saw male after (usually White) male quote.

Don’t get me wrong. There were SOME quotes from women. They urged leadership in a particular political context (like voting rights). Or, they offered words of wisdom on leadership, but their words seemed less lofty or not not as relevant as their male counterparts (at least to me).

I finally found one I liked:

  • Do not wait for leaders. Do it alone, person to person. – Mother Teresa

Try Googling “leadership quotes women” and see if you notice the same thing. Any theories as to why I came up empty? Or, any good quotes on leadership by women hanging on your wall?

New Twist For 2009 Wise Women Big Bucks Givaway

world-wish-beadThis holiday season Anne and I invite you to consider an alternative to hunting down that elusive “perfect” gift in the aisles of Target. Instead, you can buy a lovely present and contribute to world prosperity with a few clicks of your mouse.

Yesterday Anne wrote about an innovative charity called Global Colors whose mission is to create self-sustaining grassroots projects throughout the world for the common good. One of those projects is the World Wish Bead Campaign, the sale of beaded necklaces crafted by women in disadvantaged countries to support themselves and their families.

As Anne shared, “The bead is made by women in Kenya, and the necklace part is made by women in Cambodia. Supposedly when the Kenyan women make the bead, they make a wish, and then when you purchase it, you’re supposed to make your own wish. The necklace has traveled globally and the circle is completed.”

We’re excited that this year’s Wise Women Big Bucks Holiday Giveaway will support the World Wish Bead Campaign. As evidenced by last year’s campaign, we are a generous and civic-minded bunch.

Here’s how our little online community can make a big difference:

  1. Join the circle of women from Kenya to Cambodia by purchasing a beaded necklace through My World Wish.
  2. Add a comment below indicating something about your purchase … who you bought the necklace for … its color scheme … your wish … as much or as little as you want to share. Remember, you can always comment anonymously, if you want.
  3. For every person who buys a necklace and leaves a comment below by December 23, 2009, Anne and I will make a matching contribution of $25 (up to 20 people/necklaces).

So, join us as we partner with our Wise Women sisters from Kenya and Cambodia and help change the world.

Let the bead-buying begin …

Mommy Mode, Even During Times of Crisis

Kimberly-MunleyMuch has been written about the heroism of Sgt. Kimberly Munley, one of the officers who fired on the Ft. Hood gunman last week and stopped his deadly shooting spree. But, I was even more impressed with her heroics after reading Debbi Wilgoren’s article in The Washington Post — Fort Hood cop’s priorities: Blood loss, day care. Here’s an excerpt:

In an extreme example of the multi-tasking familiar to moms everywhere, one of the police officers hailed as a Fort Hood hero says she had two priorities after she and another officer stopped a gunman who had just killed 13 people.

One: get a tourniquet applied to her thigh, bleeding heavily where a bullet had pierced her femoral artery.

Two: arrange for someone to pick up her toddler from day care.

Sgt. Kimberly Munley, 34, was interviewed on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday morning along with Sgt. Mark Todd, who also responded to the shooting. They appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” Wednesday afternoon. …

The petite police officer, who stands 5 feet 2 inches tall, said she was hit by three bullets. One struck the knuckle of her right hand; one passed through her right knee, then hit her left leg; and one pierced the femoral artery in her left thigh.

“I knew from the amount of blood and the color of the blood that was coming out” of the thigh wound that it was gravely serious, Munley said, sitting in a wheelchair with a blanket spread over her legs.

The soldiers who ran to help her knew it, too; even as she urged them to get pressure on the wound, they were fashioning a tourniquet.

Bleeding stanched, Munley immediately entered what “Today” hosts Ann Curry and Meredith Viera — themselves working mothers — dubbed “Mommy Mode.” She located her cellphone and arranged for someone to pick up her 2-year-old daughter (an older daughter, age 12, presumably gets home from school on her own).

“So the balancing act of motherhood and being a police officer did not end, even at that moment, for you,” said Curry.

“Absolutely not,” Munley said, smiling slightly. “It never does.”

Regardless of the ages of our children, slipping into mommy mode is as automatic as breathing for most women. And, all of us have had moments where we’ve had to juggle the needs of our children at “inopportune” times while dealing with life’s other demands. While hopefully none of us have ever faced as extreme a situation as Sgt. Munley, I’m curious about what (and how) other Wise Women have had to multi-task their motherhood duties with work/volunteer/other life responsibilities. Do tell.

O, Yes She Can

o-magazine-cover-2I’m not a big daytime TV watcher, but I’m going to DVR today’s Oprah and watch it later. Oprah’s guest is Ellen DeGeneres, and Ellen will talk about her months of persistent and quirky begging lobbying to appear on the cover of O magazine, including unveiling mock magazine covers (like the one to the left) to catch Oprah’s attention.

As Oprah said, Ellen is a “woman who can make things happen.”

Ellen’s determined quest reminds me of the movie My Date with Drew, an indie “documentary” in which a guy from LA gives himself 30 days to go all out to get one date with his grade-school crush Drew Barrymore. Using the “six-degree-of-separation” theory, the guy talks to everyone he knows (and doesn’t) to figure out a way to connect with the elusive (at least to him) Drew.

Both stories resonate with me. I love the idea of  a laser-like focus on a goal, the creativity inspired by single-mindedness, the collaboration that evolves as you enlist others to support your goal, and, finally, the willingness to appear foolish as you swing for the bleachers and inevitably strike out a few (hundred) times.

The only time I even came close to this experience was deciding that I wanted to work someplace a few years back. I sent an unsolicited resume (in a bright yellow envelope to stand out) followed up by an unsolicited phone call. The actions were definitely out of my comfort zone, yet they paid off: I was hired for a new position at the institution, one that fit me perfectly.

All this gets me thinking about the areas in my life where I want to channel Ellen’s fun, take-no-prisoners energy … how ’bout you? What are your experiences of being “a woman who makes things happen?”

P.S. If you can’t catch today’s show, you can watch a summary clip of Ellen’s efforts to woo Oprah.

High Five to a Very Wise Woman

20091006__st1007bzpepsi01_200I didn’t think I could let October slip by any further without contributing some thoughts on National Breast Cancer Awareness month and remember all of the woman who have fought this disease. Breast cancer has touched a number of close friends of mine over the past 5 years, and fortunately they have all waged their valiant fights and have emerged victors.

I wanted to highlight one special woman, who is coming to the end of a very tough journey.  Cancer-free, she completes the last of her reconstructive surgeries in the next couple of weeks.  She has been walking mountains over the past year, with many emotional lows, but also many emotional highs.  Her amazingly positive and upbeat march through her illness left me having to remind myself many times that she had Breast Cancer. She wrote throughout the year on her blog as well as Carepages – which kept friends and family updated and informed of her musings, challenges and triumphs, as well as displayed her sound sense of humor which never left her side.

I also admired her bravery at work – electing not to get a wig, but sporting baseball caps and scarves, and when she had just a very fine layer of hair – she elected to go au naturale and walked around confidently.

This month she is featured on a bottle of Gatorade along with two other cancer survivors from PepsiCo.   In her picture she is striking a very peaceful yoga pose. It’s a nice way to bring closure to a challenging year – and for her to share her story with others.

So here’s a salute to my friend Lori Marcus, a very wise woman indeed.

Looking At The World Through Sonia-Colored Glasses

sotomayorI took a graduate counseling class last year, and classroom discussion often focused on the impact of culture on how one sees the world. Among my very ethnically and racially diverse classmates, I felt like the odd man out. I am a middle-aged, White woman who grew up in a non-religious, middle-class family with no strong ties to my Italian and Irish heritage. Coming from this bland, vanilla White world (culturally-speaking), I believed I had no cultural viewpoint to offer. So when questioned about my cultural identity, I always felt stumped.

Thus, I’ve been intrigued by the conversations (ranging from hyperbolic rhetoric to thoughtful analysis) swirling around the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. While her comments about being a “wise Latina” have served as a political lightening rod, they also have helped the national discourse about race, ethnicity and culture inch forward.

I found Eugene Robinson’s column Whose Identiy Politics? in Tuesday’s Washington Post to be particularly enlightening. He wrote,

“Republicans’ outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor’s musings about how her identity as a “wise Latina” might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any “identity” — black, brown, female, gay, whatever — has to be judged against this supposedly “objective” standard.”

To my surprise, I suddenly realized that I had unwittingly bought into the flawed assumption Robinson cited. I had conceptualized my Whiteness and my middle-class status as “lacking” in culture, a neutral condition. (Although I never was under the illusion that Whiteness equated with “the natural order” or an “objective standard.”)

Truth be told, I was sometimes a bit embarrassed by my lack of strong cultural heritage during class discussions. Now I see my background – whatever it may be – as another, valid cultural perspective to be explored and understood. How interesting that it took the hoopla over a “wise Latina” to help this White Wise Woman to see the light.

What are your thoughts about Sonia Sotomayor and the back-and-forth over her nomination?

Playing Small

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory that is within us. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The words of Marianne Williamson hang on the wall in my office. My eyes glance at the wise words every day, but rarely do I see them.

Today, I’m really seeing the quote. And letting the words sink in anew.

Williamson gives us a gentle, yet forceful reminder that we frequently settle for less — in our relationships, in our expectations for our lives, in ourselves — and end up playing small.

Clearly, this quote popped on to my conscious radar today for a reason. The universe is challenging me to notice the places in my life where fear is in the driver’s seat and nudging me to take corrective action.

Where are you playing small in your life? How can you let your light shine brighter?

Joy in not in things, it is in us.
Richard Wagner

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