Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Letting Go

I recently got rid of the television in my bedroom. I had been looking at it for a long time wondering why I still kept it there. I know enough about energy and Feng Shui that bedrooms are for sleeping and sex and not for television. But still this small, old and cumbersome model sat in its corner on top of a high dresser.

I never watched it. I used to in the morning while I was getting ready before I headed downtown to the office, switching from Pat Kiernan to the Today Show to GMA. But my mornings are not so rushed anymore and if I watch the news shows, I'd rather on the flat screen in the living room.

Every month when I got my Time Warner bill and saw the $12.95 fee for the box I remembered I needed to do something about this. Not only was it sitting unused and taking up space  but what I was paying could be better spent on a manicure.

I don't know what made me finally unplug it and carry it to the trash room a few weeks ago. The last couple of years have been alot about letting go. And I suspect I was in one of my moods where I needed to let go of something concrete as a gesture to the Universe that I was making more room for the new.

When that happens I have to act right then and there which is why  the next thing I did was  get on the bus  and return the box to 96th Street instead of waiting for someone to pick it up.  I may procrastinate and think things through for a very long time before letting go but when I make the decision I do it immediately.

I thought it would be a clean and easy break between me and the television.  What I didn't anticipate was all the soot on the wall behind where it had lived all these years. I might not have been turning it on, but it had been collecting dirt in places that were not obvious to me.  Dark grey soot.

After getting over my horror that I had been sleeping with that much dust, I took a damp sponge to the wall. That only made the mess worse, not to mention made me second guess the whole idea of getting rid of it.

After trying an array of products and googling ways to clean up soot, it was a box of  Mr. Clean Magic Erasers that did the trick. Why they may not be considered 'green friendly' they are definitely magic!

I was thinking about this letting go thing this morning as I lay in bed looking at the spot.  Some days it looks a little empty, all that new space. As if something more than the books and orchid that now occupy it is needed. Today I was sure I could see one more streak that needed my magic eraser.

But then that is the thing about letting go. It's always hard even when you know it is the right thing to do. Even the anticipation of what new will take its place doesn't necessarily make you miss it any less. Whether it is a thing like my television, that bulky black and white turtle neck sweater I have not worn in five years but I still make room for in my closet every winter, a job or a relationship, it's never easy. Something always lingers behind. Sometimes a memory, sometimes a grey streak on the wall.

Do you have trouble letting go?
Is it as hard to let go of things as it is people?
Is there anything you are letting go of today to make room for more?

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Way

When I first started working at CBS in the late eighties I was introduced to The Way.  The Way referred to how we did business. Adapting to the way and understanding the way was in direction proportion to the way you fared in the company.

I welcomed the way.  The company I worked at previously was at the time a fledgling broadcaster. There was no way there. You made up the way as you went along.

The idea of a having a distinct set of rules and parameters seemed refreshing to me. I didn't question the way, at least not immediately. After all CBS had a history of success. Whatever the way was it must be the right way. Sounds rather naive now, doesn't it?

When we 'merged' with Westinghouse in the early nineties I saw for the first time what happens when two different ways join. It didn't take long before it was clear that the Westinghouse way was the new direction. There was nothing particularly new or innovative about their way. It was just a different way. Some things would prove beneficial  and others, like the brief period they decided to list the new company as Westinghouse, only to discover it did not help the stock price because people thought of Westinghouse as light bulb manufacturers and not broadcasters, would prove short lived.

But it was also the first time I started to hear the choruses of but that is not the way we do things and but we've always done it like this among my colleagues, myself included.  Change was coming and it didn't feel as exciting and wonderful as it was being spun.

I thought about that time today when I was reading about  Lewis D'Vorkin's new editorial model for the Forbes website in Advertising Age.  I'm still not clear on how innovative it actually is. From my advertising and writing background it seems to be putting the television concept of paid advertorials on line in the form of advertiser provided blogs. The controversial part, as it always has been in television, is how to make clear the distinction between what is unbiased news and what is advertising.

In any case I can hear the internal chorus of that is not they way things are done here all the way uptown. Change is uncomfortable. Change is questioned. Change is resisted.  Change is scary.

And we never really know for sure as change is occurring that it is the right way to go. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces. But shaking up the way things have been done is a necessary part of our culture at this moment in time. So we try.

What I learned from those naive CBS days is that sometimes having a way is good and sometimes being able to make it up as you go is even better. But doing something just because that is the way we've always done it is never good. And in today's ever changing world serves no one, least of all ourselves.

What are you doing today just because it's "the way" you always have?
What one thing can you try that will be different?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Organizing My Thoughts

I like to say that my mind is like my computer. Often there are many programs open at once and they are all fighting for my time and attention.  In an effort to avoid a complete brain freeze, I open one more. My journal file. Writing with no purpose is  one of the most productive things I can do. It is then and only then I am able to make sense of the conversation in and around me and figure out what I need to do next.

I have been keeping a journal since the time it was called a diary and came with a lock and key so my parents could not read my deepest, darkest secrets.  I don't remember when I started but I do know I have boxes of them stored away in an array of color and texture. It has been suggested that I burn them, but I prefer not to. Periodically I dip into one, look at the month and year and try to remember where I was before I try to decipher my handwriting.

When I was researching the nineties for my novel, I pulled several out. I wanted to see what insight I could get into the time and my mindset. I was straightening up the other day and found one of those journals open to August 1995. These are some excerpts from the entry on that page.

I've always said that when I stopped having fun it would be time to leave this job.
Write. I want to write. I believe that to be my God given talent.
I am afraid, afraid of finding out I'm not as talented as I think and afraid of finding out I might be.

Pretty wild huh? Apparently I have always known I wanted to write. But I don't remember admitting it out loud to anyone, even to my journal. And certainly not fifteen years ago!  I don't remember letting the Universe know I was ready to leave that job.  But apparently I did and while I was too scared to say it aloud, I was not as intimidated to write it down.

As it turned out, while I did not leave the industry, I did leave that company less than two years later. I tried rejuvenation instead of complete reinvention and segued from radio to television. But I was still a long way from writing much of any place but those journals.

Now Don Draper is keeping a journal. Yes, there is much about the world of Mad Men I love. From the time frame to the depiction of the advertising industry, to the place of women in it and the subtle acknowledgments while things have changed in the world, they have not changed as much as we like to believe. And now I love the use of the journal.

"My mind is a jumble. I cannot organize my thoughts." - a Don Draper entry

Mad Men Season 4 Episode 9

Don is trying to get clear. There is no one he can completely trust and feel safe with to share any of it. So he is writing. His is a spiral notebook with no lock and key and no computer password. He keeps his hidden between the folds of his newspaper.

It's an excellent device for the show. We can understand better who the 'real' Don Draper is while he remains a mystery to the other characters. The 'real' Don Draper is more interesting and even more complex than we had imagined. But isn't that what happens when you reveal your true self?

The thing about journal writing is that it helps you to get clear. I've never completed an entry not feeling lighter and less burdened. It's a discovery process to your inner self. And if you are a pack rat like me and hold on to them, sometime when the future is now, you find out you have been on a path to here for longer than you thought.

But the real key is what you do after organizing your thoughts. Do you close the cover and forget about it for a decade or so or do you take a step forward immediately and do something? Or like Don Draper, do you hide it in some not so secret place, because the truth is you really want it to be read?

Do you keep a journal?
Is it is easier for you to express your thoughts by writing them or speaking them?
What do you do to organize the chatter in your mind?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tales of Reinvention: Janine Francolini

Janine Francolini is the founder and Board Chair of The Flawless Foundation. With a background in education and a passion for children and service Janine turned a move to Portland, Oregon and a volunteer job into a rapidly growing non profit organization dedicated to taking a stand for children and adolescents with special needs.  

I had the opportunity to chat with Janine and find out more about her tale of reinvention. Here's what she had to say.

Sometimes we choose to reinvent and sometimes it chooses us. What was the defining event that made you take the leap?
I think its both. 
I have always been passionate about my work in education. But I found increasingly when I was still living back East that what I was doing was not the reason I entered the profession. We moved to Portland on a whim.  So here I was in a new city. I took a job volunteering with children with severe behavioral issues. I was shocked at the lack of resources.  I  had one of those moments when it just hit me that I had to do something to change that. 
Plus, I think I have always been drawn to these types of children from my own childhood.  I was the behavior problem. I was fortunate that I turned out OK but that did not have to happen that way. And I wanted to do something so that others could be as fortunate.

Tell me about The Flawless Foundation.
Our vision is to see the perfection in every child. We're a non profit organization dedicated to more humane, compassionate care for children and adolescents living with mental health and neurodevelopmental challenges. We do that through a variety of different programs in the arts, gardening, yoga, meditation and Collaborative Problem Solving.
We also do a lot of training for parents and educators and are very fortunate to be working with Dr. Stuart Ablon who is the Director of Think:Kids in the Department of Psychiatry at Mass General Hospital. Our next big event with Dr. Ablon is October 19-20 in New York.

How has or hasn't your work and education experience prepared you?
I have fifteen years of experience as a teacher, administrator and consultant in private schools in New York City. It has all proved invaluable. The classroom time is obvious, but also my last position in Education was as Director of Admissions taught me so much about sales and marketing which is so helpful now in raising the awareness and the funds we need to grow The Flawless Foundation.

What has been the biggest surprise concerning your reinvention?
It was two years in May and I am still astounded by how easy it has been. It is 24/7 work and involvement but it has been effortless in coming together

What has been the biggest obstacle?
Like any working mom, managing work and family life is always a challenge

What has come the easiest?
I really stand by that. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't. More has come to me and the organization than I ever dreamed. It holds true that if you are truly following your passion everything you need and then some shows up.

Do you have any regrets?
If I had any idea how big this would get and how quickly, I would have had more of a plan going in. I would have secured funding in advance and had more of an infrastructure set up and ready. At times I think I started this like a bake sale.

What do you love most?
Those moments when I see the kids eyes light up, when I hear them call out to me, Miss Janine.
I love working in the garden with the kids. And my volunteers are the best!

What do you miss most?
Not having to pay for health insurance.

What are you most proud of?
The number of children's lives and adult's we've changed. In just two years we have touched thousands.
We even won an award! The 2009-2010 Excellence in Special Education Award from the National Association of Special Education Teachers' for making a commitment to educate and/or advocate for children with disabilities and their families.

What advice would you give others contemplating shaking up their lives?
Just do it. Jump in. Don't hesitate. Everything you need will be there. 

Please note:  The Flawless Foundation will be holding their Annual Perfection Party on April 9,  2011. For tickets to the Panel Discussion, Champagne Reception and/or Dinner please visit

For more information on The Flawless Foundation or to donate please visit
You can follow Janine and the wonderful work this group is doing  on Facebook  or Twitter@flawlessgrats.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Not Just A Tennis Lesson

There is something about the civility of a tennis match that always leaves me in awe. Yes, we know that by tennis  standards the New York crowd is considered a bit louder than most, even the fans who are just visiting. But every time I am lucky enough to visit the US Open Tennis Center in Flushing I continue to be amazed by the quiet that descends on the  stadium  as all eyes are fixed on the player serving. The sound of "ssh" until there is such an absence of noise that  I am  convinced you could  hear a pin drop.

I reveled in that Monday. I got lucky.  Through the graciousness and generosity of two dear friends I was offered a ticket to the US Open Men's tennis final.  As if that wasn't enough good fortune for one day, the gift of the rain delay was that we were able to sneak down to the lower levels and view the end of the match courtside.

It was hard not to be astounded by the 23,000 plus in attendance and how amenable and polite everyone was, even with the rain. Whether you were cheering for Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic you clapped when you witnessed a great shot. There were no boos to be heard anywhere. Spectators smiled at each other even from opposing sides of the fence.

I wondered, why is it so hard for us to act like this in our every day lives? In this crazy world we live in everyone is always "slamming" each other, whether it is a Democrat and Republican or business in competition with each other.  So few seem to concentrate on playing their best game to their strengths.  Instead they resort to verbal attacks, often unfounded and frequently taken out of context. It gets so noisy that I am thinking these political and business players are unable to hear themselves think. Which may be the reason so many of them say such ridiculous things and forget about concentrating on doing good work.

Rafael and Novak had the luxury of the quiet they demand.  They didn't have to listen to endless commentary about what they were doing right or wrong and the predictions on the outcome. They didn't have to waste time defending their actions and literally take their eye off the ball.  In the absence of noise, they could focus on doing their job, playing tennis as if their life depended on it and trusting that even if they lost, they had played well and lost to an opponent they admired and respected.

At the awards ceremony Monday evening as each player was presented his trophy they acknowledged the other for a match well played.  They exhibited something rarely seen these days.
Humility. Respect. Civility. Manners.

There is a lot more to learn watching professional tennis than just how to hit the ball.

What do you think?
Is there too much noise out there?
Are you tired of hearing people being 'slammed'?
Do you think we can learn a lesson from professional tennis?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Anti-Aging Secret

I'm guest posting today at Endless Beauty a great website that focuses on women leveraging good health to achieve great beauty.

Stop over and check it out!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pausing to Remember

Nine years ago today I laid out my party clothes on my bed before I went to the office. September 11 was the date of our annual client gala at Tavern on the Green and my plan was to stop home and change before the event. I had just returned from a week hiking in Utah to a promotion as Director of Sales for NY1 News. Life felt pretty grand.  It was one of those brilliant sunshine filled Fall mornings that makes a New Yorker fall in love with their city all over again.

I never anticipated that later that day I would be walking up 6th Avenue amidst a sea of strangers with three of my coworkers in tow. From our offices on 19th Street you used to be able to look downtown and see the Twin Towers.  That day, each time I turned around all that was visible behind the throngs of frightened New Yorkers was a thick, dark cloud of smoke that looked like it was trying to find a way to swallow the whole city. One  of my crew made us stop inside the Catholic church on 23rd Street. That was the first time the numbness of what was happening wore off of me and I broke into tears.

When I think  back every moment of that day becomes real again. But most days it seems like an awful horror movie that could not possibly be true.

The days after now seem just as unreal. That feeling of solidarity in this city and country strengthened by our collective grief. We all felt it,  what America is supposed to be about, freedom and our right to own it and protect it. No matter what. We would go on and we would be stronger for it.

I even remember liking George W. Bush for a brief moment. In one grief stricken, vodka induced so I could sleep through the night period, I thought maybe he was going to really prove to us all that there was something more to him than he was intent on presenting.

But that passed quickly, as did the feeling of a united America. Nine years later what should have made us stronger seems to have pulled us further apart.  A new order in the world has been used as a way to stronghold politics and to gather following based on fear instead of strength and faith.

And for what seems like so many reasons, this year I am thinking about it more than most. I suppose it was that pastor in the South that has gotten way more press than he deserves. One misdirected man in search for his ten minutes of fame is now the symbol for everything that is wrong with America. Perceived intolerance, irrational behavior and a media that fuels it all.

But I, as you all know, am the girl with the glass eternally half full. I am hoping that on this day, nine years later, that maybe the gift of one man's irrational behavior and the inappropriate attention the media and our viral world has put on him will at the very least cause all of us to take pause today and start to regain our senses.

This is not a country formed by holding on to anger and fear but just the opposite. One based on freedom from tyranny and the gift to practice your faith to whomever you call your God however you choose.

The idea that the rest of the world might judge us all as we do that Pastor seems  unfair and untrue.  Yet there are those still so angry and fearful about this day nine years ago that they want to  judge every person who is of the Muslim faith to be a terrorist. And in doing so seem to have created their own brand of terrorism.

So today I pause and I remember.  I will allow myself to feel again the horror of that day. It is something none of us should forget. I am also going to remember that the picture the media creates for us is a version of the world we are living in. It is designed too often more to draw attention for ratings and revenue than a true interest in good journalism. I will remember that I am not alone in my sanity. That there are others like me. But because I and they are not burning anything on the balcony today, the media cameras will not be focused on us.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Coffee is for Closers

People dislike the word sell. It implies capitalism, bureaucracy, lying, persuading, untruth.  Visions of sleazy, unfulfilled men with loosened ties, wrinkled shirts and worn briefcases a la  Death of a Salesman come to mind. And for me, always, Alec Baldwin's classic tirade in Glengarry Glen Ross.

People tell me all the time that they could never sell. Which always makes me smile, because we all do, every day. And if we don't learn how to do it well, we'll never achieve all that we want to.

It's easier to sell when it is as I talked about yesterday from a place of truth and integrity. It's harder when you are selling a car you would never drive, a dress you would never wear or a house you would never live in.

But what we all have to get good at is selling ourselves.
I can hear the winces, the stomachs turning.
Selling ourselves sounds we're prostituting who we are.

But that is not what I am talking about. I'm talking about selling you as an expert in your field, the person best for the job, an interesting person to make a friend, a fun date. Yes, the selling is not always related to business. It shows up in all parts of your life. You are your own brand. And even if you don't like the word sell, if you want to make an impact in any arena of your life you need to learn how to do it well.

It's a noisy world out there and it's getting noisier every day.  Everything we do has a chance of being recorded, on a blog, a Facebook post, a Tweet, or walking down the street and being caught on someone's iPhone video that they post on You Tube. You need to be paying attention. You need to be conscious.

I'm not suggesting pretending to be something you are not. That's exhausting!  I'm suggesting the opposite. I think presenting yourself from a place of authenticity and truth is what catches people most.  You can't pretend to have integrity. You can try but it's not long before people catch on and sand castle crumbles.

We get a little distracted in our on line world of commerce and information and we think the most important part of what we do is the interesting tweet or the high gloss sheen to our website. Yes, they are part of the equation.

But what is most important is us. Putting our best foot forward. Selling not just what we believe in, but who we believe in. Which in a perfect world is ourselves. At the end of the day everyone wants to have that cup of coffee.

Do you like the word sell?
Do you believe we are always selling something?

Thursday, September 9, 2010


I was in a discussion the other day about my former life, the one in which I sold commercial time on radio and TV stations.

"So you sold air! You were really selling nothing."
"Yes, that is true. I sold an intangible, something you were unable to hold in your hand unless someone dubbed a copy of the spot onto a tape."
"You should think about working for a hedge fund. You'd be good. It's really selling nothing. You should move to Greenwich and work with us."

After I stopped laughing I told him thank you, but I didn't think so. For starters, while Greenwich sounds nice for a country home, it is not a place I could thrive seven days a week. But more importantly I could never work in a business like that. Not now. Maybe once upon a time when I was still head over heels enamored with corporate life. But not now.

Being a finance guy a simple no thank you wasn't going to do. He needed the why.

That was easy. Yes, I knew if I could sell country music  in Philadelphia in the eighties when country in the Northeast was far from cool,  I could sell ice to the Eskimos, but  my days of convincing myself all that is  real and good about my product are over. I am now only able to sell that which I have true passion for. Like my writing. My coaching services. Maybe something else. But certainly not selling risks especially when the bet is on a company doing poorly.

Basically I told him I had too much integrity to sell something I didn't believe in.

But how many of us do? 
How many of us sell out? For no other reason than the money?
How many of us are such good actors that we convince ourselves of the value in our goods or services, whether or not it is really there?
And how many of us are lucky enough or brave enough or courageous enough to sell, ourselves or our product from a place of integrity and truth?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

September Shoes

I felt it last week when I saw September 1 on my calendar. The compulsion to go and buy a new notebook and sharpen some pencils. Or at least buy a new pair of shoes. All those rituals of late summer we persist  hoping it will make us forget the season is almost over.

Last week I could try and stay in denial. But not today. Today is September 7.  It's Fall. Back to school. Back to work. Back to getting serious. Back to thinking about those new shoes.

A friend I grew up with reminded me of the shoes we were most obsessed with as teenagers. Fred Brauns.  If you were hip and cool and living in NYC in the seventies you had a pair of Fred Brauns, flats with strange shaped  toes in triangles, rounds or squares. They were expensive for their time. Me owning a pair meant saving my own money to add to what my mother budgeted for me.  As my friend reminded me, late August would approach and we would take the bus to Kew Gardens and the E or the F train into the city to shop. I can still breathe in the rush of that butter soft leather that filled the Fred Braun Store.

I've been thinking of those Fred Brauns and wondering about this connection to something ending and something beginning and the hope in between in the form of a shoe.  Yes, the summer  is over but in its place is the fall and  the promise of what is new, what is fresh, what is next.

I am torn between the two. And I am convinced a new pair of shoes will ease the transition.

But I no longer buy shoes as easily as I did when in Corporate America. Shoes for most women are an easy quick fix to a bad day and Corporate America is filled with those.  I learned that trick early on. Shoes can be bought between appointments, on a lunch hour, one short stop on the way home. I don't have that many bad days anymore.  Plus I admit to not always wearing shoes in my office. In fact I write this in bare feet.

Still it is September and I am obsessing new shoes. Not because I am having a bad day. But because that is my favorite September ritual. They are my bridge between the seasons, my preparation for what is next.

I stand differently in new shoes. I feel more confident. There are no marks on new shoes, no scuffs. They are like a freshly washed chalkboard with no mistakes. They hold my feet and they hold promise.

What is your September ritual?
Are you too shopping for new 'school' shoes?
Do new shoes make you feel different?
What promise do you hope the fall holds for you?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do You Know When?

I got into a conversation with a grounds supervisor at the US Open Tennis yesterday. I remarked that he must get all sorts of crazy questions posed to him from ticket holders. He responded with an easy laugh and a shake of his head. "You have no idea! You want to know what they ask the most? When will this match be over? As if I can tell them that. When."

When, when, when.

We all want to know the answer to when. As kids in the backseat of the car, the first question my brother would ask my father is when are we going to get there. Anyone from the Carolinas up to the Cape at this moment wants to know when Hurricane Earl is going to hit the coast and hoping it doesn't.  I want to know when I will have a book contract in my hands.

But none of us really knows. For sure.

We can guess when the match will be over. We can guesstimate how long it will take before we arrive at our destination. We have a wealth of scientific information and instruments trying to determine exactly when and where Hurricane Earl will hit the coast or if it will. I can set target dates for publication as often as I like. We can predict but we never know exactly when. That is until when shows up.

And even though we know that we still try to control it.
We fight against surrendering to when  when will occur by trying to reduce what we don't know as though we were solving a math problem. Or focusing so hard on the when in the distance we forget to notice we did not put gas in the car.

We forget that there are things in our control and there are things out of our control.
We forget to let  go to some power greater than ourselves.
We forget to revel in the element of surprise.
We forget that when eventually occurs, if it is supposed to.
Or as my father would say "when it's good and ready."

Do you have a when you want to know the answer to now?
Are you trying to force your whens or surrendering to what you can't control?
Do you know when Hurricane Earl is going to hit the East End of LI, exactly?