Inspirational Thinking

Searching For Meaning at 102 - The Timeless Appeal of Stories

Mark Twain once said that “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Just as family artifacts are passed down from generation to generation, people too can be a vessel for all sorts of stories that are passed on to future generations. Older people (let’s call them “seasoned” due to their wealth of world experience) can be an infinite source of wisdom and guidance in a world often full of conflict and chaos. Even making it to your senior years in this day and age is a source of inspiration!

Listening to stories from members of the older generation can be a fascinating glimpse into the past – and offer hope for the future. A well told honest story coming from the heart can even convince us that, in spite of all the advances, perhaps nothing much has changed in the world over the years.

One of my most recent writing projects (outside of my usual corporate work) is to help a 102 year old lady write her memoirs through a series of short stories – perhaps even adding in a novel or play. At 102, she still has all her “faculties” and is sharp as a whip. So much so that (as many seniors do), she still manages to find a way to correct me at several points throughout the dictation process. Her life could have been plucked straight from a Hollywood movie. A strong and independent thinker, she ran her own adventure travel company for over 40 years offering tours throughout the world. During that time, she also acted as an agent of sorts and recruited speakers and celebrities from around the world to speak at various locations in Toronto. One of her most famous speakers was Sir Edmund Hillary. Yes, the Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest fame. At the height of her career, she also hosted dignitaries and made the rounds to numerous celebrity parties and events.

She was married to an engineer and moved many times as her husband was offered jobs in different cities. My point is this. Stories often help us find meaning in our sometimes confused and chaotic lives. They offer a temporary means of escape. A good story engages us, draws us in – and in the best case scenario can also teach us something.

And what better way to help us understand our place in the world, than to listen to someone who has experienced just about everything life has to offer?

In life, we’re often told to take “time out” to smell the roses. Yet it’s just as important to take time out of our busy schedules and really listen to the stories that encapsulate our world.

I hope my story sessions will continue and very much look forward to my visits. In a way, I feel as if I’m talking to a sage of sorts. A sort of human search engine plucked from the ages whose goal it is to ensure her experience, wisdom and adventures don’t go unnoticed.

So far, she has been able to weather just about every storm life could throw at her. Yet somehow, looking ahead, I get the feeling that the best part of her story is yet to be written.

 

 

 


From Hollywood to Bay Street: Success is Defined By The Story You Tell

Hollywood1Recently I purchased a book called "The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters." The book is different from others in its genre as it doesn't just look at what highly successful people DO, it digs deeper and looks at how they THINK.

What's striking about the content in the book is its similarities to challenges found in the business world. Whether you're an aspiring screenwriter, entrepreneur or corporate CEO, your challenges are quite similar. At some point in your career, success will depend on how well you can sell your story to people prepared to buy it.

David Brown, a renowned Hollywood producer, once said that "Nothing counts as much as the story, because it is the story that will attract the director, the actors, the studio, the money. The story is the thing." It's the same in business. If you're the CEO of a public company, you better have a compelling and engaging story to attract shareholders and investors. Money begets money, and one way to get it is to have a good story. People tend to gather around a good idea, so make your story compelling and find an innovative way to help solve someone else's problem. Make yourself indispensible and they won't be able to get enough of you.

From the glitz and glam of Hollywood to the driven financial core of Bay Street, success is defined by the story you tell. You have to have something of importance to say, something that's different and cuts through the clutter. You have to tell your story in an engaging way, and develop nerves of steel and dogged determination to be sure your story is heard by the right people, at the right time. Your career will be full of rejection, but successful people are able to take that criticism and constructively use it to get their own story heard.

So take your talent, and hone it through intense dedication to your craft. Feed your passion, and develop the skills needed to effectively present and sell ideas to people who can benefit most from those ideas.

Don't give up. The world is waiting for a good story. Let yours be the one everyone starts talking about and your world will open up in ways you never dreamed possible.

What other similarities do you see between the challenges faced by people in creative industries - and those faced by people who work in the corporate world? Do you think all successful people share the same traits? If so, which ones?

 


Life and Death In New Orleans (Why Jewellery Is No Match For A Hurricane)

To some, a piece of jewellery is just a piece of jewellery. A static item that represents fashion sensibility, style or status.  Yet to others, the underlying story behind a favourite piece of jewellery may actually be more valuable than the value of the item itself.

I love New Orleans  and have visited there twice. I’m amazed at the energy, life and vibrancy of the place. Unless you experience it for yourself, it’s impossible to understand its magic – magic that makes you fall in love with it over and over again.

In October 2011, my husband and I took a much anticipated trip to NOLA and one afternoon found ourselves in the French Market. The market is a well-known eclectic spot where vendors sell food, food items, clothing and jewellery and other items. I was wandering around when I was struck by a table filled with vibrant colours. The table was full of fun, funky and unique jewellery made by NOLA native Russell Gore. I fell in love with several of the pieces and started talking to Russell. Turns out he was raised in the not so nice part of NOLA called the projects (St. Thomas housing development). His colourful jewellery, dubbed “Made in the Ghetto”, is a stark contrast to the harsh reality faced by others who had a similar upbringing.

Russell

(Photo courtesy of Richard Critz Photography http://prints.rwcfoto.com/)
 

Russell was wearing a huge gold medallion around his neck which he made out of his wife’s gold after she died in his arms during Hurricane Katrina. His life was filled with hardship and tragedy, and could have gone a different route had he not chosen art and photography as a way out of a seemingly desperate situation.

What struck me most about Russell (over and above his incredible talent) was his kindness, compassion and energy for everything and everyone. He had faced such tragedy, yet didn’t seem hardened by it all. There was energy and optimism in his voice.

After talking for a while, I mentioned that I had just been to the music store to buy CD’s by NOLA legend Kermit Ruffins. He told us he knew Kermit, and invited us to attend a local bar called Bullets where Kermit was performing that night. We smiled and said we would try to make it, not knowing anything about this place or part of town where it was located.

Bullets is a hole in the wall sports bar in the 7th ward area in New Orleans (Treme area). The neighbourhood looks tough and some of the clientele equally so. In spite of the “off the beaten path” location, the reviews were excellent and we decided to take a chance. We took a cab to the bar yet even the cab driver got lost. After driving around for what seemed like the longest 20 minutes of my life, we eventually found our way and made it to Bullets. The place had an amazing vibe and quite a mix of demographic. From biker jackets to well-dressed senior couples, anyone was welcome there and no one seemed to care who you were – or where you were from.

Kermit showed up and the place went wild. Russell walked in and everyone knew him. Turns out that if you know Russell and if he likes you, you’re treated with grace and respect. And so we were.

We had a blast. Strangers would raise their glass and everyone was dancing on the floor. Russell was total class, and even chased down Kermit so I could have a picture with him. For those who don’t know, Kermit Ruffins is to NOLA what Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey.

We talked to the owner of the bar who was a total sweetheart. He told us the story of how he lived through Hurricane Katrina and lost several friends in the process. In great detail, he described the water levels and bodies floating down the streets. One could not help but get teary eyed. Bullets was one of the anchors during the storm and somehow he was able to feed many of the locals. In these parts, he’s known as a hero. He knew and respected everyone, and they did the same. To me, he represented the strength, optimism and resilience shown by many in the New Orleans area.

I still wear the jewellery I bought from Russell. A colourful guitar decorative piece – and eclectic piece I like to think symbolizes life and hope amidst the despair of the projects. To this day, I get more compliments and inquiries on his jewellery than any other pieces I own.

Russell_Guitar

I always wondered what became of Russell and hoped for the best. While researching his story, I came across a recent clip of him on CNN. He was interviewed for a 10th Anniversary story of Katrina  and seems to be doing well.  

When someone compliments me on his jewellery, it’s also a compliment to Russell. So the next time you see an interesting piece of jewellery on someone, take a moment to ask them about it. Because sometimes an object as small and seemingly insignificant as a piece of jewellery can represent a story far more intriguing and inspirational than you can ever imagine.

Baby_pic

 

 

 


Olympians A Lesson In True Grit And Determination

Olympic athletes have a lot to teach us about grit, determination and perseverence. If many of us adopted the habits and ways of thinking common to world-class athletes, perhaps we would experience the same amount of success in our lives.

I've always loved to follow events at the Olympic games. The stories are real and often heart-wrenching...the athlete who comes from nowhere to take Olympic Gold, the "comeback kid" who's back to compete on the world stage after a stream of multiple injuries...and the superhero who's expected to pull in no less than 10 gold medals.

What's amazing to all of these stories is the incredible amount of will and determination it takes en route to Olympic gold. This year, we have the story of the "comeback kid" Kyle Shewfelt. This world class Olympic gymnast broke both legs last year during training at the World Championships. There were some in the medical community who wrote him off, but Kyle knew better.

091307shewfeltIn spite of (yet another) round of controversial judging at the Olympic level this year, Shewfelt remained positive. In an article published in the Calgary Herald, he said that in spite of the questions raised about judging in the pre-qualifying event, he was determined to rise above petty politics and acknowledged that "Life is full of possibilities...Maybe it isn't always fair, but it is always interesting."

Think about it. You break both your legs in training, go from being an Olympic athlete to being dependent on having people help you get out of bed...and a year later you're competing in the Olympics again - against the odds set by the medical community. Now if that isn't a lesson in grit and perseverance, what is?

Another lesson in hard core grit and elite athleticism is provided by American swimmer Michael Phelps. Phelps, a renowned Olympic superhero, is out to shatter Mark Spitz' 1972 record in Munich and claim his share of no less than 8 Olympic Gold medals. Put simply, the man is a machine. Everything he does is focused on the moment and on one particular race. In the game of world-class sport, it's winner take all and only the strongest and most prepared will achieve Olympic gold. That's what Olympic sport is all about. It's not about achieving your personal best, but about going out there on the world stage and putting everything you have on the line.

255px-Michael_Phelps_Athens

How many of us wish we had this kind of fire in us? How can we use their ways of thinking to help us excel in our everyday lives? What is it about Olympic athletes that tells them never to give up - ever - in spite of all the odds facing them?


When Did We Forget How to Dance?

Astaire_3 Watching Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dance is pure showmanship in motion. The talent, the moves, the passion for the art of dance are so intertwined that I get lost in the beauty of the moment. My mind wanders to a time when I too danced. As a child, every moment was filled with wonder. There was adventure and pure joy in the beauty of a butterfly, in riding my bike for the first time without help from anyone...and in the sound of the ice cream truck as it clanged down our street in the worst summer heat waves.

Back then, there were few troubles...and I grasped every moment that life had to offer me. In adulthood, we're thrown into roles and our days are met with increased responsibilities. While this is a natural part of growing up, why is that so many of us forget to dance once in a while?

In the "old school" business world, we were taught how to speak, act and dress for success. There was virtually no room for individual style. Times have changed a bit, and it seems the more unique you are - the better your chances of standing out. Yet still, so many are afraid to dance.

Just for today, laugh for no reason. Go break a rule or two. Don't be afraid to separate yourself from the pack. Watch an old Fred Astaire clip. Forget about what others may think. And don't forget to dance once in a while.

How many of you grew up in families who set expectations as to what you would do once you "grew up"? Do you ever feel as if you'd like to be a kid again? Under what circumstances? What do you do on days when you feel you need to dance again?


Writing The Story Of Success - Why Does It Take So Long To Finish The Book?

It's easy to find a multitude of books and articles that offer advice on how to achieve success. From this week's bestsellers - "The Secret" and Wayne Dyer's "Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life", to the more traditional school of writing from Napoleon Hill, Anthony Robbins and Dale Carnegie, the self-help industry continues to be a multi-million dollar - perhaps even multi-billion dollar industry.

We all want to achieve success, yet for most it still seems elusive. How many of us wake up in our 40's, and wonder when we will finally start living our lives the way we envisioned it years ago? Why do some people achieve success in the material sense, yet others with equal talent don't?

If we could package "success" and sell it as a fail-proof formula, we would never have to work again. In our attempt to write the story of success into our lives, perhaps the secret lies in implementing the "little" successes (let's think of them as "sub plots") and working them into our lives at a deeper level. Perhaps we just need to see the little things, in our attempt to write the whole story. If the little things are taken care of, then maybe our chances of writing a positive outcome to our life story will increase substantially.

For example, if I look at what I did to achieve success in different areas of my life, the breakdown would look like this:

1) Success in selling...depended on...

  • writing a plan and following it through
  • knowing the product and the customer
  • visualizing what I wanted from each sales call (I literally "pictured" a successful outcome)
  • honing my people management skills
  • hard work, persistence and belief in my product

2) Success in marketing/communications/project management...depended on...

  • understanding my target market
  • doing the research
  • looking beyond the immediate task to see how each of my actions would affect varying stakeholders and touchpoints both inside and outside of the company
  • empathy and an ability to get along with people
  • ability to get "buy in" from stakeholders

3) Success in public speaking depended on...

  • an ability and desire to understand and engage the audience
  • research on the topic
  • organizing the speech to be sure it was clear in the audience's mind
  • practice, practice, practice

4) Success in my personal life depended on...

  • a decision that I would just "be myself" and see what happens
  • reaching out and maintaining friendships
  • honesty
  • a desire to share thoughts and ideas with others
  • staying open to possibility

In trying to understand what it takes to be successful, another thought occurred to me. Maybe we're already successful. Perhaps what we take for granted, is considered an accomplishment of grand proportions by others.

What is success to you? Have you achieved your level of material success? If so, what tips can you share with others? What do we need to do to write the story of success into our lives?


From Hollywood to Bay Street: Success is Defined By The Story You Tell

Writers1Recently I purchased a book called "The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters." The book is different from others in its genre as it doesn't just look at what highly successful people DO, it digs deeper and looks at how they THINK.

What's striking about the content in the book is its similarities to challenges found in the business world. Whether you're an aspiring screenwriter, entrepreneur or corporate CEO, your challenges are quite similar. At some point in your career, success will depend on how well you can sell your story to people prepared to buy it.

David Brown, a Hollywood producer, says that "Nothing counts as much as the story, because it is the story that will attract the director, the actors, the studio, the money. The story is the thing." It's the same in business. If you're the CEO of a public company, you better have a compelling and engaging story to attract shareholders and investors. Money begets money, and one way to get it is to have a good story. People tend to gather around a good idea, so make your story compelling and find an innovative way to help solve someone else's problem. Make yourself indispensible and they won't be able to get enough of you.

From the glitz and glam of Hollywood to the driven financial core of Bay Street, success is defined by the story you tell. You have to have something of importance to say, something that's different and cuts through the clutter. You have to tell your story in an engaging way, and develop nerves of steel and dogged determination to be sure your story is heard by the right people, at the right time. Your career will be full of rejection, but successful people are able to take that criticism and constructively use it to get their own story heard.

So take your talent, and hone it through intense dedication to your craft. Feed your passion, and develop the skills needed to effectively present and sell ideas to people who can benefit most from those ideas.

Don't give up. The world is waiting for a good story. Let yours be the one everyone starts talking about and your world will open up in ways you never dreamed possible.

What other similarities do you see between the challenges faced by people in creative industries - and those faced by people who work in the corporate world? Do you think all successful people share the same traits? If so, which ones?