Sunday, December 7, 2014

My favorite quotes from the books I've read in 2014

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

~The problem was that she couldn’t attach herself to a “today” or a “yesterday” or even a “last week.” She was floating helplessly above the calendar like an escaped balloon.

~Wouldn’t it be a lot less messy if everyone just stayed with the people they married in the first place?

~She drifted off because she was remembering what it was like when you broke up with someone. Conversations became so hopelessly tangled. You had to be polite and precise. You couldn’t safely criticize anymore, because you didn’t have the right. You’d lost your immunity.

The Sisterhood by Helen Bryan

~Portraits, like love, demand an exposure of self.

~You run this enterprise as your full-time job, Menina—how do you get everything done?” Menina groaned. “I have no idea because I have never yet gotten everything done for just one day. I prioritize chaos.”

Sell More With Sales Coaching: Practical Solutions for Your Everyday Sales Challenges by Peri Shawn

~Coaching is both a right and a privilege for your team members, not a penance for poor performers, as some leaders mistakenly use it.

~Keep in mind that effective sales coaching is much like baking a cake. The individual ingredients aren’t all that enticing; the magic happens when you put them together.

The Red Tent: A Novel by Anita Diamant

~We made love very slowly that night, as though for the last time, weeping. One of his tears fell in my mouth, where it became a blue sapphire, source of strength and eternal hope.

~Laboring mother bring out other women like geese responding to the call of a leader in flight.

~“Dear one,” she said, putting my hand to her cheek, “I am so honored to be the vessel into which you pour this story of pain and strength.

Gods and Kings: Chronicles of the Kings #1: A Novel by Lynn Austin

~But the peace of God comes from knowing that there’s an order in the universe and there is a reason for whatever happens, even if only Yahweh [God] can see it.

~Stopping evil was like trying to hold back the waves of the sea.

The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson

~How you sell has become more important than what you sell. An effective sales force is a more sustainable competitive advantage than a great product stream.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

~“Life has meaning and we grown-ups know what it is” is the universal lie that everyone is supposed to believe. Once you become an adult and you realize that’s not true, it’s too late.

~To beauty, all is forgiven, even vulgarity.

~When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment? The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes.

~The tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light.

~True novelty is that which does not grow old, despite the passage of time.  

~She radiates intelligence.

~Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary—and terribly elegant.

~We don’t recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors.

~I would recognize you anywhere.

~Maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same.

~Yes, that’s it, an always within never.  

Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline

~It may have been that they were weak people, ill suited for the rigors of emigration, its humiliations and compromises, its competing demands of self-discipline and adventurousness.

~I’ve stumbled on a fellow outsider, one who speaks my language without saying a word.

~My entire life has felt like chance. Random moments of loss and connection. This is the first one that feels, instead, like fate.

~But behind everything I do is a low hum of fear.

~I learned long ago that loss is not only probable but inevitable. I know what it means to lose everything, to let go of one life and find another. And now I feel, with a strange, deep certainty, that it must be my lot in life to be taught that lesson over and over again.

~I’ll tell you something: marrying Jim was like stepping into water the exact same temperature as the air.
A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett

~Maisie had at first felt it was unnatural for a child to grow up surrounded by servants, and she feared that Bertie would be overprotected; but she had learned that rich children played in the dirt and climbed walls and got into fights just as much as the poor, and the main difference was that the people who cleaned up after them got paid.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

~People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory—and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media.

~Puzzling limitation of our mind: our excessive confidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in.

~We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events.

~The best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high.

~Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


In the absence of harmony,
The unattainable is hanging.
Pink clouds float by -
Cotton candy.
In the pool's reflection,
Nonexistence glimmers.
Bitterness dances with sweetness.
The overcrowded mind shivers.
In the cocoon of thorns
Life shimmers.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A bit of Robin Williams in all of us

“The peace of mind one experiences on one’s own, one’s certainty of self in the serenity of solitude, are nothing in comparison to the release and openness and fluency one shares with another, in close companionship . . .”
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Since the news of his death, I have been thinking about Robin Williams – about his life, his inspiring work, and the way he died. And here are some thoughts that I can’t get out of my head….
In his work, he appeared so funny, so joyful, so engaging, with seemingly boundless energy. But if you really really looked into his eyes, especially during interviews, what you would see was wisdom, depth and sadness. A whole big ocean of despair. It wasn't diluted by the cameras, the lights, or even laughter, it was that strong. His eyes always said "I love my craft, I love my children, but I don't really belong here...I am just a visitor..."
Who knows what specifically pushed him over the edge. My mom used to say "you never know what's going on behind closed doors." The closed doors of our hearts, our minds, our houses. We just speculate and often over-simplify - depression, anxiety, early stages of Parkinson's disease...Loneliness. What pushes one over the edge? We will never truly know.
The interesting thing is that we were all shocked by the news of Robin Williams' death. He fooled us all in a way, and lulled us into a sense of security thinking "Robin Williams is strong and he will be around for a long time. Look how funny he is. He survived the heart surgery and all."
Was he putting on the brave show for all of us? Possibly. Was he so unique in doing so? I think not. Isn’t there a bit of "Robin Williams" in all of us?
How many of us put on the brave show every day? How about every hour? How many of us take deep breaths just to be able to get out of bed? And for how many of us no breathing or mountains of antidepressants are enough to get us out of bed? How many of us conjure up a wide smile and say "I am great" when asked "how are you" while crumbling inside?
As a coach, I see it a lot. People come seeking "career advice." And often times, it turns out that while they may need tweaks to their résumés, what they seem to be even hungrier for is a human interaction. Just for someone to care, even for a fee, and listen to the small insignificant - and yet to them enormous and paramount - details of their lives. Think of all the people you love the most. Those people who create a safe, warm internal glow in your heart. I bet their eyes light up when you enter the room and they genuinely want to hear what you ate for lunch and whether you enjoyed it.
I suppose, ultimately, we are all alone in our heads. Prisoners of our minds, our despairs, our fears...I know, it’s not a unique thought. For some reason it feels more real than ever to me now. In the world of so many people, no-one should feel so alone within the prison of our minds that there is no other way but to leave this world. But I know it's idealistic to think that.
The older I get, the more I am convinced that nobody can live for someone else. Robin Williams seemed to have such loving children whom he adored. And yet, they didn't have enough gravitational force to keep him here.
The odds, I think, are stacked up against us in some ways.  There are certain exacerbating circumstances of the world we live in. 
For example, I think social media makes us feel more lonely and isolated.  It creates this emotional dissonance.  A mind cannot help but wonder "I have 100+ so called friends on Facebook. Didn't anyone notice my cryptic SOS message??"
Also, our world values self-reliance and personal responsibility a lot. I don't know if it's above all else, but it's close, pretty up there. We must make our own medical decisions, do our own taxes, take charge of our own career, raise perfect children - no matter the circumstances, etc. etc. etc. That's a lot to deal with, don't you think? And now imagine doing it all under the watchful and often unkind eye of the public.... Wouldn't it drive you mad?
Brene Brown, a researcher and writer who studies vulnerability and shame, says that for men shame comes from one source - being viewed as weak. Did Robin Williams feel that he wouldn't be able to bare watching his kids and the whole world pity him in his battle with Parkinson's? Could the shadow of the shame be too dark?
Williams' friend and actor Harvey Fierstein said on Twitter: "Please, people, do not fuck with depression. It's merciless. All it wants is to get you in a room alone and kill you." It really stuck with me…"in a room alone…” And I wanted to add, "and please people keep each other company." Yes, depression is an illness and please don't mess with it. Do whatever must be done. But if there is a bit of despair and loneliness in all of us, let's not wait for the darkness to envelop us. Let's mind the depression but let’s also just really mind each other. And no, I don’t mean “let’s take care of each other, let’s hug and sing Kumbaya” (although there may be a place and time for that too.) All I am saying is pay attention to other fellow humans. Even the unlovable kinds (or maybe especially them). 
There is nothing more important than listening without judging (and man, do I suck at that, a massive work in progress). You know those announcements right before a hurricane? They say “please check on your elderly and disabled neighbors.” I think we should just check on each other - young, old, abled, disabled, it doesn't matter. And do it all the time.
For example, it could start simply by asking someone "how are you" and really listening to the answers... Don’t walk away. Don't let them get away with an impersonal "I am fine." Listen for clues. Read between the lines. Let's allow each other, allow ourselves, to get unglued from time to time. Think of it as a cleansing ritual. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign we are human and we are learning, and we are doing something so natural and normal – relying on each other.   
Here is my wish and prayer for myself and for all of us. Since we are all just mere humans, visitors on this beautiful planet, when the night falls on our souls (I am not saying IF because it is enviable that it would happen during the course of our lives in varying degrees), may there always be someone by our side... Someone real. Someone who will simply say "I hear you, I see you. Namaste – Your spirit honors your spirit." And may this message come in every form imaginable, including but certainly not limited to the following:
"Want to grab a beer?”
“Shall we have some strong Turkish tea?”
“How about we take a walk together?”
“Let’s sit quietly here and pray together.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Connecting the dots

"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." - Steve Jobs

I have not written in a long time. It's not that life hasn't happened. It did. And it's not that there has been a lack of profound moments to write about. That's not it either. It's just that there was (and still is) a lot of good work to do. And there was no urgency to write about it as various thoughts were cooking in my head (or my soul, I am never entirely sure where they originate and develop).

There is something important I have uncovered, or perhaps re-discovered. And now a message has formed and it feels urgent enough to share.

Let me start by saying that I think I may have been the last person who finally bought an iPhone. I remember the date - October 5, 2011. It was the day Steve Jobs died.

I ordered the phone (partly because it was time to let go of my old phone and party as a tribute), watched the news and his now famous commencement address from 2005.

The commencement was about many things but the biggest message I remembered (or was I meant to hear and remember that particular message?) was this: just do your thing and trust that the dots will connect.

Today, as I am writing this blog post on my iPhone, I am thinking about all the dots that have connected and may have yet to connect, and I feel an enormous sense of gratitude. Why you ask? I will tell you. I started a number of new things a while back. In fact, I feel that I’ve been starting and finishing all kinds of things (colleges, papers, projects, commitments, etc.) for some time now. And I often got a lot of questions “What is that certificate for?” or “will you get more money or a bigger job as a results of X, Y or Z” or “Don’t you have enough going on?” or “Don’t you ever sleep?” Or sometimes a well-meaning, but a little hurtful “do you ‘still’ paint?” which to me sounds like “gosh, you should have just grown up already and given that up by now.” To all of that, most of the time, I smile and say “I don’t know exactly how it will all hang together, but it will. I believe it will.” There is something liberating about this kind of confidence. It’s not arrogance or sense of self importance. It’s actually the opposite. It’s an admission of my vulnerability and lack of wisdom to "know it all". My humanness, if you will.

I find that the dots most often connect in the most magical and unexpected ways. And sometimes they connect in a very “sneaky” and unrecognizable ways as if to say “peekaboo, didn’t expect me to show up here, did you?” And it’s ok with me. And while I am an active participant in the nitty-gritty of it all, I don't even think about that. I just do. But when I have a small luxury to stand back and appreciate the outcomes, albeit as small as they might sometimes be, for me that is the beauty of the Divine Universe at its very best. The Universe working exactly as it should.  

All of this is not exactly a new understanding for me. A while back I wrote about "Universe's helping hand when the painting I was doing a research paper on was “magically” brought out of the storage right in front of my eyes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But now it's about a newly uncovered appreciation and awe.

My grandma used always says to me "you won't carry anything you learn on your back." What it means is that whatever you learn or accomplish will be of benefit to you or those around you down the road, such as a new skills, new language, new degree, etc. It will serve you or the world at some point in your life and in some way. It’s not going to be a burden “on your back” and it will come in handy.
As a coach (and I suppose as a human), I am often asked "What’s the formula? How do you do it?” And “it” in this case means “plunging in, getting things done and still feeling grateful.” Or at least that’s what I think it means.

Well, darlings, I’ve been thinking about it and here is the “magic” formula. Don’t be disappointed though, it’s not all that sophisticated.

Step 1: Just show up, as completely as you can.

Step 2: Get your hands dirty. Do the work. All of it. Whatever “work” means in your context. It could be filling out a 20 page application to college, updating your resume, writing your business plan, having a difficult conversation with someone important in your life, just getting up in the morning, preparing for an exam, painting over a spot on your new art work after an unfortunate accident with red wine…or something totally different.

Step 3: When tempted to quit, don’t! Simple as that. It’s going to get hard. You’ll question your commitment. It’s going to get uninteresting and unsexy. One of my favorite  business thinkers is Peter Drucker wrote: “Like so many brilliant people, he believes ideas move mountains. But bulldozers move mountains; ideas show the bulldozers where they should go to work.” Basically don’t be too in love with your beautiful ideas, put them in action! Become that bulldozer. Get shit done. Now, keep in mind, there are no guarantees. Plus guarantees are laughable and meaningless anyway. Could it at times (or a lot of times) feel like all your hard work is “for nothing”? Absolutely. Could you still trust that it is leading to your next important dot? Absolutely.

Step 4:  Trust that the stars will align and the dots will connect. And trust that they connect even if you can’t tell how and when and where. Most times you won’t be aware or wise enough to notice. Be ok with it.

Step 5: Be grateful. You know that saying “just happy to be here.” Really become one with it. Be happy to be here, wherever “here” is. And appreciate the actual journey, just on pure faith alone.

Step 6: Watch for the signs and listen for the whispers of fate. Can you see them? Hear them? Feel them? Learn to notice. And when you notice, well, that’s the sweetest part. Just take a deep spiritual bow. Say a prayer of gratitude, not just for the dots themselves but for the Divine glimpse of clarity you were awarded.

Step 7: Repeat step 1.

So you may be wondering, how do I know that the dots connected? I am not sure all of them did. I can never be sure. But I still feel grateful. I believe some of my dots are forming a new constellation and it feels sweet and humbling. This is not a celebratory dance or egoistic self-indulgence. It's actually the opposite. It's an acknowledgement that there are higher powers at play and I appreciate being invited to the dance.