Category Archives: Achievement

Miracle in the Hudson–All Passengers Survive

Today’s lead news story about the USAirways flight safely landing in the Hudson River in New York City has really inspired me. It is stunning and wonderful to see the media coverage that is typically devoted to a catastrophe focus instead on a catastrophe averted.

The superb reactions of the USAir flight crew to land and evacuate the plane safely, the seemingly orderly participation of the 150 passengers, who let women and children climb out first, and the fast response of ferry captains and rescue personnel to race to retrieve the passengers from the wreckage, remind us how well people can react to crisis.

I have been struck watching some of the interviews on the TV news tonight how measured the passengers appear in their comments. They are balancing joy in being alive with wonder that they could have come through something so nearly awful. One gentleman, a young doctor, struck a note that resonated with me: he said that, right at impact with the water, he braced for what he had learned to expect from the movies, an explosion, some object to tear him apart. Instead, several of them started shouting, “We’re OK. We’re OK. Let’s get out.”

I love the fact that the people had the presence of mind to figure out immediately that real experience could be better than one had been led to expect. This is grounds for celebration. The skilled pilots and the flight attendants all remembered their training and managed a once-in-a-lifetime challenge with intelligence, poise, and efficiency. The passengers who relied on them adopted the same level of thoughtful responsibility to assist in their own rescue.

What a triumph. It fills me with happiness. Reuters has some great photos.

Slow and steady

I’ve always had trouble with any type of project that requires little bits of effort over a long period of time. This is why staying permanently fit has been a problem for me. I tend to drift a little bit during the day and having to fix certain activities in my schedule, week after week, seems to disrupt my natural approach to living.

That is why writing Christmas cards has always stressed me out. I like the part where I assemble a list and imagine how good it will feel to finish and mail 100 cards, but the full execution really challenges me. Part of the problem is that I don’t every want to write a Christmas letter to insert into cards. The pressure to be funny and profound always puts me off. So I have fallen into the pattern of writing a personal note inside each card. Sometimes I bring people up to speed on key moments in the last year, sometimes I just say hi and how much I have been thinking of the recipient.

Last year, I didn’t send any at all. The holiday period came and went before I could clear the time. I did keep all of last year’s cards, and I have used them as the basis to send out my own cards this year. Starting on December 1, I have written about 2 cards a night. Last night I wrote 8. With this approach, I will have answered all of last year’s cards by next Monday and will push through my entire list by Christmas Eve.

It never occurred to me until Sunday that the reason it feels so triumphant to finish the Christmas card project in any year is that it allows me to prove to myself that I can override my own working patterns, patterns that have frustrated me for years.

I’m well on the way, and I’m confident of making it this year. Maybe I should make a fitness plan for New Year’s. Usually I avoid a New Year’s resolution, but I’m feeling especially determined this year.

Good day at work

Yesterday was a great day at work. A team of us had been asked two weeks ago to meet with a potential customer on a project they were interested in doing. We had only a partial understanding of their goals and preferences, and we were somewhat limited by time.

The most satisfying kind of work for me is when a group of people is thrown together with an objective, and we have to use our best judgment and each of our strengths to get to a quick solution. The less time there is to deliberate, the greater the group focus on what seems like it could work. It keeps me from over-thinking, which I often do given the time.

Our group of six people pulled together some ideas and talked out the pros and cons for four days. By yesterday morning we all had agreed on what the presenters would say. The lead presenter and one other team member helped us pull together the message points, and they talked effortlessly through some recommendations.

I’m not certain yet how it will turn out, but seeing the first stage come together better than our expectations was a lot of fun. I always appreciate being reminded that having faith in our colleagues and the expectation of a positive outcome often ensures that we are moving in the right direction.

The entire rest of the evening was wonderful.

Getting Organized

Ok, so it’s a favorite topic of mine, dealing with clutter. I took a big step today dealing with my email inbox. First there was a great article on reducing email inbox clutter in the July 2008 print edition of Macworld. That article further referred to this series of posts at the 43folders.com personal productivity website. This series addresses the psychological reasons for keeping too many emails (the writing is hysterical), and then it offers simple solutions.

Some are practical, including a great sample schedule for how to tackle email in a typical work day so that you aren’t becoming a slave to the new email message notification beep. But my favorite comment is when the author says, Wouldn’t it be great to suck a little less?

That could be a motto for me as I strive to be easier on myself. A lot of my friends are like me in wanting to become more superhuman by trying to do everything. Naturally, none of us can do everything. Those who thrive take stock of themselves, their energy, their time and priorities, and they put their effort where it will make the biggest impact.

So applying these simple guidelines today for scanning and deleting email, I cut the volume of stored messages in my inbox by 800 items. The article calls this getting the piano off your foot. Call it that, or call it sucking a little less. Either way it’s liberating.

Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2007, I visited Memphis, Tennessee, for the first time. I loved the city, and I loved my visit. People went out of their way to be friendly, the food was great, and you can sense a city whose citizens are working to make it prosperous. An African-American colleague drove me around one afternoon. She took me into a bar outside of town where she had to make a sales call, a bar with a large Confederate flag and an all-white clientele who seemed surprised to see a black woman come inside. Later that afternoon, she drove me past the museum that has been erected inside and around the motel where Dr. King was shot and killed in 1968.

It is good to be reminded that the effort to create a friendly, tolerant society happens every day, in the way we treat strangers and in the attitudes we convey to our children. My friend shared her day with me, and she talked openly about the times and places where she still feels uneasy being an African-American woman walking by herself. Happily, she said, there are fewer and fewer places where she thinks about it.

Dr. King spoke out about the injustice he saw in parts of America in the 1960s, but he also spoke with conviction and eloquence about his hope for a better future. Hope and determination together can change the world. They have changed the world. In his famous speech, Dr. King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I wish the same today, that my child and all other children will be judged by the content of their character. I expect to be judged by my character as well.

More parental pride

Today was my stepdaughter’s last day of junior high school, and we attended the student awards program. I loved the way the staff spread the prizes among a relatively large group of students. They gave awards in every subject, for the arts, and for good citizenship. I’m very proud that my stepdaughter won three prizes.

I’m proudest of the award she won for citizenship. It acknowledges a student each year who serves the school well at school and who represents it well in the community. The principal, a lovely woman who is retiring from a 35-year career in education today, talked about Catherine’s cheerfulness and her smile. She mentioned that Catherine brightens the school with her attitude and friendliness.

Nothing matters more to me than this trait, and I’m thrilled to pieces that she receives praise for demonstrating it. Mrs. Conlon, the retiring principal, started today’s assembly reading a quote from Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. In it the prince meets and befriends a fox. When they part, the fox tells the prince, “Remember that there are two ways to see, with your eyes and with your heart. The only way to see well is with your heart.”

It’s a lovely reminder, and Catherine needs no one to remind her. She sees with her heart every minute of every day. She is special. We are blessed.

Fearless

My father-in-law sent me a great link to a video clip of a guy who has what looks like the most frightening job possible. You have to see the clip to appreciate it, and what I love is the subject’s description at the end of what fears he has overcome in life.

Years ago, my friend Ted took me camping in Baxter State Park in Maine. We did a 4-5 day trip, ending by hiking the Razor’s Edge down from Mount Katahdin. As you would expect, the trail is exceptionally narrow and plunges several hundred feet down on both sides. What’s even more nerve-wracking is that it is a prime spot for lightning strikes, and that day, we seemed to be just a few hours ahead of a storm.

Prior to that trip, I had struggled with a sort of low-grade but annoying fear of heights, but once you are there, you really have no alternative but to walk across it. We were both pretty ragged by that point–Ted had had to talk me up a mountain face on our first day, which I really didn’t think I had the strength to manage.

Still, needing to cross over, and with the scenery spectacular down to lakes and forests, we pressed ahead. I can’t remember for sure if we saw other hikers while we were out on the trail, but we knew that others had crossed ahead of us all summer. Knowing that it is possible, we just did what all the books tell you to do: one step at a time.

Usually I am only happy with overcoming a challenge after it’s done. This time, though, I was conscious all the way across of walking past my fears.

So watch the video clip and ask yourself what you fear that you could confront. There’s no better feeling.

Lunch outdoors

My friend R and I had lunch outside today. I sat under the umbrella, and she wore sunglasses. Nothing makes soup and salad taste better to me than eating in the sunshine. Even in a chain restaurant next to the street in front of the mall, the experience felt cosmopolitan and Continental.

My friend is a lifelong student of personal development, in the best possible way. She thinks deeply about the value of her life to herself and to others, and she willingly shares her observations and insights about what seems to work and what doesn’t. Another quality of hers that I admire immensely is her absolute willingness to tell the truth and to be direct. I find it hard to have a superficial conversation with her, because she has a way of letting you know that it would really be much more interesting to skip to meaningful topics.

With her, I can’t lie about myself, and when I start to, I sound completely foolish.

Toward the end of the conversation, she talked about how she is learning to take things more slowly. We had been talking about reading books. I have stacks of them on my night stand and try to read about 10 at a time. Often this means I don’t finish what I start. Meanwhile, R has adopted the discipline to leave only one out next to her bed and to read it to the end before proceeding to the next.

For some reason, this habit strikes me as a towering achievement. Both of us acknowledged that we often want to have everything at once: solutions to problems, life ambitions, books read. She is learning to be more methodical and more measured, and she seems quite serene about it. I was impressed and envious, but I’m hoping that I can learn from her how to do this myself.

Greatness

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world … as in being able to remake ourselves.” Mahatma Gandhi said that. It is both reassuring and intimidating at the same time. It says we can be great without looking beyond ourselves and also that we have no excuse not to be great.

I like that notion of accountability. We are accountable for who we become and what impact we have on the world. I worry about these two things pretty often now. It isn’t enough just to drift from one experience to another. I want to feel my life has consequence.

Most of my friends care deeply about the notion that their lives will mean something. The only challenge is to sort out first what we consider meaningful and then to find a way to move in that direction.

Gadhi’s life meaning came to him on the day a racist train conductor mis-handled him in South Africa. That was enough of a push to make him an influential social revolutionary. I conclude from this that we should pay close attention to what makes us feel very strongly.

Priorities and college admissions

Today’s New York Times has a great column by Michael Winerip about the interviews he conducts in his New York suburb for applicants to Harvard College. Winerip, a Harvard graduate, describes the remarkable accomplishments of the young people he interviews, comparing them with his own at their age, and he marvels over the fact that he got into Harvard, while these more accomplished young people almost certainly will not.

He draws several conclusions, but the most interesting are that he now recognizes there are several ways to have a meaningful, satisfying life and the related observation that joy in pursuing interesting goals is its own reward.

The accomplishments of these people are varied and staggering: one spends the summer conducting university research for NASA on weightlessness in mice, another plays three instruments, composes his own music, and is writing a cookbook. Meanwhile, the author profiles his own children, who won’t get into Harvard, as being interesting, satisfied people.

He concludes his article with a run on the beach following an interview, where he runs into one of his non-Harvard bound sons. The son is surfing, alone, on a beautiful winter day, and they both agree it’s a beautiful day.

This view of achievement being just one aspect of a satisfying life really hits home for me. I love the notion that finding the path and goals that are right for you is the true mark of a meaningful life.