What Do We Need, Really? #givehope #givetocharity

We are being duped right now. Yup, t’is the season for us to be hypnotized by lights, smells, and tales of wonderlands and treasured moments we’ve never had. Our emotional strings are being strummed so that we can believe that we will be merrier and more joyful if we buy, buy, buy our way to happiness. And so those emotional strings will loosen the purse strings and because we believe that we are saving – because of all of those great deals – we spend way more than we intend to. We spend on stuff and food because we are trying to fill a fictitious need.

Take, for example, my visit to Whole Foods on Wednesday afternoon, a.k.a.  Thanksgiving eve. As soon as I walked in the door I was embraced by the sweetest, most enticing smell of cinnamon and sugar. It smelled amazing. My thoughts went right to what I was making for dessert. Right there in front of me was a mountain of cans of organic pumpkin for $1.99. Luckily I had already purchased my pumpkin so I was safe. Good trick Whole Foods, but I didn’t fall for it – this time. I went to Costco yesterday, and had not gone but a few yards into the store when a glint made me blink and compelled me to make a hard right with my giant cart. Right before me were several displays of men’s watches. Prices ranges from about $70 to a couple of hundred and I thought, hmm, hubbie does need a good watch. Actually, what he really needs is a $20 watch band, but so what, I could get him one of these shiny new watches and feel much happier about my gift. Good try Costco – keeping my wits about me. TV commercials are trying to convince me to get to the stores so that I can spend save tons of money. This is tough because I love to buy things on sale. The black Friday commercials made me wish I had been in the market for a 47-inch flat screen TV or a Kitchen Aid 5-qt mixer. Mine still have a good five years of life left in them. It was tempting. Good try Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and Target. Macy’s is trying to convince me that they have magic in their stores and that I must believe in this magic or I will turn into the Grinch. Oh, oh, maybe I have already turned into the Grinch…bah, Humbug.

The truth is I love all of this stuff. I love the illusion, the sales, the sparkle, the smells, and the pretend magic. My heart wants it to be real so I sing along to the holiday songs as I walk through the stores and tell myself that I really need to have this, or he really needs to have that, and oh, look at all the money I’ve saved! The same goes for food. I convince myself that the holidays is no time to deny myself the wonderful flavors of cookies, peppermint bark, egg nog, peppermint mocha and pumpkin spice lattes. But, when January comes, and the illusion disappears, then I’m faced with the consequences of how much I’ve spent and how many empty calories have broadened my waistline while shrinking my wallet.

Retailers need people like me. They want us to believe that we need much more than we actually do. So, for a couple of months I have been saying that I need a few things. I need a new coat, even though I have 4 coats in my closet. My reasoning is – my coats are looking a bit dated. I say that I need a silicon rolling pin. I have a perfectly good wooden rolling pin but I heard a baker in a cooking show casually mention that the silicon rolling pins don’t stick to the dough. And so on. So, this holiday season I am going to enjoy the illusion, the sparkle and the romance, but I am not going to give in so easily to promises of savings or to satisfy an artificial need. This time I am going armed with the one question: do I need this, really?

As I sign off for my 100th blog post, I leave with this thought. When we think of what we really need, it boils down to the very basics in life: good health, shelter, clothing, food, water, love and purpose.  Too many people have lost one or more of those this year.  My heart aches for them and I pray for those who are at the end of their rope because they don’t have and can’t get what they really need. I challenge myself and hope you will join me in spending differently this year. Instead of buying ourselves one more thing that we don’t really need, let’s help meet a real need for someone who is not as fortunate. Let’s give to charity the extra stuff we don’t use, and let’s spend our money on charitable donations to the poor, the homeless, and the victims of crime or disaster.  Let’s give of our time to be there for someone who has lost a loved one this year, or who is ill. We can be the real Christmas miracle in someone else’s life. By giving and helping those who really need, we can give the biggest most precious gift this holiday season –hope. Hope is so big and grand that it can’t be boxed or placed under a tree, but it will give you and the receiver, true and lasting joy.


Much Love,


Doing What Is Hard

President Kennedy at Rice University, 1962

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard – President J. F. Kennedy

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced to the world that the United States was going to accelerate its efforts in the space program and that we would be the first nation to expand learning and understanding outside of our home planet. He admitted to the crowd gathered at Rice University that, as a nation, we were falling behind in the space race, and had experienced failures along the way. Yet, he vowed that we would not be behind much longer and that our quest to be a leader in space exploration would be hard, it would cost money, but that we could get it done. What ensued were extraordinary advancements in knowledge and understanding in the sciences that has allowed us to see and live in a world that we could not have envisioned back in 1962. In hindsight, we realize the weight and importance of President Kennedy’s words and I am in awe of his leadership to take us farther than we were ready or maybe even willing to go –  and because it was hard.

Doing things that are hard is not just for world leaders. Each of us face our own journeys to the moon. But, we don’t all choose to do what is hard. Mostly, we choose to face the hard things at a later time, or decide that it’s not meant to be. I admit that there are a couple of things that I expect to do – one day, hope I will do – one day, dream of doing – one day. The reasons I give for not pursuing the hard things are timing, lack of resources, lack of time, not enough experience – but in the end, I am not doing them because they are hard.

Getting started on things that are hard is not the problem. At least for me. I know that somewhere in my computer is an outline and the beginning of a chapter for the book I want to write one day. If getting started were the obstacle, well, it wasn’t a big one. The truly hard part is what comes next. Doing things that are hard requires laser-like focus, extraordinary discipline, endurance, sacrifice, and an unwavering belief that you will succeed.

You can say that I only dipped my toe in the pool of my dream to be a writer. So what does that say about my commitment? Is my dream really a dream or a mere fantasy? People that pursue their dreams go all-in. My friend dreamed of getting her Master’s degree so she did everything required to get into the program, including taking a course in statistics – a subject she was not confident she would pass. She studied hard and completed the course with excellent grades. She then retired from her job, relocated to another state, and focused on her Master’s studies. She did what was hard – was focused, disciplined, she sacrificed and had faith, and she was successful.

President Kennedy was not half-way committed to the space program. His remarks said nothing like, if we have the money, if we succeed at step one we will consider step two, when we are stronger, richer, better, we will. Every American who heard that speech understood that America was on this hard journey – and that it would successful get to the moon.

As we start our week into Thanksgiving, a time when we reflect on our blessings and share our good fortune with family, let’s be aware of the decisions we make, and commit ourselves to doing what is hard.

Much Love and Happy Holidays,

Here is a link to President Kennedy’s speech


The Pains and Gains of Starting Over #startingover

Photo by Eve Anderson from markmallett.com

Does the idea of starting over cause you grief? Starting over, whether we volunteered to do it or it was imposed on us by an employer, ex-husband, or fate, is not always easy. I recently started a new job and am feeling the pains of being new. This past month I have been in the deeply uncomfortable condition of not knowing – anything. Contrast that to just six weeks ago when I was managing a contract where I knew everything (well, at least that’s what I think). Being the new kid on the block is fun for just that 30-minute introductory meeting. After that, I just want to get to work and be productive. I know that it’s my high sense of responsibility talking. My calm logical brain understands that learning takes time and it will be a good 4 to 6 months before I feel like I am working at 85-90 percent. Still, my productivity instinct is drowning out my brain’s logic.


The next four tips to starting over are meant to help me you through this period. As I reflected on my feelings and thoughts over the last couple of weeks, this is what emerged as my starting-over mantra.


Get comfortable with uncertainty

When starting over, it often means not knowing what comes next. We don’t know the steps to take, we just know we have to move forward. The problem begins with figuring out where to start. The volume of possibilities is daunting and we can be paralyzed by the fear of failure. This is when I remind myself that even if I fail, I will succeed because failure brings invaluable lessons. Getting comfortable with uncertainty also means asking for help and allowing others to contribute to our journey. Let’s not let our ego rob us of a wonderful opportunity to receive from others. Let’s also remember that uncertainty is a temporary condition that will yield to confidence as we try and succeed at new things.


Be patient on your climb up the learning curve

I remind myself that kindness to ourselves is recognizing that we can’t learn everything in a day, a week, or a month. Learning is a life-long process. Lately, I have spent countless hours reading everything I can get my hands on about my new work. After suffering from sleeplessness and headaches, I recognized that I’m over-doing it. “Drinking from a fire hose” effectively describes my attempt to run up the learning curve. But, how much could I really learn and retain if I read constantly to the point of fatigue? Surrendering to the learning process, and giving myself the time to combine experiential and knowledge-based learning is a kinder, gentler way of starting over. Let’s practice patience as we learn new things.


Clean house of old emotional baggage

I hope this happens to everybody and not just me. You start a new relationship and you catch yourself comparing your new guy to your old boyfriend. The new guy gives you strange looks as you continually reference your past. New experiences can trigger memories about where we’ve been, and so, we bring it up and we share. It is important to remember that as we broker new relationships, we have to leave room for making new memories, and that necessarily requires leaving past glories or hurts in the past.


Try on different hats

With starting over comes an opportunity to exercise adaptability. You are adapting to a new culture and norms. This is very exciting because you can adopt new behaviors, tweak your work style or try a new approach. Adapting to your new set of parameters also offers you a chance to re-invent yourself, and to do things differently. I will share my example. I was always the last person to leave the office in the evening. Part of the reason was due to traffic. But, contributing to that was the way I organized my work –most time-consuming matters were pushed to the end of the day. Now I have a chance to organize my work so that I am finished by 5:30 pm and leave the office at a reasonable hour.


Starting over comes with frustration and anxiety. But, it is also a great time of learning and growth. For this reason, it is a blessing to have a new start. With kindness towards ourselves and a willingness to learn, ask for help, let go of the past and adapt, we can receive the gifts the future has in store for us.

Much Love


Skip, Where Are You From. Ask, What is Your Story?

I was on my way to lunch with a colleague I’m just getting know when she asked me, “where are you from?” “I’m from Honduras,” I replied. Then I told her the 15-second version –I came to the U.S. when I was 9 and enrolled in school in New Jersey and eventually made my home here in Virginia. Her next question stumped me. She wanted to know why I say that I am from Honduras instead of New Jersey since that is where I spent a large part of my formative years. Basically she was asking, what’s wrong with Jersey? For the record, nothing. As I pondered the question she shared that she was born in the U.S., spent a few years in Pakistan with her family, then moved to Maryland for school. So, when people ask her where she’s from, she says she is from Maryland.


I realized that how I answer that question is a way of telling the other person something I want them to know that is more than the geographic location of my birth. For those of us who have moved from place to place, we deliberately choose a place that sends a message to the other person who may have made assumptions about us based on appearance or accent.  For example, when I tell people that I am from Honduras, I am also telling them that I am an immigrant, Spanish is my first language, and I had to work hard to get to where I am today. But, this wasn’t always my answer. When I was in Boston for college, I told people I was from New Jersey. The message I was sending to my college peers was I am no different than you. So, where I said I was from changed depending on what I wanted people to know. When I traveled to other states, I would say that I am from Washington, DC. The reaction I got confirmed that some people assume that my being in a place with so many influential people, makes me an influential person too. 


We have been trained me to start the conversation with someone we’ve just met with where are you from? And, it makes sense here because Washington, DC is a magnet for people from all over the world. But, I think a more intriguing question might be, what is your story? We all have a story and I think the answer to that is far more interesting. Admittedly, it is a very scary intimidating question because it opens a wider door to our past and it may be difficult to choose where to begin (or end). But, if this is someone you are going to have in your life for a while, it might be worth the risk to get to know them better, faster. Another great question is, why do you do what you do? Like, what’s your story, the answer to this question will tell you more about what drives the person and reveal what they’re truly passionate about.


The next time you want to get to know someone, skip the usual questions and ask them instead – What’s your story? What brought you here? Why do you do what you do?


Much Love,