From My Desk
This is hard to do. But, stop for a moment and think about where you are in life. I know you hate it when someone asks you this type of question. You shouldn’t. Try it my way.
Don’t think about what you have not done, or what you do not have. Think about how far you have come.
I have had far too many orthopedic surgeries. The underbelly of a lifetime playing sports. As a result, I have become way too proficient at physical rehab. (Well, everyone has a gift for something.) When I see a person clearly frustrated attempting to do rehab of any kind, I offer in my most supportive, understanding voice a thought to consider. “Don’t look ahead trying to figure out why you are not yet there. Try looking back and see how far you have come.” They usually start to smile when they realize they could not walk three weeks ago, and now they are able to jog slowly. We all can smile, if look back.
Thinking about where you are in life takes on a new perspective when it is considered in the context of your accomplishments, and not your shortcomings.
I find myself in an exciting place. No cash windfalls nor hole in ones. Professionally, I am in a position to be more impactful with my life than ever before. That is important when your career has been working for nonprofits.
Supposedly, I am creeping up on retirement age. Furgettaboutit!! Never in my life have I felt more capable of making an impact than now. I know so much more about the skills needed in my chosen profession, than ever before. My leadership, my experience, my creativity, my passion, my listening skills, and so much more. I laugh about how little I knew years ago about these important traits when I thought I was good. Well, I was pretty good.
I have amassed so much valuable knowledge at this stage of my professional life. Possibly, more important is the understanding I have learned about effectively interacting with people. It may be a thoughtful discussion, or an angry complaint, or a naïve request, or a wild idea. People come at you in all shapes and sizes. I am better every year at being there for them in a way which ends positively. It is exciting.
So, stop for a moment and think about where you are in life. You may be surprised,
We all expect life to throw us curveballs. Better if I say, we accept when life throws them.
Sometime we roll with the punch; other times we grind our teeth (you can ask my dentist); then there are the times we find ourselves on the anger spectrum, ranging from irritation to losing it. Eventually, we buckle down and work our way out of it. Time heals all.
Then, along comes the mother of all curveballs: COVID-19. However, this is no curveball. This one is a proverbial screwball. What? A pandemic. Those happen in the forgetful movies we watch a 3:00AM when we constantly wonder why we are still up.
Nope. This is the real thing.
I work for an academic medical school. My responsibility is to raise funds to support and advance the highest needs and priorities of physicians and scientists. I meet with these faculty members to understand their issues and how they would use philanthropic funding to address them.
I wish you could hear the challenges, concern, brilliance, creativity, collaboration, commitment and downright fear which come from these professionals as they talk about COVID and their work to find solutions. I know some people doubt the entire coronavirus situation. Not me.
I straddle the world of understanding this issue. On one hand, I see it from my favorite rocking chair while watching the news or reading the news. On the other hand, I listen intently to these research physicians.
We have no clue how fortunate we are to have literally thousands of the best researchers in the world trying to solve this dilemma. I am amazed at the level of collaboration taking place. They have dispensed with receiving credit. They are dedicated to finding answers.
I believe they will. I also believe we can wear a mask and possibly save someone’s life, including our own. Such little to ask of us to deal with such a killer curveball.
If you ever are in Palm Springs—Rancho Mirage to be exact—you must visit Sunnylands. The name might not grab you, but you will marvel at everything else about it. Especially if you have an interest in history, care about our country, admire a courageous idea and/or respect a great philanthropist. Throw in a heavy dose of political leaders and Hollywood celebrities for fun.
You may have heard of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. They amassed a fortune from his business leadership in journalism and pioneering role in television. The couple went on to be extraordinary philanthropists, designating more than $3 billion in grants and gifts to major research universities, hospitals, medical centers, public schools, and cultural and civic organizations.
To get away from the east coast winters, Walter built Sunnylands. What started as a vacation residence in the California desert became so much more. Friendships with political leaders and Hollywood celebrities made the home a center for gatherings, meetings and social events. Sunnylands was Ronald Reagan’s “Western White House.” Frank Sinatra married Barbara in front of the fireplace.
In 2001, Walter and Lenore Annenberg established The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands to “address serious issues facing the nation and the world community.” They envisioned Sunnylands as a place where intimate and solution-driven meetings could take place as they had while the couple was alive. Today, Sunnylands is a 200-acre estate and historic residence that provides a place of tranquility and hospitality where national and international leaders from a range of fields–beginning with the President of the United States–may convene to “promote world peace and facilitate international agreement.”
Few ideas have inspired me more than the vision of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. I sure wish I could have shaken their hands and expressed my gratitude to them. Sunnylands is open to the public.
A colleague of mine, Jim, said to me that he and a few others wanted to start their own nonprofit. Could we meet over a weekend in the fall for them to gain my insight on how to pursue this idea? So we dove in together. They had a dream and I offered them my expertise. Consider the issues…. legal requirements; a Strategic Plan; the necessary capital; raising a continuing source of funds; an effective Board of Directors; finding an Executive Director up to the task.
Today, HEAR Foundation (Health, Education, And Relief) is flourishing! It took some time to balance funding priorities. Now, they have thriving programs in Chicago to provide college scholarships for students with financial need who have demonstrated a commitment to their communities. They have an effective hunger relief program for the underserved. HEAR also has a valuable presence in Guatemala. They support an orphanage, and volunteers teach area residents about business skills, agricultural programs and nutrition.
I could have spent that Sunday a few Octobers ago watching the Bears. I am glad I didn’t.
Can you imagine spending the day with a large group of young men and women from Italy who are on their “…first trip to America?” I was thrilled to be asked by DePaul University to consult on this unique project and address these young people who are in their late twenties and early thirties.
They were all school administrators and teachers who sought professional development from a leading university. More importantly, they were bright, enthusiastic, passionate young professionals who have dedicated their lives to making a difference as educators. They beamed when I told them that, despite just meeting them, I knew that each and every one of them was amazing.
It was an easy and honest exclamation to make. Why? As I pointed out to them,
“You are changing lives! You embrace every day the challenge of making another human being a better person. That is what amazing people do for a living”
We spent an entire morning being engaged in conversation. How do you be an effective educator when you are preparing young students for future jobs which, in many cases, have not been invented yet? How do you reach that student who doesn’t care? Why honesty and confidence are so integral to successful communication. But most of all, these educators needed to learn to believe in themselves.
I must have helped a little because I received a bunch of invitations to visit Italy!
I was honored to be invited to Portland, Oregon a few months ago to be a keynote speaker at Fusion Forum, a national conference held for leaders in the financial planning and pension industry. My role was to inspire these business leaders to challenge the status quo of their industry and facilitate their creative discussions to affect change.
My personal financial planner seldom picks up the phone to call me, so it didn’t take a lot to make me believe that these executives, as a group, were not on the cutting edge of customer communication. A few people told me this was an impossible challenge. I did not think of it in that way. Rather, I saw it as a tremendous opportunity to impact experienced and capable people who very much needed a vision.
Many professionals sink into comfortable habits of conducting business the same as always. They are too busy to realize that customers often feel their ways are old and out of touch. At one point in my remarks, I referenced a quote from superstar New England Patriot quarterback, Tom Brady, who talked about his passion for getting better to avoid losing his edge:
“If you watch yourself every day, you won’t see it. It is like watching a kid grow. But, at some point you are going to say, ‘How did that happen?”