Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Be Indispensable - 40 Things I've Learnt in 40 Years

In my first job - an unofficial and unpaid internship - I learned very early on, the importance of being indispensable. I didn't set out with that intention - it was actually a by-product of something else. I started out with the task of organizing an abandoned file room - a task I finished in 3 days, much to the dismay of my supervisor. I kept asking for my things to do. What I wanted was more responsibility to feed my need to be important. I figured I was smart, and I could do more, so I asked for more to keep me busy. Within three months, I had a title, and in six months, I was convening meetings (and still not getting paid).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Break the rules - 40 Things I've Learnt in 40 Years

As a young boy, I was rather obsessed with following the rules and doing everything right. For me it was avoiding the embarrassment of disapproval or punishment. My mother, bless her heart, was quite the disciplinarian. I needed to have the approval of my parents at all times and if they so much as looked at me the wrong way, my soul was crushed. So when I was punished for anything I'd done at home or at school, I would be so mad at myself for being wrong. I considered punishment to be beneath me and that was why I had to follow the rules.

I still think punishment is abhorrent and a parking ticket will ruin my day and the next three as well. But this piece is not about public laws and organizational rules. It's about the unwritten rules in life we feel compelled to obey because that is what society expects of us. We have rules that govern what we wear, how our relationships should work, what roles we play, how we should feel and a myriad other aspects of our life. We effectively become drones, accepting our lot in life and the status quo because that's the thing to do.

In many ways, my adult life has been one of being unconventional. It does feel like looking in from the outside sometimes, but I won't have it any other way. In the words of Robert Heinlein: "I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do". 

I prefer to chart my own course in life and find myself constantly questioning conventions; essentially dancing to the beat of a different drum. It would be amazing to find out how much of our lives are dictated by convention. Breaking those rules, in my experience, has been liberating in the long run. Take a moment to think about the things you do each day and ask yourself why you do those things. Why do they have to be that way? Is that the only way it can be done? Just thinking about those questions in an objective and dispassionate manner can be quite revealing. If done right, you will feel uncomfortable with what you come up with and will realize that even what you think is right is only right because you've been conditioned to think that is what right looks like.

Get out of your comfort zone. Break some rules. Free your mind.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sex - 40 Things I've Learnt In 40 Years

Sex. The very thought of it is enough to conjure up visions of hedonistic abandon and heights of incredible ecstasy...

...or not.

It is amazing how sex has changed for me over the years. Time was, when sex had but one objective: the surreptitious foray through the nether regions to reach the intoxicating heights of Mt. Olympus - the mount of the gods - if only for an all-too-brief moment. It was a speedy race to the top to reach the holy grail and an avalanche right back down that left you flushed, out of breath, and feeling less than satiated.

Like many young people, we were left wondering why there was so much secrecy, mystery and much ado about sex. Yes, it was great, but only very briefly, really. And what was so wrong about it that made it such an awful subject in polite company or at the dinner table? Somehow the clandestine nature of the subject of sex lent credence to its allure.

Sometimes I wonder how sex today would be if I'd had lots of early experience. In many ways I am still learning so much about it. You would think that at my age I would know everything about my body and about sex. The real beauty is, I am still learning, and each new revelation leaves me with a smile on my face. I find it sad that many times, sex is seen as something we do to another person, or something that is done to us. That is sad. It should be a act of mutual participation, where each partner's aim is to please and be pleased. Without that essential ingredient, it is nearly impossible for both parties to derive optimal benefit from being together.

What I do know is that there are different kinds of sex. Sex is like nature. You can have earthquakes, hurricanes, snow flurries, thunderstorms, drizzles, breezes and sometimes stillness. Sometimes several happen in succession. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it isn't. But most importantly, it is about the spiritual connection that can take place in the process. Sex is more than a genital experience. It is a spiritual experience that echoes the Biblical reference of two becoming one. It is one of those rare moments where bodies and spirits collide. A sexual encounter disconnected from a spiritual one is like flying coach when you could be flying First Class.

A spiritual sexual encounter requires both parties to be present and committed to the 'process'. It involves tuning in to the frequency of the other person as well as yourself, and interpreting the very subtle signals you give and receive. Consciously take in what you see, what you smell, what you taste, what you feel, how it feels... That is when it takes on a life of its own and the two of you take a journey that is not predetermined by either party. The only agenda is the present moment. That is when sex is no longer about the orgasm as much as it is about a certain shared intimacy. Each encounter is a new adventure, blending the tried-and-tested with new areas of exploration and an abandonment to the moment.

I have found that a spiritual sexual encounter leaves me satiated and basking in the afterglow for days after and doesn't leave me craving more (not for the moment, at least). It has taken me a while to learn the import of that, but I have also had to unlearn a lot of what I picked up growing up. Sex can be an incredibly beautiful experience, but you need to learn to 'unlimit' yourself and realize that really, there are no rules. You are the rule.

Now I'm curious: What have your sexcapades been like?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Day Made of Glass...

This is an interesting concept for the (near) future...What are your thoughts?

Ownership - 40 Things I've Learnt in 40 Years

It's amusing to watch kids even in pre-school fight over toys crying, "It's mine, it's mine!" tugging at whatever toy both got their attention and their right of ownership. Due to some very interesting socialization process, we teach kids a sense of ownership. It's my toy; my bed; my mummy; my whatever it is. As adults, we extend that to people as well.

I am - as you might imagine - very much into the finer things in life. I've always been. I've always been about exclusivity and being unique. Even as a boy, my mother always knew to get me something that was different from whatever she got for my brothers. It had to be mine - I wouldn't be caught dead in anything that could be mistaken for someone else's!

But a strange thing happened to me as I grew up. Years ago, I woke up one day to find that my car had been broken into in the driveway of my house. The stereo was taken and some other bits and bobs that I can't remember. I felt violated and angry, and also, very vulnerable. Reflecting on the events of the day and my emotions in response, I realized that these things taken away from me were just stuff. Yes, I was upset and feeling vulnerable, but it was because someone else had taken my stuff. Although the gaping hole where my car stereo had been ripped out reminded me of the atrocious act (yes, I'm being dramatic!), I made my peace when I disconnected myself from my ownership of the physical object. I had to let go.

My friend Ken Goldstein puts it very well in his new book "The Way of The Nerd": "Ownership attaches an emotion and an expectation. Expectation leads to conflict in most every situation".

We consider our romantic partners as 'ours' and so a breakup is so much more painful not because of the fact that we loved (and probably still love) them, but because we feel they had no right to take away what we considered ours. And this is amplified if a third party was involved. We cannot claim ownership of the people in our life.

A thought that brings the concept of ownership sharply into focus is that we cannot lose something we do not own. But even more importantly, no one will steal something you do not own. It's like a reverse self-fulfilling prophecy: if you don't own it, no one will steal it. Isn't that freeing? For me, it makes me sleep easier at night without fearing that my stuff will be taken. The stuff is replaceable. For the stuff I paid for, I paid for the use of it while I'm here. I came into this world kicking and screaming and with absolutely nothing - not even the clothes on my back. And I will leave without any of it as well.

I like my fine stuff. But I own none of it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

God Isn't Who I Thought He Was - 40 Things I've Learnt in 40 Years

It just hit me the other day that God isn't who I thought He was. I'm not sure what went wrong along the way, but I was given a heavy dose of the wrong God. And no, it is not because someone decided to misinform me - because everyone that has crossed my spiritual path has had the best of intentions.

God Then...
I was raised Catholic, went to a Catholic grade school and became the Catholic Chapel Prefect in high school and nearly went to seminary. I joined the Scripture Union at school, started a youth group in my parish, organized Bible study, gospel concerts...I was on fire.

I have no less fervor now than I did then, but my focus is now more inward than outward. My slant is more spiritual than religious. The outward appearances of self-righteousness no longer impress me. I still love the pomp and pageantry, but I realize that the God I came to believe in, had been commercialized, dressed up, and paid mere lip service. Indeed, the God I came to believe in was no more than a human fabrication, created to control people, and very successfully too.

I began a search some years ago that made me see God in a whole new light and the vision is incredibly stunning. Unfortunately, religion has covered all of that simple beauty with a lot of ritual, dogma and rules. I used to believe in a God that was watching everything you did, waiting to punish you now or later for eternity, but with a veneer of love thrown in for good measure. The God I used to believe in, was to be feared. I had to believe in him, or else...

I found that men had tried to put God in a nice little box that made it easier for them to comprehend Him. What happened was that we put limitations on God. We ascribed human emotions and thought processes to Her, and related to Him on that level. We assigned a gender that made God male because that was what a patriarchal society could accept, and our language could only support a male or female gender. The God I knew before was nothing but a human construct, made in the image of man.

God Now...
Now, more than ever, I realize God is love. Now, more than ever, I feel God within me, and I feel a part of God. Now I understand that with God's gift of free will, I am a co-creator with Her each waking moment. I am a part of God, an extension of God...I am God. To fully experience God, I have to be open-minded and refrain from projecting my human limitations unto The One Spirit, and yes, let God be God.

God sees me no differently than He sees you and neither should I. God wants us to love Him of our own free will and not because of some threat of fire and brimstone. God, by whatever name we refer to Her is not Christian. Neither is He Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu. God just is. Religion pits us one against the other, creating an environment of "us versus them", each trying to claim exclusive right to God. There is more than enough God to go around! A statement made by a pastor in the movie Children of God put this in stark perspective for me: "We have to give people something to hate. It brings them together..." Now let that sink in for a moment.... It isn't so openly acknowledged, but isn't that what religion tends to do? Fortunately it is people who create the problem, not religion.

There are no exclusions in God's love. No ifs, buts or whys. God's love has no strings attached; no conditions. My faith is no longer determined by scriptural texts conveniently selected by humans to suit their purposes. God's love for me is not predicated upon anything I do or don't do. I no longer beat myself up for not being able to measure up to man-made rules made in God's name - She loves me just the way I am. My job and duty is to spread His love in everything I do.

I have learned that God really doesn't care if you call Her Allah, the Universe, Mother Nature, God, Adi Purush, Waheguru, Elohim, use a male or female pronoun, or paint Him white, black or brown. What God does care about is that you love your neighbor as yourself. You cannot claim to love God if you are selective about which neighbor you will love, or under what conditions you will love them. Subsequently, you cannot love your neighbor if you don't love yourself. It's a simple as that!

I still attend Mass, but I worship with a new sense of freedom and an entirely new perspective. 

Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Friday, July 15, 2011

8 Secrets to Walking and Moving Confidently

Confidence is a mental state of mind that sets you apart and makes others believe in you. Confidence is the veneer that makes you appear unstoppable even though you might be feeling scared out of your wits. Your perception of yourself has an enormous impact on how others perceive you. In a way, perception becomes the reality — the more self confidence you have, the more likely it is you’ll succeed. No one can ever have more than their fair share of confidence - ego, maybe arrogance: yes; confidence, no.
Look Smart
Although clothes don’t necessarily make the man, they certainly affect the way you feel about yourself. No one is more conscious of your physical appearance than you are. When you don’t look your best, it negatively affects the way you carry yourself and interact with other people. Use this to your advantage by taking care of your personal appearance.
This doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot on clothes. One great rule to follow is “spend twice as much, buy half as much”. Rather than buying a bunch of cheap clothes, buy half as many, but high quality items. In the long run you spend less, because expensive clothes wear out less easily and stay in style longer than cheap clothes. Buying less also helps reduce the clutter in your closet.
Don't Slouch
Imagine your body is a tall, narrow building. Place your feet about 10 inches apart. Now, make sure your knees are directly about your feet, hips above your knees, stomach above your hips, chest above your stomach and head above your chest - such that if you took a piece of heavy string and dropped it from your nose, it would fall between your feet. Keep this image in mind as you stand around at networking events, meetings and receptions.
Walk Tall
Walk erect with your head held high, your shoulders back, your chest out and your stomach in. Imagine that someone is pulling your head up with a long piece of string push your shoulders back and smile. With the aura you create, you command respect without ever saying a word. If you walk with too much of  a swagger or a strut, you could be seen as egotistic or having a pompous attitude. On the other hand, when your back is arched and your head is down,  it shows a lack of confidence. Nothing screams: "lack of confidence" like slouching. Walk with shoulders high, waist not bent, and legs locked. 

Pep In Your Step
One of the easiest ways to tell how a person feels about themselves is to examine their walk. Is it slow? tired? painful? aimless? Or is it energetic and purposeful? People with confidence walk quickly. They have places to go, people to see, and important work to do! Even if you aren’t in a hurry, you can increase your self confidence by putting some pep in your step. Walking 25% faster will make to you look and feel more important. People who walk faster are perceived to be important people. Walking a bit faster would make an impression that you are busy and about some important activity. You don't have to be panting to be walking fast enough - you just need to show a sense of purpose. It is all about making a self-image for others to see.
Look up!
Don't stare at the road or at the floor when you're walking - hold your head up and maintain it at eye level. This will create opportunities to make eye contact with other people. And do make eye contact - it's a non-verbal way to say "hello".
Share The Love
When we think negatively about ourselves, we often project that feeling on to others. Try not to do that. Instead of spreading negativity, get in the habit of praising other people and making an effort to compliment those around you. In the process, you’ll become well-liked and build your self confidence. By looking for the best in others, you, in effect, bring out the best in yourself.

And Smile!
Frowning, having a closed expression on your face or looking timid will only draw more "non confidence" towards you. Smile at people - it doesn't have to be a flash of teeth, but a pleasant expression makes you approachable, attractive and powerful.
Public Speaking
When you are giving a presentation, use your walk as a form of physical punctuation. Strengthen transitions by stepping to the side, pauses by standing in place and emphasis and persuasion by moving forward as if you want to touch the audience. If your movement is seen to be affected or mechanical, it will detract from your presentation. Standing in one place throughout a talk, on the other hand, may indicate you're "frozen to the spot" by the fear of speaking.
Taking up a reasonable amount of space equates to having power. Put your feet a few inches apart with one slightly in front of the other. This also makes it possible for you to easily change weight from one foot to the other. This is particularly important if you are behind a podium; you don't noticeably appear to be shifting weight (which you need to do so you don't get frozen in the "speaker" position). When you don't do it smoothly, this shifting can be distracting to the audience ... and to you when you become conscious of it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Work Smart, Not Hard - 40 Things I've Learnt in 40 Years

The older I've grown, the less I want to work. The hard kind, at least. Don't get me wrong: I love the work I do and I'm a very hands-on person, but I've paid some dues and am throttling back. Years ago, it was cool to work hard, doing the things I loved to do for just a pittance; right now - not so much.

Many of you might be familiar with Pareto's 80/20 principle - get 80% of your work done with 20% of your resources. I want to use as little energy as possible to get the most results. It's efficiency, plain and simple. For me, it is a transition from being effective to being efficient; or better still: effective and efficient.

Effectiveness is the easy part. As a young business owner barely out of my teens, it was important to me to be in the trenches with my crew. That was my leadership style, and besides, everyone was older than I was and I felt uncomfortable barking orders to them. It didn't help that I was a perfectionist. It was easier to do it myself and get it right, sometimes. But with a growing scope of responsibilities, I cannot be everywhere at the same time. That is where mentoring, delegation, and succession planning come in.

To work smarter, you should focus on the big stuff; things that will make the most bang - the rest will follow. In the same vein, you have to manage your time differently - spending more time on the things that will produce the biggest result, not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing. Not every battle needs to be fought to win the war: pick your battles.

I'm not 100% motivated 100% of the time, and I'm pretty sure the same goes for you as well. Motivation comes and goes like waves - when you have a nice big wave, ride it all the way. After it's crested, you don't need to spin your wheels because you'll be spending a lot more of your energy for little return. Besides, another wave will certainly come again; the downside, however, is that you may not know when the next one will be, or how long it will last. But if you're resourceful enough, I'm sure you can make your own waves...

In my experience, there's almost always a better way to do any given task, and I'm always looking for that. I don't want to spend energy I don't need to be spending. Don't restrict yourself to a method just because that's the way it's always been. In several jobs I've had my supervisors would get frustrated with all the 'why' questions I had. But I needed to know why I was doing any given task in the context of the whole. That perspective also give me ideas to streamline processes.

There are two kinds of people: those who work hard and those who work smart. Those who work hard measure their success in the number of hours they work and hope it reflects in their paycheck. Those who work smart measure their success in how much discretionary time they have available. That's the kind of guy I want to be! I'm sure many of you were either told or made to believe that you had to 'pay your dues' in hard work, and the only reason for that was 'because you have to'. No you don't!

I have no interest in working hard only to find that I don't have the time to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I want to have a work-life balance that keeps me excited, energized and enthusiastic. I want to work in my retirement because I love what I do and it keeps me young.

Take a moment to think today what message you're sending to kids by your words and actions about life and work. Are you teaching them to work hard or work smart?

I dunno 'bout you, but as for me, the only thing I'm going to work hard working smart.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cupcake Fetish, British Style

Those of you who have been following my blog and Facebook page might have noticed that I have an incurable sweet tooth. I love cakes and pastries. Unfortunately, I have not seemed to be able to acquire the skill of creating a cupcake that remotely looks adult and elegant.

The other day, I was excited when I was forwarded some information about these wonderful cupcakes. Even better is knowing that I could learn the secrets of making 'couture' cupcakes and 'vintage' cupcakes...who knew?

Cupcakes By Chrissie hosts decorating classes based in Birmingham, in the UK's West Midlands region, and the "cupcake kitchen" has been featured in the UK magazine Style at Home. So I guess I know where I'm headed on my next trip to the UK...! 

These cupcake decorating classes have attracted hundreds of students from all over the UK and Europe. You can also join their growing Facebook community Cupcakes by Chrissie for cupcake fans to see students work, read reviews and get useful recipe tips. You will find information about the classes on their website.

So who's joining me for a class? If any of you attend a class before I do, please let me know how it goes!

If you stumble upon any interesting finds, send them to me by email or on Facebook, so we can share the love!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Envy and Jealousy - 40 Things I've Learnt in 40 Years

I think I am pretty weird when it comes to jealousy, especially in the context of relationships. I know many people who subscribe to the thoughts of St. Augustine: "He that is not jealous is not in love". I have a fundamental problem with that because of what it suggests. The quotation that somewhat expresses my sentiments is by François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld: "In jealousy there is more self-love than love". 

Jealousy involves three parties: you, a person you see as a rival, and something, or somebody you desire. With jealousy, your focus is more on the object of desire than your rival. When you are jealous, you are afraid you could lose that thing or person to your rival because of an inadequacy you perceive yourself to have. In a sense, it says "if I can't have him, you shouldn't either", which connotes some element of malice. But more importantly, it says, "I think you are better qualified than I to have the object of my desire", which connotes a feeling of inadequacy and a lack of self worth. The other side of the coin, where a person expects to be jealously guarded also suggests feelings of insecurity since the person's feelings of self-worth are predicated upon someone else's actions.

Envy, on the other hand, as Aristotle describes it, is "pain at the good fortune of others" even though it does not take anything away from what you already have. It is one of the 'seven deadly sins'. Envy is when you wish you had, or want something that someone else has, or when you think: "why should they have this and not me?", but there is no impending loss. With envy, because the focus is more on the rival than the object of desire, if that good fortune went to someone else, the feeling of envy would die out. Envy occurs when your standard of self-worth is defined by how it compares to others. Taken further, it can be the dislike of another's well being or good fortune because they are not deserving of it, in our sole (and not so humble) opinion.

I don't consider myself jealous. Indeed my love has been called into question on occasion because of  my lack of jealous inclinations. But I have realized that I cannot hold on to another's affections - like an egg, if you don't hold it tight enough, you will lose it; and if hold on too tightly you will break it. Jealousy also engenders suspicion, which, in turn erodes the foundation of trust that relationships are built on, and eventually, like a house of cards, the relationship comes crashing down. Suspicion makes one look for reasons to question another's loyalty, and, in most cases, you will eventually find what you've been looking for - akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I have learnt that while I hope my relationship with the person I love will last forever, I cannot control the other person's feelings or actions. I am with them because they choose to be with me and that is my blessing and good fortune. I cannot say I will not be hurt, disappointed and even angry if they decided not to be with me, but I will understand that it is their prerogative and sole right to decide who they will be with; a right I have as well. 

I think benign envy is par for the course because of our innate desires and the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. We will always see someone with something that we wished we had. I know I do. Will I cut them for it? Absolutely not. I will be happy for them but it will spur me on to be in the position to be get what they have that I like.

I can understand envy, but I despise jealousy in any form because it is a sign of weakness and tells me so much about the person it is coming from. Jealousy, in my opinion is not attractive and screams "Extra Baggage - Beware!" and all its attendant abandonment issues, and I shy away from such energy. But I also realize that for many people, they need to see some element of jealousy to make them feel wanted and desired. 

There is an Arab saying that goes: "Love sees sharply, hatred sees even more sharply, but jealousy sees the sharpest, for it is love and hate at the same time..."

Something to think about.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Forgiveness - 40 Things I've Learnt in 40 Years

In my country of origin Ghana, a phrase that is oft-repeated is "forgive and forget". Ghanaians are generally a non-confrontational people, but I have wondered if the concept of forgiveness has really been understood.

Just about everyone of us has been hurt by someone else's words or actions (or inaction). It could close friends, family or someone we were romantically involved with. Whatever they said or did probably made us hurt, angry, resentful, or betrayed the trust we had in them. In 40 years, I've had my share of them!

To forgive the actions of another means making a conscious choice to release yourself of the anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge. It doesn't just happen. Notice I said releasing yourself, not the other person. Forgiveness does not make what the other person did okay. It does not imply making excuses for what they did. You don't need to tell them they are forgiven to make the forgiveness effective. Forgiveness is a way to rid yourself of negative emotions so you can make room for more positive energy. Forgiveness, in a sense, is more about you than it is about the other person. It is about keeping you in a state of peace.

Forgiveness puts the controls back into your hands. When you forgive, you transition from being a victim to being the hero of your life. You may not have had control over the other person's actions, but you have control over what you do with your emotions and your life after that. Whether you choose to be consumed in the bitterness, resentment and anger caused by someone else, or you choose to disentangle yourself from all of that negativity, the choice is ultimately yours. For many people, unfortunately, the latter is easier to do.

Now, forgiving is not a magic wand that makes the pain and hurt go away! Far from it. It is a paradigm shift in your attitude that frees you from the negativity and helps you move on in life with less baggage. The hurt might take some time to heal, but the anger and thoughts of revenge will dissipate. It is surprising how many people carry the resentments of past relationships into new ones and poison them. The resentment is often so deeply buried they do not even know it exists, but it lurks in the shadows, secreting its venom surreptitiously....

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean your relationship with the other person will be reconciled. I have usually made an effort to reconcile those relationships, but reconciliation is not always possible, or even appropriate. It is difficult to reconcile such relationships if the other person accepts no responsibility for their actions that hurt you, or if they refuse to talk to you, of if they died. Forgiveness is not dependent on reconciliation.

Sometimes the person who needs forgiveness is you. For many years after my father died, I held on to the anger that I was not there when he passed away, as was the rest of the family. With a limited phone network and an almost non existent ambulance service, I had to physically go and get help. He asked me not to go, but I wasn't about to stand by and do nothing. I even left my wallet and had to come back home. I was at the doctor's when my brother called me and said, "Don't worry, it's over..." Many years later I realized I had to forgive myself and I did. I still feel the sadness and hurt, but it's no longer angry. I miss my father and wished I was there when he took his last breath, but I can now embrace that sadness.

My process of forgiving has involved writing a letter addressed to the other person venting my feelings. Once I'm done I read it over (I'm often amazed at my emotions), and with the letter in my hand, I close my eyes and begin deep breathing exercises, breathing in forgiveness and releasing all my anger into the letter. When I feel relaxed and rid of my anger, I burn the letter and watch my anger go up in flames...

Who do you need to forgive today?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

You Are What You Eat - 40 Things I've Learned in 40 Years

I try to eat a balanced, healthy diet each day (except for my self-confessed sweet-tooth cravings), but more from a perspective of moderation. I don't cut out huge swaths of food types or try to stay on a strict regimented diet. For an acknowledged foodie like me, that doesn't work. Neither is it fun. I believe my diet should be sensible and work with my lifestyle as well.

But a friend of mine gave me a new and insightful perspective on my eating habits. He said, "Make sure everything that goes into your body benefits it in some way." In other words, if it isn't helping your body in some way, that is extra work you're giving your body and you'll pay for it later. In this school of thought, your diet is not based on calorie counts or low-carbs, or whatever the current fad is, but on the nutritional value of what you're eating. Is it helping you live longer, live better, sleep better, run faster or have better sex? If it isn't doing anything positive for your body, take a second look at it.

Thankfully, I have kept my waist size fairly stable so far: (it's grown 3 inches since I was 16, and no, I'm not telling you what my waist size is, thank you very much!) My weight, on the other hand, has jumped about 20 lbs. as my body changed from the skinny teenager I was, to the more man-like size I am today. I have noticed my metabolism slow down, but I've tried to keep it up with exercise and activity. Call me vain, but even though I am in the 'normal' range for my weight and height, I liked my body better when it was 5 lbs. lighter...

Every few months, I do a 'refrigerator and pantry audit' to assess what kinds of foods I have and also to purge myself of negative net-value food that I might have stealthily introduced over time (yes, I do that too). This also gives me the opportunity to stock up on more positive net-value foods. You might want to do that too...

You are what you what am I? Food for thought...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Listening - 40 Things I've Learnt in 40 Years

I've always been told I'm a good listener. I enjoy listening to people's stories - stories of triumph, joy, sadness or pain. Admittedly, sometimes I hear more than I need to know or even want to know, but it's par for the course. By listening, I learn so much about human nature and the world around me.

I once heard a speaker talking about the difference between hearing and listening and I found it rather fascinating. It is easy to hear what someone says without really listening to what they have to say. Listening requires active participation - hearing doesn't. You can hear just by virtue of the fact that you have working ears. Listening involves paying attention to words, inflections and tone, as well as reading between the lines to find emotion, context, motive, what is said, and even what is not said. Listening is discovering what is really being said.

Listening requires a genuine desire and interest in what is being said and in the person talking. It requires a willingness to make a meaningful connection with a speaker and their message, and go along on a journey with them. Effective listening will involve keeping an open mind and reserving your judgement, focusing on the message, being engaged in the conversation, and avoiding the urge to be defensive (even if you feel attacked). Yes, to really listen, you need to shut up.

Have you ever been around someone who just seems to love the sound of their own voice and found it difficult to get a word in edgewise? Many of us have at some point. Those situations might have left us wanting to find an excuse just to get away because we felt we were not being recognized - our thoughts were not needed, wanted, or important enough to the other person.

Each one of us wants to feel acknowledged - and listening is a good way to make people feel acknowledged. Everyone wants to feel like they're being heard - listened to. By communicating through the simple act of listening that whatever the other person has to say is important to you, you communicate that the other person is important to you. This creates a shared bond that we all crave and does wonders for all kinds of relationships.

Make someone feel important today. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Striving for Perfection - 40 Things I've Learnt in 40 Years

Perfection is overrated.

As a producer of live shows, and commercials at 24 years of age, I used to be what you would call a perfectionist. The shade of a color had to be exact; the crease on a drape would had to be just-so; the music had to be at a certain decibel level....

You can imagine how frustrated I became and how unhappy I could be, if the slightest nuance was anything other than I had imagined. A whole show could be ruined in my eyes because the host didn't reach the podium at the precise point I wanted in the music. It didn't matter to me that no one in the audience was aware that anything was gone awry.

And this is by no means an ode to mediocrity. I still abhor giving anything that is less than stellar. However, I have found that I can still have very high standards without sweating the small stuff. It's about balance and priorities. Some things are not worth the extra effort if its sole purpose is the achievement of perfection. If at a place-setting, the knife is placed half an inch too far away from the spoon, does it ruin the whole? Will agonizing over that imperfection change anything? Indeed, will making the adjustment add much more to the event? How many people will notice the subtle 'imperfection'? I had to learn what was important and what was not. I'd rather spend my time making sure that the food is at the right temperature and brought in on time and served right, than checking how many inches the knife is from from the spoon...

Too many people accept mediocrity and that is wrong. But then an obsession for perfection is also wrong. I'm all for excellence, but beyond a certain point, the law of diminishing returns sets in, and anything after that is a personal quest for the impossible, because perfection is a moving target. Trying to achieve perfection is like trying to be God. You can come awfully close to it, but you cannot be it. There isn't just a fine line between excellence and perfection - it's a chasm!

As Harriet Braiker put it: "Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing."

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Art of Food Presentation - Plating a Dessert

Here's a short clip from my show on plating a dessert. Have a great weekend, wherever you are, whatever you do!