Sunday, March 28, 2010

How Four Minutes Changed Jason McElwain's Life

Maybe you saw this one. You probably did, but every time I watch it, I am inspired once again.

Jason McElwain, a young man diagnosed with autism, loved basketball. He loved it so much that his Greece Athena High School coach, Jim Johnson, agreed to allow Jason to join the a team manager. It wasn't until the last game of the season, the division championship, that Coach Johnson suggested Jason suit up and sit on the bench. Jason was thrilled.

I work at a school with autistic kids. I have gotten to know a few of them. If you know anything about autism, you know that autistic kids have an extremely tough time responding appropriately to people. They have a tough time playing and cooperating with other kids and, consequently, do not make many friends. The ones I have taught will sometimes burst out crying for no apparent reason. Temper tantrums are common. Many cower at everyday noises, bright lights or a gentle touch.

That may be why Jason was never given the chance to be part of the Athena basketball team. That and the fact that even by his own admission, Jason McElwain was not a remarkable basketball player. So, with a pretty safe 20-point lead, Johnson decided to do something that would change the course of his life and the life of his young player. In fact, the impact, he would later learn, would be phenomenal. Coach Johnson decided to send Jason McElwain into the game with 4:19 to go.

Jason promptly showed why he had been team manager. He missed his first two shots, the first an air-ball and the second and easy layup. Johnson felt so bad that he buried his head in his hands and prayed for God's help. God must have heard and liked, no scratch that, LOVED his request. How do I know? Jason made the next three shots, all three-pointers, and the crowd went wild, absolutely berserk. Then he hit three more, along with a two-point shot. In just barely 4 minutes and 20 points later, Jason became his team's high scorer and the instant hero, not only at his little school, but world-wide. Maybe you saw him on Oprah or with then President George Bush. Maybe you've seen him with Magic, or with one on the NBA stars, or with Indianapolis Colts quarterback, Payton Manning. Everyone, it seems, likes hanging out with a sensation, even the stars themselves.

So, you may wonder, what ever happened to Jason McElwain. Four years have passed and everyone agrees, Jason has grown more confident, more sure of himself. Interesting enough, Jason says, as reported by CBS Evening News, it was not the shots in that game that made all the difference, but the acceptance and support he felt that night.

I think you'll applaud him too when you watch the clip embedded below.

Hurdling Over Hassles

Have you ever thought, "I want a better life?"

It all seemed so much easier once..., in the womb. Now life's full of annoyances, inconveniences, hassles and struggles. How can we expect to be happy with all that frustration? And that's just the first layer.

Today I was noticing all the things I had to complain about. I woke up with my nose stuffed up from a cold. One of my dogs is sick and threw up for the seventh and eighth time last night. I woke up at 5 am to take care of him, though he may need an emergency vet visit later today. I think he ate the weed killer I spread yesterday. Who knows? The other dog peed on the floor. Of course, both wanted attention at the same time, and I didn't feel like giving it then. I had more important things to do, like getting to the grocery store to pick up breakfast and a mop.

So, did the hassles stop when I jumped into the car? No. I glanced into the mirror and saw I had not shaved nor combed my unruly hair. Then I realized I couldn't see though the car windows. The cold night had frosted them. I rolled the windows up and down hoping to clear them but that didn't work, so I had to get outside and wipe them down. After I missed a couple of traffic lights I always make, I got to the grocery store and grabbed a small cart in the parking lot and wheeled in from outside. I soon realized the handle was way too cold, and felt fortunate to discover a warm handled cart inside.

Quickly though, my good fortune turned (and I mean that literally) when I realized that the warmer cart consistently pulled hard right. I thought at first I had developed an equilibrium problem. In addition, my right arm, working hard to keep the cart straight, began to ache. Was I having a stroke? In fact, I nearly knocked down a poor women using a cane. A left-handed bowler would have liked the hook action and the spare gained by knocking the cane (and Grandma) over. Everyone else would have been appalled. Fortunately, I kept yanking left and just missed her. The Kroger staff thought I had a really bad tic problem. No one suspected the cart. I just lowered my head and weaved it down the next aisle.

Okay, so this is a typical weekend day. Things did not go exactly as planned. Hassles abound. Today it was the cart and dogs. Tomorrow the cable will go out before the final-four game, and the sick dog will feel well enough to dig a hole halfway to China in the back yard. Life happens. You're going to get a headache, even a migraine once in a while. You are going to be yelled at by some mean-spirited women who didn't like your knee in her back when you sat your long body into a cramped theater seat and realized too late that sitting normal would have required you to buy two $70 tickets so that you could (semi) comfortably drape your legs over the chair in front of you. You still might have knocked into the patron two rows forward.

What else? Your car window will stick, just as you are pulling up to the drive-in window. The guy at the window will yell at you to come inside to pick up your meatball sub. You will hit your head for the twenty-third time on the too-low car ceiling as you step out and have to ask someone to read you the twenty-third psalm right then before you lose consciousness and die.

This is life. It just is.

And that's my point. If you really believe your life will or should be hassle free, then please start a travel agency with low-price tickets back to the alien world you came from. We'd all like to travel there. Today. However, if you plan to stay here on earth, you will have a highly predictable amount of hassles that come and go randomly pretty much every day. You will also be hit with some more difficult ones. Hang in there. Face them with agility.

What do I mean, "Face them with agility?" I guess what I'm saying is that you can face these pretty much unpredictable-predictable hassles in a couple ways. One is to get upset, to blame, complain or throw a tantrum (inside or out--it doesn't really matter), or you can leap over them without really breaking stride. I mean, think about it. Say you're a hurdler coach and your best runner decides he or she is just going to plow into the hurdles and then make a big fuss when he or she halts to a painful stop. What do you tell him? Aren't you going to show him how to sail over the hurdle with speed, power and agility. Aren't you going to tell him to take a few steps and sail over the next one and the next one all the way to the finish line? Because there are going to be hurdles to spring over or to trip over, depending on your agility level. Here's a hassle, sail over it. Here's another, now leap. Drive forward, go. No whining, no complaining, no "woe is me," and no outbursts--just calm, assertive power. Pure mental agility. Your serenity still intact. Your life smooth and dynamic. Wow! Blissful,isn't it?

I'm impressed. Others will be too. The first level conquered, the level of natural, expected hassles hurdled like a pro. Once this happens, you will be ready to take on level two, the hassles you have created and have sustained despite thinking they were not your fault. You will pour your energy into tearing down those brick walls later. For now, just enjoy the predictable-unpredictable hurdles that are sure to come your way spontaneously, no matter what. Expect them. Note them when you see them. They make life a little more interesting. Then leap over them like an Olympic athlete. No big deal. Everyone, including you, will be glad you did.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Facing Adversity

All of us must face adversity. All of us will be challenged. We will all go through difficult times, and each one of us will respond. The question is not when, but how? How will you respond to adversity when it is thrust in your face? What will you do? Will you face it with great courage? Will you call up your inner resources? Who, outside yourself, will you look to for guidance and inspiration? I gain a little courage each time I think about three shinning examples and what they have to say about standing up to hardship. Though each one faced a different challenge, each approached their unique circumstances with conviction and fortitude. Each one rose above their ordeal, and earned the right, at least in my mind, to serve as role models for the rest of us, because each responded powerfully to trials that most of us can hardly imagine.

One such women was born in 1880 and earned her B.A. degree from Radcliffe. How many women back then did that? She went on to publish 12 books and lectured all over the world. Through her travels she met every US President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson and was friends with the likes of Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin, and Mark Twain. When someone in Japan introduced her to the Akita, a Japanese dog known for its loyalty and courage, she introduced the breed to the United States.

She also fought as a political activist for women's rights, pacifism, and birth control. She was an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities. She lived with power and conviction and inspired people to action. She lived a remarkable life. What makes her even more remarkable was that she could not see, nor hear. Both blind and deaf, Helen Keller rose above her circumstances, ones thrust upon her before she was two years old, to make a significant mark on the world.
How did she do it? How did she live through hardship that life tossed her with an elegance and strength that I can barely imagine. Helen Keller explained her approach simply.

"Look the world straight in the face."

How's that feel? Have a stare down with adversity. Don't blink. Don't back down. Face it like a champion. Helen Keller sure did. What a fighting spirit she had. I mean, how can you not respect a women who could not see, nor hear but who managed to not just survive, which would have been admirable enough given her circumstances, but who, despite the weight of her adversity, made a remarkable contribution to the world. Helen Keller stands as a shining beacon for all who are lost in pity, or overwhelmed with life’s mayhem.

Another one I have always admired, who when faced with unimaginable hardship, did not back down. In time, Victor Frankl marveled us all with his attitude, perseverance and sheer accomplishment. At 37 he was shoved into a Nazi concentration camp where he watched and felt, first-hand, the unspeakable brutally doled out there. Somehow through this horror Victor managed to not only survive but to grow stronger. How did he do it despite watching his wife taken from him and later murdered? How did he do it despite seeing his parents ripped from their home and slain by the same regime that was abusing him? How did he survive so elegantly despite living in such sordid conditions, where rats ate more than the prisoners, where he lived in naked humiliation, where each day he or dozens of his cellmates could be gassed?

Victor said he learned through watching his fellow prisoners suffer. Some, he noticed, suffered better than others. He discovered that those who found meaning in suffering suffered better. He himself found meaning by imagining that he would one day be freed and that he would speak to large audiences about what he had learned from the horrid conditions. That vision, he said, helped to keep him alive.
He also tended to his inner spiritual beliefs and held firmly to them, because they offered him strength and the knowledge that they were the one thing the Nazi's could not destroy.

Maybe most importantly, Victor had a revelation on a long, hard march through the dark night into the icy wind, where he stumbled over rocks and trudged through large puddles with the butt of a rifle pounding his back, always keeping him moving despite the bitter pain of aching, cold feet and sheer hunger and exhaustion. He remembered his beloved wife, Tilly.

When he did, he said, "A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth -- that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire... I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, ... when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment."

That revelation sustained him through three years of otherwise unbearable torments until the American‘s liberated him. Once liberated, Victor Frankl returned to Vienna and founded Logotherapy and wrote his world-famous book, Man's Search for Meaning. Shaped by his experiences in the concentration camps, he described what he saw and learned there. He taught the world how to not only face horror but to live productively and meaningfully after enduring it. Victor lived more than 50 years after he was freed and wrote 32 books, lectured and taught all over the world and earned 29 honorary doctorial degrees. Thank goodness for Victor Frankl.

Where Victor Frankl was thrown into adversity, this next women volunteered for it. Mother Teresa volunteered and dedicated nearly her entire adult life to living among and serving the world's poor. She started her journey in Calcutta's slums, where she begged for food and supplies just to survive. She felt tremendous loneliness and experienced grave doubts then about what she had done, but she did not give up. She once wrote, "Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard."

Later, in 1950 she began a small order that ministered to the sick, crippled, naked, blind, homeless, unwanted and shunned members of society. Today more than 4000 nuns run similar charity center world-wide. In 1952 Mother Teresa opened her first home for the dying and helped people who had lived like animals to die with dignity and love. Soon after she opened a home for lepers (Hansen's Disease), which she is probably best known, and in 1955 she opened a home for orphans. The order eventually attracted recruits and funds and by the 1960's had opened houses all over India, and later throughout the globe.

How did she do this without falling apart? Mother Teresa believed she was doing God's will, that she was pursuing her highest calling and despite the hardship, she felt compelled to serve. She once said, "We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing."

She followed her heart and grew strong and capable by heeding it’s calling. Despite the hardship and the squalor she lived in, she fought lovingly for those who did not know how or feel deserving of doing so for themselves. She became strong by giving her life to the weak. What a remarkable example of what we can accomplish with an ironclad will and a heart open and tender enough to lead us to our calling, no matter how difficult or painful.

I am amazed by what we can, with resolve and vision, endure. There’s no way around it. We are all going to be challenged in life, and we will all respond. The question is how. If we are willing, if our resolve is strong, we can respond with strength, meaning, spiritual fortitude and with love. This is our highest calling and largest challenge. Fortunately, those who have gone before us have not only shown us that we can succeed, but also how.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Discovering Value

Michelangelo said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." I once knew a great teacher who did this with the most pained students. He would reach into their hearts and see their wonder, the wonder they themselves missed, and elegantly call it out of them. So appreciative were that that years later they would track him down just to thank him for his kind efforts. What do you see in others? Angels? Wonder? Genius? What do you see in yourself?

I read recently about a woman in New York who found a Rufino Tamayo painting in the garbage that was expected to sell for around a million dollars. Anyone of us can look around and see wasteland. Our newpapers report the worst in human nature everyday. I hear compliants and criticism all the time, but what interests and excites me the most are the unheralded heroes who look for the treasure in others. I like to hear and read about the guy who sees the kid who cannot read and teaches him how, or the gal who sees the potential in another and reflects it back so that the other can see it in themself. This is what makes us feel most valued as human beings. This, in turn, raises our community value, by creating goodwill, and it's hard to put a pricetag on that.

Of course, seeing the value in others isn't always easy. We have to sometimes see potential that has not yet been developed. We have to see the value that is possible with encouragement and small advancing steps. We have to see like Kyle MacDonald did when he saw a little red paperclip and with it a house. Sound crazy? Not to Kyle. He got onto e-bay and traded his little red paperclip for a fish pen. He quickly swapped the pen for a smiley face door knob, and the door knob for a camping stove. The camping stove he traded for a generator and that for a keg of beer and a party, then the keg for a snow mobile. Through some publicity he generated, his trades grew increasingly larger until after just 14 trades he owned a house.

Now, how many of us would see a tiny red paperclip and think we could do that? He said that along the way he had a great time, met some really neat people and helped some of them achieve their dreams, while he achieved his. If he could achieve all this with an almost worthless paperclip, and, of course, a valuable idea, solid follow-through, a whole lot of enthusiasm and good fun, what, I wonder, could he do with, say, a roll of duct tape? In the end, he donated his house to charity and the tiny town that embraced him. Later they made him honorary mayer, while he made scores of friends and some remarkable lifetime memories.

So, if Michelangelo can see angels in hunks of rock, a woman a million dollar painting in a garbage heap, and Kyle MacDonald a house in a paperclip, what do you see around you? That's the question I have been asking myself today and the truth is, I am beginning to realize that there might be a lot more there than first meets the eye. I am beginning to realize, too, that the potential I am beginning to see in others also exists in me. In fact, uncovering that treasure could be the greatest discovery of all.

One Red Paperclip on 20/20

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Your Life's Slogan

What if your entire life, all your thoughts, your communication, actions, interactions, pursuits, and demands could be condensed into a single message? What would it be? What would your significant friends, co-workers and family say? What would they declare was your most prominent life statement? Would the two be aligned?

Every big organization has a single message called a slogan. Think about it. IBM: We Make IT happen. Airbus: Setting the Standard. Dell Computer: Get More Out of Now. American Express: Do More and, of course, Nike’s unforgettable slogan “Just Do It.“ You may not know it, but we are all walking billboards, and I’m not talking about Aunt Millie’s backside. Each of us displays a prominent message.

If you don’t believe me, then try this. Think of someone in your life. This could be a parent, a friend, a co-worker, an acquaintance, or even someone you watch, occasionally, on TV. What message do they most prominently display? I am thinking now of someone in my organization. She displays this message, “You must meet organizational rules, no matter how inane.“ Another one I know communicates “Kindness Matters.” She is gentle with everyone, including herself. Another shows me how to “Live Life with Gusto!“ Still another walks around displaying a rickety sign that pretty much says, “Life Sucks!” With each person, one message leaps out at me. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what message you are advertising everyday? Wouldn’t it behoove all of us to chose a message that resonated with our heart and then present that to the world? Wouldn’t it be truly grand to then live that message everyday?

I had a friend who did this up until his untimely death. He always inspired me. After each interaction, every conversation my spirits felt lifted. His message was “I am Going to Inspire You,“ and that was the gift he bestowed upon his friends. Extremely creative, a talented artist, an all-around good guy, he always motivated me to want to be a better person, a better father, someone who made a difference in this world. Of course he did a million other things too, but at his core, radiating through his every pore, ringing true through every sentence, ingrained in every tone, and communicated through every gesture was the genuine and very moving message of inspiration.

Just think, if you knew what your core message to the world was, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to decide what you wanted to pursue, what you invested your time and energy to? Wouldn’t it be more clear what career path looked most attractive and which ones did not? Wouldn’t it be easier to avoid the endless web of distractions that await all of us who are confused about who we are and what we want to be in relation to others?

So if you are having difficulty deciding what your next “big thing,” will be, I suggest you begin by looking at who you are at your core, then find something, anything that aligns with it. Jump in and see what happens. That way you’ll learn whether or not the activity really does align with your core slogan. You may discover that it does not quite fit or that your slogan needs some revision. That’s good too. Keep refining, until you find yourself…in your life’s message. Once you do, you will live your life better focused, more clear, and less distracted. In short, you will feel a sense of fulfillment that you may not have felt before. What’s even better, you’ll not only accomplish more, you’ll accomplish more of what is truly important to you. So stop carrying around that billboard with eyes half shut. Look up and revise it if you need to. Then go live your life, aligned with your core message and focused with clarity on what matters. Do that and I guarantee you, you will feel inspired.

Friday, March 19, 2010

How To Generate Power

Imagine you are born to a poor farmer in a rural villiage north of Malawi, Africa. You are the only boy in a family of six sisters. You know one thing. You possess basically one skill. You raise maize. In addition, imagine that you are surrounded by 60 families in your small community and that all of them are simple farmers too, poor, uneducated and able to do thing; farm. Furthermore, imagine that your family cannot afford to send you to school, so you must drop out. Imagine that even with all this weighing you down, you must face yet another calamity. A famine strikes your country, your crops dry up, and after five months you, your family and your community are literally starving to death. Oh yeah, and you are just fourteen years old. Remember, you are not from a priveledged class. You do not attend motivational seminars. You have never cruised the Internet, because you do not have a computer. In fact, your villiage does not even have high-speed cable. You are just poor, hungry, isolated, and uneducated. What do you do?

I cannot say what you would do. Most would fret or cry or complain or just lie down and die. Some would pray, beg, borrow or steal. Others might blame or solicit the government or declare war to ultimately pillage and command control. Violence seems like an almost natural reaction in times like these. What would you do?

For William Kamkwamba this was no imaginiative exercise. This was his life. It could have been his death. What did this young man, determined to help his family, do? He looked around and instead of bemoaning what his villiage did not have, instead of decrying his fate, William Kamkwamba looked around and noticed something. He noticed that his villiage had wind. That's where it all started. His villiage had a nice breeze, constant and strong and he wondered if he could harness it.

Though his language skills were poor, he went to the library and began looking at science books when he came across a picture of a windmill. Intrigued, he read a little further and learned that a windmill could harness the wind and generate power, so he determined he would build one. He studied the pictures. He did not complain that he had no money, no materials, no support. He trudged down to the scrap yard. There he scrounged up a tractor fan, a shock absorber, a bike frame, PVC pipe, PCV blades, and a small bicycle generator. When he told his mother what he was planning to do, she told him, just like everyone else, that he was crazy.

Undeterred, he began building anyway. Two months later he had built his first working windmill. The first anyone he knew had ever seen. He uncovered a light bulb, a circut breaker and a light switch. One day he generated enough electricty to play the radio. His family stood amazed as they listened to an African Regee song generated by their son's ingenuity and resolve. When he built a second windmill for irrigation, families began to line up at his door. They, he said, would not go away. Then came the reporters, and his first airplane ride to America, and his first hotel, and the chance to go to school, to get the education he always dreamed of. In America he spoke to windmill experts. More importantly, he generated hope in a dying village. He instilled in their shared memories a new way out of hardship. He inspired faith in the human spirit and highlighted what one person can do when determined, curious, positive and resourceful. He inspired change and saved lives.

So imagine you could instill within your heart William Kamkwamba's spirit. Imagine you could breathe in his qualities of resolve, resourcefulness and the power to press on confidently despite prevailing doubt. Now think for a moment. Imagine what you would do. Imagine what you could accomplish. Imagine how your world would change.

Now let's take this one step further. Stop imagining for a moment and realize that you can. You really can call up that strength within you, because it is already there, just as it was and still is in William Kamkwamba. You have the natural resources, just as he did, to generate hope, love and power. You can. You really can. And that change you were imagining earlier, be honest, is it really more dire than what William Kamkwamba faced? Do you really, in this great country of ours, possess fewer resources, greater hunger, or less hope? If not, then go ahead and challenge yourself to make the change you desire. Stride toward resolution. If it's worthy of your attention and you have the power to transform it, then begin today, so that you can march on with your head up, your shoulders back and your heart fully engaged. You can. You really can.

Scott Adams--Dilbert

Scott Adams is best known for his Dilbert comic strips depicting the idiocy of corporate management in the bureaucratic world of big organizations. His cartoons are published in over 60 countries worldwide and syndicated in more than 2000 newspapers. For years Adams has created a cartoon a day, and more recently, about nine a week to keep up with the demand.

For a guy who graduated valedictorian and later earned an MBA from the University of California at Berkley, you might think that coming up with great ideas everyday would be a pretty tough assignment. I mean the smart ones are usually, well, smart, but not all that creative. At least not the ones I know. The creative ones usually join the band and cut their core classes to attend rock concerts or to crash parties. They join acting troupes and take art classes, not business calculus and COBOL.

So when things got boring at the bank where Adams worked, you might think he would daydream about stock derivatives or something. Instead, he did what a lot of us would do. He doodled. His doodling evolved into vague cartoons and then solid characters that resembled in a most unflattering way, his boss and co-workers. In other words, while most of us might sit around those crazy meetings thinking about the growing crack in our bedroom ceiling, Adams dreamed of launching a cartoon career. While his associates talked about shrinking the deficit and padding their pockets, Adams drew characters poking fun at his corporate partners. In 1988 he sold his work to United Feature Syndicate, who published Dilbert in about 50 papers the following year.

So what sets Adams apart from other cartoonists beside his incisive, and almost universally appealing humor? Adams suffers from focal dystonia, a debilitating muscle and nerve condition that causes his hand to cramp up and tremor and spasm so severely that he cannot draw. For years he struggled with this condition, and even tried to draw his cartoons left-handed. This did not work. When his left hand began to draw, his right hand would begin to convulse and spasm. If this were not enough, he later developed spasmodic dysphonia, a vocal condition that rendered him unable to speak for three years. This "incurable" condition was eventually cured through surgery to rewire nerve connections to the cords.

Through it all, Adams prevailed. Through pain and perseverance, he continued to produce what some have called the most honest and revealing insight into organizational tomfoolery ever written. And he continues to pursue his dream today using computer technology and mind-over-matter tactics to trick his brain into acting "normal." He could have quit but he kept going, and a lot of people worldwide are sure glad he did.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

--William Ernest Henley

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

QUOTE: As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, keep it.
--Mahatma Gandhi

What is Inspiration?

What is inspiration? For some it is a spark so bright, so important, so insightful that after it strikes, life takes on an entirely new meaning. I have known friends who in a moment's instant have set out on an entirely new life path. It's as if they were plodding along on a dark night when suddenly a lightening flash streaked across the sky and illuminated the mountaintop they had been looking for all along. Seeing clearly, in that instant, they then strode on with renewed confidence.

That's not to say that the flash resolved every issue. In fact, knowing where to go and setting out towards it sometimes creates some tough challenges. In other words, after inspiration strikes, the real work begins. In Fredrich August Kekule von Stradonitz's well-known dream a snake latched onto its tail and "As if by a flash of lightning" he awoke with the realization that he had discovered the Benzene molecule. He then spent an immense amount of time working out the details.

I once had a flash of inspiration while thinking about writing a novel which propelled me through more than two solid years of writing. Unlike J.K. Rowling whose flash led to seven monoliths, the last of which sold some 44 million copies, mine led to an early burial on a closet shelf. Of course, that's not to suggest I wasted my time writing it. If money were the true gage to what is worthwhile, then people like Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi wasted decades. For me hours passed in minutes while I sat totally entranced by this world I had created. I felt calmer writing it, more alive. I felt like I had unearthed a long lost treasure.

So inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes through years of effort followed by one trans formative moment and other times totally unexpected and completely serendipitous. This is what happened to a friend of mine who, while lying in a grassy field as a young girl, felt her spirit lift and expand and in that moment felt herself merge with everything around her. That moment changed her and her inspiration blended with her life. From that moment one, when she helped another she helped herself. While others fought battles, she worked toward harmony and became the advocate to those who could not defend themselves. Her fear of death faded away after inspiration struck in a big way.

Most of us, though, are inspired by smaller flashes. We feel the joy and don't know what to do with it. We just bask in it for a while and then get on with the monotony of our daily life. In other words, it feels good, but nothing really changes. Sometimes inspiration is like that. These small flashes lift our spirit, creating an inner buoyancy. There's no clear mandate, just a lightness of being that releases us from life's drudgery. Put a chain of these together and your life, while not completely transformed, will feel pretty good.

Whether a lightening strike or a candle of illumination, whether life transforming or not, our heart is always lifted and warmed by inspiration's visit. So be watchful. Be open. Be ready for the flash and when it comes, be prepared to do the work that may lie just around the bend.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Light Your Dream

What does it take to inspire dreams? More specifically, what would it take to spark your own inner longing, to set ablaze your personal torch? I have seen a lot of duty-bound people in my life who would rather live by someone else's rules than live what they long for. You have met them too. They have a grayness about them, a dull likeness to others that belies that glowing spark you know is in there somewhere and totally unique. Why is that? Why do some of us chase marketing mandates rather than the promises our own hearts make? Why do some of us follow the maps others have given us rather than our own inner guidance system?

I wish I knew the answers to those questions. I suspect security has a lot to do with it. Wanting to please others may play its part. One great thing, though, about inspiration is that no matter how it is sparked, it ultimately lights a fire within us. Even when we are inspired by another, we are not moved by a mandate. We feel compelled because something inside us moves us. Inspiration calls us to something higher, something better, something that cannot be appraised by someone else, because it is not their's. We alone own it.

Now it is possible that you may simply be looking for inspiration for inspiration's sake, but more than likely you're looking to set a new course, to feel inspired to do something you have never done before and fear you may not be ready or courageous enough to do. Maybe you want to step away from a job you have held for sometime and pursue a secret and "silly" dream you have held for even longer. Maybe you want to sail off to a foreign country or end a relationship that has run its course. Maybe you want to begin a hobby or join a community organization that values your service. Maybe you just need the strength to get through one more day. Whatever your longing, or need for inspiration, you can find it within yourself. In fact, you probably have at least an inkling already of what it is you want to be inspired to become, or to do. Begin today taking a step toward that. Do a little research. Make a single phone call. Show up there. Begin boldly and you may inspire yourself or be inspired by someone you talk to.

That's the way inspiration often works. Begin and then discover the inner spark. Strike the match, and if you need to, strike it again and again until eventually the flame bursts forth. Or as one fine inspirational friend used to constantly tell me, "Ed, do something. Just begin." Then once you have the match lit, it's up to you to lay it where it might light a few logs and set the inner fireplace ablaze. Once you do that, once you see the fire's light and feel its warmth, you'll wonder why you didn't begin earlier. Or as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."

Les Brown shares one of his dreams and motivates his audience to achieve their's.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

When Your Life Is Flat

The ordinary does not inspire. The extraordinary does. Yet most live lives entrenched in the quiet, bland and somewhat mechanical grind of daily living. Why is that? Do we really expect to find inspiration living dull, repetitive lives? What's going on here?

I'm going to blame the brain--that pattern machine designed to create efficiency so we can free our mind to think about other things. Why else would we consistently brush our teeth starting with the upper left incisors before working around to the lower right side or always pull on our stocks with the left foot before the right? Why is it that we have to wash the dishes our way and even get a little testy when someone suggests otherwise? This, despite there being at least fifty different ways to clean a pot. The brain is to blame. The brain nudges us into autopilot to free up thinking room for more important tasks, like wondering whether we will ever achieve world peace or why Tiger can't keep his balls in his bag.

I mean, can you imagine having to continually monitor your breathing or to keep thinking "I have to lift, thrust and plant my right foot and then my left one" every step you take? How crazy would that be! The brain gets you on with your daily life without burning up every brain cell in the ol' bread basket. We can all celebrate that. It's miraculous...except when it's not.

Sometimes this incredible brain and its need to perpetuate patterns begins to dominate. Repetitive, ordinary and bland--but efficient--ways to accomplish everyday tasks start to take over our lives. We wake up at 5:58 AM every morning even without the alarm, shower for eight minutes, dress in ten, work all day with two fifteen minute breaks, eat in thirty minutes, drink our 64 ounces, read the paper from front to back, complete the 42 question crossword puzzle and then go to bed at 10:15 sharp. Most of this done with little or no attention to the task at hand. Let's face it, our pattern obsessive brain has taken over and our life feels flat.

Sometimes this "flatness" goes on for years before you address it. What should you do about it? I believe I have the answer.

Disrupt your life.

I mean it. Intentionally disrupt the patterns a bit. Begin to create new ruts. Start easy. Take a new route to the grocery store. Then up the anti. Go to a different grocery store. Buy something you never bought before. Plan an entirely new recipe. Become a vegetarian. That will disrupt things. That's just the beginning. Redo your hair, rearrange your house, join a cult. Just kidding. It would be far better to start a cult! Okay, don't get carried away. You may, though, want to join a new organization or pursue a hobby.

While you're at it, change your thinking too. Notice how repetitive your thoughts have become. When your mother calls to say, "Uncle Harry is at it again. He's wearing Polka-dot suspenders with his swimming trunks, and flashing the peace sign at every republican he passes," don't shake your head and ask, as you usually do, if Uncle Harry is related to Pee-Wee Herman. Say something different. Tell your mom that you're going to buy your uncle some grip tight trunks guaranteed to keep him from exposing more flab than a pregnant rhinoceros. Tell your mother that you admire Uncle Harry's chutzpa, you just wished his suspenders were ruby red.

Oh yeah, the brain will be confused for a bit, but then, just when you got it on the ropes, go in for the sucker punch. Look for something beyond ordinary, something extraordinary, magnificent, or even holy. We've all heard about the "weird guy down the street" who flew off to India to seek a guru or about the gal who abandoned her family for one of the Chippendale's, or about the guy who emptied his IRA account to buy a Lamborghini. These folks are seeking inspiration. They probably don't realize yet that the real breath-taking wonder they want lies all around them and that there are more marvelous, not to mention less destructive, ways to bring depth, texture and color back into their life. They just want the blandness to go away. Who can blame them.

So when your life needs a little inspiration, make a change. Disrupt the patterns and look for the extraordinary, whatever that is to you. Your brain will be glad for the disruption, eventually. Your spirit will be aroused and possibly ecstatic. Best of all, your flat life will be enriched with a few mountain views.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Maybe You Can

Have you ever told yourself "I can't do that" and listed the reasons why? Has someone ever told you that you couldn't do or be something because you lacked a certain quality? Have you ever taken stock of your life and thought that something you really wanted was impossible? I know I have, and I also know that there are others who felt the same way and marched on despite their doubts and who, in the end, accomplished the "impossible." Why not look to them for inspiration when your dream seems plagued with doubts?

One such man, Jim Abbott, was born without a right hand. Now I know what some of you are thinking. So what, he's missing a right hand. There's a lot of things you can do without a right hand. There's research, academics, business, politics, and a host of other fields open to someone bright and dedicated to success. I agree. A single handicap should not define an entire life.

There are too many other things a physically challenged person can accomplish, but Jim wasn't born to just accomplish, he was born to inspire. He did not dream of simply working a desk job. He did not dream of selling vacuums door to door or flowers on the street corner. He wanted to be an athlete. Okay, not just an athlete, but a very, very fine athlete, and that's what he aimed for despite having only one hand.

So what sport did he choose? I don't know about you, but I would have avoided all "two-handed" sports. One handed sports, okay, fine. I could bowl, for instance, play ping-pong, or run long distance. I certainly would not have pursued star quarterback on my high school football team, or even dreamed of leading my team to the state finals like Jim did. I doubt any of my advisors would have suggested to a one-handed kid that he ought to pursue a career in baseball where every other player used two hands to field and throw the ball. Yet despite his doubters, Jim plowed ahead anyway.

And plow ahead he did. The University of Michigan, impressed by his baseball pitching ability, offered Jim a baseball scholarship. There, he led the Wolverines to two Big Ten titles. He also won the prestigious Golden Spikes Award, which recognized him as college baseball's most outstanding athlete.

That's not all. In 1988 Jim led the US baseball team to a gold medal, and then played for the California Angels. In 1993 he threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees. He did all this with just one hand.

So next time you decide you really want to accomplish something that seems "impossible," think of Jim Abbott. Suit yourself up with his attitude. And who knows, maybe you will not only achieve your dreams, but also inspire others the way he did.


Here's some wise and inspiring words from the creator of the Peanut's cartoons, Charles Schulz.

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.

2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.

3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.

4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.

5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for
best actor and actress.

6. Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?

The facts are, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:

1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.

2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.

3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.

4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.

5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

6. Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.


The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care.

"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today ...... It's already tomorrow in Australia."

----- Charles Schulz-----

Friday, March 12, 2010

QUOTE: Inspiration is the torch that sets the heart aflame -- EH

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Little Humor

From comes a funny story about a bereaved widow and a misguided email message.


An Illinois man who left the snow-filled streets of Chicago for a vacation in Florida. His wife was on a business trip and was planning to meet him there the next day. When he reached his hotel, he decided to send his wife a quick email.

Unfortunately, when typing her address, he missed one letter, and his note was directed instead to an elderly preacher's wife whose husband had passed away only the day before. When the grieving widow checked her email, she took one look at the monitor, let out a piercing scream, and fell to the floor in a dead faint.

At the sound, her family rushed into the room and saw this note on the screen:

Dearest Wife,
Just got checked in. Everything prepared for your arrival tomorrow.

P.S. Sure is hot down here.

Ten Things That Block Inspiration

1. Complacency: Being ho-hum about pretty much everything.

2. Anger: If you hate everything and everybody you're not going to be inspired.

3. Burn-out: It's hard to get inspired when you're tired.

4. Dogma: When you believe you know the truth, why would you need inspiration?

5. Self Doubt: If you do not trust that you may be inspired, you won't be.

6. Bad Attitude: An upbeat attitude draws inspiration to it. A negative one locks it out.

7. Negative Thinking: The only thing this brings is trouble.

8. Cynicism: the arch enemy

9. Anxiety: How many anxious inspired people do you know?

10. Depression: The sure sign that things are hopeless

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Who Do You Inspire?

Who do you inspire? Who do you uplift, exalt or enliven? Who looks to you for the inspiration you seek? In whose life do you make a difference?

We all can inspire others. We have all felt the impact of a kind word, a sympathetic look, or a contagious laugh that lifts our spirits and the spirits of others. In this video Byrd Baggett tells us how attitude can impact our lives through the words and actions of his dear mother. Through sharing his story we all have the chance to feel inspired.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Today is it. Today is our gift, our fortune, our opportunity. Today we have been granted this magnificent possibility to live the highest truth of our being, to reach for our deepest wisdom, to lift the spirits of our fellow journeyers and to revive our resolve in our most challenging moments. We will either become stronger, more courageous, more compassionate, and more alive or we will not. We will either strengthen our indomitable will, raise our higher consciousness, and seek wisdom or we won't. Today we can be the change we seek in the world. Today we can model peace, sincerity, cooperation and leadership. Today we can stride confidently toward our destiny. Today we can begin moving that mountain one shovel stroke at a time. Today we will either live with vitality and passion or choose not to. Today we will, if we choose, stand firm in the belief that what we do can and will make a difference. Today is it. Only today. It's our choice.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Who Inspires You?

Who inspires you? Who, when in his or her presence, do you feel lighter, more courageous, more alive, more true, more motivated, more yourself and more than yourself? Who, when you hear them speak, do you feel more soulful, more willing to serve, more joyous and more aligned with your highest nature and your deepest calling? Who, when you read about their life, do you know best what you want to be? Who lifts your spirit? Who rally's your power and vanquishes your fear? Whomever that is, wherever he or she is, go there. Be with that. Honor that part of yourself, everyday. Cherish that. Nurture that. Most importantly, live that truth that inspires you and see where it takes you. See what you do as a result and watch who follows you when you become the inspiration that inspires you.

Martin Luther King embodied Inspiration