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Posts tagged ‘perspective’

It’s a Small World After All

Earlier this week, twenty-two children died in the state of Bihar in northeastern India.  They didn’t do anything wrong.  They just ate lunch. They ate rice and beans and potato curry and soy balls.  They started feeling a little sick, and then a lot sick, and then some of them died.  It all happened within a few hours.

Stories about tragedies run constantly in the media, and I often skim over them in favor of the shiny, happy stuff.  But once in a while a story hits home, and that’s what happened to me when I read this one.  The child The New York Times talked about in its story, Ashish Kumar Mishra, was five years old.  His dad carried him from clinic to clinic until he ran out of options, and Ashish died at his side. Read more

Fleeting Perspective


I heard an NPR segment earlier this week featuring Suleika Jaouad, the author of the New York Times Well blog column, “Life Interrupted.”  Two years ago, at the age of 22, Suleika was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia; she is now cancer free.  In the segment (you can read the transcript here), she talks about how it feels to “re-start” her life…or as she calls it, her “new different” (versus “new normal”).  One quote really stuck out as I listened to her interview:

I’ll never go so far to call cancer a gift. It’s a really terrible disease. But like any life-interrupted moment, there are silver linings. And I feel like in the past year, for the first time – I like this expression – that I’ve been able to make my mess my message. And I’ve taken a lot of joy in that. I feel like I have a better sense of who I am and who I want to be and what’s important to me. And I’m very grateful to have that newfound awareness now.  I feel incredibly appreciative of my friends and my family. I try very hard to find meaning in the work that I do. And that emphasis and finding purpose has made me a happier person, I think, overall.

Stories like Suleika’s abound…people going through an intense experience that changes the way they think about their life…about life in general.  Every time I come across one of those stories, or see someone or something that puts life into perspective, I’m overcome with a deeper sense of awareness and gratitude for all the good and all the challenges life brings along…for all the screaming moments and all the chubby-handed hugs…for the fog and the sunshine…for the slow runs and the faster ones…for the easy conversations and the tough ones…for all of it.

But all too often, this feeling is fleeting – giving way to sweating the small stuff and taking things for granted.  As I think about this, I’d love any ideas about what helps you keep an eye on the big picture…

What helps you keep things in perspective?  Do you have any daily practices that help you remember that everything we experience in life is relative?


photo by dawn ashley via flickr creative commons

photo by dawn ashley via flickr creative commons

I watched a video last night about Zach Sobiech, a teenager who lived with a full heart and a busy life and unbelievable wisdom as he dealt with a terminal cancer diagnosis.  The video went viral yesterday after he passed away at age 18…or as he said it, “just closed [his] eyes and [fell] asleep.  At the end of the video, when asked what we wanted to be remembered for, Zach said he “wanted to be remembered as the kid who went down fighting, and didn’t really lose.”  His closing words were an incredible combination of solid self-assuredness, profound sadness, deep perspective, and brightness.  Just plain brightness.  Amazing, even shocking…brightness.

That’s all I’m going to say about the video…it speaks for itself.  Check it out if you have tissues handy, would like a dose of perspective, and would like to honor Zach’s legacy (that life really just boils down to making other people happy).

This was the first SOULPANCAKE production I’d ever seen, and I checked out the site afterwards to see what it was all about.  It’s a beautifully designed site designed to serve up “brain batter of art, culture, science, philosophy, spirituality and humor to open your mind, challenge your friends, and feel damn good.”  I just liked it on Facebook so I can keep tabs on their work, and I checked out some of their content.  There is a tab called “Activities,” which is really fun, and something I’ll refer back to.  Here are a few of the exercises I liked as I scanned through:

  • In 100 words or simply one, tell us where you are most in your element.
  • Quick write your latest mantra. Breathe. Repeat.
  • Memory wipe time. List four things you’re dying to forget about.
  • In 100 words or less tell us what “the bigger picture” means to you.
  • Upload a creative travel guide to your home town.
  • Sum up what you are striving for in a single word.
  • What things are you working on now that will pay off in the future?
  • List the 10 most important things to you, in order.
  • Describe what you’d do with an extra day inserted into every week.
  • Fill in the following sentence five times: I belong
  • Upload a picture of hidden beauty.
  • How will you become a happier human?

And the list goes on.  SOULPANCAKE is trying to modernize spirituality, and I love what they’re doing.  Their provocative questions and content let you think about abstract things like God and afterlife and soul within the context of practical, real and beautiful things all around us.  It’s fuzzy meets real.  Serious meets fun.  Spirituality meets self-knowledge.  It’s a great attempt to deal with the hard stuff in an easier and lighter and more palatable way. I look forward to following along.

In Zach’s honor, may today be filled with brightness and love and compassion and joy.

What, if anything, guides you through the muddiness of modern spirituality?  If you had a question to add to SOULPANCAKE, what would it be?  

Inspired by Travis Leach

inspireAs the quest for perspective evolves into one of the topics I seem to come back on this blog, I wanted to share an excerpt from a book I’m reading — The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg (great read, btw).  In his section about “The Habits of Successful Organizations,” Duhigg shares the story of Travis Leach, a now 25-year-old manager at Starbucks whose life changed after he went through Starbucks’ professional development classes.  Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“The first time Travis Leach saw his father overdose, he was nine years old.  His family had just moved into a small apartment at the end of an alleyway, the latest in a seemingly endless series of relocations that had most recently caused them to abandon their previous home in the middle of the night, throwing everything they owned into black garbage bags after receiving an eviction notice….On the morning of the overdose, Travis and his brother were playing in the living room on top of blankets they laid out on the floor each night for sleeping.  Travis’s father was getting ready to make pancakes when he stepped into the bathroom.  He was carrying the tube sock that contained his needle, spoon, lighter, and cotton swabs.  A few moments later, he came out, opened the refrigerator to get the eggs, and crashed to the floor.  When the kids ran around the corner, their father was convulsing, his face turned blue….

When Travis turned sixteen, he dropped out of high school….He got jobs at McDonald’s and Hollywood Video, but when customers were rude, he would lose control….Sometimes he’d get so upset that he would start crying in the middle of a shift.  He was often late, or he’d take a day off for no reason….When the line at his register would get too long and the manager would shout at him, Travis’s hands would start shaking and he’d feel like he couldn’t catch his breath.  He wondered if this is what his parents felt like, so defenseless against life, when they started using drugs.

One day, a regular customer at Hollywood Video who’d gotten to know Travis a little bit suggested he think about working at Starbucks.  ‘We’re opening a new store on Fort Washington, and I’m going to be an assistant manager,’ the man said.  ‘You should apply.’ A month later, Travis was a barista on the morning shift.

That was six years ago.  Today, at twenty-five, Travis is the manager of two Starbucks where he oversees forty employees and is responsible for revenues exceeding $2 million per year.  His salary is $44,000 and he has a 401(k) and no debt.  He’s never late to work.  He does not get upset on the job….’Starbucks is the most important thing that has ever happened to me,’ he said.  ‘I owe everything to this company.'” (The Power of Habit, pp. 128-130)

Maybe it was an emotional day or maybe it’s because ever since becoming a parent, I get overwhelmed when I think about the situations some kids grow up in, or maybe because it’s a beautiful success story, but Travis’s story moved me.  Here are a few thoughts it inspired:

  • Perspective: People are born into insane situations and find ways to persevere and start fresh and do amazing things.  When it feels like life is tough, or we’re not sure what to do to move forward, thinking about stories like Travis’s add perspective.  If a kid who phoned in his dad’s crack overdose at age 9 can create a life he’s proud of, anyone can.
  • Life Impacts Work and Work Impacts Life: Increasingly, I don’t believe in balance on a day-to-day basis, but I do believe in it when we consider a full lifetime.  The reality is that we don’t have work life and life…it’s all one life.  And our interests and experiences and challenges and successes in our personal spheres impact our work…and our work structure, content, community and support system impact our lives.
  • Employers Have a Huge Opportunity:  Companies can change lives by creating environments in which people can grow + thrive…just like Starbucks did for Travis.  If this happens, those people can go out into the world and change lives themselves.  Health begets health.  Healthy communities give way to healthy communities.
  • There’s More Than Meets the Eye: Everyone we meet has a story.  Each story might not be as dramatic as Travis’s, but each story matters.  And taking the time to genuinely learn people’s stories — at work, at the coffeeshop, at the hair salon, getting your oil changed, buying your groceries — can build bridges between people and helps us more deeply understand the human experience.

I sincerely believe that the more we learn about people overcoming incredible odds to find joy and success (however they define it), the harder we’ll work to get, be, and stay well.  What do you think?  Did reading about Travis make you think differently about your life, your intentions, and actions, and your opportunities?  Who has inspired you lately?

P.S. If you like the themes of perspective and perseverance, check out the story about Robert Brady I posted on my Facebook wall this week.

Smiling at the Bus Stop

photo by vox efx via flickr creative commons

photo by vox efx via flickr creative commons

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned a guided meditation about standing at a bus stop.  This was led by Justin Rosenstein, co-founder of Asana (collaboration start-up), and I thought it was so simple and effective that it was worth including here.  Here it is: Read more

Wisdom 2.0

photo(10)Who would have ever thought the Chairman of Ford would share the stage with Buddhist monk and spiritual guru Jack Kornfield?  Or a leader from Twitter would interview Jon Kabat-Zinn about the role mindfulness plays in modern day work and life?  Or a start-up leader would stand in front of a few thousand people, share photos of his communal living space, and lead a short, guided meditation about smiling at the bus stop?  Or a technologist turned artist would comfortably strut barefoot across a stage at a “business” conference and talk about her journey as a human being? Read more

Looking Outward to Look Inward

photo by dawn ashley via flickr creative commons

photo by dawn ashley via flickr creative commons

In one of my very first posts on this site, I talked about the power of perspective, and I’ve been meaning to return to this theme ever since.  The sense of perspective I felt the morning I wrote that post – shortly after hearing about the incomprehensible shooting in Newtown – arrived like a thunderstorm, surrounding and consuming me in a way I couldn’t see coming.  While obviously (and thankfully) not with the same intensity I felt it that morning, I think about perspective a lot, particularly as I write about first-world luxuries like juice cleanses and spin classes and choosing to have relationships with people I love. Read more

A Jolt of Perspective

For today’s post, I had grand plans of covering Tabata (a high intensity training method from Japan that I’ve been trying out).  But after hearing about this morning’s incomprehensible shooting in Connecticut, writing about interval training just doesn’t feel quite right.  Tragedies like this are impossible to make sense of; my brain can barely even process what actually happened, and as a parent, I have to work hard to resist spiraling into “what if” scenarios involving my own kids.  With acts that are this senseless, it’s difficult to extract any sort of wisdom or lessons.  It’s pretty tough to even move beyond the heartbreak.  But for me there is one meaningful thing this situation does offer: a jolt of perspective. Read more

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