Friday, June 17, 2011

Clean Sweep* and Me

I read Tim Russert's Big Russ and Me back in 2004. The following was a review I wrote and sent to Russert shortly after reading his book. That lead to my father being included in his next book, Wisdom of Our Fathers, page 35. Like my father, Tim Russert died way too soon.

“Ideas are important and words matter. What they know you can learn. But what you know, they will never learn. Remember: None of these guys has ever worked on a garbage truck.” Page 261

This was advice that Daniel Patrick Moynihan gave Russert when he was working for the senator. Big Russ & Me is a reminder that street sense, common sense and doing the right thing are fundamental to a successful life. Having a father as a role model of these truths not only helps to make each of us to become successful but also is the hallmark of our father’s life success.

Big Russ & Me was full of flashbacks to memories of my father and reminded me of the love and compassion he gave me. The greatest education comes from life’s experiences not from a college education. To be able to apply these lessons is to make a better life, a successful life.

Russert shares stories of growing up in South Buffalo, New York. Big Russ worked two jobs to provide for his family, setting a strong work ethic. Big Russ on details: you need for a firm handshake, remember names, walk your talk, put your garbage out with care and attention to make it easier on others, do honest work for honest pay and be on time.

The one big difference between my father and Big Russ was security and opportunity. Big Russ sought security. My father sought opportunity. I did not realize how much risk my father had taken back in the ‘60’s when he bought a small business. As he told me, “I’d rather be the head of a herring than the tail of a whale!” Working side by side with my father after getting my college degree was every bit as much of an education as my college experience.

My father made real sacrifices. He taught me how to delegate, how to forgive, how to fail forward, how to tell a good joke and how to practice humility. “He lived his life by the grace of daily obligations.” Page 74

Like Big Russ, my father always bought peanuts before going to the ballgame. I still make it a practice today. A small ritual to pay tribute to times we spent together.

Like Big Russ, my father had a very strong sense of who he was. He, too, had no interest in stepping out of character and becoming someone he wasn’t. (Page 218). I remember a favorite line my father use to say, “If you don’t like my peaches, then don’t shake my tree.”

Russert recalls other great teachers in his life including Moynihan. I too reflect on the great teachers in my life and pause to celebrate what they gave to me, especially their greatest gift - time. Some of those great teachers included: Mrs. Schreiber, my petite, tough as nails high school Latin teacher who taught me the importance of practice; Dr. Fonaro, my college anthropology professor, who taught me to continuously challenge my thinking; and Dave Wise, my high school math teacher, who taught me that learning could be fun.

There is an exercise that I do with groups that underscores this. I ask people to write down the names of last year’s richest person, the MVP of last year’s world series, the winner of the Miss America contest, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Oscar award winner and Pulitzer Prize winner. Most people are lucky if they can name two of the six. Then I ask the people to write down the name of a teacher who taught them something worthwhile, someone with whom they enjoy spending time, and someone who helped them during a difficult time, a hero, and a someone who inspired him/her. Most people get a name for each of these. The reason is obvious. People who touch our hearts are the people we not only remember but hold close.

Russert’s religious faith is an important part of his life. I, too, identify with Russert on the importance of my religious faith. Russert has met the Pope. The Pope’s motto is Totus Tuus – Latin for Totally Yours. Totus Tuss could have been my father's motto as well. I wonder what kind of world this would be if each of us dedicated our lives to being and practicing Totus Tuus?

Happy Father's Day, Dad, I miss you. I think of you everyday. A large part of who I am and where I am is due to you. Thank you for an incredible gift that I hope and pray I'm paying forward!

* Back when CB radios were the rage, my father had one and used the handle "Clean Sweep."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

To the Graduates of 2011: Bad Advice

To the graduates of 2011, as you enter the next stage of your life, the future looks grim. Our credit cards are maxed out. Unemployment is hovering near 9%. Greed still seems to rule. My advice...disregard the bad advice.

Learn to be independent...bad advice. Sorry to tell you, but each one of us is connected. Our growth, our well-being, our success is dependent on working well, playing well, interacting well with others. Our success is shared. Learn to become interdependent. Learn to be a contributor to communities. Show others you can be trusted. Be responsible. Learn it is not all about you.

Be successful so you can be fulfilled...bad advice. Make sure your definition of success is worthy and meaningful. Make sure your definition of success is not measured in acquiring but in making a difference in other people’s lives. Remember, when you die, you will not be remembered for what you acquired, the positions you held or the awards on your wall but in the difference you made in the lives of others.

Pursue happiness...bad advice. I suggest you pursue serving others. Pursue solving problems. Pursue making the world a better place for everyone. Pursue a relationship with God. The pursuit will be hard. The pursuit will be frustrating. The pursuit will leave you bloody, scarred and changed. The pursuit will give you happiness.

There are unlimited possibilities...bad advice. This is synonymous with "you can be anything you want to be." The possibilities are out there, but you need to create them, work for them, challenge them and yourself. The possibilities will not come to you. You need to go them. This requires work. It may be a struggle.

Do what you like. Go live your passion...bad advice. My father continuously reminded me, “It’s not doing what you like, it’s liking what you do.” In other words, you have to find your purpose. Your purpose may not be clear. It’s not inside you, it’s outside you. Perhaps your purpose will be found with your grandmother in a retirement home. You discover that she and her companions are not well-cared for. You find purpose in changing that. You are paying a traffic fine and while you sit in the courtroom you realize there are certain injustices. You feel called to make a difference. It’s trash day. You see a lot of waste. You are disgusted by the lack of recycling. You are called to take action. Open your eyes. Ask questions. Dabble. It may come to you early in life. It may not come until late in life. It may change at midlife. Your purpose is a big lump of clay to be worked on.

We are here for you...bad advice. Unfortunately, today’s youth are supervised, coached, looked-over, watched, guided, protected way too much. Parents step in to battle problems and issues, to serve and protect. A perceived unfair teacher gives a child a grade lower than expected, mommy intervenes. A coach disciplines a player, a parent throws a fit. A child is short on money and has overspent her allowance, daddy gives her more. We are enabling a society of dependents. Because life is not fair, it is the greatest teacher to be experienced. To get in the way of life is to create bulging tummies, mushy minds, small hearts, soft hands, fragile egos and spoiled brats. Learn not to be afraid to get your hands dirty and calloused. View blisters as badges of courage. See black-eyes as teachable moments. Learn that shame is a part of everyone’s life. Deal with your shame in a healthy manner.

As you go forth, my advice to you, apply sun screen. Grab a towel for the sweat. Bring an empty composition book and pen to take notes, write down lessons learned and journal your frustrations. Refer to this. Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes. Avoid junk food except for special occasions. Drink more water and less soda. Go to bed early, greet the sunrise. Get off the sofa and away from the “screen.” Turn off your phone, take in the silence daily. Give more. Take less. Learn to "be" rather than to "do."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying!

Bonnie Ware, a nurse who has served those who were in the last stages of life, learned a lot from her patients.

In her blog, Inspiration and Chai, she blogs, Regrets of the Dying. She found there were five common regrets.

1. There were regrets of not living their life authentically. They had lived their life according to the expectations of others. Do you know your purpose? Are you living your purpose or are you living someone else's purpose?

2. There were regrets of working so much that they missed things that really mattered like their children's sports events, school activities and accomplishments of their significant others. Most of us say what is important in our lives... God, our significant others, our children, our friends, but are we being there for them? Are you living your priorities?

3. There were regrets for not sharing feelings and speaking up. When was the last time you had a conversation with someone about love? When was the time you said, "I love you?"

When was the last time you had a conversation about your fear? When was the last time you shared your vulnerability, your hurt, your pain... your shame?

4. When people were dying they were visited by friends. There were regrets that they had not spent more time connecting with friends and nurturing relationships. We all complain there is never enough time. The greater challenge is accounting where we spend our time and focusing on what is really meaningful. Who do you need to reconnect with? Where do you need to build a bridge? With whom do you need to deepen a relationship?

5. There were regrets of not choosing to be happier. They were regrets of not laughing more and of taking life too seriously. The happiest people I know are those who are full of gratitude, those who are serving and helping others and those, those who are living a life of abundance rather than a life of scarcity.

There is a scene in the movie Shawshank Redemption where Andy and Red are sitting in the prison courtyard. Andy realizes he is not going get justice and leave prison. Red asks Andy what he is going to do. Andy tells Red it boils down to, "You either get busy living or get busy dying."

What do you choose?

See Bonnie Ware's blog at