2021 – A Year For Dancing Dreams

Photo purchased from Shutterstock

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 14th, 2021.

Well, 2020 is officially behind us. This is not to say that the problems that plagued us in one calendar year magically disappear with the turn of a page, but for me, this has always been a time to hit the refresh button. For the past several years, I have posted a New Year’s resolutions article, wherein I take some time to reflect on the year that was, and look forward to the year that might be. That said, 2020 was so unlike any other year for so many reasons. It certainly was a challenging one for me on a personal level for many reasons, and so this year I wanted to do something different – share a poem! While I have written poetry for as long as I can remember, 2020 was a year where not only did I write a lot of it, but I read a lot of it as well. Last year made poetry a necessity for me, and it showed up right at the top of my self-care list. There are so many great quotes that ask, why poetry? And especially, why poetry now? Below are a few of my favorites before I share with you my poem to start a new year.

Poetry,” Audre Lorde tells us, “names the nameless so it can be thought.” This is pulled from my favorite poetry podcast, and said in the most beautiful of accents by one of the most beautiful, thoughtful, amazing humans I have ever met, Pádraig Ó Tuama.

Photo taken in Belfast where I, we (my family), had lunch with Pádraig

And this, pulled from another podcast from another one of my favorite humans, Krista Tippett. Martin Farewell said this: “I think poetry evolved to save us from ourselves. It questions our understanding of what it means to be human and, in the process, deepens our humanity. History teaches us — and the daily news reminds us — how easily we forget what it means to be human. Probably no other art form is better than poetry at getting us directly inside another’s mind, experience, perspective. The ability to imagine someone else’s inner life is where compassion begins.We could certainly use more of that nowadays.”

Krista goes on to interview Jericho Brown and leads with this quote: “Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it.

My poem ends hopeful, so please consider sticking with it until the end. I hope you enjoy the poem, and please feel free to share your favorite one or ones in the comment section.

My Dancing Dreams

My dreams
As a child
Untamed and unmanaged
Without boundaries
Limited only by my imagination
The dance, begun
Wild, so wild
Free, so free
 
My dreams
As a teenager
A young adult
Such a driving force
Inviting courage and audacity
Only supportive and always unquestioning
My invisible companion leading me boldly forward into the rewarding place of achievement
I learned steps, moves
But the choreography
Was all mine
 
But with age
And change of circumstance
Comes responsibility
True and imagined
 
Responsibility
real and perceived
and its dance partner
accountability
A salsa turned into a waltz
With time, and thoughts, and people
and things

The thing about dreams is that
If we try to control them
Manipulate them
Manage them
They become something they were not meant to be
 
But.... And .......2020 

A year for me, for many, for most
Where dreams disappeared
or, got put in a corner
Even our tamed dreams
 
This year, 2020, like no other that came prior
taught me many things
important things
life changing things
needed...................things

I took pause, maybe you too took pause
I turned away from my hopeful dreams, ignored them, hid from them and them from me
and then, finally
When I realized how much I missed them, needed them, I invited their return
I called out to them, loudly, "please come back"
And they did
I received them. I listened to them. I learned from them.

What my dreams taught me is that at some point
I surrounded them with rubber bands
Designed to tame their reach
They stretched and then snapped back
Based on so many things 
That should not really have affected them
And yet
They did .............. they do
That is on me
For I am the one who bound them
I am the one who said
"too big" "too unformed" "too ......"
or
“no no, not now”
“maybe.. later”
Or
“one day”
 
But ahhh… 2020
Teaching me, maybe teaching you, that one day may in fact mean
Never
 
But ahh... 2020
Teaching me that dreams contained are not living into their purpose
Dreams
Are meant to be big and wild and driving and energizing
Not small and captured and passive and painful
But that is what 2020 tried to do to all of our dreams
By trapping us in our homes, the temptation set in to trap our dreams too
And of course, responsibility and accountability were our dance partners more so than usual
And they invited fear to the floor
And they invited fear to the floor too...

I get it, I was in it, and it happened
They were all my unwanted companions
 
I stopped dancing
Maybe we all
Stopped dancing 
 
But as we shed the memory of a year filled with pain and suffering and loss and constraints
Let us let our dreams out
Let them lead
Let them invite our company once again
Knowing
Of course
That much of what was true in 2020 is still true
So much suffering and isolation is still present
We remain in our homes
But our dreams can leave
Our hope can leave
Still attached to us
Not by rubber bands but by kite string
 A sky full of my dreams and your dreams
Dancing separate and together
Colorful and abundant
Pushing away the dark clouds that have surrounded your home, and mine
 
So take leave dear dreams
For you must
Let me open the door for you
And I will follow
And we both
We will all
Be free...

Leaders or Hucksters?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on March 21st, 2020.

I woke up before 5am this morning, slightly later than my new normal of 4am, with words from “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette playing in my head. For a minute, disoriented, I wasn’t sure whether I was about to laugh or cry. And then I cried.

In January of 2008, I decided I would start blogging, and I hired a talented writer and friend, Deborah Siegel, to work with me. If you need a refresh as to what was happening in the United States at that time, the topics and people included President Bush, sub-prime mortgage crisis, Ben Bernanke Chair of the Federal Reserve, Hank Paulson Treasury Secretary (my former boss), and US Presidential candidates dropping out like flies. In fact, on the day Deborah and I worked together for the first time, we paused to listen to the news as Hank Paulson made a special announcement regarding the unprecedented (at the time) financial interventions of the US government to try and bail out the economy. I was so fired up and pissed off that I started to rant, but Deborah simply said, “Write about it.” And so we did. We submitted a piece titled “The Confidence Man” to the Huffington Post, and it was published on the front page.

Today’s announcement by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is but the latest effort by the current administration to downplay the severity of the current economic crisis. In the grand old American tradition of hucksterism, Paulson’s prescription is a sorely misleading sell.

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It’s time to wake up and smell the economy. Sadly, there’s no short and easy fix to the longer-term problems created by excessive borrowing combined with rampant consumerism. Yet Paulson insists (White House Stimulus Fact Sheet, Jan. 18, 12:03pm, WSJ.com), “By passing an effective growth package quickly, we can provide a shot in the arm to keep our fundamentally strong economy healthy and help keep instability in the housing and financial markets from more adversely affecting the overall economy.” Believing the economy to be grounded on a “solid foundation,” Paulson is ignoring the walls falling down.”

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Fast forward 12 years. Today, and every day for the past week, we have had government leaders and financial gurus appear before us on the same news channels as in 2008. In fact, this very second, as I hit publish, we are awaiting an announcement on another historical financial and legislative intervention, including billions, if not trillions of dollars worth of interventions. Instead of President Bush, we have President Trump. Instead of Treasury Secretary Paulson, we have Treasury Secretary Mnuchin (another former Goldman boss, my direct one). However, unlike 2008, we also have an array of health experts to listen to, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. If you flip from channel to channel as I have done unhealthily for the past couple of weeks, all you will see are panels of “experts”. Some of these politicians and health experts are giving us facts and useful information on how to take action against the Coronavirus. And some are not.

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

The financial crisis of 2008 is obviously different than the crisis we’re currently facing. This time around the trigger is a global pandemic. Should we have foreseen the possibility of this and had a better plan? Heck yes. Will people, many people, die because of the lack of foresight and planning? Sadly, the answer is already yes. As of this writing, there were 18,900 confirmed cased in the United States and 263 deaths. 26 people are dying every hour in Italy. And beyond the absolutely devastating loss of life, there is the short term and long term economic and social impact.

Once again I find myself screaming at the television, and so once again I am turning to writing. This time around, I chose the medium of poetry to express my frustrations.

I keep thinking. Asking. “Why this is all so surprising”? Do you? I am not in to blame and shame. but I am into – leadership, responsibility, accountability. It’s a big deal to have NOT been better prepared. In all the big and obvious ways. And in all the invisible and hidden ways. A very big deal. This is about some people in particular. Those with big titles, big salaries, big platforms, big influence, big teams. But most of us. As well. It’s a big deal to witness and unpack and understand what all of this exposes. It will also be a big deal to respond. rethink, regroup, rebuild, reconnect. NOW. And especially. When the droplets settle and disappear.

Earlier today I looked up the term hucksterism, as I am not sure I have seen or used this word since 2008. Let me define it for you:

Hucksterism: To promote or attempt to sell (a commercial product, for example) in an overaggressive or showy manner.

Now, how about another word?

Leadership: A simple definition is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal. They are the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and leadership skills to make others want to follow their direction.

We have, and always will, live in times of hucksters and leaders, and it has and will always be up to us to figure out who falls into which bucket. What I can do, what we all can do, is pay attention. Make note. Remember. Act. And throughout all of this, my favorite definition of insanity keeps coming to mind: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

So President Trump. Everything is not perfect and great and awesome and amazing. Nor is it all your fault. But you are the President of the United States at this moment, and your job is to be a leader, not a huckster. The same is true for every other leader right now, and especially those with the big titles, the big teams, and the big pay-checks. The walls are indeed, falling down. This pandemic is quickly exposing the cracks, if not downright fractures, in our institutions, our systems, and our social norms. This includes those in government at all levels everywhere, businesses both big and small, philanthropy, and civil society. There is so much to be learned in terms of how we live and work, practice proper preparedness, and care for our most vulnerable populations, both in “normal” times and in times of crisis and need.

We should never forget that countless people suffer and die every single day for so many preventable reasons. We have normalized the abnormal because it has been going on for so long. We have become so used to the word ‘crisis’ being in the news that the meaning has become lost. We move on and move past the headlines around deaths due to violence, poverty, addiction, preventable diseases, and mental-health, and we do this for so many reasons, perhaps the most common of which being it is someone else’s problem to solve. It may be someone else’s problem, but it is our problem too. Problems are everywhere, but so are solutions. We can all do something, or we can all do nothing. Isn’t it ironic that the number one message of this particular crisis is that we can in fact ALL do something that matters.

We can stay home. We can wash our hands. We can social distance. We can take care of one another. We can donate to charities serving the needy. We can search #covidkindness on twitter to lift our spirits. People really can be awesome!

In closing, I am quite sure I will continue to wake up before dawn for the foreseeable future. I am quite sure I will continue to yell at the television. And of course, I am going to keep sharing, posting, writing, and connecting; doing as I have done, out loud, for the past 12 years.

A few lines from the end of this poem I wrote and shared on March 14th called Maybe/Who/Next.

Let us all do the next right thing. Let us all do the next kind thing. Let us all do the next hopeful thing. Let us all do the next generous thing. The next compassionate thing. The next wise thing. The next rational thing. The next loving thing. The next safe thing. The next calm thing. And then. Do it again and again. We are all connected. We always have been. We always will be. (May heeding the call to ‘social distance’ be the force that actually draws us closer together)

I have written 778 blog posts since 2008. If you want to check them out you can find them here. And of course you can sign-up to have them emailed directly to your inbox. 

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*A friend shared with me this white paper called “Public-Private Cooperation for Pandemic Preparedness and Response: A Call to Action”, which was prepared in partnership with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year. Again, for a second, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. And then I cried.

What If

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As published on LinkedIn Influencers on November 7th, 2019.

I don’t remember who first told me about the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling, but it was when I was in high school, some 40 odd years ago. Soon after I typed it out on my typewriter, I folded it neatly and carried it around in my wallet. Every home I have lived in, every office I have worked in, I have had this poem somewhere on the bulletin board. It remains my go to poem to this day. It is who I aspire to be in this world.

Why am I posting this today? Because over the past few weeks I have been re-entering the world post my gap year of sorts. It feels like a new beginning. A new chapter. And front and center is not only WHAT I will be doing, but HOW I will be doing it. The below is a great framework for the how.

Calm. Kind. Confident. Patient. Honest. Humble. Grateful. Thoughtful. Risk-taking. Reflective. Resilient. Generous. Inclusive.

Enjoy.

If – By Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

 But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

 Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

 And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man (Woman/Person) , my son (Daughter/Child)*!

* My Additions

If you have a favorite poem please share. Have a great day.