Wednesday, January 14, 2009

December 2008: Inspiration Under $20

It is December. It is time for thoughts of Peace on Earth and, for our family, to celebrate Christmas. For some reason, it has always been a time for introspection. A year is about to end. Certainly, the media reminds us of this at every turn. A new year is looming. We evaluate ourselves and the circumstances of the current year and what the next may bring.

2008 has been a mix for me. Both my children got engaged Aram to Anoush Varjabedian and Armené to Michael Kapamajian. We had very lovely parties to celebrate these blessings and as precursors to the weddings both of which will be in 2009. Both couples are in love and looking brightly to the future which provides a great measure of joy and happiness to parents and grandparents alike.

Yet, 2008 has been a tough year. Times are tough. The economy is in the dumps. People are losing their jobs by the thousands. Wall Street is rife with mismanagement and worse. The government is providing funds to stabilize banks and for people with absurd mortgage terms and amounts to refinance. After considerable debate they have done the same for the automotive industry. Retail sales are down, chain stores are closing. Times are tough.

I have also lost my job. It was not so much due to the economy but more so to changing out the entire management team. Think of it as a new football coach arrived and brought his own assistants. The blue team was out and the red team was in. Bottom line, I am looking for my next challenge.

It is times like this when people need a little inspiration and motivation. It is certainly a time when I am seeking both inspiration and motivation. We need to see that things are not necessarily as dire as the headlines make them out to be. People need to feel good. I need to feel good. We all need inspiration.

At this time of year, Christians celebrate Christmas. In the pure religious sense, it is an inspirational time of year. Given that the commercial part of the season is suffering from high inventories and consumers with a lot less appetite to spend, the inspirational and spiritual parts of the holiday will probably play a larger role. It certainly does for me.

December 21 is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the longest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. Throughout history the cusp days of solstices and equinoxes have held special meaning for people. Religious beliefs were created around them and are embedded in our collective unconscious. So, it is a very good time to look at the mystical and the inspirational.

The definition of inspiration the way I am referring to it here is three fold (

1. divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation

2. the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions

3. the act of influencing or suggesting opinions
At this time of the year and for purposes of this letter, I am firmly talking about a melding of the first two definitions. I am talking about the divine and spiritual influence that moves the intellect and emotions through revelation towards a positive action.

Barnes & Noble: The idea for the topic of this e-letter came on December 9th. I was at the Barnes & Noble at Hawthorn mall. It was a Sunday morning around 11 am. I stopped there to peruse the ultra-deep discounts on the remainder table but also to take advantage of the Starbucks Café on the second floor where I could write my daily page.

There was a display table right near the Starbucks. The table had maybe a dozen different 3x5, 4x6, or 5x5 inch sized books. You know the kind of book, more novelty, special topic, or monograph than novel or serious non-fiction. The sign on the table simply read: Inspiration under $20. I stood there staring and smiling for a few moments before checking out the titles that qualified for this most amusing category. The were books like The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, As a Man Thinketh by James Allen, The Daily Book of Positive Quotes, and The Mayan Prophecies for 2012. I suppose these titles would have qualified as inspirational reading. Certainly, the books by Gibran and Allen are classics. After all, what kind of divine influence or moving of the intellect or emotions could one expect for under $20?

There was a most interesting choice on the table: The Art of the Handwritten Note by one Margaret Shepherd. I actually picked this book up and thumbed through it. I do write handwritten notes and keep a supply of blank note cards and personal stationary just for such. It turns out Ms. Shepherd is a noted calligrapher and author. I was not surprised to learn that she lives in Boston. I expected either Boston or San Francisco though I am not entirely sure why. Mostly she talks about the personal touch of the handwritten letter or note. She did not talk about the utility of personal stationary… 25% or less the cost of a pre-printed card and the chance to be able to really express yourself to the recipient. She even had tips on keeping straight margins and other important things. I was motivated to send Ms. Shepherd a handwritten note telling of the inspiration her book provided without me even buying it .

I would have bought the Mayan prophecy book if the forward had been written by Nostradamus!

Fortune Cookies: Maybe I am older and more sentimental in a maudlin, and apparently redundant, kind of way. But, I believe that the fortune cookie manufacturers are writing more profound and touching fortunes in their cookies.

Recently, I opened one that simply stated that “Wealth is a state of mind.” I put it in my wallet and recently threw it away, after having committed the six words to memory. I did not expect to get such a memorable message from a fortune cookie. This certainly was inspirational and as the meal cost a modest amount I had Inspiration Under $20.

Over the years I have saved several fortunes that were inspiring in a timely manner. I had them taped to an index card that I would review every once in awhile. I have not seen the index card for awhile. It should be no surprise that when I looked for it to include the fortunes in this letter… it was nowhere to be found or at least nowhere I looked.

I turned to the internet and found, as usual, a wealth of examples. There were sites where you could order fortune cookies with your own message or messages. There was one site where folks posted particularly meaningful, serendipitous, or inspirational fortunes. For example, an aspiring novelist had opened a fortune cookie that said "You are a lover of words. Someday you will write a book."

Speaking of books, lists at least two books on fortune cookies. The Fortune Cookie Book: A Little Food for Thought is only $4.95. This could have been on the Inspiration Under $20 table. It was not.

December 23: I just read two quotes from Walt Disney. The first was provided randomly by gmail and posted just above the inbox:

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.
This is especially meaningful and inspirational to me because I am one of the great procrastinators in the history of mankind. Or at least I have that potential. I can plan and plot with the best of them. But, the doing part is an entirely different story. It reminds me very much of my favorite quote that I have referred to at least once in these letters:

Knowing never equals doing.
This quote is almost as obscure as the person who said is not nearly as famous as Walt Disney. Mariah Smith, a weight loss expert and President of Prescriptions for Health and was quoted in a book entitled Thin for Life by Anne M. Fletcher. It had such an impact when I first read it, that I have made this quote my motto of sorts. It is a constant source of inspiration for me. Yet, it is not so much motto as it is more a statement of problem I have to constantly battle against. I know what the quote says and means but…

When I read the Disney quote, it triggered another question. Back in the 1980s, someone in a quality management lecture had said “It is always good to have at least one person on a project that knows what the hell they are doing.” The speaker attributed this quote to Walt Disney. I never got verification nor found a reference for this quote. So, as the random gmail quote had Walt Disney underlined, I clicked on the name and voila, I was led to the Walt Disney page of a quotations website (sorry I forgot to note the name of the site). The folks at Google are very clever. I looked for this very good quote to no avail. But, I did find this Disney one:

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.
December 30: Well, this second Disney quote certainly hit home and has certainly had an uplifting if not inspirational effect. It reminds me very much of what my friend Angel de la Puente told me back in 2006 when I was last in career transition. He basically said the same thing as the Disney quote above. He was right. Walt Disney was right. Others have provided the same advice:
1. When a door closes, another opens
2. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade
3. Look at the glass as half full
This is precisely the kind of inspiration that I need at this point. It would be easy, very easy, to let the economic news drag me down. It would be equally easy to let my own personal circumstances get me down. I cannot. I have to look forward and maintain a positive attitude and for the most part I am.

I am using this time between to better myself and to try to shore up what I think, maybe even know, are weaknesses in my abilities and capabilities. I am currently reading Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. The authors advocate the mastery of three core business process: The People Process, the Strategy Process, and the Operations Process. Leaders that excel at what they advocate are fully engaged, no doubt self-actualized in the finest sense, in their work. On page 29 of the book, Bossidy and Charan state:
This is not “inspiration” through exhortation or speechmaking. These leaders energize everyone by the example they set.
At the halftime of the 1928 game against Army, Knute Rockne gave the famous “Win one for the Gipper” speech. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish went out, came from behind, and beat Army. The inspirational speech was featured in the classic 1940 MGM film Knute Rockne – All American starring Pat O’Brien as Rockne and Ronald Reagan as George Gipp.

Bossidy and Charan are correct; it was not the inspirational speech by itself. It was all the hard work and preparation. It was Rockne’s mastery of the people, strategy, and operational processes of fielding a football team. The speech alone would have done no good if the team did not have the right personnel and drilled and prepared to play competitively in such a game.

There is a religious component to inspiration as well. People look to God and rely on the base of their faith. We find comfort, assurance, and inspiration in faith and spirituality.

Sticking with the theme of Inspiration Under $20, allow me to present another little bit of inspiration from a book I bought not from a bargain table at Barnes and Noble but from Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller. Edward R. Hamilton is a remainder and overstock catalog and on-line store ( based in Falls Village, CT. I am not exactly sure why I got this book. I am sure the title The Time is Now: 60 “Time Pieces” for Getting the Most out of Everyday had something to do with it. I probably thought it was about time management. The cost of the book? $4.95.

The author is Rabbi Daniel S. Wolk. I believe each of the 60 pieces were from sermons the good Rabbi gave during his thirty years at Congregation Emanu-El in Westchester County, NY. It was not so much about time management as it was inspirational. I really enjoyed reading the book. The book was neither too heavy nor deep. But Rabbi Wolk’s has a very easy style of writing and use of quotes from famous statesmen and thinkers in a way that made it profound and inspiring in a very understated laid back way. Here are some of the quotes that I wrote down from reading that book:
I am not upset by events but rather by the way I view them.
- Epictetus

I have learned that success is to be measured no so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome when trying succeed.
- Booker T. Washington

When I look back on these obstacles, I remember the story of an old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.
- Winston Churchill

If you are in danger of crashing into the rocks in a rough sea, pray to God. (Then with a wink,) but row vigorously away from the rocks.
- a friend of the Rabbi
I close with wishing you all a wonderful, healthy, happy, and prosperous 2009.

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