Monday, April 28, 2014

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ~ Thomas A. Edison

I had two interesting conversations this past week with two different people.  Both of them are hard workers, have a strong work ethic and a strong belief in the importance of family.  Both of them have two different experiences, come from two different backgrounds and two different countries.  Both, however, set personal goals for themselves and had the discipline to follow through with them. Who they are is not as important as to the fact that they made choices in their lives to control where they are today.

I find it interesting to note that there is one thing we have been well taught and followed in both school and at home.  From a young age, we are taught to go to school and get good grades.  Getting good grades will lead to getting into a good college.  We see this reflected by the acceleration in the subjects taught in the schools at a younger age, and, through our college visits, the levels that some of the schools have risen to in the past 30 years.  Doing well in college will then translate into getting a good job, which leads to making a good income.  Once we have a good income, we can afford…OK, you get the point?  Basically, we teach and we learn that by following the path laid out above, we will get the things we want.  Only problem is that we are not taught about the hard work, discipline and personal finances that we will need to truly move through life. 

In olden times, let us say about 150 years ago, the village that some of our ancestors came from, every male had an important role in the community.  The women’s role was important, too, as they maintained the household, raised the family and generally kept the family together.  The men, however, provided not only for the family, but also for the community.  In a small village, since there was no industry, each male had to be some sort of entrepreneur and help with the village’s commerce.  You had the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the tailor, the cobbler, etc.  There was no formal schooling, as you learned through apprenticeship.  This meant that everyone worked for himself and had to have the discipline to manage his own time and efforts to survive.  When I go to work in the morning, someone else has already decided / dictated the structure of my day.

In my two conversations from the past week, one person is a business owner and the other provides for his family in another country.  Both people have to wake up each day, plan the day and follow through without the “help” of someone guiding them.  I have had the opportunity to be a business owner, but at the end of the day, for the companies that I did business with, I acted more like one of their employees.  I did not have the discipline to build my business and think like a business owner.  While many of us travel “for work”, we do not travel to “find work”.  While the two stories are not necessarily unique, I applaud both of these people and all the people that have struck out on their own and intentionally created their own path.  Their abilities to “get and go” are what have enabled them to be successful in their endeavors.

Monday, April 21, 2014

From One Generation to the Next

“A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” ~ Ecclesiastes 1:4

As we all wrap up our respective holidays (Passover and Easter), the one thing that the holidays have in common is family.  This is a time to put aside differences and get together to celebrate with our families (including extended family), as a family.  As time passes and we age, we see ourselves going from the younger category to the middle category and eventually to the older category.  For each generation, it is important to spend time with our elders, because their life experiences will one day become one with the universe, never to be tapped into again.

I remember sitting with my grandfather, may he rest in peace, and listening to him tell the stories about living in Europe (he grew up in the town of Skalat), coming to America, providing for his mother and sisters and eventually his family.  Every so often, he would say that he should write a book about how the streets in the US were paved with gold, because compared to his early life, life in America gave him the chance to have a lifestyle beyond his imagination.  I remember talking to my wife early in our marriage about sitting with Grandpa and videotaping his stories so that we would have them as a legacy to pass on to our children.  Unfortunately, I procrastinated and lost my grandfather in 1997, a few months after the birth of Rebecca.  It became my responsibility at that point to pass on the stories that I had valued and listened to over and over to my children and one day, G-d willing, my grandchildren.

I know that many times we look at our older / aged folks as nothing more than what we see with our eyes and forget that they too had amazing lives and stories to share.  It is hard when you are young to realize that the wealth of knowledge of a single human being is not captured in a cloud somewhere or communicated through some fashion of social media.  If we all kept personal journals, our experiences would be available for future generations to sift through.  Alternatively, if we all sat down and wrote out an autobiography, the same would occur.  But, alas, this is not so.  I would propose an experiment – have our young sit with the elders and have the elders of the group share something from when they were young.  Then have one of the youngsters tell what they want to achieve by the time they are the elder person’s age.  Except for the skin that they wear, they might find out that they have some things in common.  Help build the bridge between the generations.   Maybe then, some of our family stories will survive from one generation to the next.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Has Sprung!

To say that we have had a long winter here in the North East would be an understatement.  This is the first time in my memory where it is hard to believe that there will not be one more cold blast coming through.  It has been that kind of year.  In fact, it amazes me that the term “artic vortex” needed to be created to help explain the excess coldness.  As we were busy cleaning the house this weekend and preparing for the upcoming holiday, we realized that spring has definitely sprung!

The springtime holiday season offers plenty of symbolisms of hope and renewal.  In the northern hemisphere, the world around us seems to reflect this feeling.  We have a tree on the front corner of our house that blooms for a short period once a year.  I noticed today that the buds were ready to open.  Once the tree blooms, it is a thing of beauty, but in a few days, the flowers are gone, not to return until the next year.  We notice that things around town come to life, almost as if everyone is waking up from their hibernation.  

Maybe, this time of the year, the spring-cleaning, should not be only about cleaning out the house.  Look, in January, we set our goals for the year.  Many of those, a mere 4 months later, have been discarded or forgotten.  Some of the goals we have put aside because we have some “things to work through” before we tackle our goals.  Now would be an appropriate time to do some mental and spiritual “clean up.”  It is always hardest to look objectively at our own lives and identify the items we need to let go.  Actually, better said, we know the things we should be addressing, but often do not want to face up to them, as we are afraid of what that might mean to us.  We have had them around for a long time, like a favorite tee shirt that is disintegrating or a favorite pair of holey sneakers that we keep using the excuse that they are good to wear while painting (even though we have not painted in years). 

I have begun to throw out some items; it is a start, because there are many others that need to follow.  When I threw out the first few, it felt great.  Whatever reasons / fears I had to keep them disappeared quickly and left me with a sense of (minor) accomplishment and the realization that I created space.  Enjoy this time of year, this time of “awakening.”  It comes once a year and it is important that we take physical, mental and spiritual advantage of spring.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Do You Believe?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Darren Hardy, the publisher of Success magazine, in his publisher’s letter opens up with “We are all excellent storytellers.  We have a story for everything.”  The point is we have either a story to tell about our lives that we come to believe or a story from someone else that we have bought into and adopted as our own.  When you think about it, we all know people in our lives that have the talent, the skill, the ambition, but lack the all-important confidence in themselves to succeed at what they have the ability to strive for.

Phyllis Diller, in an interview late in her life, admitted that the most influential book to her was Claude M. Bristol’s “The Magic of Believing.”  As a former housewife, Diller bought into the story that women were meant to stay at home, raise the children, etc.  She did not have the confidence to do more than what others expected of her, regardless of her own desires.  After reading Bristol’s book, she began to believe in herself and the magic in her life began as she became a pioneer comedienne and, in turn, influenced many comediennes afterwards.  Once she believed in herself, she was able to achieve what she wanted.

As parents, we do all that we can to nurture our children and provide an atmosphere so that they can develop their abilities and pursue the things that truly interest them.  Within the home, as parents, we can create the “safe” environment for our children to explore possibilities.  Once they step out of the house, the great big world becomes theirs to explore.  This is no different from when we left the “nest” to venture forth.  Some of the people that you meet along the way help foster a positive world to grow in, others, a little less positive.  The experience, or stories, of other people come into play.  “I’ve tried that, and it is no good.” “What do you think you are doing?”  Out of context, these can be potential helpful or hurtful advice in building or breaking down one’s confidence.  

At the end of the day, we have to build the stories that suit us.  Once we determine what it is in life we want, we have to take stock in our abilities and be honest in our own evaluations on what it will take to succeed.  Then, we have to believe we can achieve it.  After we set our focus, plan out the steps to move forward, we can then answer the question posed by Darren Hardy in his article, “What stories have you bought?”