Happy Celebration!

“In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.” ~ Marianne Williamson

My life has included many different cities and states and each move has taught me a little bit more about the importance of community and why we should try and build it wherever we are.

In some ways, the actual definition of the word community is a bit contrary to modern-day realities. Depending on your situation, it can be challenging to find a group of people with whom you share common interests, attitudes and goals or have a common characteristic.

As the world becomes both more divided and diverse, we have to find ways to look past the obvious and seek to find the commonalities. While we come from different ethnic origins, have varying political beliefs and refer to God by the name associated with our religious beliefs. At our core, we have more in common than we don’t. I believe that finding this common ground is key to all of us coming together in a way that allows us to have different points of view and to share them with the intention of both teaching and listening.

I thought I understood this, but my neighbor’s daughters have unknowingly taught me many lessons in this area.

My neighbor’s homeland is Saudi Arabia and they have lived in the U.S. for I’m guessing about six years, Texas before Syracuse. Yesterday, during our sidewalk chalk art afternoon, I learned that three of the four kids were born in Saudi, the oldest daughter was born in Pakistan.

What I learned was amazingly simple. Kids are kids, no matter where they were born or raised. They have favorite subjects in school, and there are subjects that they dread. Siblings fight, but they also love each other fiercely. Kids pull pranks on each other and do their best to get out of doing chores.

It got me to thinking if kids are kids no matter what – doesn’t that mean that people are just people? At least when you strip away all of the baggage, we seem to accumulate as we grow up.

My neighbors recently confirmed this notion through a recent act of kindness and generosity.

They are celebrating Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest festivals in the Islamic faith. This year it begins on 7/30 and ends on 8/3.

Friday afternoon, the girls (my sidewalk art buddies) rang my doorbell and offered a basket of sweets for me to choose some from. The oldest girl said, “We are celebrating a holy holiday and want to say thank you.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Happy Celebration!”

A bit later in the evening, my doorbell rang again, and this time, it was all of the girls in the family, including the mother.

She offered me something tucked between two paper plates, and said, “I am sorry you weren’t able to come and share doughnuts with us earlier, but we wanted to bring you one.”

I explained that I had been working and would have loved to be there with them to share, and of course, I accepted it graciously.

I asked her the name of the celebration, she responded, “Eid al-Adha” and was kind enough to spell it for me so I could look it up later.

I asked her about the celebration, and she explained the history. I will need to do more research to share it, but, the crux of it is, that kindness is everything, something that is common to all religions.

At the heart of the celebration is to recognize and acknowledge sacrifices and to share with others. Sharing gifts of food is one of the traditions.

It was a simple but meaningful conversation.

My last question to her was, “What is the proper way for me to thank you and show my honor for your holiday.”

She simply said, “You told my girls, Happy Celebration, you did it just right.”

Community is all around us, sometimes you just have to work a little harder to find and build it. It’s incredibly rewarding when it happens.

Being Mugged at Gunpoint, not an Everyday Experience…

Philadelphia Magic Garden outside wall

In May of 2019, I visited my youngest son and one of my best friends in what has become one of my favorite cities, Philadelphia.

Friday night we had a grand reunion gathering with many friends I had grown to love during my time in Pennsylvania. Good food, lots of laughter, and reminiscing. They all enjoyed meeting my son.

On Saturday the two of us drove to Bethlehem, PA to spend time with his girlfriend. We had a very enjoyable day. It was filled with a wonderful Greek food festival, followed by a horrible wine tasting event and ear screeching music – the stuff memories are made of – lol.

When we returned to Philly, we called my friend and arranged to meet behind his condo so I could buy him at least one glass of wine to thank him for his generosity over the weekend.

Unfortunately, things went south pretty quickly.

The three of us were walking nonchalantly down the cobblestone path that connects my friend’s condo residence with the wine bar we were walking toward. We were laughing and talking about the events of the day and looking forward to catching up further over a glass of wine.

Out of the blue, three men stepped out of the shadows and pulled a gun on us. We all froze in unexpected surprise and bewilderment.

The guy that was in charge demanded that we get down on our knees, we did. Before that, they frisked us all and pulled out my friend’s wallet as well as my son’s and ripped the backpack off of his shoulders.

In the end, they stole all of our phones, $200 in cash from my friend – also his car keys, driver’s license, and credit cards, as well as my son’s ID.

After kneeling against a stair stoop with a gun held to my head (Words I never imagined myself saying), we waited for them to leave and in a harried moment, I convinced a woman to let us use her phone to call the police.

She looked scared at first, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that we were for real. The police showed up in seconds. This was far from the first time they’ve had a similar incident. I’m just going to say that going to Police Headquarters to make a statement is far from a pleasant experience, in oh so many ways.

The material losses were small ones in the grand scheme of things. We all made it through the ordeal safely, and while more than a bit rattled, it could have been so much worse. It’s simply one of those things that you never expect will happen to you.

I’ve honestly had a really hard time letting go of the experience. I still find myself jumping at unexpected noises.

Perhaps this will change over time.

Words are how I process.

 

 

Building Community During COVID19

My move to Update NY has been a tough one for a variety of reasons, one of them being, it’s been challenging to build community and make friends. Something I’ve prided myself on finally learning how to do when moving someplace new.

I intentionally moved into a townhouse community over an apartment because I hoped that because we would all be living side by side with mini-yards and driveways, it would be easier to form connections than in an apartment building. Turns out I was wrong.

December was not the optimal month to move to one of the snowiest cities in the U.S. and expect to make friends. My new job and moving in kept me more than busy during the first several months after arriving here. Finally, summer came, and the pool opened. I thought, here is my chance to meet some people to invite for brunch.

Wow, what a rude awakening I experienced.

After several conversations with a couple (in my age range), I said to the wife, “I really like to build community when I move somewhere new, and brunch is always a fun meal to share. Would you and your husband like to join me some Sunday?”

She looked me straight in the eye and responded, “No, we have enough friends.”

End of conversation.

It’s a good thing I’m persistent because I’ve met some wonderful friends as an extension of meeting a gal while volunteering at a local state park. The friendship has grown, and I’m now part of a group that I refer to as the “Bunco girls.” We meet once a month and play bunco, which is a perfect game for me. The rules are easy to understand, and it’s mostly about catching up with each other, laughter, wine and snacks.

My network has continued to slowly expand within the city, but I still had not managed to make any connections where I live. I was on the verge of hosting brunch for my new next-door neighbors, and then COVID hit, needless to say, they haven’t been over for brunch.

Finally, the sun came out, the skies turned from grey to blue, and the temperatures invited people to spend time outside. A welcome change that also led to an unexpected event.

Saturday, I had the first neighborhood/community experience that I’ve had since moving to Syracuse.

I spotted a little turtle crawling out of the natural grass in the middle of the common area behind my townhouse.

Naturally, I quickly pulled out my phone to try and capture the moment.

Lazurus the turtle

Before I knew it, Gavin (10) and Kenna (5) were beside me watching the little guy’s movements.

They live two doors down from me.

I didn’t know for sure if the turtle was a male, so I asked Gavin how we could figure that out. He said, “Well, we’d have to pick it up and look underneath. But I’m pretty sure it’s a boy.” I nearly fell over laughing.

After we watched the little turtle crawl back into the grassy space that he emerged from, we went and shared the experience with their mom. We all agreed that the turtle needs a name.

I told them about the turtle that hangs out on my mom’s patio – he always looks like he is about dead, disappears, and then he comes back. She’s named him Lazarus, which is very fitting. They all got a kick out of it.

The kids are going to come up with a name for the turtle and let me know what it is. We will have some fun watching it throughout the summer.

Sunday was even more special.

It got off to a bit of a rough start, but in the end, it was a beautiful day. Not only was the weather picture-perfect, but we also had a fun family zoom call, and I finally had the opportunity to visit with my next-door neighbors – Ben and Jen.

The best part of the day, though, was creating some artwork on my driveway with sidewalk chalk.

After drawing in a few leaves, I realized that I had drawn an enormous tree and was starting to wonder how in the world I would ever finish it. Just then, my neighbor’s wife came out – followed by her youngest daughter.

We chatted a bit, and I asked Amira if she wanted to help me finish the tree. She shyly nodded yes, and then skipped over to my driveway.

I picked out three colors of green chalk and handed them to her, showed her how to draw a leaf, and then we went to work in companionable silence.

Tree Driveway Art Close Up

I was explaining the need to create some grass at the bottom of the tree to anchor the tree. I said, “We can’t leave the roots hanging out all alone, they need someplace to live.”

She nodded with understanding.

We finished the grass and were just getting ready to start the wildflowers when her older sister joined us. I said, “Pick out colors that you want to use for flowers, and I’ll show you how we’ll make them.”

They both listened intently as I demonstrated my technique. The three of us did a fantastic job.

Tree Driveway Art Flowers.2

Afterward, we stood back and admired our beautiful work of art.

Tree_Driveway Art

A bit later, as I was finishing my domestic chores, the doorbell rang, and on my step stood four neighborhood kids, including the two sisters from next door.

With sweet politeness, they asked, “We were wondering if we could use your sidewalk chalk to draw.”

I responded, “Of course you can, thank you so much for asking so nicely.”

The older sister, with some hesitation, asked, “How much may we use?”

I said, “You may use all three boxes. All I ask is that you put the chalk back in the boxes and back in front of my door. Have fun and create beautiful art!”

The boxes of chalk were indeed returned to my front door, and the neighborhood is blessed with new sidewalk chalk art.

Sidewalk Chalk Art.kids

It turns out it’s possible to connect with neighbors, even during a pandemic. It just takes patience, and in some cases, a bit of sidewalk chalk.

I thought I understood…but I didn’t

The climate in the U.S. is in such an unbelievable state of turmoil, hatred and discord. Racial tensions are higher than ever, and I remember watching riots in the ’60s on the news. I didn’t think it could get worse than that.

I’ve always considered myself to be an inclusive person, someone who understood and empathized with people in situations and from backgrounds different than mine. I was blessed to be raised by parents who strive to understand the world outside of their own.

My first introduction to real-life violence and injustice was shortly after graduating from college. It involved a heart-breaking visit to the hospital, a friend of mine had been beaten within an inch of his life simply because he was gay.

I thought I understood. But now, I’m reasonably sure I didn’t.

One of the very odd things that has happened as a part of my move to Syracuse, NY – one of the least diverse places I’ve ever lived, is that I’ve become very close friends with a wonderful young black man.

He’s become not only a valued colleague at work, he’s also become one of my best friends.

Recent events have, rightfully so, ignited anger within him.

Throughout our friendship, he’s shared stories with me. Like the time he was pulled over by the police in his parent’s neighborhood while driving their car. The assumption was, he had stolen it.

So wrong.

We can’t put ourselves in another person’s shoes if we haven’t lived their reality. But, we can speak out about injustice and stand up for what’s right.

At Last, a Break from the Clouds and Monotony

It’s April 26, 2020, and today marks the 38th day of self-isolation and the shut-down of nonessential businesses in New York State. I was shocked when I did the math and realized that millions of Americans have been at home for just over 10% of the current year, no wonder we’re going a bit stir crazy.

I was forewarned before moving to Upstate, NY, about the overcast nature of the weather. Although I thought I was mentally prepared for it, the reality is that the cloudy, rainy, dreary days far outnumber the sunny ones. This year has been compounded by the need to stay at home, below-average temperatures, and snowfall as recently as a few days ago.

Yesterday there was finally a break in the weather pattern, and it was a gloriously sunny and mild day. I met up with my friend Rodney, and we went for what I thought was going to be a leisurely stroll around one of the state parks. It turned out to be so much better than that.

Green Lakes is a magnificent park. Even the entrance is strikingly scenic, with its evergreen lined paths to the hiking trails.

Evergreen lined entrance_Green Lakes

The paved path leading into the park met my initial expectation about the nature of the walk, it was a bit hillier than I imagined but still reasonably easy.

As we reached the top of the hill and the first glimpse of the interior of the park and the area my friend wanted to give me a walking tour of, my impressions began to change a little. Instead of a paved path, the first walking path he showed me was covered in a blanket of emerald green grass.

Grassy Path at Green Lakes

The path was flanked by Reed grass (I think that’s what it is) and trees that are still waiting for weather warm enough to coax them into spring.

We didn’t take this path, but seeing it did alter my expectations a bit – the trails wouldn’t be paved, but I anticipated the walk would be a little more challenging, but very manageable.

Fast forward through the rest of our six-mile ‘walk.’ There were steep hills and gentle inclines, smooth grassy paths, and dirt paths spotted with tree roots emerging through the earth as well as a few rocks scattered here and there.

Our final descent involved a steep hill with a very narrow dirt path that contained more than one spot peppered with small loose rocks. Steep Trail at Green Lakes

We stood at the top of the hill, and Rodney said, “Beth, I’m so sorry! I forgot about this hill.”

I responded, “It’s ok, I’m up for the challenge – let’s do it!”

Rodney and Mo (short for Geronimo), his trusted Chocolate Lab, were sure-footed as they began the downward climb. As for me, not so much – I was hesitant at best, but determined to make it.

I could tell I was making Rodney nervous, and he was concerned for my safety because he kept stopping, turning around, and coaching me. “Place your feet a little wider apart on this next part of the trail, oh, and walk to the left. It’s wider, and there are fewer loose rocks.” Through his coaching and a virtual helping hand, I made it safely to the bottom of the hill.

All I can say is I felt accomplished after doing so!

It was a far different walk from my usual stroll around the flat and uninteresting streets of my neighborhood. Instead of listening to my book, I listened to nature and engaged in conversations filled with good-natured banter.

It was also nice to see people outside of the grocery store, albeit in masks and from at least six feet away. It somehow still felt a bit more normal than the past few weeks have seemed.

The walk, or the hike, was life-affirming and a reminder that as we go through our days on this earth, we will experience both easy and challenging times. But when it’s all said and done, if we face those challenging times head-on and accept help along the way, life is truly joyous and rewarding.

The little lake at Green Lakes

Rooftop Parking at the Airport – Here’s to being prepared!

Well, I can’t say that I’d intentionally plan my travel experiences over Thanksgiving, but as always, one can turn it into a good story.

My flights were actually on time, other than a really long layover in Chicago, the flying part was uneventful.

Fast forward to the rooftop of the Syracuse airport parking garage, and things took a not unexpected turn for the worse. While I was in St. Louis, many, many inches of snow fell.

My poor little car was not entirely buried in snow, but let’s just say that the snow came up to my knees and it wasn’t all that easy to get my suitcase in the car or to retrieve my snow brush/scraper.

As I examined my situation, it became clear that a shovel was needed. As it just so happened, I had one in my trunk.

Almost a year ago to the day, in preparation for my move, I equipped my car with a winter emergency kit. A compact shovel was one of the long shots, I had no idea if it would hold up to the task if the situation arose.

Tonight it came in more than handy.

I opened my trunk and at the same time, noticed a young couple a few spots down the lot – their car wasn’t going anywhere.

He got out of the car and started pacing. I shouted, “Do you need a shovel? I have one.”

He walked over and looked at me. “You have a shovel?”

“I do, it’s never been used. It might be horrible, but here it is.”

He took the plastic shrink wrap off and unfolded the handle and locked it into place.

“This is sweet! I’m in the army, and right now, you’re more prepared than me. But then again, it’s hard for a newbie to know what to expect in Syracuse.”

He shoveled out his car while I brushed the snow off of mine. Then he shoveled out my car.

Snowtop roof parking

There was another man across from us who was going through the same struggles, at first he turned down my offer to use the little but apparently sturdy shovel. I’m not sure why he thought it would be better to continue trying to scoop the snow with his hands instead of using my shovel.

In the end, he asked if he could use it, of course, I handed it to him. He then stood near my car to make sure I could get out ok.

Two life lessons were validated that night. There really are good people in the world, and it’s a good idea to be prepared.

I will Uber for my Christmas travels.

We’ve Reached a Fork in the Road, or have we?

My parents and I were talking tonight about things related to business dealings, politics and life in general.

The phrase, “we’ve reached a fork in the road” came up, it was followed by “it’s time to make a decision.” This doesn’t just imply it’s time to make a choice, it explicitly states there is only one next step. There is one way or another, nothing in between. I honestly don’t think that’s what either person means. But, it’s how it can be and probably is most often interpreted.

As we were talking, I had two images flash through my brain. One was of an actual fork – one we use to eat with. The other was of a fork in a road. The difference between them struck me immediately. I know this is strange, but it’s how my brain works.

As we picture a fork in the road – there are only two choices, you go left, or you go right. Those are the only options. Perhaps we limit ourselves.

Oddly enough, the fork we use in everyday life, as a utensil to consume food, has three prongs. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to pick up a piece of meat or a potato wedge with a physical fork that only had two prongs? Especially if they were pointing in opposite directions…

It made me think – perhaps, the third prong, the middle road so to speak, represents the opportunity for a “win, win” approach to life.

We seem to be faced with so many it has to be ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ choices these days.

Perhaps it’s time we started to look at the “fork in the road” in a new way and find common ground. It’s time to carve a new path – it’s in between the “fork in the road.”

Dear Betty Boop, Embrace What Life Offers in the Moment…

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” ~ Buddha Siddhartha Guatama Shakyamuni

I’ve heard the quote many times before but never knew who to credit – after much Googling, I’m still not sure if I have the right source, so we’ll call it good enough.
Regardless of whether or not I got the credit for the quote correct (which I hope I did), it’s a true statement and one that I’ve personally experienced, or maybe finally recognized, over the last decade.

It started with my first drawing class in Yardley, Pa.

When I say that I was nearly hyperventilating and on the verge of abandoning the class for the refuge of my car, I’m not exaggerating. The only thing that moved me forward was another student who caught up to me and cheerily said, “You must be here for the drawing class, I can’t wait! Let’s head in together.”

Gulp! This left me with little choice but to face my fears and perch myself on a stool in front of an intimidating blank canvas amongst people who knew each other but were strangers to me.

The subject for the first lesson was a sunflower, a large one from my perspective. I sat on my stool, overwhelmed, and a bit paralyzed. The sunflower we were supposed to draw looked impossibly intricate.

It didn’t help matters that the women around me already had petals flying out of their pencils onto the paper, and I was so hung up on how to draw a perfect circle that I couldn’t move on.

Anne, the instructor, walked up behind me, put her hand on the small of my back, and said, “Breathe, Beth, you’re in the right place. I know you are.”

As it turns out, I was. It took me weeks – but I eventually finished the sunflower.

029 final sunflower_white shading
I took several classes with Anne through the Artists of Yardley. In all that time I finished every drawing we started, but only one during the class. It was a pine cone, and the medium is charcoal.

pine cone_04_19_12
While I lived in Pennsylvania, I also had the privilege and opportunity to take drawing lessons from an accomplished artist at the Princeton Arts Council. I lived just across the river from New Jersey, so it was more than convenient.

I still remember the Thanksgiving in St. Louis when I decided to sign up for one of Konstantin’s classes. The class cost more than any class I had attended to date, which was part of what caused me to take pause. The more significant hesitation had to do with his profile. There was no doubt in my mind that he was a no-nonsense professional artist. I bit the bullet and hit submit.

He didn’t disappoint, he exceeded my expectations and made me think about art ways that had never occurred to me. I’ll always remember my first class with him.

He asked the class, “What is one of the most important things to know as an artist, as you sit down to create? Here’s a clue, if you took piano lessons and you had a good teacher, you learned this early on.”

There was silence as the students looked at each other and tried to come up with the right answer.

Unsure, but uncomfortable by the silence, I raised my hand and offered with some hesitation, “Proper fingering to form a chord or to play a scale?”

His somewhat clipped and heavily accented response was, “Good guess, but no. They teach you how to position yourself in front of the instrument and place your fingers properly on the keys so you can easily move from note to note. It’s no different with art, and that’s where we’re going to start.”

That’s when I first learned how to properly set up an easel and align myself with the subject when working from something real, not imagined for inspiration. I was hooked on his teaching style from the beginning.

He taught me to draw while he taught others to paint. His focus was on helping me learn and understand the fundamental elements – and also to loosen up. His painting classes were always full, but the drawing classes, for whatever reason – not so much.

I hadn’t thought about it before now, but I realize now he went out of his way to offer me a venue in which to learn. It had to be tough to have patience with a student who is afraid to draw a circle and at the same time, coach a student with years of experience. He did so with aplomb.

I laugh with fondness when I recall him walking up behind me when I was clearly frozen in a state of perfectionism. He’d say to me, “Betty Boop, you’re creatively constipated again. Loosen up.”

He was a teacher one either loved or not. For whatever reason Betty Boop was and still is his nickname for me, I sort of love it!

Fast forward a few years, and two cross country moves that landed me inexplicably in Upstate NY, and enter stage left, my piano teacher. It wasn’t easy to find him, and when I moved here, I had every intention of continuing my exploration of visual art and had no plan to rediscover music.

As life often happens, things unfold differently than we imagine they will.

Having my piano tuned for the first time in over a decade triggered an unexpected flurry of Google searches for a piano teacher. I found one that was willing to teach an adult was within a reasonable driving distance and sounded like he had a fun approach to teaching. I’ve been taking lessons now for a little over seven months, and all I can say is “wow.” It’s been amazing and continues to be so – I’m now thinking about music in a whole different way.

I’ve kept in touch with Konstantin over the years, and on a whim, I sent him an email about a week ago.

Subject line: Greetings from Betty Boop

Hello Konstantin,

It’s been a very long time since I’ve touched base with you. Thought I’d send you a hello.

I hope all things are well in your world. Things are good, but a bit strange in my world – as per usual. 🙂

I may have mentioned that I moved to Syracuse, NY – it’s been quite a change in many, many ways. It’s hard to believe I’ve lived here for almost a year…

I won’t bore you with aspects of my professional life – let’s just leave it at, I made the right decision to move to Omaha and from there to NY. But this will most certainly not be my last move. I’m starting to feel like a nomad. LOL

Creatively speaking, my move here has caused a gap when it comes to writing and visual art. In Omaha, I was on fire with experimenting with visual art. In Pennsylvania, I was on fire with writing and exploring visual art.

Here, those two aspects have been lacking. However, I found the most fantastic piano teacher, and he’s helping me learn to play the piano in ways I never dreamed of. I doubt I ever shared this, but I took piano lessons from third grade through twelfth and for a few years again as an adult in the early 2000’s. Before I started my crazy cross-country moving trek. I was actually reasonably accomplished in classical music.

My current lessons are stretching me in so many ways, it’s almost impossible to describe – but it’s incredible.

I did participate in #inktober, so, in a small way, I have started to revisit visual art expression. My new place just doesn’t have a space that’s conducive to doing much more than small scale drawings – ink, pencil, and small canvases are currently my options.

Visual art teachers here are non-existent. I genuinely miss the Princeton Arts Council and the classes I was able to take there. In particular, I miss learning from you.

Anyhoo…

Just thought I’d say hidy ho and send greetings from Betty Boop to you.

A few nights later, I sent my piano teacher an email, I wanted to try and express how his teachings are changing my perspective about music.

Subject line: More than Music Lessons

Some thoughts are in my heart and mind that I wanted to share.

Until meeting you, I didn’t understand or appreciate the role of an accompanist.

I had no idea what to expect at my first lesson with you, but I knew I didn’t want to regroup on learning classical. It served me well, but for me, it was time to have fun with music.

You immediately seemed to get it.

Although, at first, to be honest, I sort of thought you were a bit bonkers for teaching me to play songs from music with a single note melody line- aka fake music. But, I quickly got it, loved it, and felt challenged.

Then, you started taking me on the path of learning how to chord on the piano in a way that would support a vocalist and/or other musicians.

I couldn’t stop thinking, I can’t do this.

But you challenge me, teach me and encourage me in a great way, and I am loving the progress I’ve made. It’s beginning to click.

You’ve turned music on its head for me. That’s a good thing.

Now, every time I listen to a song, I gain a new appreciation for the accompanist, who helps bring a song to life.

I also feel like I’m making good progress in my own way.

I came across this tonight and wanted to share it. (You’ve got a friend, link was inserted here – I’ll put it at the end of my post. 🙂 )

Carol King is one of my favorite artists, and in d for me, this brought home the music lessons I’m learning from you.

The most amazing and extraordinary thing happened, on the same day – they both responded.

There were many words of wisdom, support and encouragement in both replies. It truly made my heart smile.

I also laughed out loud at Konstantin’s quirky, humorous comment. For a bit of context, refer back to my message, in which I mentioned to him that my piano lessons are stretching me.

In true Konstatin humor, he replied, “please, be very careful with the stretching exercises (of the direct, not figurative variety), while keeping in mind the grave price Robert Schumann paid. After all, you do need your hands and fingers for drawing and painting, as well. No need to sacrifice yourself to one muse only! 🙂”

I had to Google what happened to Robert Shuman, suffice it to say, he damaged his hands in an attempt to stretch and strengthen his fingers – which of course, is something Konstantin would know!

I took comfort in both messages, which coincidentally – or not, sent two important lessons. Konstantin summed it up this way, “Take full advantage of whatever Life is offering you at THIS moment -lemons or piano lessons, and make full use of it.”

Mark, my piano teacher, offered this thought among many others, “So the journey is long but so FUN!”

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…

Embrace What Life Offers in the Moment…

As promised, here’s the link.
Carol King is one of my favorite artists, and for me, this brings home the music lessons I’m learning right now.

Lessons in Leadership

It’s odd, but true that one of my most profound learning experiences as a leader has also been one of my best-kept secrets. It’s an experience that caused me so much shame and embarrassment that I haven’t shared it with many people – in fact, I just recently shared it with my parents more than 20 years after it happened.

As a young supervisor, I entered my new role with unearned confidence after having been the President of the University Program Council at my college, coupled with many summers of managing lifeguards at a local country club and a short stint in retail.

Little did I know what the business world expected and would require from me.

I entered the “real” work world as the supervisor of a small call-center for a printing company. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous interviewing tactics of my then manager. They included describing the dimensions of block of wood, which was somehow supposed to relate to printing – I actually never understood the connection.

Anyway, fast forward to my role as the Customer Service Supervisor (yes I was hired).

I thought I was doing a fantastic job. After all, “everyone “loved me.”

Turns out, it was time for a significant course correction.

The company (ahead of its time) conducted an employee satisfaction survey, “guaranteed to be anonymous.” The survey included the opportunity to give direct feedback about your supervisor, and honesty was encouraged.

The survey was sent, the results were received and the feedback sessions were scheduled.

I’m reasonably sure my feedback session was the first. It was awful, no, let’s make that horrible. Not only was the feedback hard to hear – the setting was worse.

Imagine sitting in a conference room surrounded by your direct reports, the V.P. of HR (aka the daughter of the owner of the company, in this case) and your nemesis. In other words, I was sitting at a table with the people who had been asked to provide “anonymous” feedback about my performance as their supervisor.

It also included the woman who had been hired to be promoted into the position I wholeheartedly and mistakenly believed should have been mine. Could there be a more uncomfortable setting? I think not – it was beyond awkward for everyone.

Long story short, and I’ll get to the point. The feedback I received was painful to hear but honest and accurate.

The next morning, after a night of endless tears, I made myself get out of bed and go to work. Just as I got to my desk, the phone rang, the name and extension number on the display signaled it was John O’Brien, the president company. I froze, then shakily picked up the receiver and said, “This is Beth.”

He asked me to come to his office.

I was terrified of the outcome – sure I would be fired because I had received such a terrible review from the survey. But here’s how the conversation went.

“Beth, yesterday was a tough day for you. First and foremost, I want to apologize to you for how the feedback was delivered. That was not my intention, and unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job of setting up the right way to communicate the feedback. I own that, and you should have never received the feedback in a group setting, it should have been private.

Having said that, it happened. Tell me what you think about what was said and what you heard, separate from the way you received it.”

After a deep breath and through barely held back tears, I responded, “It was hard to hear, but it was accurate. I do try too hard to be liked instead of giving people honest feedback that might be difficult to hear but would help them grow. There were many things said that I need to improve on and change. The list is long.”

His reply as he handed me a tissue, “You have choices now, Beth. What are you going to do?”

“John, it’s embarrassing to admit, but what they said was right, and like I said, it was hard to hear, but it’s obvious I need to make some changes.  I’ll need help along the way, but I want to make this work.”

“You have great potential, I knew you’d make the right choice, and I’ll help you in every way I can. We both learned valuable lessons yesterday and today. Let’s put this  experience behind us, but learn from it.”

Looking back, the choice seemed rather obvious to me at the time, purely from an “I need to keep my job” perspective. But as it turns out, this was one of, if not the biggest and best lessons in leadership I have ever learned.

The lesson was painful but straightforward. People look to a leader to help them grow, not to be a friend. It’s essential to believe in people and to take a personal interest in their lives and in their success, but boundaries are important and necessary. Being a leader is important and bears responsibility. As a mother, I often-times liken it to parenthood.

We want the best for our kids, we are stewards of their lives – after all, we brought them into the world. While we didn’t bring the people we work with into the world, we spend more time with them than we do our own children when it’s all said and done. So, as leaders, and we all are in one way or another, we have the responsibility and the privilege to care for the people we interact with. Especially if we are in a leadership role.

The people we work with rely on us to show both honesty and compassion in our relationships with them. What they may or may not understand is that it’s not always easy. I’d never thought about it before, but I now realize that John O’Brien probably dreaded the conversation with me, maybe nearly as much as I dreaded facing him.

In the end, he owned his part in the debacle but didn’t let me lose sight of the leadership lesson I needed to learn. John O’Brien was someone who owned his mistakes, made the needs of his employees a priority and helped people develop. In other words, he was a servant leader long before it was a corporate buzz word.

While the experience was undoubtedly the most humiliating one of my professional career, it was also the most important one. Because of it, I learned what it means to be a leader and it changed the course of my career for the better.

Recently I attended a leadership workshop, which brought the experience full circle. It involved a “360 review.” This basically means questions are sent to your manager, peers and direct reports requesting feedback on your effectiveness as a leader.

I’ll leave it at this, John would be proud of the leader I’ve become.