Jan 182010

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today in the United States is a day to honor and remember the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  In his 39 years, he lived a short but powerful life.  By the age of 26, he had earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree, was married, had one child and was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  At age 28 he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, organizing black churches to conduct non-violent protests in the pursuit of civil rights reform.  He organized and led marches, boycotts, sit-ins and other non-violent protests petitioning for the right of African Americans and people of all races to participate equally in American society, including desegregation of schools and workplaces and obtaining the right to vote.  As a result of his protests, he was jailed, his life was constantly threatened and his telephone was tapped by the FBI.

Most famously, he was a key leader in the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” held August 28, 1963 and he was just 34 when he delivered his inspired “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Due in large part to his efforts the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by the U.S. Congress and still forms the foundation for legal protections against discrimination in the United States today.  By the age of 35, he became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.  He continued to campaign for equality and freedom and opposed the Vietnam War.  On April 3, 1968, he delivered an address entitled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” noting:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.

–Martin Luther King, Jr. “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” April 3, 1968

The following day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, leaving behind his wife and four children then aged 5 through 13.

He was a man unlike any other before or since.  I was not alive during the Civil Rights era and for me and many of my generation it is hard to imagine a time in the United States when blacks and people of other non-white races were treated so inhumanely.  It is also hard to imagine that someone so young could have such presence, eloquence and courage to achieve what must have seemed impossible to many.

As we are thinking about goals this month, we can draw tremendous inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr.  There is no bullet point list that captures his energy and spirit but  the following ideas are particularly striking.  I will use his words as my own fail in comparison:

“I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr., “Acceptance Speech at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony,” November 10, 1964 (click to listen at the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University)

“[R]ecognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.  That’s a new definition of greatness . . . . [E]verybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

–Martin Luther King Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” February 4, 1968 (click to listen at the website for The King Center)

Wishing you an inspired Monday!  A reminder that all commenters can receive a Ruly thank you note if you e-mail me your address at info@beruly.com

 Posted by on January 18, 2010 General Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 152010

The tragedy in Haiti weighs on my thoughts lately and I am shocked and saddened by almost every news report I am reading.  I have made a donation to the American Red Cross and understand that money is what is most needed at the moment.  I am proud of the efforts being make by the United States to aid in this tragedy and hope that with the intervention of the U.S. and other countries, the people of Haiti can be spared even more suffering.

Today’s post is about thinking through what is happening in Haiti and finding lessons to prepare ourselves in the event of natural disaster.

While I grew up in the mountainous state of Utah, which geologically should have a regular number of earthquakes, I only remember experiencing one very small earthquake in Utah.  It happened during a high school math test.  The desks began shifting back and forth just slightly.  “Should we get under our desks?” one student asked.  “No. Keep working,” came the reply from our lovable but challenging math teacher.  Sure enough, the quake ended in a few seconds and there was no damage to speak of.

It took an overseas trip to Greece to experience a “real” earthquake.  My sisters and I were on a heritage trip to Greece with our grandmother.  While we were staying in a hotel in the mountains of Delphi, a moderate earthquake occurred in the middle of the night.  We were awakened by the bed rigidly moving two feet forward and two feet back, and the rattling noises of doors, furniture and objects.  To say that it was terrifying is an understatement!  We ran to a doorway while the quake happened.  Fortunately there was no major damage and no one was injured.  Within our international tour group, however, there was panic and chaos.  “What should we do?” we all asked each other.  “I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m getting dressed!” called out a sassy grandmother from Texas.  And so at about 3 a.m. there we all were, packed and dressed standing out in the lobby of the hotel (except for the Japanese tourists, who later told us that they woke up when the quake hit, said, “Oh, it’s just an earthquake,” rolled over and went back to bed!).  Aftershocks rolled in, first every half hour or so.  Each aftershock brought on a major case of nerves and fear.  It is hard to describe how unsettling it feels to know that there is nowhere safe on the earth for you to go.  Inside is just as unsafe as outside.  Underground the same as above ground.  The only “safety” is being in the air above the earth’s surface.  We tried to stay calm as the water glasses rattled at breakfast and the ground beneath our feet vibrated.    Gradually, the aftershocks came less and less frequently and were lesser in intensity.   The day continued as normal for us and for most people in Greece as well.  I don’t know the magnitude of that earthquake.  If I had to guess, perhaps it was a 4 or maybe a 5.

The people of Haiti have just experienced a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, 100 to 1,000 times more powerful than what I have ever experienced.  The earthquake I experienced would be “just” an aftershock to them.  Buildings have collapsed, people are suffering grievous injuries and are trapped without water, food or shelter.  Many have no access to medical care and while rescuers are on the scene, there are sure to be many who will not be rescued for several days or perhaps a week.  These brave people must have the peace of mind to look out for their own survival even as they are coping with the grief of losing loved ones and wrestling with their own fears.

What would you do if you were a Haitian right now?  As I thought through this terrifying question, it pointed out a lot of weaknesses in my own emergency preparations.  For example, if your house collapses and you can’t access your emergency food or water stores, it is just the same as if you didn’t make any preparations at all.  While I have come up with theoretical possibilities to address this (spread the food stores in different places in your home, bury them outside in an underground emergency shelter, etc.) we have to realize that there are weaknesses in every plan and sometimes we will be alone and unprepared.

During the recent east coast snowstorm, I found that one of the best emergency preparations you can have is a network of people who live near you and care for your welfare and a communication method to stay in touch with them.  In a disaster of the magnitude Haiti is facing, no one can survive this completely on their own.  People will have to reach out to their neighbors, friends and strangers, share their talents and supplies and put group needs above individual ones.  This is all very difficult to say the least.

What would an expert survivalist do in Haiti?  I turn to my trusted guide, “The SAS Survival Handbook” by John “Lofty” Wiseman, which I received from my wonderful sister-in-law for Christmas and which I highly recommend that everyone purchase for their own emergency preparations.

Mr. Wiseman uses the acronym PLAN for the priority things you should do in a survival situation like the earthquake in Haiti:

P – Protection – “You must ensure you are protected from further danger. . . .   Ideally evacuate to an open area. . . . Do NOT shelter in damaged buildings or ruins.  Build a shelter from debris.”

L – Location – “[P]ut out emergency signals.  You must draw attention to your position.”   “Stay tuned to a local radio station for up-to-date reports and advice. . . Turn off gas, electricity and water if advised to do so.“

A – Acquisition – “While waiting to be rescued, look for water and food.”  “Don’t wait until you have run out of water before you look for it. . . . The average human  requires the minimum of [about 8.5 oz] of water per day to survive.”

N – Navigation – “Good navigation will keep you on route and will often avert a survival situation.  But if you find yourself stranded, always stay where you are.”

–Excerpts from “The SAS Survival Handbook” by John “Lofty” Wiseman

Some other tips:

Keep a positive attitude.  “When facing a disaster it is easy to let yourself go, to collapse and be consumed in self-pity. . . Only positive action can save you.”

Emphasize hygiene as much as you can. “Rupture of sewage systems, contamination of water and the hazards of the bodies trapped in the wreckage can all make the risk of disease as deadly as the earthquake itself. . . . Filter and boil all water. . . . Bury all corpses, animal and human.”

Maintain your own health. “You must become your own doctor and carefully monitor yourself at all times. . . . Do not take any unnecessary risks that could lead to injury.”

–Excerpts from “The SAS Survival Handbook” by John “Lofty” Wiseman

These sobering tips help to remind us that there isn’t a simple or quick formula for survival situations.  Survival requires agility, flexibility, creativity and even a little bit of luck.  We can improve our chances with some preparation but we need to be ready to abandon established plans and create new ones quickly too.

Haitians, we are praying for you!  This disaster requires not only attention now but in the future as well, long after it has disappeared from popular news coverage.  I am putting a note on my calendar now to check back in on Haiti in 6 months to see where things are and, if needed, consider making an additional donation at that time as well.

Be grateful today for clean water, food and shelter.  Have a wonderful weekend!

 Posted by on January 15, 2010 Ruly Survival Tagged with: , , , ,
Jan 132010

Today, I am pleased to introduce another new feature . . . the Ruly Ideal video series! The purpose of the Ruly Ideal videos is to celebrate people and businesses who exemplify aspects of human performance and achievement. Rather than me writing about these individuals, I want you to “meet” them for yourselves and let them tell you about their experience and insight in their own words.

Recently, I met Regina Bogomolova, Owner and Director of Classical Ballet of Fredericksburg, and was astounded by the energy she invests in her own dancing talent, in the ballet studio she and her husband founded and in the high school chemistry classes she teaches during the day. Her belief in herself, her dedication to promoting classical ballet education and professional training, and her willingness to take on tremendous challenges in spite of her extremely demanding schedule thoroughly impressed me.

So, enough writing….I will let Regina speak for herself:

Regina squeezed in time to shoot this video last fall, just days before putting on Classical Ballet of Fredericksburg’s performance of the Nutcracker. Regina, her husband Vadim (a graduate of the Kirov Ballet School) and the entire school put on an incredible show. Regina and Vadim danced a beautiful pas de deux and the young talents they are nurturing were impressive in their own right.

Regina just returned from Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest student ballet scholarship competition, where three of her students competed against some of the best talent in the United States. One of Regina’s students, Regan Shaw, placed in the “Top 12” of her division and was invited to participate in the NYC Intensives.

You can find out more about Regina and Classical Ballet of Fredericksburg at their website, balletfredericksburg.com. If you are in the Fredericksburg area, plan now to attend CBF’s performance of Giselle over Mother’s Day weekend, May 8-9. What a great treat for all the special women in your life! Winter classes have also just started and are open for enrollment, including Regina’s Saturday morning yoga stretch class which has challenged me greatly and attracts moms and even some men in addition to the ballerinas in attendance.

Alberta Theodore

Alberta Theodore

Special thanks to Alberta Theodore of The Midnight Convention who did the music and sound design for this video. Alberta is another of my super-talented sisters. You can listen to more of Alberta’s incredible music at her myspace page, myspace.com/themidnightconvention.

If you like this video, please comment and share it with others by spreading the link http://www.beruly.com/?p=599 or using the embed code on Ruly’s YouTube page. Any commenters get a Ruly thank you note if you email me your mailing address to info@beruly.com.

Hoping you feel inspired this Wednesday and in awe of what can be accomplished with a little (actually a LOT) of discipline and passion!

Jan 112010

This month’s Ruly Bookshelf choice is a vintage book: “Goal Analysis” by Robert F. Mager, copyright 1972.  When I was thinking about what book to choose on goal setting, I realized that goal setting is one of those timeless topics where having the latest technology doesn’t confer many advantages. So I wanted to see how it was done years ago and see if anything has changed.  (Please note, however, that there is a newer, 1997 revised edition of “Goal Analysis” as well.)

Buying used books is a delightful experience. They are usually not all that expensive and put you in contact with a variety of small business owners who hand pack and ship the books to you, often with a brief note of thanks. This personal touch to bookbuying is absent in most of today’s purchases. My copy of “Goal Analysis” came from Wonder Book which I found using the search engine at AbeBooks.

The focus of “Goal Analysis,” is how to take a vague conceptual goal (like “be more organized”) and translate it into actionable items. Mr. Mager proposes a 5-step process:

  1. Write down the goal.
  2. Write down the things you would want someone to say or do to cause you to agree that the person represents the goal.
  3. Sort and refine your list.
  4. Write a complete statement describing the performance(s) you want to see.
  5. Test what you have written with the question, “If someone performed all of the items on my list, would I agree that the person had achieved the goal?”

Two of the most important concepts I learned from this book were to ensure that goals are people-based and stated in positive terms.

“[T]hink of someone who already has achieved your goal, someone who represents your goal, and write down the things he says and the things he does that cause you to be willing to pin that goal label on him. . . . If you can not think of anyone who represents your goal, you have a problem. . . . If . . . you . . . can not think of someone who represents the state or condition described by the goal, you need to think of what a person might be like if he represented your goal. You are skating on thin ice, though, because when you think of hypothetical people, there is the danger that your expectations will be forever unattainable.”

Somehow we have really gotten away from this simple concept of basing goals on real people. When I set goals for myself, I often fall into the hypothetical person trap, as I think many people and employers do. We have to remind ourselves that the goal we are setting has to be capable of being achieved by someone. If no person ever fully achieves the goal, it is unmotivating. Wouldn’t you rather be in a position where you have a set of challenging goals that you ultimately achieve and then set new even more challenging goals for yourself rather than endlessly strive toward vague, ultimately unachievable goals?

Perhaps one of the reasons we tend to use hypothetical people in our goal setting is that when we think of actual people who have achieved the goal, we tend to remember their deficiencies as frequently as their achievements. For example, one might say, “Like Bob, but more ___.” or “Like Jane, but not ____.” Mr. Mager’s message seems to be to focus in on only the good aspects and say, “Like Bob and Jane.” Doing this would require an acceptance that each person is going to have something that is not perfect about them but that so long as the person is achieving the ultimate goal, the imperfections are OK.

Mr. Mager’s positivity extends to the goal writing itself.

“[A]pproach [goal writing] from the positive by writing down the performances you do want to see to convince you your goal is achieved, and this is the approach to take whenever you can. When you find yourself unable to make progress, however, you might aproach from the negative by writing down performances you don’t want to see. . . “

Mr. Mager gives several examples in the book of consulting work he did with various clients to get them to define what they meant by objectives such as “good tone of service” or “show concern for patient welfare.” Often, it was easier for the groups to remember and define the behaviors they didn’t want to see rather than the ones they did want to see. In my example of “be more organized,” for example, you might define it negatively as:

  • “Doesn’t forget important appointments.”
  • “Doesn’t spend a lot of time looking for things.”

Mr. Mager then coached his clients to turn those negative statements into positive statements. In the process, often his clients found that the initial goal statement was really referring to another concept entirely. So, for example, while the nurses were initially trying to “show concern for patient welfare,” ultimately they decided to “prevent patient embarrassment.”

Some other tips and good quotes from Mr. Mager:

“Check the goal to make sure it describes an outcome rather than a process . . . That is, make the statement say, “have a favorable attitude toward carbuncles,” rather than “learn to have a favorable attitude toward carbuncles.”

“[Y]ou may find goals that are administrative rather than instructional–goals that can only be achieved by an institution, not an individual. . . . For example, an item such as “reduce absenteeism” is not something a student or trainee can do anything about. It is an administrative goal. You may wish to change the item to “have no unexcused absences,” because that is characteristic of an individual.”

“If you know you can’t observe the performances that are the meaning of your goal, just try to refrain from judging people in terms of that goal. . . . [A]bove all, try to remember that it is a highly questionable practice to label someone as having achieved or not achieved a goal state when you don’t even know what you would take as evidence of achievement.”

When I think of Mr. Mager’s process and tips I am reminded of an episode of Oprah from a few years back where Oprah was taking questions from the audience. A woman stood up and said, “Oh, Oprah, I find you so inspiring and amazing.” “Thank you,” Oprah said, “Why?” The woman was taken aback and stammered something like, “Oh, for a lot of reasons. I just do.” Oprah then told the woman that she often receives compliments but that she would like to know the specific things she does that people think are amazing and wonderful. I also find Oprah amazing and wonderful but if you ask me to define why, the list seems so silly and doesn’t capture the full conception of who Oprah is: “Because she reinvigorated book reading in this country,” “Because she has a great sense of humor,” “Because she takes on challenging issues,” “Because she relates to people in a sincere and thought-provoking way.”

Mr. Mager would say that this list of “trivial” items is exactly what goal analysis is about. As people, we are not grand conceptions, we are specific, achievable goals.

The test of triviality is in the consequence of not achieving the performance. . . .[I]f there is a consequence then the performance is not trivial . . . .”

So, for example, if Oprah did not “take on challenging issues” would she still be Oprah? Probably not.

“Goal Analysis” is a quick read and is particularly relevant for anyone who manages or coaches people. In the last chapter, Mr. Mager provides a method for charting goal achievement, including a way to plot the performance of numerous people toward the achievement of common goals, which would be a highly useful tool for anyone conducting performance evaluations.

Have you ever had to define an undefinable goal? Are you currently subject to undefinable goals in your employment? How would you define why Oprah is so great? Please share in the comments. As a reminder, anyone posting a comment in January, can receive a Ruly thank you note by sending me your mailing address at info@beruly.com.

 Posted by on January 11, 2010 Ruly Bookshelf Tagged with: , , , ,
Jan 082010

I have a couple of loose ends to tie up from previous posts and will be using my Fridays this month to do that.

Back in November when we were chatting about food, the Ruly Challenge that month was to eat from the fridge and pantry stores and clean out the fridge. It took me longer than a month to get my fridge cleaned out but I wanted to show you the results.

Fridge Outside - Before

Fridge Inside - Before

The refrigerator in our house doubles as an information booth. We put up photos, invitations, reminders, etc. on the outside because we know it will get noticed. Unfortunately, we sometimes take this too far and the fridge gets buried in information.

Prior to the Ruly Challenge, the inside of our fridge was full of stuff. We frequently tossed things out that we didn’t use in time. When you opened the fridge, it was hard to find things that looked delicious and we ate out quite often.

The Ruly Challenge was a good experience for us as it forced us to pick through all the “stuff” in the fridge. Most of it we ate, some of it we tossed. We eliminated about 20 bottles of old salad dressings, soy sauce, etc. in the door of the fridge, rearranged the shelving to maximize space, gave it all a good cleaning (trying out the eco-friendly cleaning method of baking soda and water which worked great!) and the new result is working much better for us.

Fridge Outside – After
Fridge Inside – After

In fact, it is working so well that I am now convinced that given the option, we would purchase a smaller fridge to save energy and space. The bottom two shelves of our fridge are practically unused.

I created a new informal system within the fridge to help us keep things organized. I used many of the tips I posted here. The major changes were to put all the leftovers and items expiring soon at eye level so they are the first things we see when we open the fridge. On the freezer side, our previous eye-level food was ice cream. We don’t need any visual reminders to eat ice cream so we moved that down to the bottom, less accessible part of the fridge. Below is my fridge organization system (which reminds me a bit of a Richard Scarry illustration).

My Fridge Organization System

We have been living with this arrangement for a little over a month now and I am pleased to say that the fridge still looks about the same as when we took these pictures! Of course, it doesn’t look like this all the time. I recently unburied it again from all the great holiday cards I posted on there. Also, when my husband was putting away groceries recently, he rearranged much of the freezer to make the frozen food boxes fit (a frequent problem in side-by-side fridges). After some initial panic over the change to my work, I realized that things would get back to “normal” as soon as we ate the frozen foods and sure enough that is what happened. It took less than five minutes to get my system back once the frozen foods were gone.

Keeping the fridge food levels to a minimum is really the key to keeping the fridge looking like this. When you keep the food levels low and have an assigned section for each food category, you quickly see what is outgrowing its space that you need to address. For us, the “leftover” and “eat now” section is the one that is constantly getting out of hand. When we start getting Tupperware containers on the bread shelf in the fridge, I know it is time to stop cooking (or stop grocery shopping) and start eating what we already have.

When I was cooking over the holidays, it was also a lesson to me to just purchase the ingredients for the 2 or 3 special meals I was going to prepare. With the meals and leftovers, we could eat for several days or even a week. I didn’t need to stock up on frozen foods, meats, etc. at the same time. This is something that we have grown so accustomed to doing that it feels strange to check out with a lighter cart. In fact, when I was doing my grocery shopping, I overheard the following conversation:

“Look, honey, the beef is on sale! Should we stock up?”

“No, I am trying to use the stuff we already have in the deep freezer downstairs.”

“But it’s a really good buy!”

“No….well, OK, maybe just one.”

Sure enough, they added another roast to their cart. We have never had a deep freezer and don’t plan to get one. I have enough trouble staying on top of the things in the small freezer we currently have! Also, while some people insist a second freezer is a great way to lock in bargains and save money, I am not sure this is necessarily true. To reap the benefits of a deep freezer system, you would have to really know the cost of all the meals you prepare and know that you would definitely eat whatever it is that you are purchasing in bulk. You would also have to be saving at least as much money as it costs you to run the deep freezer in electricity costs. In our experience, there is always something on sale that we find appetizing every time we go to the grocery store. Also, I know that I get tired of eating the same things again and again and that I tend to forget about things that I purchased in the past. I have never felt that I was wasting money by not having a deep freezer.

Of course, in full disclosure (although what can be more “full disclosure” than displaying the contents of your refrigerator on the Internet for all to see!), I have little expertise as a cook and make complicated dishes with multiple ingredients probably once a decade. However, I have learned from the many good cooks in my family that often times a few good simple ingredients can be just as flavorful. My new fridge system works well for my style of cooking. There certainly could be many other options that work well in other situations.

It was a serendipitous choice to start my minimalist efforts with my fridge. The fridge has been a good teacher for several reasons. First, we don’t mourn the loss of items like wilted salad greens or old bottles of condiments. It is a relief and a joy to throw those out! Second, if you start getting too much in the fridge, you just start eating. There is no complicated process to list the items for sale, bag them up for Goodwill, etc. Learning what the minimum in food consumption is will be helpful to our waistlines in the long term as well. If we are not stocking up on it, we are less likely to impulse eat it.  The fridge challenge is one that you can start at any time. You may be surprised at what your refrigerator is waiting to teach you.

What are your fridge organization secrets? Please share in the comments. (As a reminder, anyone posting a comment this month can receive a Ruly thank you note if you send me your address at info@beruly.com). Thanks to all for the great comments on the last post as well as the great comments I am getting behind the scenes!

Have a great weekend!

 Posted by on January 8, 2010 General Tagged with: ,