Holiday haters gonna hate

Thanksgiving is a week away and after that, the countdown to Christmas officially begins.

Christmas time is one of my favorite times of year.  There is something that feels magical about it.  No matter how hard I fight it, it still pulls me in. The reason, the cold cozy weather, the food, the family time, the charity, the giving, the Christmas movies on TV, the smell of fireplaces going in the cold crisp winter air, cinnamon, Christmas music, anticipation of snow, and eager excited children.

I also love Christmas because I am such a nostalgic person. I remember the excitement of the season year after year as a child.  And almost every year, the sights, sounds, & smells take me back to feeling that same magic.  My heart would flutter with excitement seeing all Christmas lights & decorations, like a kid in a candy store.  Eyes wide, heart excited.  I think it’s even more magical now that I have children of my own.  In a way, it lets me re-create the magic of my childhood for a 2nd time.  Priceless.

One thing I can do without, is all of the people who complain about “the stress” of Christmas and not feeling “into it”.  Family members, friends, co-workers, all have their complaints: stores are too busy, shopping

is too rushed, cooking is overwhelming, gift giving is stressful, in-laws are unpleasant, etc.  It’s become customary to say that we are “so busy with the holidays” anytime anybody asks you how you are doing, even if you aren’t busy.  I’m guilty of this often.  The gasps I would hear if I actually said I was enjoying the season and I didn’t feel an ounce of stress.  People would think I was nuts.

We are all entitled to our opinions and we are all allowed to vent and complain from time to time.  However, my message to those people who year after year complain about Christmas, is 6 simple words that have been spoken many times before… Life is what you make it.  Period.

I remember some years ago, it became a CHORE to shop for Christmas.  I was so stressed out about spending money that I didn’t have and picking out things that people would like, that I literally HATED Christmas.  Why?  Because I was unconscious, like a lemming, swept up in the frantic glittery frenzy.  I lost sight of what was really important about the season.  I let myself get hung up in expectation & what society (& myself included) was feeding me about what the season “should” be like.  Shopping, Shopping, Spending, Spending, Consuming, Consuming, Stressful.  Rushed. Expensive. Busy. Elaborate. Forced. Unpleasant.

It took me several years to step back from that way of thinking and say, okay what do I want to take away from & make out of this season?  What does it mean to ME?  What do I WANT it to mean to me?  What is really important? And lastly, but probably most important now, what do I want my children to appreciate most about this season?  The answers became clear.  Not gifts.  Not shopping.  Not consumerism. Not over indulgence. Not STRESS.

Just like all the other cliché sayings out there:  Perception is Reality.  Life is not what happens to you but how you react to what happens to you.  Yada Yada Yada. But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  If you ALLOW yourself to be swept up in the materialism of Christmas, what the media sells you, what those around you expect or impose on you, then of course you will feel out of control of it all and stressed out.

Although, I’m sure that when I get to the point of cooking huge meals for the family, my kids, their kids, etc. in the future, I will be singing a different tune.  But for right now, I’ve got sight of “it” and I hope it lasts.

If you’re one of the HATERS, the next time you say “I hate Christmas time”, think about why?  Examine your own internal thinking.  Do you hate the gift-giving/shopping?  Do you hate your own self-imposed expectations?  Perceived expectations of others?   Do you hate that you’ve bought into society or the media’s idea of it, instead of defining what it will mean to you & what you will take from it?  Does the season have any deeper meaning to you or is it just a required routine? Or do you just simply hate the colors red & green together? Hey, it could just be that simple. LOL!

I think it’s hard to really enjoy something without having a personal reason to celebrate it.  It’d be like celebrating Julia Robert’s birthday every year but having no idea why, just going with the flow.  Kinda pointless, eh?

Again, Life [Christmas, or insert noun here], is what you make it.

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Boards, Bridges, & Bucks

Today I had the pleasure of attending the Lunches with Leaders event for July put on by the Young Professionals of Albuquerque (YPA).  This lunch was held at Chama River Brewing Company on I-25.

This months “Leaders” were Executive Director, Steve Johnson, and Board Chair, John Nichols, from New Day Youth & Family Services, a non-profit helping homeless & troubled youth in Albuquerque.

If I had to use 2 words to describe the stories of these two men it would be:

Refreshingly honest.

What was most refreshing to me about Steve was that he was very humble about his rise to the top and his position at New Day.  He didn’t really care to have the fancy title of Executive Director.  In fact, I got the idea that it embarrassed him a little bit probably because it sounds like some big hotshot job title, reserved for someone who had lots of ambition and drive, someone who clawed their way to the top.  But this couldn’t be further from the truth for Steve.  He admitted right off the bat that he is not an ambitious person at all.  He confessed that he didn’t really pursue any of the high level jobs that he’s had, they just came knocking on his door.

Steve admitted that he never really had any grandiose vision for his life or how successful he wanted to be.  He described being more of a wanderer, wanting a job to feel like fun rather than work (don’t we all?).  He said he just sort of fell into his career path because it was aligned with his core values.  He admitted that on his job interview at All Faiths Receiving Home, he was blatantly honest.  He told them that he had 3 priorities in his life:  God, his family, & his job.  In that order, and that his job was never going to be more important to him than the other two.  They apparently appreciated his blunt honesty & they hired him.  He worked there for 22 years before moving on to his current position at New Day.  Steve concluded by stating that you must follow your heart, have integrity in what you do & say, be kind, & try to never burn bridges.

Next up was Board Chair, John Nichols, and he was just as refreshing & honest in his stories of experiences.  He started out by admitting that he was disappointed with many of the boards he had joined in the past where he experienced “the resume phenomenon”, where many people just join a board to perk up their resume but don’t want to actually get their hands dirty.  Luckily for New Day, John was different. He was determined to make changes when he was asked to head the Board at New Day.  Shortly after reaching out to his fellow Board members to ask them to get involved with the kids at New Day, 9 of the 12 Board members quit.  It was a blessing in disguise which allowed him to build a new Board from scratch.

Today, New Day has a Board of 6 highly motivated & involved members.  John takes pride in the fact that they actually get to pick & choose who they’d like to have on their Board.  Unlike a majority of Boards out there, they actually turn down many requests to join their board if they don’t think it’s a good match for their needs.

John also talked about “being the change”.  Yep, it reminded me of that Gandhi quote “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” (or something to that tune).  John said instead of finding excuses or complaining about a Board being dysfunctional, to get involved and make the needed changes to help it be a success.  He encouraged us to find a Board or an organization that we are passionate about and to get involved.  His enthusiasm was really amazing!

In his conclusion, John talked about money.  Something he probably knows well after working at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney for 19 years.  He said buying “stuff”, fancy cars, houses, clothes, gadgets, is just self-fulfilling & sort-of empty.   He said money never feels better to spend than when you can spend it to help someone else (I know there is a similar quote out there somewhere but I can’t think of it). And I completely agree.  Giving is such an addicting feeling.  It almost begins to feel selfish because it feels so good to put a smile on someones face, especially someone who really needs it.

John actually got choked up and fought back tears when he spoke about his experiences with the kids at New Day.  He said nothing makes him happier than being able to spend his money on taking the New Day kids on outings to Flamenco dance shows, Isotopes games, movies, or new experiences for them.

It was very inspiring seeing these two so passionate about their cause.  Their cause being “the lost” children of Albuquerque.  They may be lost but certainly not forgotten in the eyes & hearts of Steve & John at New Day.  These guys were very real, very honest, very passionate about what they do, but in a real & very relatable way.

I was moved & inspired by their commitment to our community and to our youth.  Lucky for me, the Junior League has selected New Day as one of its main monetary & volunteer focuses for the next few years, so I will get the chance to experience the power of these leaders & of New Day first hand.

I can’t wait.

I want to be a Supa Star

I went to my first Lunches with Leaders  function yesterday.  This is a local event in Albuquerque, New Mexico put on monthly by the Young Professionals of Albuquerque (YPA).  I’m not a member of the YPA but I got an email through my Linked-In subscriptions and decided to check it out.  I attended with a few fellow Junior League ladies.  We were ready to be inspired.

The guest speaker was Sally Adams, a highly successful business woman in our community.  She started out by downplaying her long list of achievements but she shouldn’t have.  She is great.  She has a very long history of giving back to her community and receiving numerous awards & accolades.   One of the first things she told our audience was something to the tune of encouraging us to find a non-profit organization that we liked and to partner with them throughout our careers.  Hopefully that message will stick with most of us.  It always impresses me when people use their “celebrity” (or the influence they have within an industry) to help others in their community.

Sally talked extensively about her life’s journey, which was humorous, scandalous, and entertaining.  She even shed a few heartfelt tears when she spoke about her beloved daughter.  She shared how she made many questionable or “failed” choices in her life.  Though failed choices, she said she never regretted them because they were the choices that made her into the woman that she eventually became: knowledgeable, well-rounded, experienced, down-to-earth, compassionate, and relate-able.  All of those experiences are what made her “real”, not just a list of awards on a piece of paper but something that created what she called the “fabric” of interpersonal relationships with others.

Often times I go to business engagements and I never really get a sense of who someone really is or was along their journey.  We never get to scratch beneath the surface of who these “successful” people really are.  In my personal life, I enjoy people who are introspective and can be honest with others, but more importantly honest with themselves.  I liked that Sally was willing to tell her colorful life story to a room full of strangers and not be fearful of judgment.  It’s refreshing when people “own” who they are and the decisions they made along the way (good or bad).

I think being comfortable in your own skin must just come with age.  I don’t think there is any faster or easier route.  She mentioned that she was 54.  Today, I turned 34, and I have to say that I can’t wait until I feel so comfortable in my own skin too.

Luck of the draw, Oprah, and a Music Hall

I received a message in my email saying that Oprah’s Lifeclass was going on tour and that tickets would be chosen at random the following day.   I quickly found the page on their website and submitted my request for two tickets to the New York show taping with Deepak Chopra or Tony Robbins.  But in all honestly, I figured it was just shot in the dark, some marketing scheme that would pick one in a million submissions.

About  a week later, I received an email stating that we had been selected for tickets to the Tony Robbins Lifeclass, the evening show on April 2, 2012 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.  I had to re-read the email over & over again to make sure it was true.  I was in disbelief.  The Oprah Winfrey show had been on the air for 25 years and we had never been able to score a single audience ticket, we could rarely even get through on the phone line, and now, this email was stating that we had actually been chosen for tickets to her Lifeclass show in New York  City. Part of me felt like I was on a hidden camera show and someone was going jump in front of me and say “Just Kidding, you’ve been PUNKED”….

The show was just over a month away.  My heart fluttered with excitement.  Who would I take with me as my guest?  Afterall, we only had tickets to the show.  The flight, hotel, and everything else would be at our own expense.  Who would want to go?  Who could go?  Who loved Oprah as much as I did?  The first person that came to mind was my Mom, who I quickly ruled out because she was across the world teaching on the tiny island of Guam and she wouldn’t be available on such short notice.  Then I thought of my twin sister.  Yes, we were kinda “on the rocks” and not as close as we once were, but she was the only person who I thought might appreciate the experience as much as I would.

When I asked her, she immediately said yes.  I jumped up and down with sheer excitement, like a 6 year old who’s parents just told them they were going to DISNEYWORLD.  Not only was I going to see my idol, but I was going to have my twin sister along with me to share the experience.  It was absolutely perfect.

When we arrived at Radio City Music Hall on April 2nd for the evening show, the air was sparkling with excitement.  Women were everywhere, ecstatic to be there, arm-in-arm with their best girlfriends or sisters, smiling ear to ear, and all dressed up.  Photos were snapping nonstop, people were documenting their experience at every inch of the theatre.

We were shown to our seats.  We got pre-selected to sit in the very front section in the Orchestra seating area.  It think it was because of our reply to an email of theirs inquiring about us.  We told a story of our last experience together in New York City, being stuck in the power blackout of 2003.  They either wanted to give us a better memory of NYC or they were rewarding us for flying all the way from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  We were so grateful to be seated just a few rows away from the stage.

When Oprah walked out onto the stage it was like I wasn’t even there.  It almost didn’t feel real.  After her show on ABC had ended, I hadn’t seen her in several months, so seeing her felt like seeing an old friend, one whom I had religiously watched on TV practically every single day for as far back as I can remember.

I could hardly notice the deafening cheering around me.  It was like I was watching her on television. She had the same voice, the same smile, the same sense of humor, the same mannerisms.  She was larger than life, yet her presence was calming & peaceful.  Her face translated as love to me.  It was familiar, genuine, full of light & love.  She had a warmth about her, a positive energy that brought tears to my eyes.  I felt so blessed to be in her presence.

Everything that she has done in her life has been to help other people.  Whether it be through her charitable organizations or though the work she does on her shows, she’s committed to success of humanity.  Committed to help us grow, cope with, and overcome things.  Help us become the best that we can be.  Help us forgive others, and forgive ourselves.  She’s a true humanitarian of our times, a modern day Mother Teresa.

She may not be directly living amongst & feeding the poor but she sure could have taken all of her wealth & riches and ran off to live on her own private island decades ago.   Yet, she didn’t.  She chose to continue to use her life, her influence, her platform, to encourage & inspire others to find their own strength and their life’s ultimate destiny.  She’s truly selfless, and a world class example of what true wealth is made of:  The wealth inside of your heart & soul. She is my hero.

She was so funny and real too.  During a commercial break (it was being aired live on the OWN network), she joked about her high heels hurting her feet so she promptly took them off and gave them to a screaming fan in front row.   She also joked around with the guest speaker, Tony Robbins.  They were both really candid with each other.

From where we were sitting, the sound was really echo’y.  We thought that might have been from the way they had to have the speakers positioned for the live feed, so we had a hard time following the dialog at times.  Tony Robbins’ loud booming voice really echoed alot so it was harder to understand him, distracting mostly.  But we got what we needed to out of the Lifeclass:  How to live fearlessly.  Tony was such an enthusiastic and positive guy.  Oprah spoke about how his support & encouragement prompted her to walk on firey hot coals, something she didn’t believe she could do.

End the end, echo or not, you could have put me on a tiny boat in the middle of shark infested waters with Tony & Oprah and I would have felt so grateful for the experience of just being there to hear these great inspirational icons and absorb all the wisdom they had to share.  Seeing an Oprah Winfrey show in person (and at world famous Radio City Music Hall in the heart of New York city no less) is now happily checked off of my Bucket List.  Whew.

Radio City Music Hall Lifeclass Audience

Radio City Music Hall Audience for the Tony Robbins Lifeclass

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Oprah Winfrey

Oprah on stage at Radio City Music Hall for the Tony Robbins Lifeclass

Radio City Music Hall Oprah Lifeclass

Radio City Music Hall Oprah Lifeclass

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Radio City Music Hall Lifeclass Tickets

Picking up the tickets at Radio City Music Hall the day before.

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Aside

Make a Wish, makes a difference

I am truly blessed.  Let me just stand on a soap box for a minute…and cry…

There are families that struggle through no fault of their own…. families where one parent has to stay at home from work to take care of their sick or bed ridden child because the child has a debilitating disease such as cancer or spinal muscular atrophy (degeneration of motor cells in the spinal cord and brain).  They live paycheck to paycheck to support their terminally ill child.  They put all their extra money into buying motorized beds, ramps for their childs wheelchairs, and expensive “alternatives” to the little that their insurance actually covers (it’s amazing how little).  They spend days/nights, months/years searching for answers and cures for their children.  They cling to the hope that their child will return to the vibrant playful ball of energy they once were.  They somehow make ends meet and get through the days, always keeping hope alive. Faith is the only thing that keeps them from self pity…it’s amazing.

And when you visit their house, you smell a little of whatever that hospital smell is, you sit in their living room, and they bring the child into the room…. you feel a knot in your stomach, you feel ashamed, saddened, almost embarrassed to be there.  It humbles you.  Who are you?  Sitting there with your fancy purse, your overpriced jeans, your gas guzzling car sitting out front?  Didn’t you just get annoyed at the gym because all the new years resolution people were taking up all the treadmills and you had to wait an extra 5 minutes? …and here you are sitting in the tiny apartment living room of a family who’s had the unthinkable happen, their child diagnosed with a life threatening illness, witnessing the slow and painful deterioration of their child into sometimes a near vegetative state.  But what if some miracle cure was discovered in a year or two or three, what would you do?  You’d hold on to hope too.  Just like they do…

I don’t know how they do it.  How do they even get out of bed everyday or concentrate on work while they’re at work.  The entire family is consumed by the illness.  While I’m complaining about waiting at the gym, these families would feel lucky to even have the time or energy to get to the gym or to even afford it.  They don’t give a damn what brand of clothes they’re wearing or that they bought their purse at K-mart instead of Coach.  They don’t go to Starbucks for their morning coffee, they’d rather spend $4 a day sending letters to research hospitals.  Their whole life and focus is dedicated to their childs recovery.  And they would trade everything for it.

It makes me want to cry.  It takes me sitting on the couch, two feet away from these ill children and their families, to think twice about whats really important in life.  We are so spoiled.  And I know I’m not the first to say it but it’s completely true, we really do take alot of things in life for granted.

I am truly humbled every month when I do these family wish interviews for Make-A-Wish.  It really has changed my life.  I no longer find such importance in shallow things: What really matters is life/limb/health and family/friends.  Just being able to live life everyday is a true blessing.

Use your life for something other than yourself….and more than just twice a year or around the holidays.  Granted, we can’t all run out and quit our day jobs but wouldn’t it be nice if we could

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