Writing with Pencils

Whenever I travel I bring along five or six pencils. Pencils are what I write with now, ever since my first book. I hate the mess of crossing thru things written in ink, some part of me urging neatness on the page. So it was completely natural for me to fill out my customs form, entering Australia, in pencil. The customs officer was very worked up about this, scolding me for this huge violation–maybe not criminal but certainly a violation of basic common sense. I finally moved through under her skeptical eye.

I just returned from a wonderful holiday in Australia with two good friends, Carole and Dee. This trip showed me that on any given day, we live in an enormous world, but unless we push outside our own neighborhoods, we only get to see a tiny part of it. I learned that Australia is a younger country than the US. It was settled in the 1830’s, so our country is looked upon as “historical” to them. While there, I befriended kangaroos, a wonky-looking animal that was quite lovable, and one night at dusk, we watched hundreds of penguins spill out from the ocean, a nightly ritual of coming back home.

At the Great Barrier Reef, we swam with sea turtles, and I learned that the little island where we were staying, right in the heart of the GBR, has granite foundations over 300 million years old. Ancient rocks, new country. We snorkeled and saw an ocean teaming with aquatic life, brilliant colors bouncing off the coral and giant clams opening and closing to one’s touch. Sadly, I observed how horribly we’re treating the ocean, how our disposable habits are sending toxic carbons into the water, and killing off the coral which preserves marine life. The GRB, the size of fifty million football fields, feeds a half a billion people annually. But not for long, not the way we’re polluting it.

Our oceans and seas comprise most of our earth, and they give and they take, as we tragically witnessed first-hand one afternoon. Not far from where we snorkeled there was a fatal accident: A young resort worker drowned while snorkeling on his day off. The calamity stopped us all in our tracks—those working at this place, and the guests who were there (the three of us, and a small handful of others) as the first responders brought him to shore and tried to revive him. The staff labored for over an hour, while his larger work community bound a tight circle around him, as if the sheer force of their collective kinship could bring him back. Later, we all grieved. It rained nonstop that night.

This enormous, world, a Grand Teacher, reminds me that in a split second, everything can change. Just when we’re having the time of our lives, something can pull us back with the force of whiplash, a teacher of how fragile all of life is.

So I write in pencil, a way for me to stay humble when moments like that afternoon occur, to often erase and re-learn what I’m taking in, and how I respond to it. I have newfound respect for things not made with hands—the ancient granite, our oceans, the marine life that sustains and nourishes. When I pay attention, I can see how our whole chain of life is linked together.

By |May 21st, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Two Leaders, Called By Other Names

Recently some friends and I traveled to Nashville, to hear from Thistle Farms founder Becca Stevens.  Becca began a program 20 years ago to help women victims of sex trafficking, and it’s been remarkably successful.  80% of Thistle Farms survivors have jobs and have stayed clean and sober after a five-year snapshot. My friends and I are thinking of starting a sister organization where we live since two of the largest national interstates cross in our community, and sex trafficking has become a growing issue.

A key to their success is jobs. Becca shows us a chart of their many partner organizations (“let the experts help you”), and we tour the manufacturing facility she created from scratch, staffed by the survivors, (“The workforce is our mission”), where they make body lotions, soap and healing oils for sale (“let your products tell your story”). She reflects on these women, who are poster children—many not much older than children– for overcoming adversity.

“We teach them new life skills. Many of the women were sexually abused as children, and one goal is for them to learn how to sleep in a bed, instead of in a chair. They were raped in beds, so thinking of beds as comfort is a process.” Stories like these take my breath away.

For the book I’m writing, a leader I’m highlighting reminds me of Becca. He is Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. Greg, who most call ‘G,’ works with gangs in LA and transforms these lost kids into loving, contributing members of the LA community. Again, the key to it all is jobs. He created Homeboy Industries, where they do silkscreen work, merchandising, maintenance, and own and staff a café too. By allowing them to feel useful, he helps these kids gain self-accountability and self-respect. The workforce is his mission too.

Oh a detail—both Becca and G are priests.  I call them priest-entrepreneurs, because they both started new businesses for their organizations which bring in millions, and provide jobs for those they serve. I’m convinced either could run a billion dollar business better than some who run them today.

We don’t hear much about leaders like Becca and G; instead, the media likes leaders who act like children, or narcissists who are motivated by arrogance and greed. The more sensational the person the better, because that means readers and ratings. I get it. I was in that business.

But how about shining a light on leaders like Becca and G? These two grown-ups know who they are, and what they can offer back to the world. They lead from a centered, stable place, and inspire their people every day by offering them jobs, compassion, and solidarity. They stand with their people, not above them. Because they do, each young man and woman recalibrates what is possible for them, what it means to find purpose. Like oxygen, people breathe in hope at Thistle Farms and Homeboy. We could all use a shot of hope every day.

These leadership stories are worth covering.

By |April 27th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Running the Distance

It’s autumn, which means it’s time for the New York Marathon again. I always smile when the promotion hits for this race because I ran it a few years back, and it taught me a lot about life and work.

I trained with a book my HGTV colleague Jim Clayton let me borrow, and its philosophy for training was to only run 15 miles, not the full 26.2 miles you run when you’re competing. The logic was that you want to save some of the experience for the real race. If you go the distance before you run in the actual race, you might as well give yourself a medal and be done with it. OK, I could buy into that. I gradually trained over six months, adding miles to my run as the book prescribed, stopping at the 15-mile mark.

My husband Bill joined me in NY for the big weekend, not to run but to the cheerleader I needed. I was really nervous, but it was gorgeous fall weather to be out in, crisp and sunny. Before I knew it all of us were all off and running.

The miles flew by, just like in practice. NY locals flanked the streets yelling out encouragement. “Hey 41 (my number) you’re looking great! Keep it going 41! We’re with you!” They’ll never know how inspiring those words were, especially as I rounded the bend to press on beyond mile marker 15. Would my body hold out for the last 11 miles? It’s really no different than when you face any new skill or challenge you haven’t mastered yet. I felt anxious, but exhilarated too.

Bill and I’d made a plan that he’d been standing on mile marker 19. From the map it looked like a place where I could see him in the crowd, and it also was a point in the race where I’d need the reinforcement of having him there. I turned the corner to mile 19 and there he was, a tall guy with long arms waving madly at me. I started crying. And stopped running.

I was spent. My pace had gotten so slow that I was in a cluster of elderly runners. He saw my face and barged right into the race. (NY is a pretty loosely-regulated marathon). “What are you doing?” he asked me. “I’m done,” I explained. “I’ve run 19 miles, it’s further than I’ve ever run in my life. I’m done.”

Bill was quiet as we slowed to walk and finally he said, “OK, but I know you. I think tomorrow you’ll be sad you didn’t try to finish.” “Please help me finish!” I then cried in anguish. So he did. As he accelerated his stride, he told me stories and jokes to take my mind off the pain, and I began a slow jog. For the last mile he was just by my side, breathing with me, a trusted companion in those challenging final moments, and yep, I finished.

When we built HGTV we kept telling ourselves this was a marathon, not a sprint. The six guys and I were inseparable those first few years, celebrating as we passed the business mile markers we’d set, and sharing the failures too. In one nasty setback, we sat in a room together, quiet, before we dissected the mistake. We had a mourning moment before starting the race again. Like Bill, these trusted companions were at my side both in the most exciting, and most challenging of times. None of us could have done it alone. We ran the distance together to build a lasting business.

By |October 25th, 2017|Career development, Uncategorized|0 Comments