Gotham Schools – February 26, 2013

At three tiny schools, brief closure hearing air common themes……..

Freedom Academy High School

Parents, teachers, and other supporters of Freedom Academy High School passionately defended the school at its closure hearing on Monday night, citing strong six-year graduation rates despite what they described as a lack of support from the city.

Unlike most schools it has proposed for closure, the Department of Education has no plans to replace Freedom Academy High School. The city’s lease on Freedom Academy’s Downtown Brooklyn building expires at the end of the school year, and under the city’s plan, students who do not graduate from the 171-student school in June would be offered a seat in another high school.

Freedom Academy, whose entering students typically have very low skill levels, has received “F” grades on its last two city progress reports. The Department of Education also cites the school’s four-year graduation rate of 50 percent as a reason for its closing.

But supporters pointed to an 85 percent six-year graduation rate as proof of the school’s success and said the Department of Education fails to understand Freedom Academy’s unique student body.

“We have 16-year-olds coming into the school in ninth grade,” said Maxine Norton, the school’s parent coordinator for eight years. “How are we going to graduate those kids on time?”

Though the hearing lasted less than an hour, those who spoke in support of Freedom Academy were adamant, often raising their voices to tell Department of Education representatives that closing the school would not solve its problems.

“We educate children,” said Susanne Veder Berger, who runs a newspaper internship within the school. “We do not close schools. … We do not throw children into 60 different schools. It does not work.”

Jeremy Del Rio, executive director of 20/20 Vision for Schools, a group that has been helping to provide extracurricular activities at Freedom Academy since it received its first “F,” said the Department of Education’s presence in the school last year was counterproductive. He said news of the potential closing demoralized students when they received it in January, two weeks before Regents exams.

“Basically what they’re telling the school community is, ‘You’re a bunch of failures,’” Del Rio said about the department.

Despite the perceived lack of support, teachers and staff said the school is improving. They also said they believed that the students at Freedom Academy — some of whom are homeless and come from troubled backgrounds — need the school and the support it provides.

“Progress has been made and support has not been given,” said Jonathan Schulman, a law teacher. “If [the students] didn’t have us, where would they get other people to do what we do everyday? Where would they be?”

No students spoke at the hearing, but Stephanie Lopez, a 10th-grader who attended, said the idea of closing Freedom Academy hurt her. “I’ve made a community here,” she said.

Since transferring to the school last fall, Lopez’s grades have improved and she’s developed an interest in poetry. After the hearing, she sat with Pat Sutherland-Cohen, a Freedom Academy mentor and teaching coach, discussing a book of poetry.

“That’s the type of student you get at Freedom,” Sutherland-Cohen said.

–Amanda Cedrone

At three tiny schools, brief closure hearing air common themes

The 20-Minute Solution to Coping With Grief Recovering From Loss

ThirdAge.com

http://www.thirdage.com/widowhood/recovering-from-loss

By Susanne Veder Berger

Recovering from loss is always a work in progress. I speak from experience. When the marriage I expected would last a lifetime came to an abrupt end, I found myself in the position of having to reinvent myself and support my two children. Then I married again but lost the love of my life in 2010 to an untimely death. Since then I have been delivering my message of hope and self-improvement during presentations to various groups. In the course of doing that, I’ve found that my 20-minute solution for coping with grief resonates with others. The journey is ongoing, but you can make it possible 20 minutes at a time. clock

20 minutes of movement For example, walking for 20 minutes several times a day was the key that allowed me to assess my pain and think it through. Small blocks of time in the sunshine with positive music playing on the iPod can do wonders. I found that 20 minutes of this was all it took to put me in a better mood, so no matter that I didn’t feel terrific most days and didn’t want to leave my house, I forced myself to do it every day and I was surprised how much it helped. Suddenly not only was I feeling better, but I was looking better too. I shed that waxy indoor complexion, and then one day I looked in the mirror and I was myself again.

20 minutes of good talk Talking with your family and friends for 20 minutes every day is also important – and not necessarily about your loss. While everybody who goes through a tragedy needs people to talk to about it, I realized that if I kept talking about the same thing over and over eventually my family and friends wouldn’t want to hear it anymore. It was just too depressing. So I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to wake up seven years later and still be talking about the same thing, still be trying to find a reason to justify why my husband was taken from me so soon. When you talk to your family and friends, it’s important to focus on the future so they remain your confidants and not your lifeline.

20 minutes of self-assessment I spent 20 minutes every day taking stock in myself. How was I taking care of myself? Did I need therapy to deal with what had happened? Identify your areas of opportunity and put them in black and white on a piece of paper. I looked at my life and saw that I had all of the freedom and opportunity of a 21-year-old, but I also had a lot more experience and wisdom under my belt. I also knew that I still had a list of things I wanted to do with my life, things I wanted to enjoy. I had forgotten about that list for a while, but it was never really gone – I just needed to look for it. For example, I had always wanted to cook more, so instead of eating out as an escape, I went grocery shopping and cooked my own dinners. That’s a small accomplishment, but when you assess yourself the next morning, you’ll already be on your way to overcoming loss.

20 minutes of something new I needed something to keep me busy, so I started taking tennis lessons, something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a child. And tennis made me smile. I have met incredible people playing tennis and those new relationships have helped move me forward.

Sometimes after a loss we take a period of time and isolate ourselves to make ourselves stable. There is no shame in that. But sooner or later, often when things just seem too much to bear, lace up your jogging shoes and get out to the park for 20 minutes. You never know what you might find.

Susanne Veder Berger is an inspirational speaker and expert in building self-esteem at all ages. She is a successful corporate CEO and is the founder of the self-perspective blog, CreateANewLifeWithSusanne.  

http://www.thirdage.com/widowhood/recovering-from-loss?page=1

 

 

 

The Healing Power of Respect

“In Search of Love Update” On-line Dating!

Objective: Find Mr. Perfect..
Way back in January I made some lofty goals when I announced that I was ready for a new relationship in my life. I had my laundry list of key items. Someone who can make me smile, who appreciates my interests, my dog Monty and my children. To be swept off my feet by a handsome man who appreciates me, and who appreciates life. Likes my friends, I’m looking for a partner who can turn off his thoughts about work and simply focus on the joy of being together. Someone who is truly “present” for me. Who appreciates life and wants to embrace it as much as I do.  I want a man who is comfortable in his own skin and truly able to connect, to let down his “Berlin wall” when it comes to his emotions.  A man like that is able to express and experience love, and understands the importance of commitment. Also, I love music and I love to dance, and I want a partner who shares those pleasures too.

I was well aware that relationships don’t happen overnight, of course. My friends told me how hard to find someone. I needed to lower my expectations. I was prepared.  Let’s “get real” when you reach this point in life if you don’t have any baggage — previous marriages or relationships, children, and so on — then you haven’t lived much of a life. I heard too many horror stories.  I knew a large percentage of the men were looking for a good time, a physical relationship with no strings attached. I really didn’t want to do it. Was convinced that it would not be a good experience. I was NOT going to meet any one.

On-line Dating the New Blind Date! Why not?

First profile pictureMy first step was to sign up with Match.com for only one month and Jdate.com 6-months – it was the best bang for my dollar. Set up a profile on OkCupid, which is a free dating site. I didn’t devote attention to that site, I wanted to get the full value out of the sites I paid for. All my profiles and pictures were the same. I had no idea how it worked.  (Important tip for first timers: make sure you check the unsubscribe box.  If you don’t you are locked in at the price you paid for a year.)

Can people see my profile?

How I thought it would work is that guys would do the “department store” thing” and reach out asking me for my number. Duck soup from there it would be like back to the old fashion traditional way. Didn’t think I would have a problem. How wrong was I? That month my conversion rate Match.com 28% and JDate.com 23%. To calculate conversion, add all contacts like Emails, Winks, IM’s favorites divided by the total number of views. Match.com site boys appeared to like me more.  All of those contacts were not Jewish. That didn’t surprise me because I was never a big hit with the Jewish boys. Some things never change I guess.

What amazed me was the quality of the contacts on both sites. I was not prepared for an over alarming number of “Yummy”, “I know, I know, I’m too young. Still can’t help but stop by to say that you are absolutely gorgeous.” Please it baffled me why someone similar in age to my children would be remotely interested in someone my age. “How would you like to come to PHL for lunch say Thurs? I love the Fountain Room at the Four Seasons. After lunch it will be easy”. For the first time, I felt like a piece of meat. I thought that was not acceptable behavior; I didn’t like the way it made me feel.

So this is where I discovered I’m not popular on-line!

The first month on on-line dating sites was an eye opener. Everyone I knew on the dating sites was doing much better than me. They were getting nice emails from boys and actually talking on the phone. Getting asked out on dates. I came to the conclusion that I was just not popular or the type of girl you wanted to take out based on on-line dating standards.  I needed help. With my BFF’s support and encouragement I took a different approach. Only having to focus on one site JDate.com was less overwhelming. 5 months to go. Back in high school my friends and me would take out the yearbook and pick out the boy we liked. The new updated grown up 2012 version “dinner and a bottle of wine” going on-line and check out boys on JDate.com with your friends. I have nothing to say and failed at flirting. My BFF became my Cyrano de Bergerac emailing the cute boys. Everyone I knew had luck doing this. None of those boys respond to my emails. Who cared we had blast doing it!

My profile is not working. Why not stretch the truth?

A year, 2, ok 4!

I changed my profile description several times. Boys don’t like to Moving the tree from Harlem to UWSread too much – less is more is a much better approach. Changed the pictures and added a few. You need to be on the site all the time, be an active participate. I couldn’t and did not do that. Discovered my age was a problem too. NO one is looking for someone my age 55. Except the young boys that think women my age are interested. It did not matter how good I presented myself they were not looking for me. I lowered my age to 51 to see if that helped. Come to find out everyone does it. Don’t be surprised if the guy you are dating is actually 6 years older than he says he is.  Pictures are never as current as they say. Wish the whole on-line experience was more honest and real.  Think the actually success rate would be greater. Michael Buble “Haven’t met you yet” became my theme song.

To my surprise I developed some email friendships with a few nice boys: all geographically undesirable not romantic just flirtatious friends. I started to enjoy talking to boys again via email. I never was good at it and needed to not let my shyness get in the way. I’ve been married with children so long I guess I stopped having funny silly flirtatious conversations. I learned to talk about simple things like movies or favorite food, to exercise schedules, and baseball. Their emails made me smile and blush in a good way.  Like when I was a teenager.  That is when I started to notice the change in me.

I fell in love with ME………

I was clueless and understood something was missing in me. What was missing? More important can I get it back?  I wanted it back! I asked all my dearest friends to help. I had a village… The past few summers I spent in Europe. I really never embraced New York. I have been hiding, afraid, delaying re-entering the world as long as I could. My world was safe, I was protected from being hurt. I was so busy focusing on work and finding me. Yes, healing too. I needed to start being single in New York City. I was so ready to have fun. Life is too short, fun and happiness are just too important. This summer I promised myself that I would stay in New York and look for romance.  Making New York City home my priority. I started playing a lot of tennis at Central Park actively expanded the people I play tennis with. I started playing doubles, which I had not done since I starting playing back in June of 2010. Biking, hanging with friends. Working hard to have a nice healthy balanced life. Laughing a lot. Started dressing like I did in Europe. We always wore sundresses. Even got heals! Dressing like a girl again. I made Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe” my new theme song. Boy! It gave me courage. I started to have fun! I made sure I took pictures everywhere I went. You could see me transform. Finally, I had the perfect profile picture. From the instant I posted that picture I became much more popular. The perfect profile picture!Regretfully, the contacts are still discouraging but I have met some nice, interesting boys.  Yes, I have even had some really great dates.

Advice from one on-line dater to another….

I have come to the end of the JDate.com subscription. I will not be renewing my subscription. Why? It’s not for me. I learned a lot in the last 6 months.  I have changed.  What was missing was my “groove”.  That something special inside that makes me sparkle.

Glad I did it though.  It was a very positive experience.  I recommend that others try online dating too.  It takes 6 plus months. Don’t get discouraged. Do it with someone if you can.  Share because it makes it fun! When you give them your number, like in the old days, they don’t always call. It has nothing to do with you. Don’t worry, there are some really nice guys too.

“No sex before the third date,” Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmo, a great rule about not rushing into anything. I agree never rush into anything. Dating at this stage of my life is completely different. Recently, a male friend talked to me about how men envision the natural stages of dating.
Meet…. Get to Know…. Do you like?…. Pleasure…. Key love each other do or dead..  Guess that means you’re going to see where it goes..

On-line dating was a huge help in understanding the male perspective, I realized there is a miscommunication between men and women. This miscommunication causes unease in the beginning of relationships. With the women I know the order of the natural stages of dating is different. Pleasure is last… Pleasure for most women is for committed relationships only.

It’s important for you to remember the man sitting next to you at that moment may not have your best interest at heart. Especially when you’re not together. The only thing they really want is physical relationship. You really don’t know him.  DO NOT EVER do anything that you would not be able to look your self in the mirror the next day.  Nothing is worth that.

Be prepared to go on a lot of first dates. There is nothing wrong in ending a date early if it’s not working for you.  Be nice and kind but if doesn’t work don’t try. Go with your gut instincts it’s always right.  Have fun! No expectations.

Who will be the next Mr. Perfect?

My friends were right it hard to find someone. No never lower your expectations. That laundry list of key items is “must”. I like to believe that there is special someone. I’m going to continue enjoying my adventure; now open to trust and believe in falling in love. Romance … Happy ever after… Mr. Perfect will make sure I notice him.. I have a feeling he will be able to swept me off my feet… it’s still all about that special chemistry between two people that make it perfect magic….. A bonus, like the icing on the cake.
At this stage of my life that would be amazing!

!

Jewish Woman Magazine

Jewish Woman Magazine

Jewish HERores – Incredible Jewish women doing inspiring work in their communities and beyond.

Susanne Veder Berger has parlayed her passion for inspiring others into life- changing mentoring work at Brooklyn’s Freedom Academy, a struggling inner- city high school.

Meet Susanne Veder Berger, a hero to the students of a struggling Brooklyn high school, and no stranger to challenges herself. This author, executive, mother, mentor spent decades literally hiding her face from the world because of a large “port wine stain” birthmark that covered half her face. (The mark was eventually removed through laser surgery). After enduring a bitter divorce, she reinvented herself and supported her children by becoming a successful marketing executive for a number of companies and organizations. Berger did find love again, but lost her husband to heart disease in 2010. She channeled her grief into writing and soon discovered how fulfilling it can be to share words of encouragement and inspiration with others. Berger now writes a popular blog, “Create a New Life with Susanne,” and her memoir, Getting Naked, is scheduled for publication in 2012.

In fall 2011, Berger parlayed her passion for inspiring others into life-changing mentoring work at Brooklyn’s Freedom Academy, an inner-city high school that most would agree has been forgotten by the city. On her own time and using money out of her own pocket, she is encouraging and preparing students to graduate and go to college, and taking them on field trips to meet successful entrepreneurs in New York. Berger spoke with JW about providing disadvantaged students with first-ever guidance for taking the SATs, exploring career paths, and learning about business in the real world.

How did you wind up working with kids in this inner-city school?

Last summer, Joyce Freeling, director of the New York City chapter of Communities in Schools (CIS), asked me to speak to teenagers in the CIS program—to offer them inspiration and let them know that they can believe in themselves and create an empowering future. Freedom Academy students attend Advisory Class—a half hour, three times a week—that prepares them for college and SATs and covers home economics and a little bit of dating and socialization. I was asked to be a guest speaker for the 9th grade class on the topic of self-esteem. I walked into this classroom with no windows, in this school that’s in an old warehouse building in front of the off-ramp for the Manhattan Bridge. I was ready to give my Power Point presentation to the 80 kids in the room, but they started shooting questions at me, like, “What is self-esteem?” and “How do you get it?” and I quickly realized I had to change everything. It was a difficult class, but I captured their attention for 15 minutes, which is something most of their teachers couldn’t do.

Most of the 250 students at Freedom Academy are from the projects in Brooklyn and Bedford Stuyvesant. One out of every five of my students does not have a home. If the school closes, these students will disappear; they will be lost in the system. I asked to go back after that first day. I saw that somebody caring for these kids could make a difference. So I stepped up and adopted this school.

Are there any moments with these kids that stick out in your memory?

One day I had a small group of 12 young men, all 9th graders. We were discussing “The Moment,” an article I had written for my blog, about sudden changes in our lives and how we deal with them. We read the essay out loud and the boys and I discussed. After we read one particular sentence—“In that one instant, I could see what was right and what was wrong, and I knew with a certainty I had never known before that I didn’t feel good inside”—one of my students said, “When you have a gun pointed to your head, there is no moment. All you can think about is how terrified you are. You are never the same. How many of you have had a gun to your head?”

I don’t know the details of what happened to that boy or why. But I do know that four boys out of the 12 in that class—9th graders, 14 years old—raised their hands. Four of those children had experienced moments where they thought they were going to die. They trusted me and were able to talk openly and freely. It reminded me how much they need to feel safe and able to talk.

When did you realize the depth of your commitment to this school?

Just before last Christmas I started working with the 11th graders. As I was speaking to them, I realized that everyone I knew who had a child in 11th grade, including myself, was having that seasonal conversation about college. But many of these kids had parents who didn’t even graduate from high school, let alone college, and for a lot of them college wasn’t part of the dialogue at home. As I handed out folders to the class, I heard myself say, “Part of your Christmas gift will be me,” and I promised then and there that I would work with them until graduation—helping them find colleges, apply and prepare to go.

How are you engaging these kids in building their futures?

Over that Christmas vacation I designed “internships”: I set up a blog as a real company, with departments—marketing, IT, human resources… They had to select a job and write a description of what they would do: writing articles, making videos, bringing in guest speakers and preparing to interview. These students are not necessarily used to working as a team. When they do, it brings out certain skills and everyone gets involved. It was hard to get the blog off the ground, but we have several postings now, and my students wrote them all.

As for other activities, I arranged a school trip to Palo Santo Restaurant in Brooklyn to have a lesson with Chef Jacques Gautier. These kids don’t have a gym of any kind so I am working on opportunities for them to play tennis. And I started taking dance classes with the 11th grade students, which creates good bonding time.

I wish I could tell you I had financial backing for all this, but it’s just me.

Are you seeing the impact of your work?

This is changing the dynamics of the entire school: Not only are the kids more engaged, the teachers are becoming more creative. I don’t know what their lives are really like; I’m the “skinny white Jewish lady”—not even a teacher—who came from the outside. Writing and teaching corporations how to talk to customers, and being a mom of two successful children is all the training I have. But the fact that the entire school has accepted me, listens to me and has embraced me is amazing.

Other children have opportunities but these children do not. They have never been given the tools to succeed. I want to prove that if we give them some, it will make a difference. I see my students changing. They want to graduate. Most of these kids never have any follow- through, but I made a promise to them, and I would like to be remembered as the person who didn’t give up on them. I know that I have already made a difference.

“Health for a Lifetime” Part III

In the first two parts of this essay, I wrote about a new Harvard essay offering scientific proof for what many of us have known for years – that eating in a nutritious way and getting regular exercise can prolong your life.  After looking at why it’s so easy to resist this common sense approach to life, I explained how keeping a journal in which you record everything you eat and drink and the activity you engage in each day can help you make small changes that will enhance your health, energy and lifespan.

When seeking a motivating reason to improve their health, many people say “I’ll do it for my children.”  I’m not sure that this is such a good idea, however.  You really need to make these changes for you – and not someone else.  It’s great to be a role model for your children, to encourage them to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime – but be sure to take these actions for yourself, not your children.  Do it because you acknowledge that you are important.  A lot of people – especially women – sometimes feel guilty if they spend even a moment doing something for themselves.  It’s time to get over that.

Also, support groups like Weight Watchers and A.A. can be helpful, of course, but I strongly encourage you to make sure that you’re making the changes in your life because you know that you deserve it and because you feel the results, not because – as part of a group – you’re “supposed” to be doing these things.  If you quit smoking for the benefit of your children, once they’re grown and out of the house, you may easily pick up those cigarettes once again.  If you’ve curbed your eating because you’re a member of a diet club, once your friend drops out of the club, there’s a great risk that you’ll fall right off the wagon yourself.

If you just look around, you can easily find plenty of reasons to motivate yourself to take action.  You can easily see what happens when people don’t limit the amount they eat each day, and you can see what happens when they don’t make exercise a regular habit.  You can also see medical photographs of the diseased lungs of lifelong smokers.  These are all compelling reasons to embrace a healthy lifestyle.  Also, if you’re not taking action for yourself, it can be very easy to join a friend in overindulging when life feels stressful – whether that means digging into a big carton of ice cream, or some other destructive behavior.  Misery loves company.

You need to step into these changes with strength and determination, and in a way that will last.  In the past, you may have told your friends that you were skipping dessert “because I’m on a diet.”  Chances are good that your friends were not surprised to hear this, because they fully expected that within just a few weeks you’d be back off your diet and joining them for dessert once again.  It’s time to stop this “yo-yo” behavior, and make a permanent change in your behavior instead.  Don’t “diet” because you want to fit into that special dress.  Instead, adjust the way that you eat on an ongoing basis, so that you can literally add years to your life.  Don’t experiment with “juicing” as a fad, but instead create meals that include plenty of fruits and vegetables with the intention that you’ll be doing this for years to come.  Embracing these new habits with the right attitude means that you won’t be slipping easily back into your old habits.

This is a “back to basics” plan for health and fitness.  I’m not asking you to run a marathon.  I’m asking you to walk up and down a few flights of stairs.  I’m asking you to be observant, not in denial.  Pay attention to the number of calories that you’re consuming at each meal, and be honest with yourself about how they add up.  I’m also not asking you to deprive yourself of the things that make life joyful.  In fact, I think you’ll find that by making a few simple changes, you’re actually adding more joy to your life.

I use the word “joy” because attitude and emotion are important ingredients if this plan is going to work for you.  Just as you’re making careful notes in your journal, notice if you tend to complain a lot.  Complaining often leads to the behavior we’re trying to address here – overeating, drinking too much, and indulging in other bad habits.  Instead, tell people what you love about your life and what you’re grateful for.  You may find that this takes a little effort at first, but soon it will come easily and naturally.

For those of you worried that I’m asking you to make big changes in your life, I have some good news for you.  I’m actually opposed to making drastic changes that are big.  Those who are passionate about running know that it can be dangerous to overdo it.  Making little changes, however, can put you on a great path.

Like the mice in the Harvard study, it’s time for us all to start adding years to our lives – and adding joy and energy.  As I’m sure you’ve concluded, the most important ingredient to making this plan work is you.  I believe you’re capable of great things, and I look forward to hearing your story, and to celebrating your new life!

 

 

 

“Health for a Lifetime” Part I

Unless you subscribe to the scientific journal “Nature,” chances are that you may have missed the announcement of one of the biggest breakthroughs of our age.  Scientists at Harvard University’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have concluded that it’s actually possible to reverse the aging process.  True, this breakthrough was discovered in a study involving mice — not human beings — but the finding is reason for all of us to be excited nonetheless!  The study echoes common sense, of course — because I think we’ve all known for many years now that if we quit smoking, get plenty of exercise, and eat in a healthy way, we’ll maintain a high level of energy and remain relatively disease free well into our later years.  What I find most remarkable, however, is not this dramatic news from the medical research community that it’s actually possible to “turn the clock back” and reclaim our health, but the fact that so many of us have been ignoring this common sense advice for years, sometimes decades.

Why, then, don’t we live our lives in a way that supports our health and wellbeing?  The simple and frustratingly illogical answer is because “it’s not cool.”  For several generations now, it has been “cool” to embrace a lifestyle that includes smoking, drinking and sometimes even (legal and illegal) drugs.  Most of us went through one or more of these phases too, so we’re not in a position to claim that we were immune from this pressure ourselves during our younger years.  The problem, of course, is that many young men and women who neglect and even assault their health during their younger years never change their ways.  They continue these destructive habits into their college years and beyond.

A lot of these bad habits offer us a much-needed escape from life’s pressures.  Young mothers often are embarrassed about the changes their bodies are (quite naturally) going through during this phase of life, and taking a cigarette break or joining the girls to enjoy a cocktail often seems to make it all easier to take.  Young men, facing the pressures of building new careers and still adjusting to the new demands of family life, succumb to the desire to escape too.  When it comes to over-eating, still an epidemic in this country, many of the so-called solutions turn out to be totally ineffective, with the result that millions of men and women are engaged in a lifelong pattern of frustrating “yo-yo dieting.”  As the mice in the Harvard study would tell you if they could, this kind of lifestyle is not one to aspire to.

Living a healthy lifestyle is easy for some of us, and harder for others.  When I was in my thirties, many of my friends were starting to get sick from neglecting and abusing their bodies and I didn’t want to fall into the same trap.  Around this time, I also began to notice that having a healthy state of mind could make a major difference too.  A number of my friends were good about exercising, but they were highly stressed and didn’t feel good about themselves – and they were getting sick as often as those who didn’t exercise at all.  They all had plenty of excuses, of course, but this didn’t really matter.  Many of these friends were suddenly showing their age, and even in my thirties I was determined to remain as youthful and energetic as possible.  I also believe that it’s easier to get on the right track earlier in life when it comes to taking care of yourself rather than trying to undo years of damage and neglect later in life.

Many of these friends frequently complained that exercising and sticking to a healthy diet is difficult, but I disagree.  The truth is that staying healthy is a simple matter of common sense.  As St. Augustine wisely advised nearly two thousand years ago, “everything in moderation” is the secret to a wonderful life.  My friends who frequently indulged in smoking, drinking too much and overeating – and those who did nothing to reduce the stress in their lives — continued to deteriorate.  Many of them developed arthritis, diabetes and a variety of other health problems – and they’re well on their way, of course, to paying the “ultimate” price for this kind of abuse and neglect.  It’s time for all of us to understand the consequences of too much sugar, too much alcohol, and too many calories – because failure to understand how the various pieces of “the health puzzle” fit together can literally be fatal.  On the other hand, taking action to incorporate this knowledge into your daily life can reverse the damage.  All it takes is simply being conscious.

If I’ve inspired you to ask what you can do to start reclaiming your health, the answer is simple.  Make a list.  For seven days, write down absolutely everything you eat and drink, and also make careful note of your activity – walking, using the stairs, sitting in front of your television for three hours, and so on.  During this week, don’t do anything differently because the idea is to take an accurate look at the way you’re living your life right now – and this assessment will probably shock you.

Now that you have your list, as you start your second week, it’s time to make one small change in your normal routine.  Remove one thing that is bad for you – something you eat or drink, or some way that you avoid exercise – and replace it with something that is good for you.  (Be sure to continue making notes each day just as you did during week number one.)

For example, if you’re in the habit of using the elevator at work, it’s time to start using the stairs.  Even if your office is only on the fourth floor, this simple change is an improvement over a daily routine that is completely sedentary.  You may be surprised to find other people doing the same thing, and you’ll start to notice that you have more energy at work.  With this new burst of energy, you’ll find that you’re more productive – and even your boss will be impressed.  This all comes from making one simple change in your daily routine.

In the next two parts of this essay, I’ll focus on why it’s so important to make these changes for you – not for your children or your friends, and not because you’ve been told that you “should” make these changes to your lifestyle.  I’ll also discuss why attitude is so important to successfully adopting new, healthier habits – and how these changes can bring a new, joyous edge to your daily life.

 

 

 

 

Part II “My M.B.A. in Life” Appreciation

In Part I of this three-part article, I described how the lessons I learned when facing a variety of personal challenges in my life turned out to be extremely useful in the business world.  I discovered that it’s all about people – connecting with them, appreciating them, and really making an effort to understand and help them.  As you’ll see in part two of this article, looking at challenges from this perspective can help managers and company owners handle some of the toughest business challenges we face today.

The respect that business leaders have for each individual member of their team can also make a huge difference internally, especially when challenges arise.  In my work with the U.S. Tennis Association, for example, I not only ran the organization’s membership department but I was also asked to assist in the delicate process of closing one of their Departments.  In mergers and consolidations, employees often feel shortchanged and mistreated, and I was determine to do everything possible to treat the employees in this department humanely and support them in finding fulfilling jobs outside the company.  In a department of 24 people, the organization was only planning to retain three of those employees following the consolidation.  Over an 18-month period, I retrained all two dozen of these employees so that they each had a strong and competitive resume and were better equipped to find a new job once they were let go.

Another thing I’ve learned in working with people for so many years is that we all need stimulation and variety.  It’s important to have a change in our routine every once in awhile, especially in jobs that are very repetitive.  Without breaking things up a bit and giving hard-working people a chance to catch their breath, there’s a greater chance for mistakes — and employee “burn out” is almost inevitable.  In addition, the most fulfilling jobs are those that allow an employee to be “a constant learner.”  We all need to grow and evolve.  (I certainly never thought that I’d be a writer, yet that’s the role I find myself in today!)  Also, when you give employees a chance to grow and learn new skills, it lets them know that you have faith in them and that they’re appreciated, and we all flourish when someone believes in us.

Just as everyone likes to be appreciated, no one likes to feel inferior — that they’re less important than the executives they report to.  In my work with the call centers at various companies, I made it a point to really get involved in the work that was being done at each center.  I’d handle customer calls myself, and join the employees in the lunchroom and in their training classes.  This sent the signal that we’re all on the same team and lets them know that their work is respected and appreciated.  Also, when the employees see that you can be flexible, they’re more willing to be flexible too — and accommodate changes that allow the company to grow and succeed.

Growth and flexibility are essential if a company is to remain successful, of course — especially when it comes to customer service.  The decline of the once mighty Kodak Corporation is a great example of what can happen to a company when it fails to evolve with the times, and fails to keep in tune with customer needs and desires.

We all need to evolve on an individual level too, not just as a department or as a company.  When I began working with the companies I mentioned earlier, the emphasis was on catalogs that were sent out to the customers on a mailing list.  Now, of course, that information is handled by computer.

The importance of caring about the individuals on that mailing list hasn’t changed, just the way that we handle that information.  The goal is still effective communication and a rapport that results in sales.  It’s still just as important to let each and every customer know that they matter, and that they haven’t been lost in the shuffle.

In Part III – the final part of this article — I’ll explain why it’s so important to remember that each and every person who comes in contact with a customer or client shapes that experience, for better or worse.  I’ll also discuss why it’s essential that we create opportunities for young people where they have a chance to bring their unique talents to the table and have a voice in the work that they do. 

 

“Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence”

For the past few months, I’ve enjoyed contributing to a wonderful website called HereWomenTalk.com.  When I learned recently of the horrific murder of a member of that online community – a beautiful, sensitive woman and loving mother whose life was brutally cut short by her ex-husband – my immediate reaction was anger.  More specifically, I find it disturbing and outrageous that over the past several decades we haven’t made more progress in taking a “Zero Tolerance” stand against domestic violence or abuse of any kind.

images-2During her 25-year run, Oprah brought a fair amount of attention to this issue, and way back in 1984 the courageous Farrah Fawcett starred in disturbing made-for-TV movie about domestic violence, “The Burning Bed.”  Now, it’s more than 25 years later, and not enough has changed.

The statistics regarding this kind of abuse are truly disturbing.  The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.  The National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention report that an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year.  Further, a recent study by the CDC reveals that here in the US, 24 people per minute are the victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner.  That’s 12 million individuals – mostly women – every year, and this is simply unacceptable.

If we ourselves are fortunate enough to be free from this kind of terrible abuse, the odds are good are we have a friend, relative or co-worker who is caught in this terrible situation right now.  We need to open our eyes and look for the warning signs, and when we see them, we must get involved.  More than perhaps any other situation in which lives are in jeopardy, we seem to be blind to the warning signs – black eyes, bruises, burns, frequent visits to the emergency room.

The fact that one human being would cruelly inflict physical harm on another, when they have entered into what was thought to be a loving and supportive relationship is disturbing enough – but perhaps the worst aspect of a situation like this is when children witness this kind of abuse.

In their tender years, children learn so much from what they observe in the household – eating habits, how to manage money, the importance of being respectful of others.  In households where domestic violence takes place, they are very likely to perpetuate it.  (The heartbreaking experience of watching one parent physically abuse the other is bad enough, and the damage resulting from this kind of instability at home can literally last a lifetime.)

The perpetrators of this kind of violence are not always who you might expect.  We read about rap artists and musicians accused of this kind of thing, but a Harvard educated stockbroker can just as easily be guilty of this kind of horrific behavior.  One of Europe’s most esteemed financial leaders became the subject of front-page news last year when he was accused of sexual assault by a maid working in a New York City hotel.  Did the fact that apparently his wife was accepting of his philandering ways make this situation any less disturbing?  We mourn the death of a beloved singer, but when it was clear – years ago – that she was enmeshed in an abusive and controlling relationship, did any of us step up and intervene?  Now, of course, it’s too late.

Stories like these are still far too common.  Whether it’s the death of a talented musician or the abuse suffered by a friend or neighbor, we can no longer turn a blind eye to this kind of cruelty.  After all these years, isn’t it time to finally take a firm stand against domestic violence and abuse?

“The Power of a Moment: Part II”

Family at the Amsterdam Airport

My family at the Amsterdam airport (just arrived to spend the summer)

I was hesitant to go back to Holland.  It had been 45 years since I left.  Nobody I knew was there anymore and I thought it just wouldn’t be the same.  But when I arrived, I was surprised to find that the doors opened up for me.  When I mentioned who I was, people said, “Oh!  Your grandfather danced at my wedding!”  Others I met said, “I remember when your father got married!”  All of a sudden, I remember saying to myself, “Oh my God, I’m home.”  It was thrilling. The community actually threw a little party for me and I’d never felt more welcome anywhere.  In that one moment, my whole life changed.

Celebrating with Liejse (my cousin) and friends

We all have good moments and bad.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that out of the bad comes the good.  I’ve struggled through many hardships in my life, and with each one, I can tell you that when I took the leap to move past whatever was holding me back, it changed me.  It made me feel better and stronger.  It made me grow.

It’s so essential to keep ourselves open to every experience.  You never know where someone is going to lead you, but if you’re open and ready to allow the world to embrace you – ready to drop your expectations and follow where life takes you – you’d be amazed at where you might end up.

And yes, there will always be disappointments, but we must steel ourselves for those difficult moments and be ready to move on.  Your blind date may end up being your best friend or he may end up being a jerk.  Either way, the important part is that you tried.  You were open.  And if it doesn’t work out, you just need to cut your losses and move forward.

Sometimes we make good moments just by being ready for them.  I remember the day I walked into Freedom Academy as a guest speaker. It was chaotic.  The kids were all over the place, yelling and fighting, and the teachers were frazzled.  It was clear that no one was going to listen to the presentation I had prepared.  This could have been a huge disappointment; I could have run screaming from that auditorium.  But instead, I stopped and looked around me, and I realized that these were amazing kids.  They were intelligent and bright and they didn’t want to waste their time listening to someone who didn’t care what they had to say.  So I changed my plan, started asking them questions instead.  And when they opened up to me, I realized I had an opportunity to make a difference in their lives, to help them succeed.  Now there’s a moment.

The bottom line is that if you’re not open to change, it’s not going to happen.  You’ve got to know what you want and you’ve got to ask for it.  You’ve got to be prepared to take action when an opportunity presents itself, and you can’t be surprised if getting what you asked for takes a little longer than you anticipated.  I made the decision in 2005 that I wanted to become a writer. It’s 2012. It took me a little longer to become what I wanted than I had thought it would, but I did eventually reach my goal.  The path I took was a little more roundabout than I had expected, and if I wasn’t open to the possibilities, I would never have made it.  You can’t just wake up one morning and twitch your nose and all of a sudden have everything you want.  It doesn’t work like that.  Just as you can’t drive to across the country without a roadmap, I needed to put in the time and to set goals and to work towards them.

At Freedom Academy, I gave my 11th grade students each a folder and told them it’s their college prep folder.  This folder says to the world, “I am getting ready for college.”  It says, “I am getting ready to graduate. I am on track and I am working towards a goal.”  I told them that they can dream – that they can be anyone they want – but they’re not going to be anyone until they step up and own those dreams.

We each need to design who we want to be.  Just like I told my 11th graders, you can be anybody you want to be, but that dream has to come from your heart.  Write your list of what you dream of and every time you achieve one of those dreams, check it off the list.  Those are the moments you control.  Those are the moments you need to focus on.  Those are the moments you need to embrace.  Don’t stop yourself from going for what you want and being open to change.  Moments, encounters, relationships that you thought would be disappointing could turn out to be the best experiences you’ve ever had.  Those moments are precious.  They make you happy and make you proud and they evoke the most positive energies that you can possibly have.

beautiful summer day in Holland

My favorite moments are the ones where I sit back and smile and say, “I did it.”  Many years ago, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.  I had two kids, fifty bucks to my name, a dog, and a tractor I didn’t know how to drive.  Today, I know how to drive that tractor.  I know how to earn money.  My children are grown up and their success amazes me.  I’m living my life the way I want to, but only because I was willing to take the steps and see the moments and see the joy.  There’s been a lot of adversity in my life, and I much prefer the successes and the joys.  But because of the lessons I’ve learned from those adversities, I’ve made it to where I am: finally enjoying the good moments.