Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Lessons I’ve Learned from Jack Bauer

24

I’m not ashamed to admit it – I love the TV show “24“. I’ve watched every season since the beginning in 2001, gleefully following the adventures of the main character, Jack Bauer (played by the ever-hunky Kiefer Sutherland), as he has saved a U.S. President from assassination, stopped an imminent nuclear bomb attack on Los Angeles, and generally thwarted terrorist plots against the United States and its interests. Jack is a hero, and therefore totally misunderstood, which led to his rise to the top of the fictional “CTU” (Counter-Terrorism Unit) and, ultimately, his spectacular downfall.

I was so happy when “24” was brought back for a new (albeit shorter) season this year. As I have watched this new story unfold it has reminded me of the lessons I’ve learned from Jack; important lessons about life, survival, and self sacrifice. I wanted to share those lessons with you.

Lesson #1:  If you’re still breathing, there’s hope. If you watch the show you know how many times Jack has been tortured by the bad guys; it seems like every season he gets the ever-lovin’ crap beat out of him at least once (sometimes twice), but somehow, even after being stabbed and whipped and hooked up to a car battery, as soon as he gets free he just pops up, kills all the bad guys in sight, and gets back to the business of stopping that season’s catastrophe. He’s totally focused and completely unstoppable. I think this is a great life lesson – no matter how bad things have been, no matter how badly you’ve been hurt, or delayed, or thrown off course by things outside of your control, you can still bounce back and keep moving ahead. As long as you’re breathing, you have a chance to do what you set out to do.

Lesson #2: Whispering can be better than yelling. Keifer Sutherland gets a lot a flack about the fact that he whispers most of his lines. It’s not just a Jack Bauer character choice – if you’ve seen him in anything in the past 10 years or so, you know that it’s just how he speaks his lines. Yes, it’s annoying, but let’s look at it from a different perspective. The lesson I’ve learned here is that keeping your voice level and at a low volume can not only defuses a tense situation, it can also make people listen to what you have to say more closely than if you’re yelling at them. I’ve seen Jack about to explode with justified anger, but instead of screaming at whoever it was that screwed up, or lied, or whatever, Jack pulls it back, brings it down, and deals with it calmly. Sure, he loses it every now and then, and when he does, it’s really scary! So, save your outbursts for when it really matters – it will have a much bigger impact than running around yelling at everyone all the time.

Lesson #3: The big picture is what’s important, not your place in it. Over and over we’ve seen Jack sacrifice himself – his body, his reputation, his connection to his family – in service to a cause greater than himself. The lengths he has gone to to protect the people and situations in his charge have been extreme. At the end of the last season he found himself in a situation where he had to make a terrible choice:  he could choose to take actions that would keep the world from possibly descending into war, but if he did, he would be branded a terrorist and never be able to return to the U.S. or see his family again. Being Jack, he make the tough choice. I’m sure I will never find myself in that kind of a situation, but it’s good to have an example (even a fictional one) of a person who is willing to give up everything in service to a higher good. We should all strive to be more like that.

Lesson #4: Know when to respect the chain of command and when not to. Jack is constantly coming up against government bureaucracies that get in the way of him getting things done, and he has perfected the art of cutting through the red tape – usually with sudden violence. But at the same time, he tries really hard not to kill anyone on his “side” if he can at all help it. Why shoot the security guard who is just trying to do his job when you can knock him unconscious? Jack knows what needs to happen and how it needs to happen, and he doesn’t have any patience (less so as the years have gone on) with people who try to slow him down. However, he has a deep and abiding respect for the authority of the President, and for the democratic principles he fights so hard to protect. It’s a fine line we all must tread, the one between recognizing our personal liberty and respecting the government of the country we are blessed to inhabit.

Lesson #5: Time is on your side. This seems like a crazy lesson to have learned from this show where everything happens at breakneck speed, where there is no time to eat or to sleep or to even stop to take a breath (I don’t think Jack Bauer has had a bathroom break for 13 years). Somehow, Jack always finds a way to use the time he has to achieve his goal. He squeezes as much as he can out of every moment possible. He also understands the long game – he knows how our reactions to situations can have extremely long-term consequences, and he makes his choices accordingly. Jack has taught me that what we do every moment of our lives matters – not just now, but possibly for years to come. He has also taught me that time is a great healer of wounds, and a great counselor. What hurts us or what we don’t understand now will ultimately be healed and revealed. It is this knowledge that gives Jack the strength to do what needs to be done, the hope of future understanding and reconciliation. Sometimes, in difficult situations, making the right choice isn’t going to be accepted by everyone at the time, but if you understand that eventually it will all work out for the best, it can give you the peace you need to make those difficult decisions. That’s the wisdom of Jack Bauer.

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The Good, the Annoying, and the Bad

Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood, Oregon

Last week I flew to Portland, Oregon, for a conference. It was great to get back on the road; my work trips have been few and far between, and, let’s face it, Greensboro, North Carolina isn’t the most exciting place to visit (although they have some great barbecue).

The whole trip was a mixture of different experiences that I’ll call the Good, the Annoying, and the Bad. The Good things that happened are pretty self-explanatory – they were those little unexpected gifts you get. The Annoying are those things that happen that don’t result in any harm, they just take some of the shine off an otherwise good situation. The Bad things are those that have a lingering negative consequence. Here’s how it shook out:

The Good

  • On my way out of Atlanta I was selected for the TSA’s new “PreCheck” program, which meant that I got to go in the security line where you don’t have to take out your laptop or your 1 quart bag of liquids or take off your shoes.
  • I got to go on a sightseeing tour of the city the morning after I arrived, which was a wonderful opportunity to see much more of Portland than I otherwise would have done.
  • I got to spend time with someone I knew from college. She and I weren’t close back then, but through the magic of Facebook I’ve come to like and admire her greatly. We talked and laughed and told stories for hours, and I’m so glad we were able to meet.

The Annoying

  • I broke my sunglasses as soon as I got on the airplane.
  • On my first night, as I was getting ready for bed, I realized I left one of my small toiletries bags at home – the one with my contact case, my toothbrush, and my deodorant. I had to get dressed again and go downstairs to the 24-hour shop in the hotel lobby and buy an $8 travel-sized bottle of contact solution (which I did have) just to get the case that came with it. I begged a toothbrush from the front desk, but the next morning I had to walk three blocks to the nearest drug store for my brand of deodorant.
  • I didn’t leave the hotel in time to catch the early train to the airport on my way out, and by the time I got there the security line was way backed up. I got to the gate just after boarding had started, which didn’t leave me time for breakfast as I had hoped.

The Bad

  • On my way back from meeting my friend the first time we saw each other, I had an encounter on the light rail train. The car I was riding in was mostly empty, and at one of the stops a man got on and sat down a few seats away from me. He looked to be in his 50’s, he had long black hair, and he was wearing a hat (it looked Native American to me, which turned out to be accurate – he told me he was Navajo). The seat I was in faced into the train car so unless I turned my face completely away I couldn’t help but see him. Not long after he sat down, he gave me a little finger wave. Now, here’s the conundrum I (and all women) face in a situation like that. The guy is probably harmless, so do you do the polite thing and give him a brief (read: unencouraging) nod of the head without making eye contact, do you pretend to not see him and silently pray he gets off at the next stop, or do you get up and walk away? I chose the polite response, which was the brief head nod. Apparently it wasn’t discouraging enough because he immediately began talking to me. He started out by telling me what a beautiful smile I had. I said “thank you”, again, not meeting his eyes and hoping that was the end of it. He then starts to wax eloquent about how beautiful I am in general – so beautiful, words begin to fail him. I’m now pretty sure he’s not 100% compos mentis, and I know I’m in for it. Sure enough, he moves over to a seat next to me and starts asking questions. “Are you married?” Yes. “Do you have children?” No. “Why?” And on it goes. He finally gets around to asking me for money, which I give him. He then lifts his shirt to show me what looks like a distended belly button, which totally freaked me out. He got off at the next stop, thankfully. The two guys that got on then also felt compelled to chat me up, but at least they didn’t flirt with me. In case you’re wondering, this happens almost every single time I travel alone, as I’m sure it does to most women.
  • Two days later I was late going to the convention center, so there weren’t many people at the light rail stop near my hotel. Except this one guy, who had a conference badge like mine. So, seeing as how we were going to the same place, we exchanged greetings. I can’t remember why it came up, but I told him I had connected with an old friend from college the night before. Upon hearing this, he said “Oh you connected, huh?”, giving me a little leer. I couldn’t believe it. In an instant my whole demeanor changed, and I said to him in a flat voice “Not like that” and turned my back on him. At least he got the message – he didn’t try to talk to me again, and when the train arrived I walked through the first compartment and into the second before I sat down.

I’ve told a number of people now about my trip, but pretty much all I’ve told them is the Good. Depending on who it is, I might throw in some of the Annoying. I haven’t told anyone about the Bad; I never do. I never talk about the unwanted flirting, the inappropriate remarks, the uninvited touching that happens to me frequently. I know that these things happen to most women, and, like most women, I chalk it up to “how it is” and get on with my life. But this is the lingering, negative consequence – every time it happens, my shell gets a little harder. I get less patient. I get less willing to “be polite”. I start to get angry. Since the #yesallwomen campaign started I’ve been more aware of these little incidents, and much less apt to just let it go. I don’t owe you a smile, or conversation. What is it about me, or any woman, that makes a man think it’s OK to use sexual innuendo at the slightest provocation? Who taught you that? And who taught us that it’s not OK to call them out on it? But this is what we’ve learned, and this is how we live. I’m tired of it. So I’m going to stop being so accommodating.  You’ve been warned. I might actually get up and walk away next time.

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Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014

 

 

 

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Onward and Upward!

Hot Air Balloon

I had lunch yesterday with someone I’ve known for many years. We used to be co-workers at a company where he was much farther up the food chain than I was, but things change and people move on, and in the time since we’ve both left that company we’ve become friends. In the past few years my friend has had his share of struggles, both personally and professionally, but now, after hanging in there and trying new things and generally toughing it out, his patience and perseverance have been rewarded. He has landed a fantastic job with a great company, right here at home. I am so thrilled for him – it’s wonderful when you see a friend who has been going through so much in life finally, finally catch a break. And what a break! It’s an awesome opportunity, and he will be amazing, I just know it.

Listening to my friend tell me about his new job and in turn telling him about all the great things that are happening in my professional life made me realize how far we’ve both come. Also this week, at the request of a couple of friends, I posted a short description of my journey, since apparently I haven’t been very forthcoming about what’s going on with me professionally. I summed it up like this:

After I was laid off (almost 4 years ago now! Amazing!) I looked for another job in my field to no avail. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I really didn’t want to go to work for someone else again anyway, so I’ve been pursuing self-employment ever since. In that first year I established ATB Meeting Design, promoting myself as someone who is a value-add to any company’s existing meeting planning team as I specialize in content development and general session production. I have had a few clients for ATB, but I realized that it’s very difficult to be on my own doing what I’m doing. In addition to ATB, in 2012 I formed How We Work with a partner; it was a project born out of our mutual interest in the “workplace” conversation. We made a valiant attempt to get it off the ground, but I think we aimed too high at first, and were ultimately unsuccessful. It’s still around, dormant at the moment – but who knows?

About the time that HWW was winding down, a new project came up with one of my nearest and dearest friends from my former job. She and I and three other former colleagues put together the new company, Moventus (www.moventusgroup.com), which is a full service, globally-based event planning company. We are focused geographically on opportunities in the Middle East and Asia (my friend is in Dubai, and we have two other colleagues in Hong Kong). We officially launched last September, and we already have several clients, one of which is the Industrial Asset Management Council. We are supporting the IAMC’s international events; since the first of the year we’ve planned events in Singapore, Munich and Birmingham, U.K. We are actively pursuing other clients and continue to reach out to our network.

I’m happy to report that after a long struggle and a couple of unsuccessful attempts, I am working with a group of people I love doing work I enjoy. It’s paying the bills, too, and I have every expectation that Moventus will continue to grow.

These two events – lunch and the writing of this post – were incredibly uplifting. I feel so happy to be where I am now, moving confidently into the future with the support of great friends and family around me.

I also want to tell you about this other thing that’s happening. Those of you who read my blog might remember the post called “The Disappointment Trap” from a few weeks ago. In it, I talk about how I stopped wanting things, and how I think that’s ultimately been bad for me. The “thing” I mostly stopped wanting for fear of being disappointed is to travel. I love traveling, and it was the aspect of my former job I missed the most. Well, I started actively wanting to travel again, and since I made that decision, the most incredible things have been happening:

  • I’m flying to Portland, OR today, all expenses paid, to attend a meetings industry trade show as a “hosted buyer”;
  • I am putting together a one-day symposium for a dear friend on Long Island, New York, and I’ll be headed up there to run it next month;
  • I got a call from the executive director of a real estate association inviting me to moderate a panel at their upcoming conference in Boca Raton – again, all expenses paid; and
  • I will be going to Dubai in September or October for a week of strategy sessions with my partner and possibly a gig (we just got a request for a proposal for an event there in October that, if we get it, I would help manage).

The last few weeks have been absolutely incredible. It’s like the floodgates have opened! I can’t tell you for sure that just wanting to travel has brought all of this about, but I do believe that if you put good thoughts and feelings out there that those are returned to you. You have to be open for new things to enter your life.

I also want to point out that this week is the one-year anniversary of this blog. Which is amazing to me. I never thought I would still be doing this a year later, but here we are!

So, Thank You to everyone who reads my little missives each week and to those of you who have reached out to me with your love and encouragement. It means more to me than I can possibly say. Here’s to Onward and Upward!

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photo credit: messycupcakes via photopin cc

 

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What Really Matters

 

 

2010_0522CatsandCanada20100035

This past weekend my friends at the dance academy needed help with their spring musical, so I found myself (once again) in charge of the body mics. I did the same thing for them a year ago; at the end of every year the children’s musical theatre class puts on an hour-long production. It wasn’t Phantom of the Opera, but the kids had fun and I enjoyed keeping my hand in the game, so to speak.

While we were setting up, my friend the director and I were talking about the show and all the things that needed to happen to make sure it ran smoothly. At one point during a discussion about the best distribution method for the prop doughnuts my friend looked at me and said “It’s not a big deal, but it’s important.” I replied “If we didn’t think it was important we wouldn’t do this.” That exchange made me think about what’s really important, and I’ve decided that what I think matters probably isn’t what a lot of people think.

I’ve decided that what’s important, what really matters in life, isn’t necessarily the big things. I’m not saying that making a big impact on the world in a positive way is not a completely worthwhile goal to have – it is. If you get a chance to change the world for the better, take it! It’s just that most of us don’t get the opportunity to do really big things very often. Most of us have ordinary lives, where the impact we can make on the world around us is limited to the people directly in our sphere of contact – our family, our friends, our neighbors. So if that’s the case, the little things become much more important.

What are the little things? To me, it’s how I always try to smile and be pleasant to everyone with whom I come into contact – the cashier at the grocery store, the waiter at the restaurant, the lady at the dry cleaners, they guy behind the deli counter. I know it sounds Pollyanna of me, but I can’t help but think that these folks deal with the public all day, and probably get the brunt of our collective bad mood, so if I can make their day a little more pleasant by being nice, which costs me nothing, then I will. That’s a very little thing, but I like to think it helps someone every now and then.

Another “little thing” is the quality of the focus that I give to my work. All of my work, no matter what it is. It is as important to make sure that the child actor’s microphone is on and at the proper level when they sing as it is to draft an email communication for a client as it is to take my time over these blog posts. Everything I do deserves my full commitment and attention, even if it’s just balancing the checkbook or mopping the kitchen floor. The love you give away to these activities imbues them with positive energy, ensuring that they come back to you kindly.

Life mostly happens in the trenches, where the rubber meets the road, down in the nitty-gritty – or any other cliché you can think of that means where the little things are. It’s in those small, every day opportunities we get to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the world we can see right in front of us. What I’ve found, though, is that if you get into the habit of paying attention to the little stuff, when the bigger stuff comes along you’re already used to being kind and focused and thoughtful. Some people call it “mindfulness” and I think that’s a great word. It’s a habit of seeing everything as important and acknowledging that on some level, it all really does matter.

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Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014

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