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5 Unexpected Career Lessons You Learn From Giving Back

Helping others is a known enhancer of quality of life. Volunteering and giving back to your community helps increase your gratitude, reduces anxiety and may even increase your productivity.

Research suggests that people who volunteered weekly experienced the same happiness boost compared to receiving a life-changing increase in pay. Giving back doesn’t just feel good in the moment; it has long-lasting benefits for your health and well-being.

But even with the best of intentions, you may find it hard to make time to get involved.

If you need extra motivation, here are the five critical career lessons you will learn from helping others and engaging in social causes.

Lesson #1: How to speak up when you disagree

Knowing how to express concern and push for organizational changes is one of the hardest career lessons to learn. Come on too strong and you risk being pegged as a troublemaker, but speak up too infrequently and you aren’t taken seriously as a professional.

This is especially sensitive if you are a woman or person of color, with the additional burden of overcoming an unconscious bias that you are complaining or being emotional.

Regardless, choosing when to speak out against an established cultural norm or way of doing business isn’t an easy decision.

Volunteering for a cause you believe in forces you to wrestle with this dilemma in an environment that isn’t tied to your paycheck. You get a chance to practice expressing your values and advocating for people with less power than you.

The more you get to exercise this skill, the better you will get at channeling your displeasure, or even outrage, into actions that actually address the issue. You learn to move from personal frustration to solutions much faster, which will make you an invaluable resource to any company.

Lesson #2: How to be a follower

There’s a lot said and written about how to be a good leader, but not nearly enough attention is spent on how to be a follower. Yet much of your career success will be determined by who you choose to follow and how you manage those relationships.

Playing even a small part in a volunteer organization teaches you how to evaluate what makes you trust a leader and how to derive satisfaction from pursuing someone else’s strategy.

The goal is to walk away from your time volunteering with a much clearer sense of your ability to follow. Are you able to trust the judgement of others or do you get easily frustrated when you aren’t in charge?

Following isn’t about blind devotion; it requires discernment, commitment and loyalty. These are the same values that will help you achieve on behalf of your boss or organization and build strong sponsorship.

Lesson #3: How to tackle problems others are afraid of

No matter how senior you are or what field you are in, being a sought-after problem solver is the secret to advancing your career to the next level.

When the hardest issues or most challenging clients come your way, you need to be prepared to address them. But learning how to solve hard problems isn’t easy.

You get better at it when you develop your ability to gather and understand historical context and quickly consolidate many differing views. You also have to be willing to work toward a less than perfect solution and refine your approach as you go. These are the exact skills that are built from engaging meaningfully in hard societal problems.

Taking time to give back inevitably enhances your career by further developing your capacity to address complex and difficult issues.

Lesson #4: How to defer to experts

Passion is not the same as expertise. You may be passionate about climate change, human rights, affordable housing or stopping animal cruelty, but you might not know enough about these topics to propose viable solutions. You have to defer to the experts.

In your career, learning when to bring in outside expertise can save you from making bad, potentially career-derailing business decisions.

Your volunteering and philanthropy should allow you to meet and learn from experts in a variety of fields. Take the opportunity to watch for examples of leaders that leverage expertise well and build strong cases for the solutions they propose.

But also pay attention to the pitfalls of decisions made without supporting data or without the inclusion of relevant experts on the topic. Sometimes seeing what not to do is the more effective teacher.

Lesson #5: How to accept defeat and play the long game

It would be nice if you could fix all the world problems simply by putting forth your best effort, but that isn’t how life works. All causes have victories and setbacks and knowing how to accept disappointment is a critical skill you will learn while trying to give back.

Take a look at your career to date and assess your ability to fail or accept defeat.

There’s a time and place for switching jobs if you are undervalued or can’t achieve your purpose, but you’ll be hurt in the long run by hasty decisions that may be motivated by a fear of failure.

Playing the long game in your career helps you see when a setback on the job should be overlooked or when it is in your best interest to weather a storm. Remember that ambition gets all the glory, but patience is often the hidden secret to extraordinary careers.

By giving back and volunteering, you can practice and learn each of these lessons while making your unique contribution to the world.

Kourtney Whitehead is a career expert and author of Working Whole. You can learn more about her work at Simply Service.

Follow me on LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I’ve spent my career helping people reach their work goals, from executive searches to counseling to career coaching, through my leadership positions at top executive recruiting firms and consulting companies. I currently work to advise senior industry leaders at Fortune 500 companies on making career transitions and securing board placements. My site, SimplyService.org, is an online community supporting the creation of a values-driven work life. I hold a master’s degree in education and human development from George Washington University and am a frequent speaker and podcast guest on the topics of careers and fulfillment. My new book, Working Whole, shares how to unite spiritual and work life.

Source: 5 Unexpected Career Lessons You Learn From Giving Back

Helping others brings good feelings to the giver and the receiver of the good deeds. Using your special gifts to help others can be a gift to yourself as you enjoy a self esteem boost for making others’ lives better, and make the world a better place. You feel more worthy of good deeds yourself, your trust in the decency of people is reinforced, and you feel more connected to yourself and to others.

 

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How to Overcome the Fear, Doubt, and Anxiety That Inhibit Growth

Perhaps you want to be a better coder, a better writer, or a better musician. Perhaps you want to start a new business or begin an exercise program. You are full of good intentions, but your efforts seem to sputter out. You’re not alone.

When you work towards a meaningful goal, expect to face “a repelling force.” Steven Pressfield calls it “Resistance.” In his journey of becoming a best-selling author, Pressfield came to know well the many faces of Resistance.

In his book The War of Art, he explains the aim of Resistance “is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.” Pressfield warns, Resistance arises whenever we attempt “any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower.”

Pressfield shares this insight:

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

Pressfield spells out the mindset of a professional and that of an amateur. The amateur gives in to Resistance, placing blame for unmet goals on life circumstances—their upbringing, their partner or lack of one, their busy schedule, and on and on.

Using external circumstances to rationalize our lack of progress is self-defeating. Pressfield instructs,

Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated… Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor.

Did you procrastinate today? Again, you’re not alone. Pressfield writes,

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead, we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

Resistance, Pressfield warns, “will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole.” Living with our self-deception, “we feel like hell,” there is constant low-grade unhappiness and misery.

Succumbing to Resistance, most of us have experienced the feelings Pressfield describes:

We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source.

If you think your stars have to align to beat Resistance, you’re wrong. What happens after you get a new desk and new computer? What happens after you find a quiet apartment or house, live with a supportive partner, and find a great job with a supportive boss? Resistance won’t retreat merely because you have changed your circumstances. When you’re still not ready to do your work, notice how your excuses morph.

There is nothing wrong with you. Everyone faces Resistance. Fear, self-doubt, and anxiety never fully go away. Resistance is always there in full force when we entertain its bad advice. Professionals realize these thoughts will fade away if they turn toward their work.

Amateurs resist Resistance, which only tightens its grip. Pressfield writes,

Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it.

“The professional knows,” Pressfield counsels, “that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished.” Heed his advice. Pressfield wrote The War of Art before smartphones were drawing our attention from our work. If you are constantly checking your phone while you are doing your work, Resistance will beat you. (Watch for my follow-up essay, “How to Break Your Digital Addiction”)

It took me years to learn a simple truth: To beat Resistance, show up and keep a regular schedule, whether or not you feel like it. The amateur thinks their feelings are providing important information; the professional knows they need to think about doing their work, not themselves. Pressfield shares this anecdote:

Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

According to Pressfield here are three clear signs of an amateur:

One, he doesn’t show up every day. Two, he doesn’t show up no matter what. Three, he doesn’t stay on the job all day. He is not committed over the long haul; the stakes for him are illusory and fake.

Amateurs cast themselves as victims. Pressfield pointedly observes those playing the victim role seek

to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution made out of one’s experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat.

Pressfield adds,

Resistance knows that the more psychic energy we expend dredging and re-dredging the tired, boring injustices of our personal lives, the less juice we have to do our work.

Have you had a bad break? Get back to work. Pressfield explains,

The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.

Doing your work comes with no guarantees of success. Are you having “grandiose fantasies” of how the world will receive your work? That’s the sign of an amateur mindset. Pressfield observes,

Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.

I write almost every day. If I don’t show up, seeking to improve my technique, Resistance will kick my butt. Resistance will kick yours too, if you don’t practice. Be a professional; do your work.

Pressfield makes it clear, if you are seeking inspiration, begin by “mastering technique.” Toil “beside the front door of technique, [leave] room for genius to enter by the back.”

“Everything in life worth achieving requires practice,” writes Thomas Sterner in his book The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life. Sterner provides an excellent definition of practice:

When we practice something, we are involved in the deliberate repetition of a process with the intention of reaching a specific goal.

Sterner makes clear,

Good practice mechanics require deliberately and intentionally staying in the process of doing something and being aware of whether or not we are actually accomplishing that.

Here is the rub: The only way we can effectively practice is to suspend our attention to our goals. Sterner explains,

When you focus your mind on where you want to end up, you are never where you are, and you exhaust your energy with unrelated thoughts instead of putting it into what you are doing.

We torture ourselves by remembering past failures or dreams of future success. Our mind isn’t present, and our efforts are diluted. Sterner discerns, frustration results:

[W]hen your mind is only on the finished product, not only do you feel frustrated in every second that you have not met that goal, but you experience anxiety in every “mistake” you make while practicing. You view each mistake as a barrier, something delaying you from realizing your goal and experiencing the joy that reaching that goal is going to give you.

To a professional, the process they follow to reach their goal is not a nuisance. Process is a necessity that amateurs overlook. Amateurs are fixated on the goal, professionals

continue to use the final goal as a rudder to steer [their] practice session, but not as an indicator of how [they] are doing.

Sterner advises us to avoid comparisons. Using the metaphor of a flower’s development, Sterner asks, “At what point in a flower’s life, from seed to full bloom, does it reach perfection?” We can’t proceed to “full bloom” and skip the process. Comparing our lives to “ideal images” will create unhappiness:

Do you think that a flower seed sits in the ground and says, “This is going to take forever. I have to push all this dirt out of my way just to get to the surface and see the sun. Every time it rains or somebody waters me, I’m soaking wet and surrounded by mud. When do I get to bloom? That’s when I’ll be happy; that’s when everybody will be impressed with me. I hope I’m an orchid and not some wildflower nobody notices. Orchids have it all . . . no, wait; I want to be an oak tree. They are bigger than anybody else in the forest and live longer, too.”

Seeking perfection is an amateur’s false goal, steering us away from our process. Sterner writes, “Our impatience to reach some false goal that will not make us any happier than we are right now.” Absorbed in what we are doing, impatience “fades away.”

Go pro, face Resistance; watch your commitment to a process pay compound interest.

You know when you are not in process mode. Your mind is flitting all over the place. Should haves, could haves, would haves come and go. Resisting the process, you are sure—like everyone else in the grip of an amateur mindset—the world is to blame for your lack of focus and progress.

You won’t find more than fleeting happiness by reaching a goal. Instead, go pro, face Resistance; watch your commitment to a process pay compound interest. You’re may be in the valley today but progress up the side of the mountain occurs one step at a time.

 

Source: How to Overcome the Fear, Doubt, and Anxiety That Inhibit Growth

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Apollo 11’s Transcendent Leadership Lessons

To paraphrase Walter Cronkite, it was, and remains to this day, the greatest adventure in the history of mankind.

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing says much about the capability of our country, the miracles of science and engineering and the commitment of the NASA team. But it also offers important lessons on leadership, which are as relevant today as they were in July, 1969.

These are leadership lessons that transcend time and circumstance, which corporate executives and board members may well want to consider as they commemorate this great event.

Lesson #1: Visions Can Come True. JFK’s memorable 1962 “Moon Speech” set forth the vision of Apollo. It included the famous “…because it is hard” acknowledgment, and the equally inspiring charge that “…to do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out—then we must be bold.” Some 57 years later, vision, boldness and the motivation they generate in others remain essential tools by which leaders take organizations to great heights. Their absence can create insurmountable barriers to growth.

Lesson #2: Teamwork Matters. The three Apollo 11 astronauts were not close friends. They had different personalities. Armstrong was emotionally remote. Aldrin acerbic and abrasive. Collins more “happy go lucky.” But they made it work; they interacted successfully under the most extreme circumstances. For leaders don’t need to be BFFs with their colleagues in order to be effective. They do, however, need to be accepting and respectful of who their colleagues are, and the contributions they offer.

Lesson #3: Confidence. They believed in their systems in spite of the risks: the Saturn V liftoff, the LM ascent engine firing, trans-earth injection, the re-entry and splashdown. Even at NASA’s famous 99.9% reliability standard, much could still go wrong. Yet they moved forward in reliance on confidence in the technical competency of the workforce and the efforts to remove risk from the conceptual design. Where leaders can establish an organizational commitment to quality, safety and risk management, managers can more comfortably implement even the most aggressive of products.

Lesson #4: We Need The Michael Collinses. It was not for Collins to land on the moon. It was for him to orbit the moon in solitude, waiting/hoping for the return of Armstrong and Aldrin from the lunar surface. His glory would be less; history would not treat him nearly as prominently. And he was good with it. Indeed, every organization needs leaders content to do their job, who are willing to be part of a larger effort and not likely to complain or worry about more glamorous tasks being assigned to others.

Lesson #5: Command Decisions Count. The legend is indeed the fact. Armstrong really did land the Lunar Module, manually, with just 16 seconds of fuel remaining. Aborting the descent was not an option. Like all good leaders, Armstrong was in charge. He knew the terrain. He knew his machine. He knew the stakes and he was going to get the job done. The absolute ultimate command decision. Leaders who “sit in the left seat” must be prepared to “make the call,” to make the most difficult of decisions, often in the most trying of circumstances.

Lesson #6: Encourage Ideas. It wasn’t store-bought. There wasn’t a model or prototype. The enormous “crawler” that transported the Saturn V from the Vehicle Assembly Plant to the launchpad was the brainchild of a member of the launch operations team, whose name is now lost to history. He reportedly got the idea from watching the strip-mining process. Ingenuity and creativity often have wildly diverse parentage, and smart leaders will encourage ideas from all elements of the workforce, starting with the mailroom and continuing up the ladder.

Lesson #7: “Code 1202” Events. It was the Apollo version of a “black swan.” On final lunar descent, an unusual program alarm (code 1202) flashed, indicating a problem with the guidance computer. With the landing in balance, a young control officer in Houston, familiar with the code from earlier simulations, provided the critical “go on that alarm” assurance. No company is immune to a Code 1202 event. The unforeseeable will occur. But leadership can set expectations concerning risk evaluation that will help the company respond in crisis situations.

Lesson #8: It Takes A Village. A very big village, in fact. The Apollo project team was estimated at over 300,000 people. It was an amazing partnership between the government, private industry and the astronauts—and, ultimately the American public. And on their final flight transmission, the Apollo astronauts paid a humble video tribute to that partnership. Effective leadership recognizes that success often requires a combination of management vision and workforce commitment. Rarely is it one or the other, and almost never “just about me.”

Lesson #9: Learn from Mistakes. The great success of Apollo 11 was made possible in large part by the tragic failure of Apollo 1. That catastrophe forced NASA to confront its culture of complacency for risk and safety, and to restructure its entire operations. Indeed, great lessons can be learned from failure as well as success; from accepting responsibility for non-performance and moving forward from there. Even on the largest possible scale, leaders never stop learning-even from their own (or their organization’s) mistakes.

Lesson #10: Otherworldly Commitment. Armstrong attributed Apollo’s success to its nature as “a project in which everybody involved was…interested…involved…and fascinated by the job they were doing.” (“Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon” by Craig Nelson (Penguin, 2009) In today’s business environment, when leaders are increasingly focused on workforce culture and satisfaction, major initiatives are more likely to succeed when employees, like the Apollo team, are motivated “to [do] their job a little better than they have to.”

There is an understandable tendency to marginalize important events that happened long ago. Men in a spaceship—how interesting, but of course it was long ago, and we’ve progressed so much since then. It’s hardly relevant to our world today. But as to Apollo 11, that would be a huge mistake; it still matters, very much so.

In his Farewell Address to the nation, President Reagan spoke to the lasting value of the American heritage. He warned of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. “If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are.” And, one might add, of what we are capable of achieving, as a nation, as individuals—and as organizations. That’s the transcendent lesson of Apollo 11. And it’s a lesson that is meaningful in the boardroom, and the executive suite.

I wish to acknowledge “Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon” by Craig Nelson (Penguin, 2009) as a resource in the preparation of this post.

Follow me on LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I am a partner in the Chicago office of international law firm McDermott Will & Emery and earned my law degree at Northwestern University. I represent corporations (and their officers and directors) in connection with governance, corporate structure, fiduciary duties, officer-director liability issues, charitable trust law and corporate alliances. Over the course of my 39-year career, I have served as outside governance counsel to many prominent national corporations. I speak and write on a range of emerging trends and issues in corporate governance to help leaders understand the implications and how they might be relevant to their own circumstances. Writing is a passion of mine and I do my best writing on the porch of my home in Michigan.

Source: Apollo 11’s Transcendent Leadership Lessons

Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid

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Editors’ Note: Following the huge popularity of this post, article source Amy Morin has authored a guest post on exercises to increase mental strength here and Cheryl Conner has interviewed Amy in a Forbes video chat about this article here.

For all the time executives spend concerned about physical strength and health, when it comes down to it, mental strength can mean even more. Particularly for entrepreneurs, numerous articles talk about critical characteristics of mental strength—tenacity, “grit,” optimism, and an unfailing ability as Forbes contributor David Williams says, to “fail up.”

However, we can also define mental strength by identifying the things mentally strong individuals don’t do. Over the weekend, I was impressed by this list compiled by Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker,  that she shared in LifeHack. It impressed me enough I’d also like to share her list here along with my thoughts on how each of these items is particularly applicable to entrepreneurs.

1.    Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves. You don’t see mentally strong people feeling sorry for their circumstances or dwelling on the way they’ve been mistreated. They have learned to take responsibility for their actions and outcomes, and they have an inherent understanding of the fact that frequently life is not fair. They are able to emerge from trying circumstances with self-awareness and gratitude for the lessons learned. When a situation turns out badly, they respond with phrases such as “Oh, well.” Or perhaps simply, “Next!”

2. Give Away Their Power. Mentally strong people avoid giving others the power to make them feel inferior or bad. They understand they are in control of their actions and emotions. They know their strength is in their ability to manage the way they respond.

3.    Shy Away from Change. Mentally strong people embrace change and they welcome challenge. Their biggest “fear,” if they have one, is not of the unknown, but of becoming complacent and stagnant. An environment of change and even uncertainty can energize a mentally strong person and bring out their best.

4. Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control. Mentally strong people don’t complain (much) about bad traffic, lost luggage, or especially about other people, as they recognize that all of these factors are generally beyond their control. In a bad situation, they recognize that the one thing they can always control is their own response and attitude, and they use these attributes well.

5. Worry About Pleasing Others. Know any people pleasers? Or, conversely, people who go out of their way to dis-please others as a way of reinforcing an image of strength? Neither position is a good one. A mentally strong person strives to be kind and fair and to please others where appropriate, but is unafraid to speak up. They are able to withstand the possibility that someone will get upset and will navigate the situation, wherever possible, with grace.

6. Fear Taking Calculated Risks. A mentally strong person is willing to take calculated risks. This is a different thing entirely than jumping headlong into foolish risks. But with mental strength, an individual can weigh the risks and benefits thoroughly, and will fully assess the potential downsides and even the worst-case scenarios before they take action.

7. Dwell on the Past. There is strength in acknowledging the past and especially in acknowledging the things learned from past experiences—but a mentally strong person is able to avoid miring their mental energy in past disappointments or in fantasies of the “glory days” gone by. They invest the majority of their energy in creating an optimal present and future.

8. Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over. We all know the definition of insanity, right? It’s when we take the same actions again and again while hoping for a different and better outcome than we’ve gotten before. A mentally strong person accepts full responsibility for past behavior and is willing to learn from mistakes. Research shows that the ability to be self-reflective in an accurate and productive way is one of the greatest strengths of spectacularly successful executives and entrepreneurs.

9. Resent Other People’s Success. It takes strength of character to feel genuine joy and excitement for other people’s success. Mentally strong people have this ability. They don’t become jealous or resentful when others succeed (although they may take close notes on what the individual did well). They are willing to work hard for their own chances at success, without relying on shortcuts.

10. Give Up After Failure. Every failure is a chance to improve. Even the greatest entrepreneurs are willing to admit that their early efforts invariably brought many failures. Mentally strong people are willing to fail again and again, if necessary, as long as the learning experience from every “failure” can bring them closer to their ultimate goals.

11. Fear Alone Time. Mentally strong people enjoy and even treasure the time they spend alone. They use their downtime to reflect, to plan, and to be productive. Most importantly, they don’t depend on others to shore up their happiness and moods. They can be happy with others, and they can also be happy alone.

12. Feel the World Owes Them Anything. Particularly in the current economy, executives and employees at every level are gaining the realization that the world does not owe them a salary, a benefits package and a comfortable life, regardless of their preparation and schooling. Mentally strong people enter the world prepared to work and succeed on their merits, at every stage of the game.

13. Expect Immediate Results. Whether it’s a workout plan, a nutritional regimen, or starting a business, mentally strong people are “in it for the long haul”. They know better than to expect immediate results. They apply their energy and time in measured doses and they celebrate each milestone and increment of success on the way. They have “staying power.” And they understand that genuine changes take time. Do you have mental strength? Are there elements on this list you need more of? With thanks to Amy Morin, I would like to reinforce my own abilities further in each of these areas today. How about you?

Cheryl Snapp Conner is a frequent speaker and author on reputation and thought leadership. You can subscribe to her team’s bi-weekly newsletter, The Snappington Post, here.

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Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2013/11/18/mentally-strong-people-the-13-things-they-avoid/#2bd3b0056d75

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