When I described our most recent restructuring plan to a friend – a seasoned and successful financial professional – he was certain we must have hired McKinsey & Co. to help us think things through. Wrong. It was Erika Andersen. Danny Meyer, President, Union Square Hospitality Group
Tomorrow my husband and I are flying to Hong Kong. I have client work to do there, and he was able to take the time off (since he’s now his own boss) to join me. We were talking this morning about what a pain it’s going to be, having to be stuck on an airplane for 16 hours. But at least, we noted, we’re traveling in business, and so will be able to get some sleep.
Then I started thinking about my dad’s dad’s parents, two young immigrants from Denmark, Nils Andersen and Mina Jenson, who met working on a farm in upstate New York. They married, saved their money, bought a wagon, and traveled to Nebraska to start a new life on a farm of their own – taking advantage of the Homestead Act that offered free land to anyone who filed a claim and lived there for five years. It took them – and this is the point of the story – just over 2 months to make the journey.
So, only 125 years ago, my great-grandparents spent 2 months jolting along in an open wagon in the broiling sun, fending off hunger, thirst, wild animals and god knows what else, in order to get to their destination just 1,200 miles away. And I’m bitching about being pampered in a luxurious, entertainment-equipped, fully-climate-controlled environment for 16 hours while I travel 8,000 miles.
There are so many aspects of this journey about which I should be absolutely amazed, vs. whiny and jaded. It’s actually amazing to me that airplanes even work, just to begin with, let alone what’s evolved out of that unbelievable reality over the past century.
I noticed that as soon as I shifted my focus from “I hate long flights” to “It’s amazing that this is possible” – my entire emotional state about the trip started to change. Now I’m feeling kind of excited, not only about being in Hong Kong (the first time for me) – but also about the flight itself. It’s like being in a high-end hotel for 16 hours, moving at unimaginable speeds…that’s pretty fascinating. I suspect I’ll now experience that 16 hours differently than I would have otherwise; that I may enjoy it a good deal more, and that I may find other useful or interesting understanding or ideas arise from the experience.
So much of what surrounds us these days is simply astonishing, and is unlike anything that’s ever existed in human history. It’s easy to forget that, to get ho-hum and complacent. But I find that when I step back and allow myself to be astonished, good things happen. It opens up my brain and my heart, and I can see situations, events and possibilities in new ways.
My partner Jeff sent me this wonderful article from The Week a few days ago. It’s a list (with definitions) of 14 words for which there are no English equivalents. A couple of them pinpoint experiences I’ve had so precisely (Koi No Yokan, in Japanese, is the sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love) or are so obviously high-utility (Zeg, In Georgian, means ‘the day after tomorrow’) that I immediately wanted to co-opt them and insert them into English.
And it made me reflect on the wonderfully organic nature of language. Live languages grow like organisms: they evolve toward usefulness and away from functional dead ends; they interbreed with other languages to acquire elements that serve them better. For instance, think of all the words that we now think of as English, but that are actually borrowing of genetic material, if you will, from other languages. Words that we added into our lexicon because we didn’t have a good word in English for the concept or thing they describe. A few examples:
Kindergarten – German for “children’s garden”; a great word to describe a place where children go to grow that’s not quite a school but more than a play group
Rendezvous – In French, rendez – vous, “go to you”; a meeting, usually with one other person, at a predetermined time and place…a very useful word, and so – voila! – we now think of it as English. (Like “voila,” a contraction of vois la which means “see there” and which we use to mean lots of things, from “there you go,” to “here it so,” or “so it happens.” Also very useful.)
Pundit – In Hindi payndit is ‘a learned man, master or teacher.’ Good to have a single word to describe someone who is considered (though perhaps only self-considered) an expert on a particular topic.
And then there are all the words that morph into new parts of speech to suit a particular need. At what exact point in time, I wonder, did Google become a verb as well as a descriptive noun?
As the pace of change and the globalization of communication continues, I can’t wait to see what the next decade brings in terms of the evolution of the English language.
For myself, I’m going to just start using a bunch of these words – including Lagom (Swedish for “Not too much, and not too little, but juuuuust right”).
Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I made a commitment, when I started the blog in January of 2007, to blog at least once a week except when I’m on vacation. And you might have noticed that my last post was on June 10.
So, yes – I’ve been on vacation. I’m a midlife convert to the power and efficacy of vacations. I didn’t take them when my kids were small – it just seemed like there was too much to do, what with being a wife and mother, starting and running a business, etc., etc. In fact, the first time I ever took a two-week vacation as an adult was 13 years ago, when my kids were 11 and 15. It was a revelation. When we got on the plane to go to Wales, I felt tired, overwhelmed, stretched thin. When I came back, I felt energized, clear, ready to rock.
As the years go by, and I seem to get busier and busier, and to be involved in pursuits that are ever more challenging (primarily fun and satisfying, but challenging nonetheless), vacations seem both more necessary and harder to make happen. I find that I really have to discipline myself not to work (much) when I’m ostensibly vacationing, or I lose the benefits.
So I’ve established a kind of 90-10 rule for myself. If, while I’m on vacation, I generally only work an hour or two on any given day (checking email and writing, mostly, but having the occasional phone call as well), and have at least a handful of days where I don’t connect with work at all – I seem to get the full rejuvenation benefit.
And when some of the vacation time happens in Wales, as it did last week, that seems to further magnify the renewal effect. And the fact that our darling granddaughter Hannah was there, serving as a model for all of us of how to fully enjoy every minute of being alive, amped up the wonderfulness factor even more.
In fact, I notice even as I’m writing this that my synapses are firing a little faster and more effortlessly than they were a couple of weeks ago.
Here’s to giving yourself a chance to recuperate, reposition, and re-engage!
I’m often astonished by the sheer beauty of the physical world. Last weekend, for instance, my husband and I went hiking in the hills near our house in upstate New York. At one turn in the path, we found spread out before us a beautiful little lake: rocky shores crowned with evergreens reflected in clear, untroubled water. Then two hawks flew lazily overhead, riding the thermals. It was a perfectly lovely composition.
At times (not always, but often) our human endeavors create a different but still compelling kind of beauty. The skyline of New York can be breathtaking. Watching the hammers hit the strings inside a piano is a neat yet complex mechanical choreography, an engaging counterpoint to the music being produced.
Today a friend sent me this wonderful little video of commercial flight paths around the world over a 24-hour period. (If you view it full-screen, and high quality – click the little ‘cog’ in the lower right-hand corner, you can see the daylight moving across the world, too.)
The little yellow dots are like a dance of airplanes; they flow in one direction, then, as the world turns and day becomes night in a different part of the world, they flow in another. I don’t know exactly why I’m so charmed by this. Maybe it’s because I love the idea that we sometimes create beauty without intentional effort – and sometimes even in spite of ourselves.
And maybe it’s simply that I enjoy finding beauty, and I like being surprised by its existence in unexpected places.
I’ve decided that one key skill for surviving and thriving in this century is the ability to turn on a dime. That is, to be comfortable with rapid and complete state changes.
For instance, I just went from laying on a Caribbean beach with my darling husband, doing absolutely nothing, no responsibilities other than enjoying his company and avoiding a sunburn to – BOOM – standing in a big corporate meeting room outside of DC, facilitating a session with 50 people, none of whom I’d ever met, about the digital future of their company.
Different on almost every level – and with very little ‘shift time’ in between. This kind of rapid alteration of circumstance and focus is specific to our modern age. At any time in human history up until the past hundred years or so, it would have taken me days or weeks even to travel from Jamaica to DC. I would have had lots of time to make the physical, mental and emotional changes required.
And until this past century or so, most people’s responsibilities and activities were more ‘all of a piece’ and less changing, as well; you were a farmer, or a housewife, or a shopkeeper, or a person of wealth and leisure – and that was what you did most all the time.
Now we all play lots of different roles: a farmer can also be a housewife AND a person of wealth and leisure. In fact, one of the people on the beach with me in Jamaica was Sandy, a row-crop farmer and housewife from North Dakota, who was spending a week doing the same thing I was doing – and what in earlier times would only be done by people of wealth and leisure.
We haven’t had more than blink of time, evolutionarily speaking, to accommodate ourselves to these new possibilities. No wonder we often feel tired, overwhelmed and confused.
I suspect the best way to thrive in this new world is to have a really strong sense of who you are at your core. Who are you that doesn’t change, no matter where you are, what you’re doing, or who you’re with? If you’re clear about that, then you can dance through the changes…
I’m convinced that work and business the whole world over are more similar than they are different. It’s grounded in my belief that core human nature is more powerful, for the most part, than culture or demographics. I was recently interviewed for a magazine called the Asia-Pacific Business and Technology Report, about career strategies – and the questions were not much different than those I would have gotten if the interviewer were in Kansas rather than Korea.
In any case, take a look and see what you think…you may see subtle differences I missed. In any case, I love the idea that I might be helping people in Seoul or Beijing have a more successful career.
Just back from a truly relaxing and rejuvenating vacation in Denmark. We stayed in a cottage near the sea about an hour north of Copenhagen. Throughout our time there, we were struck by how smooth, well-organized and clean everything was…without seeming regimented or bureaucratic. Here’s a picture of a kind of “normal” house we saw just walking down the street in a little village called Hornbaek. Beautiful.
I understand that the Danes are the self-reported happiest people in the world – and the folks we met certainly seemed positive, helpful and friendly, almost without exception. Renting a car at the airport and dropping it off were almost eerily simple and non-stressful (and the sweet guy who gave us our car threw in a GPS for half-price because he wanted us “to be able to get around with no problems”), as were picking up and turning in the keys to our handsome, clean, and astonishingly well-equipped rental cottage.
I wonder what their secret is? I’d like to package it and release it into the water system in New York….
For those of you who never watched westerns as a kid, or who aren’t as old as I am, the title of this post refers to an old Gene Autry song. In it, a contented cowboy sings happily about the joys of being back on the range, with the cows, his faithful horse, and his gun – doing what he loves, out where “a friend is a friend.”
If you take away the horse, the gun and the cows, I’m feeling a lot like old Gene this morning. I’ve just returned from a wonderfully relaxing and rejuvenating week in the sun, and I’m actually quite happy to be ‘back in the saddle.’ As we were leaving our resort in Jamaica on Saturday, there were a lot of long faces around us – people talking about being depressed to leave, one woman saying she was ‘living for the day’ when she could come back. I felt grateful that I was ready to return to my 21st-century horse/gun/cows/fellow cowpoke equivalents.
I’ve decided that one of the key elements of a great life is enjoying being on vacation – and enjoying coming back.
When I started this blog in January of 2007, I committed to you, dear reader, that I’d post at least once a week, except when on vacation. I’ve done a good job of fulfilling that commitment – if I do say so myself! – and I intend to continue as long as I continue to get feedback that you enjoy reading it and find it useful (and sometimes even inspiring – thanks for that!)
So now I get to invoke my vacation exception: Patrick and I are leaving for Jamaica on Saturday morning for a week in the sun, doing pretty much nothing at all. I can’t remember a time when I’ve looked forward to a vacation so much – I feel like I really need a period of rest and rejuvenation after the past few months. And the months ahead look to be even more busy and full of great things….
I’m a big fan of vacations – and I’d love to hear about your favorite one…where was it, who did you go with, and why was it so great?
I’m old enough that I’m still impressed by the power of technology, especially when it comes to communication. When I was a kid, there were three ways to send holiday greetings: the US mail, the phone, and in person.
Because long-distance phone charges were high, and you could only do a certain amount of running around to see people in person (still true, until they get that whole teleportation thing down) – the mail was the default setting for holiday communication.
So, think about it (especially those of you who weren’t around for this part of history). You made a list of all the people you wanted to send holiday greetings to; found out each of their mailing addresses if you didn’t already have it; wrote out a card and addressed an envelope for each one; put the cards in the envelopes and affixed a stamp to each; went to the mailbox or the post office, and sent them out. I remember my mom spending what seemed like weeks preparing and sending out her Christmas cards every year.
Now you can just write an email (or go to one of the many places that offer pre-created e-cards), create a group email list, and – click. Instantly all the people to whom you want to reach out, all over the world, get your message.
And it’s evolved even further over the past couple of years, through the miracle (to me) of easily embedded video links, so that you can send yourself, in effect: sharing a personal message in a way that lets friends and family see and hear you.
Or you can post (a verb that now means “write in your blog” vs. “send a letter”) your greetings…which I’ll do next week, and that will give me a chance to share my best holiday wishes with you and all my blogosphere friends – even though I may never have met you, I still think of you as a friend.
And that’s the cool thing. That all this technology can make it simpler and faster to meet and get to share parts of life with a wider variety of people, spread further apart. Which, I believe, can only help break down the barriers between people and countries, and make it more likely that the word “foreigner,” with all its negative and limiting us-and-them implications, will gradually drift out of use.
P.S. I’ve taken advantage of the aforementioned video technology to send a holiday message to all the folks on my Insider List. If you’d like to see and hear it, I invite you to join the conversation – if you haven’t done so already – in the sign-up space to the right of this post.