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The lost art of looking back (plus a 5-year anniversary)

Anniversaries are a wonderful time for reflection; unfortunately, most entrepreneurs (myself included) are often too focused on task lists, what still hasn’t been done, the goals that are yet to be achieved.

As the five year anniversary of Learning House grows near, I find myself combing through photos and memories. It’s emotional to think about all the people who have helped foster and shape this community from a seed of a dream. (If you’re interested about stats and numbers, I’ll be posting on our nonprofit’s page soon; impressive, like so many of the people we work alongside and serve).

The biggest visions come with challenges and frustrations and disappointments and even moments of despair. But there are flashes of promise and success, too.

Failing to set aside time to appreciate those moments can lead to burnout. It’s a refreshing gift to look back and see all that’s been done.

Yes, focus on your goals. Yes, take daily steps in the direction of progress and improvement. But please, make time for reflection.

Share gratitude with others.

In the upcoming weeks, we will be posting some memories and stories from the past five years on Facebook. I’d love to invite you to follow along and celebrate with us.

Leading isn’t a grandiose gesture

The smallest actions can have the greatest impact. Lead by example may sound trite, but it’s true.

Trying to encourage others to follow a set path? The way you act and exist in the world either endears others to you or creates boundaries between who you say you are and the goals you hope to achieve.

The small, daily actions are the most difficult. Yet these “little things” can also be the most rewarding:

A pause before a response.

Treating others with respect.

Making breakfast for a loved one.

Creating platforms for others to succeed.

This is how you show leadership. Day in and day out, through actions and words.

My kindness birthday initiative

On August 6, I will turn 35.

Aging seems to get a bad rap in some circles, but I’d like to think I’m becoming a stronger, wiser, more patient, more grounded, and overall more confident person.

Leading up to my birthday, my goal is to complete 35 acts of kindness. I will make them public in hopes of inspiring a few of my friends to look for ways to spread kindness and love in their own communities and friend circles.

Kindness should be the norm, not the exception.

I think we can all do our part to make neighborhoods around the world more accepting, more tolerant, and more loving. That would be the best birthday gift, really.

H/T Kristina Kuzmic’s 40 for 40.

Here’s my list:

  1. Reconnect with a family member or friend. Send an email, a facebook message, make a call.
  2. Give something useful. I gave a friend a tub of Whey Protein. Daily use.
  3. Surprise someone with a “local” present. I chose to support a local entrepreneur who makes small batches of peanut butter.
  4. Send flowers. A simple way to say thank you and express appreciation.
  5. Gift a plant. Succulents make wonderful anniversary presents.
  6. Post-it notes. Stick notes of inspiration at your office, gym, or home.
  7. Leave nice comments on Facebook for an old friend to see. Sometimes less is more: Short, sweet, from the heart.
  8. Recharge 5 people’s phone. (This is a thing in Nepal, but I’m sure there are international equivalents; pay someone’s phone bill?)
  9. Pass a book. I love Steal Like An Artist.
  10. Gift a gratitude/dream journal. Inspire someone’s writing habit! Plus, handmade journals are beautiful.
  11. Baked goods. Bring brownies to the office. Or make something for a neighbor.
  12. Celebrate something. Throw a party for a friend.
  13. Food. Bring a snack for someone who is working.
  14. Write a thank you card. A real deal handwritten note.
  15. Bring a cake to someone. Maybe it’s their birthday, maybe it isn’t. Any day is a good day to celebrate.
  16. Compliment someone. Recognize talent, skills, or hard work. Say it to their face.
  17. Sweet treats. Bring cupcakes (or fruit) for students.
  18. Schedule a massage FOR YOURSELF. When your cup is full, you can better give to others.
  19. Encourage someone’s career or education. Help them sign up for an online class or just give a warm hug if they’re feeling down.
  20. Support. Send five encouraging text messages.
  21. Motivate. Encourage a friend to plan a vacation.
  22. Talk to a neighbor. Really, take time to have a conversation with people who live nearby.
  23. Send 5 encouraging texts.
  24. Bones for a furry friend.
  25. Give a kid a ball — soccer ball, basketball, whatever. 
  26. Send someone a song (youtube) in the morning to brighten their day.
  27. One Simple Wish
  28. Surprise a friend who is stuck at work with chocolate, snacks. 
  29. Coffee coupons. Make “vouchers” to give to friends for coffee dates.
  30. Send a birthday cake to a friend in a different city.
  31. Buy movie tickets for friends.
  32. Volunteer at a local school (bring school supplies while you’re at it).
  33. Be kind to yourself. Join a gym, eat well.
  34. Support a friend’s business. 
  35. Throw an epic theme party and invite your closet friends. 

Now, I’m going to let you in on a secret.

This isn’t easy.

Before I posted notes all over my gym, I was anxious as all get out. Is this silly, is this Too Over The Top, am I being childish?

We have to get comfortable with stress. In fact, we have to work to create it.

Not many people know this about me: I’m a Pretty Freaking Anxious Person. I worry. A lot. I get nervous. But with time and practice, I have learned to manage.

(My mom deserves some cred here for encouraging me to join various musicals and stage performances when I was a kid. Years as a street performer forced me to tackle anxiety head on.)

What do I tell my students? Fake it ’til you make it. I tell them this because this advice has gotten me through more situations than I can count: Entering a prison to interview a convict, switching careers and landing a job at a Manhattan ad agency, organizing my first 500+ person seminar, cold-calling famous people to invite them to events, starting crowdfunding campaigns to build something from scratch.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to better manage my anxiety. I’ve also learned that when I don’t feel stress, I get bored and restless and am probably not pushing myself in ways that I should be.

True evolution and meaningful growth come from those places you want to run and hide from: Tension and Discomfort. It is a worthy challenge to learn to settle into these moments. Instead of running away, ground down. Pause. Sit in silence.

And then go. Give.

Here’s to 35.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

-Marianne Williamson

BONUS, if you’re still here:

  • Tell me about a surprise you’ve received OR given. How did it feel?
  • Last, and certainly not least, how do you manage discomfort and anxiety?

Add a comment on Medium or tweet me @redheadlefthand. I’d love to hear from you.

Letting go: A skill

Most people hold onto relationships or situations longer than necessary. Stability is appealing, and change is hard. Loyalty has the potential to be faulty, however, and should be reserved for situations that show promise and potential. Even reciprocity.

We have limited energy to share. Learning to discard situations and environments with insight and discretion is a necessary skill. Maintaining energetic ties with people who are rude, mean, or unkind serves nothing and no one.

Releasing stale, stagnant people and places welcomes more power, more magic, more energy, and more love into your life. Though difficult, it is never too late to recognize and change behavior patterns.

That which you focus on is what will expand.

Skills for a lifetime

Learning House began in 2014 to encourage education and leadership. Thousands of young adults have participated in free career counseling and seminars, English language classes and test preparation courses. In 2016, eighteen students reached their dreams of pursuing work and/or higher education abroad (you can see more participation numbers from last year here); I anticipate these numbers will continue to grow.

In the four years I’ve lived and volunteered in Nepal, I’ve met many students who want to go abroad for higher education but struggle to pay tuition and living expenses. Knowing how to make coffee is a valuable skill that can help students pay for their studies. And with the rise of coffee shops in Nepal, students will have options to start saving up for college early on.

By purchasing an espresso machine and educating students on the history of coffee, types of coffee, and preparation of the most commonly ordered cafe drinks, we will empower students with employable skills. Not only will students learn latte design and the parts of an espresso machine, they will learn business and sales, basic elements of hospitality, and increase their confidence.

We have found a local retailer who will supply a Casadio DIECI machine and offer two years free service and one year guarantee, along with ten days training for two teachers. These teachers will then run classes for local students.

Donate here to help get this program started.