Four Reasons for Sacrifice

There are a few key reasons people make sacrifices:

Someone is making me. “You may not go outside and play until you’ve cleaned your room.”

There’s something in it for me. “If you don’t eat ice cream for a month, I’ll give you a hundred dollars.”

I want to help someone else. “I’ll give you half my sandwich so you don’t have to be hungry.”

I believe in the cause. “I’ll stand outside in the cold in front of the grocery store and picket because I think it’s important for people to know the injustice of the system.”

Believing in a cause or vision doesn’t always result in radical behavior, yet it does often require sacrifice. But when you’re working toward something that you believe in, the sacrifice is always worth it.

A Night at the Art Institute

Thursday nights the Art Institute of Chicago is free to residents of Illinois. In an attempt to become more cultured I’ve started to take advantage of this perk. According to the website, there are nearly 300,000 works of art “in fields ranging from Chinese bronzes to contemporary design and from textiles to installation art.” Based on the rest of my research, it’s somewhere around a million square feet—but for some odd reason, sources are cagey on that one.

As you know, I really love to watch people and then categorize them. And there are lots of fascinating types of people at an art museum.

Stop and Stare: Their family members go through an entire wing in the time . . .

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Your Two Choices

You know the feeling—the first time in your professional career you worked really, really hard on something. You stayed late after work for two weeks, poured hours and hours of energy and heart into the project, and drove all your friends crazy because you wouldn’t talk about anything else.

Finally, deadline day rolled around. You printed off the proposal, took the inevitable my-firstborn-child-is-going-to- . . .

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Networking (or, Learning as a Team)

Networking: (v.) a professional term for making friends and then shamelessly using them to learn things and get places in life.

Today, I had the privilege of sitting in on a discussion with several peers in the communications field as they discussed where they’ve gone since college, and what they’ve learned in the process. Everyone has a different story, and hearing insightful people unpack what they’ve learned is a valuable experience.

My four biggest takeaways . . .

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Six Years Old on a Plane

One Christmas when I was small, my family flew to Florida to spend the holiday with my grandparents. Our family of seven rarely flew places when I was younger, since corralling five children through an airport is both costly and (I imagine) exhausting.

The travel day, already an adventure, became more exciting when we ate ice cream for lunch, and climaxed when I was given the privilege of sitting . . .

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10 Typical Meeting Behaviors

Meetings are one of those interesting topics that almost everyone has an opinion about—

some people really love them (large groups help me brainstorm),
some people really despise them (you expect me to be articulate on the spot in a room full of people?),
but not many people view them with complete ambivalence.

Just as there are many strong opinion about meetings, there is more than one distinct . . .

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20 Years of Perfect Grammar

This week, one of my highly esteemed coworkers celebrated her 20th anniversary on the job. She’s been at it for *almost* as long as I’ve been alive, and she’s still going strong.

Not everyone has a positive key word that describes them—most of us are checking in somewhere around “present,” “trying not to fall asleep,” “mediocre,” or “making it . . .

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George Washington's Key to Leadership

Leadership isn’t just being in charge of people—it’s the ability to motivate men and women to persevere in the face of dreadful opposition, insurmountable odds, and flagging spirits.

George Washington is held up as one of the main reasons for America’s independence, though he had many flaws and made more than one costly mistake. In 1776 David McCullough outlines the trait that brought Washington, thus the Continental Army, success:

He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gift orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up.

Again and again, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he had called for perseverance—for “perseverance and spirit,” for “patience and perseverance,” for “unremitting courage and perseverance.” Soon after the victories of Trenton and Princeton, he had written: “A people unused to restraint must be led, they will not be drove.”

Yet Washington only took the responsibility of leading his country in the battle against America because he believed in the vision: that all men are created equal, and that the oppressive tyranny that the United Colonies were being subjected to was unjust. He had nothing to offer his soldiers but the vision of freedom, and when all else failed, this is indeed how he was able to motivate them to persevere.

On December 30, 1776, when the contracts of many of the soldiers in his army were expiring, winter had begun full-force, and all seemed lost, Washington made the appeal to his troops to continue fighting and not abandon the cause of freedom.

One of the soldiers would remember his regiment being called into formation and His Excellency, astride a big horse, addressing them “in the most affectionate manner.” The great majority of the men were New Englanders who had served longer than any and who had no illusions about what was being asked of them. Those willing to stay were asked to step forward. Drums rolled, but no one moved. Minutes passed. Then Washington “wheeled his horse about” and spoke again.

“My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected, but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you can probably never do under any other circumstance.”

Again the drums sounded and this time the men began stepping forward. “God Almighty, wrote Nathanael Greene, “inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew.”

Being a good leader isn’t only about upholding the cause—it’s also about casting the vision to persevere when all seems lost.

5 Secrets to a Successful Celebration

Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I spent the last three days living the party life. Crazy, I know.

We attended a wedding, a birthday party, a baby shower, and a bridal shower in four different cities. After spending 72 hours celebrating people at four occasions held by radically different hosts, I discovered that there are a few key themes in holding a celebration for someone.

1. It’s not about the money.
People often equate the quality of a celebration with the amount of money that’s poured into it. But at the end of the day, if you’re having a party (unless you associate with millionaires on the regular), not one will care if you have dippin’ dots instead of caviar. People are more interested in the mood.

2. Care about your guests.
If people are more interested in the mood, and you want them to enjoy it, make it easy to enjoy. Create a cheerful atmosphere, be kind and attentive to your guests, and remind them that you’re grateful for their presence (and presents, if it’s that kind of thing). And give them something to do, so they don’t have to stand around awkwardly trying to make friends with your coworker who you also invited or your grandma who’s a little deaf.

3. Have a plan—and to be flexible.
Give your guests something to do: icebreakers when they come in, a few more intentional games, snacks or drinks to hold on to, and intentional conversation starters. But, if one activity eats up more time than it’s supposed to, or the food you’re getting catered arrives 45 minutes late, don’t throw a fit. No one else cares as much as you do.

4. Food isn’t the main priority.
Guests don’t come to the wedding for the food, they come to see you get married. Food catastrophes are common, but five years down the road, no one will remember if there weren’t enough hot dogs at your birthday party (but they may remember if they all get food poisoning from the hot dogs, so try not to serve old hot dogs). If something goes wrong with the food, take a quick trip to the store—or just apologize to your guests and tell them they’ll have to stop at McDonalds on the way home.

5. A little thoughtfulness goes a long way.
You’ll have more of an influence in someone’s life if you sit and listen to them for eight minutes than if you spend eight minutes trying to make sure everyone knows how much time you spent making the decorations perfect. Pay attention to people, listen to them, and show them you care about them—that’s what will make a celebration they never forget.

People Who Brave Chicago Snowstorms

Thursday night and all day Friday, a casual observer would’ve assumed Chicago was preparing for Y2K—alas, no such superstition proved true. It was just another snowstorm.

After 36 hours of spitting snow, take-your-breath-away wind, and thick cloud cover, the weather is back to normal: sunny and cold, with a few inches of snow on the ground, and clear, salty streets. I’m sure it’s come as a surprise to the thousands of people who spent Friday afternoon spending their paycheck on bottled water, canned food, and candles.

Because I’ve only cultivated enough good sense to keep from wandering alleys in the dark, of course when it shows the first thing I do is put on my warm clothes and go outside.

After spending a few hours outside every day, I’ve learned there are lots of different kinds of people who go out in Chicago winter.

My dog is tired: A man wearing mustard-yellow ski pants charged past me, wearing an adult golden retriever slung rather unceremoniously over his shoulders. The dog kept sniffing people’s faces, and when an old lady reacted in surprise at a wet nose inches from her own, the dog-carrying man grunted and said, “He’s just tired.”

My rain boots are impervious: Chicago natives (should) all know that in a heavy snow, it’s far better to wear rain boots than snow boots. The city dumps about 1 ton of salt every 60 minutes, so within an hour of the snow, everything that used to be covered in pretty white is gray slush. Countless people who do know the secret of rain boots in the snow charge through intersections with little regard for anyone else—or their own feet.

My marathon training can’t wait: If running in the city isn’t already dangerous enough for you (concrete + knees = hasty joint demise), try doing it when there’s packed snow and ice on a third of your route—but make sure you don’t care about your pants. Yesterday, a runner hurried across an intersection in front of me, stomping in every slushy puddle. His joggers were splattered with water from knees down, and his shoes were saturated.

My sidewalk is my passion: It’s easy to tell the difference between the people who take pride in cleaning their 64 square feet of sidewalk, and the people who just don’t care. We have one neighbor who always shovels and salts his walk by nine a.m., and another neighbor who waits until mid-afternoon to casually step out, test the slickness, and throw some salt on top of everything. If it doesn’t melt today, I know it’ll by gone by April.

My closet is empty: Because I’m wearing every single article of clothing I own. And I also can’t turn my neck more than eight degrees. But it sure is toasty up in here.

My man card needs more punches: Manliness—or maybe just desperation for cash—inspires dozens of brave delivery bikers to skid and slip along the soggy streets. It’s a whole new level of crazy. Reminiscent of second grade, most of them also drag their toes to stop.

My kids? What kids? Sometimes adults forget the thrill, awe, and wonder of the first snow, and only realize half-way down the block that their six-year-old and eight-year-old are throwing snowballs back at the corner. It’s a sorry thing to be upset about.

My feet are so stylish: There’s a lot of real estate for commentary on winter footwear. About half the people who venture into the weather choose fashion over function. Apparently it’s cool now to arrive at your final destination with frostbitten toes and sloshing shoes, instead of dry feet in ugly waterproof boots. Also, exposed ankle skin must be stylish too. Who doesn’t want red, itchy ankles for two hours after coming inside?

My home is not here: It’s easy to tell who’s not from around here for two reasons. 1) I have a not-black ski coat. 2) I stop to take pictures of buildings in nine degree weather.

My, this is nothing: This measly snowfall has nothing on the blizzard of ’12. Or ‘94. ‘92. ‘86. ‘81. Etc.

What a good weekend to be alive.