Archive for the ‘lessons’ Category

Speaking Well of Others Speaks Well of Ourselves

June 17, 2017
Be careful how you speak of others.
That sounds like the start of a stern lecture, so let me word that another way. Take care to think through what you say when you speak of others.
It doesn’t matter whether they are living or dead. The more negatively you speak of others, the more negative the reflection on you.
This stuff is called dirt for a reason.
I’ve always marveled at the interest of others have of drama not on the stage. Soap Operas, Reality TV, and a host of other things suck people in. This in addition to the drama we find ourselves facing on a daily basis. Speaking poorly of others only feeds that beast. How much is enough?
If you wish to speak of someone in a way that might warn others about their behavior, then consider the trust but verify approach. It carries more weight than muckraking.  An example I’ll share involves a referral. I was asked by a stunt coordinator about an individual she wanted to hire. The stunt side of the Film and Live Show entertainment business is different from the acting side. Where actors have to audition, stunt performers typically get their work through relationships and referrals. I was honest with her. I told her this particular performer had presented performance challenges on a previous project, and that I had to chase her for several weeks to get her info for a production I was coordinating, which ultimately opted not to hire her. It would have been easy to say, “the kid is lazy, immature, and unreliable” but there was a better way.
Find the better way.
A word when spoken is a bird taking wing for flight forever. The things you say you cannot undo, you cannot change, and you cannot take back.
This past week found me remembering my brother’s birthday, gone five years, and marking the passing of two people close to me. That qualifies as a pretty crappy trifecta in my book.
Neither who jumped ship this week was perfect, but both were worthy of stories that make us smile. In the one case, an old friend from my Rocky Horror days in the 80’s (and part of the then-famous Wild and Untamed Things) passed away after a lengthy battle with mental and physical health issues. At the memorial, my dear friend Jack and I both determined that stories to make people laugh was the order of the day. The Matriarch from my mother’s side of the family also shuffled her mortal coil. Her story to share (since I was and am still not ready to grieve openly) involved her walking up besides me, in the midst of a group of people we both knew, and rubbed my belly…as she looked at me and said, “Say it, honey. Lower and faster.” and then she walked away, laughing hysterically. In a rare case, I was left speechless.

When we are saddened by loss, someone more callous might observe and say, “boo hoo, people die.” That is not in the least bit mature, and we should not be those people. Nor should we pay any attention to those who demonstrate such ignorant temerity.

Speak well of others, living or dead, no matter how much the temptation to do otherwise. It’s better to be the better person than to live with regret because you said something in haste. Similarly, look for every opportunity to speak well and positively of those you know and those you love. Finding and extolling the good in others brings out the good in ourselves.
That’s how we should immortalize others; this, no doubt, is how we ourselves would want to be remembered.
Speaking of remembering, remember to call someone you love and remind them of how important they are to you.
Do it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
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Love, Greeting Card Style

May 9, 2017

It’s a funny thing, a greeting card.
If you walk through a store and happened to pass by the stationary and greeting cards section, take a look. Most people don’t even give that aisle a second look these days.
Why would we? We’ve got E cards, WhatsApp and Skype.

So I’m moved beyond measure when I receive a greeting card for my birthday. They’re just as special when one shows up ‘just because’. Sure, mom and dad usually will send the greeting card although they’re forgiven if they forget.
But when a friend sends a greeting card for your birthday? Think about the time it took out of their day to stop by a store and find that aisle, and then comb through every card until they found one that summarized and embraced their feelings for you.

That is a special person. Made even more so by the fact they feel the same way about you. now I’m not saying run out to your local hallmark and drop a couple a hundred on greeting cards for every occasion. But it might it not be a bad idea, proactively, to visit the card aisle next time you make a grocery run and stock up on a few cards that can be properly inscribed and dropped in the mail. Just keep them in the study, or on your pass through, and the next time you’re thinking of a friend, smiling about a family member you miss, scribe a few words and post.

Here is one way you do your level best to guarantee those people know how important they are to you. We must never forget in this digital age how important it is to do at least this much. They need to know. Emails, texts, messaging through the various forms are great, but this action elevates and enhances.

Consider this: when we receive that card, most of us on our best day might just be a shade better than half the person our family or friend thinks we are.

How We Change The Past

March 24, 2017
We Don’t. We can’t change the past.
I learned a great deal in the presence of my mom recently. Dad died a few months ago and she has managed to summon the strength necessary to move forward through the fog that besieged us all.
I mention we can’t change the past because I have spent so much of the recent past woefully lamenting how horrible a son, brother, or friend I have been I’ve managed to miss a few opportunities to do my level best in a situation.
There are several layers of danger in looking back. The obvious is you’re not looking forward. That’s bad because you don’t see what’s coming, and can’t prepare in the event something whacks, trips, or otherwise reaches out to influence your forwardly locomotion. It’s also not good because you are distracted. You’re so focused on the thing that already happened, and the “what-ifs” that surround it, you are fairly well insulated from anything happening in real time.
Many do this unintentionally. You’ll know it’s happening with someone else when you are sharing a story or insight and you get a “what’s that?” Or they nod absent-mindedly, and offer some form of affirmative answer in the hopes it is the correct one. Usually they’re thinking about something else, sometimes trying to connect the dots with a thought you just shared. Other times their mind is simply wandering.
But it is that other looking back, the one where you’ve lost the ability to move forward, breathe, or achieve on your own. That form of looking back can become a false comfort, providing a seductive darkness.
We miss out on opportunity when we continue to look back. We turn our back on the chance to experience in real time when we look back. People who live their entire holiday, or another event, through the lense of a camera suffer this fate.
An old friend hastened to advise me, with my love for photography, to try enjoying moments as they happened, and not through the view-finder. Another old dear friend, long passed, questioned why people couldn’t just enjoy the memories as they happened, since it was impossible to duplicate in a photo.
I have spent much time pondering how I was not the friend I should have been, that I was never truly there for those few who would have thrown themselves on the blade for me. My brother pointed out, years ago, it wasn’t possible for me to be an active participant in the ‘group thing’ because I was like Hans Solo in my Millenium Falcon (a 1972 Mach I with a 351 Cleveland, 4bblcarbs, and the destinct ability to both turn heads and cause whiplash). He told me I was running solo and had to because that was where I was in my life. It was a sort of Buddhist assessment. But it was also right.
My brother has also long sinced passed; at that moment death became a callous creature that reminded me of all the things we’d never get to do or share again, and of missed opportunities.
With my family the lament was similar. Holiday get-togethers. Phone calls. But it’s all in the past…
We can only influence the future.
Another wonderful and wise person told me the only reason you should look to the past is to see how far you’ve come, and hopefully, what you’ve learned. She’s right. We have to see where we’ve been to know where we’re going. The plus is we can change our behavor at any time.
In that case I think I’m doing ok. I just returned from a week in the mountains of Western North Carolina followed by a week in the coastal lowlands of South Carolina. Both places, rich in history, have residents whose sensibility is entrenched in the here-and-now. I worked hard to enjoy the moments as they came, and found myself living most of them. I spent much of my time around mom, doing work in and around the house, and simply being there without being suffocating. We scattered dad’s ashes in relative silence, hung his plaque, and did a bit of work around the area without somber reserve. Mom said to me, as we walked up the path from the garden, “I can’t imagine anyone else I would rather have done this with.” I didn’t take it as a commentary on how I was the favorite child: I am not; I viewed it instead couched in the context I believe it was meant: even if I devalued my own contributions to the family as a unit, I was appreciated in full and my value should not be be questioned.
Not looking back with regret will be tough, but I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Perhaps you can do the same, and check in from time to time with your own procedural?

People. People Who Need People.

March 21, 2016

If we’re lucky, I mean truly lucky, every so often someone will come along and offer you the kind of unsolicited advice that amounts to a life talk. It might happen when you’re a captive audience, or it might be something tossed into play from the periphery of a fleeting moment in your day.
That advice? Well, it might come in the form of a sentence or two.
It might also take the form of a full-fledged conversation. Or, if you’re fortunate, it might be a series of conversations than span decades.

I can remember those significant moments now 30 and 40 years later.

The first time was when I was in Boy Scouts. I was at a weekend event and did something really impressive. Once accomplished I proceeded to strut about like a male peacock displaying his full regalia. I’m certain this deed was not nearly as impressive to those around me, but I was a teenager (which really ought to explain a lot). In the midst of this, one man, my best friend’s father, waited for me to finish then pulled me aside. “Ron,” he began, “whenever you do or accomplish something worthy of recognition let other people notice without bringing it to their attention.”

You know, that’s pretty heady stuff for a 12 or 13 year old. Lee Widner was one of those people who just did that sort of thing. While growing up he was, in some ways, sort of a surrogate father. He often encouraged me with expert subtlety to get those Merit Badges and seriously focus enough on getting my Eagle Scout, which I completed all the requirements for, but moved out of the state and territory before I was awarded this honor. (To make matters more complicated, when I settled and located another troop and scout master, Richard Brown he did the research and could find no information I’d completed the process. I learned of two stories later, though had no way of confirming either. One said the troop disbanded. The other story suggested a massive vacuum created by several assistant scout masters leaving because the scout master left. I’ll never know. And I digress). Point is, Lee took the time to provide me doses of attention ordinarily reserved for his son Brad. I have little doubt, in reflection, that he didn’t provide such doses of guidance to others. It was his nature, and no doubt sewn into his DNA.

The second person that saw something in me worthy enough to garner his attention was my history professor, Ralph Clark. Mr. Clark was the kind of professor for whom people took classes they didn’t need nor would apply towards their curriculum credits. In many ways I was reminded of him the first time I ever watched Dead Poets Society. You see, Mr. Clark took the time to talk about history and went so much further. He loved teaching as much as he loved history, and he loved history. After a series of lectures and facilitation in Honors Western European History he set up a road trip. Destination? Vizcaya (if you’ve never heard of this place, look it up).

I went to college in South Florida, getting both my Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree from institutions of Higher Learning. The Chateau Vizcaya was an hour away from school. I signed up and was glad I did. I love history and always have. But what Mr. Clark did transcended anything I’d ever Learned. We walked through the rooms and then went outside and walked the grounds, studying the architecture. Mr. Clark would point out an architectural nuance or an element that had been talked about in class and then quietly step back and watch us engage each other. That keen sense of awareness, of how history would resonate because we were not only exposed to it but we were talking and living it. He was no fool. He knew we’d retain more than he taught.

Last class of the last semester of my Associates degree with Mr. Clark. I was halfway through the room when Mr. Clark said, “Ron take a seat for a moment.” So I did. After the room cleared he came over and sat down next to me. “Ron? You’re about to go into the big leagues. I mean sure, you may have a professor that cares enough for you to get to know your name but in most of your classes your grades are going to be determined by a Midterm and a Final. Extra credit will be a thing of the past.”

He took the time to explain to me what I was getting into. Honestly I had no idea and simply justified his conversation as the rattlings of an old man. But he cared enough to take time out of a day no less busy than any other to talk to me. When he finished he simply said, “Well, that’s all Uncle Ralph has to say.” He retired and went to live in the Shenandoah Valley, a place rich in history. With his departure went a era.

Another advocate was Dr. Peter Roundy. Fifteen minutes into my first class I knew I had to take others. And I did. Much of my  electorate requirements were populated with courses taken where Dr. Roundy was professor. Our relationship developed into a genuine friendship. He travelled the world, gone for six to nine months at a time, teaching English in Thailand or some other fantastic locale. In a turnabout for memorable experiences, he told me once, over lunch, I was one of the only students that wrote him every time he travelled. I liked him and couldn’t help myself. His method for dispensing advice was simple: a few words here and there, doled out like chocolate sprinkles on a double dark chocolate cupcake. It was as if he’d see you starting to slip off the path and he’d turn you right again. Of course, if you were me you chose to bulldoze your way through life, only reflecting later on something said and remarking to yourself, “Oh. That’s what he meant.”

And then there was Christopher Burns. I have written much on the man that became my brother with a bond that could not be broken by words or actions. Every living creature should be so fortunate as to have someone in their life so generous. He was a general in my army, champion to my action, and quiet observer to my missteps. He was wise enough, as any oracle, to let me stumble.

An idea man, he often studied and dissected things (including me), looking for a way to make it better. I was fortunate to be the recipient of those talks, even if the ideas might take years to stick.

I still reflect on those conversations and wish I had the chance, especially with Christopher, to sit and simply talk, letting that wisdom pour over me like a comforting breeze. Those talks never truly resonated with me at the time. But that’s the thing with really insightful advice: sometimes it requires time to germinate, to find purchase in the rich soil of the mind. Many take heed and respond to the call quickly. Others like yours truly sometimes miss the opportunity to give such advice the chance to help us change direction. As a result, when it does seat, we’ve already moved on.

I guess my message is this to you, my dear reader. We need people like that in our lives. They give us contextual insight through objective eyes. They are sometimes our reset button. If someone comes along and gives you the sort of unsolicited advice that peels itself like a Foxtail Palm or an artichoke and reveals more every time you glance its way, here’s what you do: if you can’t actually listen, retain and immediately apply that information, at least try to remember the critical piece of it. Give that advice a chance, just as that person who cared gave you. In time, you’ll not only be applying some of those helpful hints and life coach adjustments, but just as good, you’ll discover someone who might just need a little bit of the same.

It’s another way of making the world better one deed at a time.

Leadership Lessons From the Rocky Horror Picture Show

August 7, 2015

Life, Leadership, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Mention the Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS) to people, and you’ll hear one of a few responses.
“Never saw it.”
“I knew people who used to perform in it.”
“I remember going to see it.”
“I used to perform in a cast.”
“I do perform in a cast from time to time. We’re called the ‘Rice Chucking Toast Eaters’ (Most casts adopt a phrase, expression, or song title as cast name).
Once, just once, I heard someone reply, “Rocky what?”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, with no sign of it disappearing from movie screens anytime soon. Not bad for a film noteworthy enough to be recognized by the Library of Congress as a culturally relevant cinematic offering of the twentieth century.

The history of how I found myself at a showing, with cast performing in front of the screen, mimicking the movements of the actors they dressed to resemble, is a much longer story left to the pages of a certain non-fiction tome. Some of the lessons I took away? These key insights I’ll share.

So, how exactly does RHPS create Leadership, Collaborative, and Learning pieces?

The Learning Piece.
Remember why you are there, remember the story you’re telling, & invite others to be part of the story.
Most every cast has a protocol for entering the ranks of performers. It includes paying dues, beginning at the entry level position as a Transylvanian, and assembling said costume for the performance. The art of collaboration comes in handy here, as most newbies rarely show up with make up. One learns over time what is necessary to carry out the expected tasks for the job (or role, as it were).

One reason why just about every single RHPS shadow cast performer starts as a Transylvanian is the high attrition rate. If you’re not a good partner, or you discover dressing up at midnight isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll quietly slip away, as so many did and do. Another reason the role of Transylvanian is entry level is because it is the only role in the cast where one is not expected to match their onscreen persona. It was a great way to identify those participants who were a good fit or a right fit.
If you are a good partner, you learn the moves and choreography. You might even pick a cross section of onscreen Transylvanians on which to base your style or look. And you’ll pay close attention to the leads, knowing where they go, why they go there, and how to keep out of their way. You also pay attention because there will come a time when opportunity will beckon. a key tenet for highly effective leaders?The well-prepared know enough to recognize & seize opportunity the first time.

The best way to grow and foster growth in others as well as yourself is to make yourself vulnerable (not that you’re thinking any of this as a teenager). It’s hard to imagine being more vulnerable than to be standing practically stark naked in tighty whiteys (or bra and panties), or strutting in fishnet stockings. In this digitally connected world, where the line for what is permissible or acceptable for public consumption is intentionally blurred, no matter who you are, the first time your clothes are stripped down to near nakedness, you become supremely aware of notions such as how cold it is, how many people are staring – STARING – at you, and, with your mom’s admonishing tone in your ear, did you remember to wear clean underwear. Your success is predicated on learning to first lean on and then partner with others, leveraging their knowledge for continued success.

The Collaborative Piece.
Divergent viewpoints permit growth and expansion, improving both morale and performance.
During my very short tenure at the Florida Twin, a discordant undercurrent developed into an evenly heated boil. When it hit, it hit with a whiplash-inspired crack of lightning. The stage manager announced the excommunication of a few members of the cast under the guise of establishing a new theatre. What came next shocked everyone. Several other members (including yours truly) opted to leave as well. Our logic? If they’re leaving, so am I. En masse we left, as one, to the consternation, belittling, and heckling of the remaining cast. They were convinced that in a matter of weeks we’d come back, begging to be accepted into the poisoned bosom of the very same theatre from whence we had been unceremoniously evicted.
The action of displacement proved for us to be immediately cementing.

Once we’d found our stride and the cast had been established, more or less, we were motivated to change things up. To keep things fresh, we had shows like Switch Nights (guys did the female roles and vice versa). These ideas were sometimes crowd-sourced from the cast, on occasion solicited from our guests (the theatre goers), and, a time or two, broached by a stage manager. We even made clear to the world we were committed to each other and the enterprise by adopting the Nom de Guerre “Wild and Untamed Things”, performing at the Ultravision in Deerfield, Florida. The message here? The recipe for success and growth comes when no source for inspiration is discounted.

A couple of things struck the casual observer: we were a most acerbic group, a family with a host of issues, constantly giving each other grief. Yet no ‘outsider’ in their right mind would dare throw the gauntlet at any one of us. In doing so, you invited full scale war with the entire cast. In the rare event someone suffered a lapse of reason and chose this route, they were effectively verbally eviscerated. Usually by the female members of the cast.
Another important aspect of the Collaboration Piece was the keen awareness to maintain balance. For the core group of the cast, this meant staying together from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. Many a weekend was spent in close confines and cozy company. A few times we elected to do a one day road trip to Orlando and visit the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World; other times we went south, to Islamorada. These often took place after our Saturday night performance.

In any “conventional” Operation or Line of Business this might be referred to as a Team Outing, or a Team Building Exercise. For us, it was a necessary part of who we were: a wholly dysfunctional, yet highly capable family.

The Leadership Piece.
In the beginning, we cycled through a couple of stage managers who continued to remain with the cast in the roles they performed, no ill will borne towards either. Ultimately, we found a dedicated leader in a man affectionately known to the cast as Daddy Russ.

A strong leader with vision, patience, caring, and the ability to listen is critical to the survival and existence of any organization.
To put it another way, good leadership is about building bridges; great leadership is about maintaining them.

In the Wild and Untamed Things, presuming you’d made the cut, many began to look at taking on one of the principal roles. On occasion, the Stage Manager made the decision for you. Despite my objections, this is exactly what happened to me. In fact, the stage manager at the time, for the cast I’d been a member of for only a couple of weeks, in Hollywood, Florida gave me an ultimatum. When their principal performer for the role of Brad was a no-show, five minutes before show I was told, “You’re either doing the role of Brad, or you’re out of the cast.” While it terrified little teenager me at the time, it demonstrated a great example of critical, decisive leadership.

Yet no stage manager in my history of RHPS shadow casts demonstrated a more clear and consistent understanding of the nuances required to rein in a bunch of unruly teens while allowing enough lead to guarantee we were happy and professional than Russ. He cared enough to connect with each of us.
Over-managing was something he did without our knowing. He focused on the details most would overlook: generating revenue to maintain and acquire new props and costumes, marketing, and a succession plan. Every performer was an understudy for someone else. Even some of the regular Transylvanians were tapped into service. And to guarantee you knew your understudy role, you performed it once a month.
In this fashion, the Wild and Untamed Things became recognized as one of the greatest shadow casts of the time.
Any doubt was laid to rest when, at our 25th anniversary reunion, we performed to a packed house in a borrowed theatre. The resident cast, in an excellent display of collaborative partnership, welcomed those of us who wished to reprise our roles in their home.
The confirmation of Daddy Russ’s most excellent stage management skills were on full display when he was approached and asked if we’d be interested in coming to perform at least once a month.
I would tell you how that played out, but you’ll have to read the only book ever written about life in a Rocky Horror Shadow Cast, Confessions of a Transylvanian, to learn for yourself.

Russ was not the only person who managed to lead by unifying. Once in a while there comes a person with the kind of Zen personality that begs any within orbit to seek counsel and shelter from the storm.
In this case it was Donny. A quiet leader who observed everything, he was known to all of us as “Donny the Teddy Bear” until one night he demonstrated the kind of no-hesitation determination that earned him the moniker “Donny the Destroyer.” Yet Donny never greeted a member of his Rocky family with anything other than a warm smile and hug.
The key insight here? Leadership can happen anywhere, anytime, and be initiated by anyone.

Donny was so well loved that my dear friend (and co-author) Jack and I flirted with several incarnations of a book about our experiences, until we found the story line that had to be told. That book of course became Confessions of a Transylvanian. Whether you’re a leader, colleague, or part time contributor, such a disposition makes you indispensable.

So the next time you hear about someone going to participate in a Rocky Horror shadow cast, consider the over-arching commitment. there are worse places one could learn bad habits about managing, but not too many better where one can shine as a leader. Those willing to step out of their comfort zone are willing to take bold steps.
That’s some high-hanging fruit.

Interested in the book? check out http://www.RockyConfessions.com

…and remember: don’t Dream it. Be it.