"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Monday, January 8, 2018

Lessons from a man named 'Flower'

Early in life, I learned something that has become sort of a way of life for me.  It’s a way to view the world around us and how we can make the most of what the world has to offer.  

But in order for you to understand this message, you need to know about the man who originated the concept and about his humble beginnings.  

On January 8, 1931, a boy was born to a poor Italian family living in the area of New York City known as Harlem.  As he grew up the boy soon learned that the middle name his mother gave him to represent the beauty and love he had brought into her life -- Fiore – would cause him trouble.  Back then, Harlem was primarily an Italian neighborhood, and the Italian kids he grew up with all loved to pick on the small boy with the middle name that translates to the word “Flower.”  He had to become tough, this boy.  He took many a beating, but learned to give back as good as he got. 

To add to his woes, the boy’s father was an alcoholic who frequently drifted away on binges for long periods at a time, usually taking what meager earnings he had with him and leaving the family to scrape for food.  The boy had to help bring food into the house, so he worked at odd jobs – carrying packages, painting, woodworking – always learning new ways in which he could to earn a few pennies. 

By the time the boy was 13 years old, he had four more siblings and his father had disappeared for good.  So he left school and started to work full time to support his mother, two brothers and two sisters.  Again doing whatever he could to earn some coins.  He continuously learned new trades – delivery boy, carpenter, janitor, short-order cook, stock boy -- becoming a sponge for any subject that would help make him branch out and do more things to earn enough money to feed the family. 

As his siblings grew, instead of having them go to work and try to take some of the burden off of himself, he encouraged them to stay in school. To make as much of themselves as they could, while he continued to support them. Like others of his generation, he spent some time in the Army -- also sending that paycheck home.  

Years later, that young man married and ultimately had another family to feed – his wife and two sons.  He encouraged his sons to do the same thing.  To stay in school, to enrich themselves, to learn something new everyday – not just in school but everywhere, from every experience.  Meanwhile, he had many jobs and tried many things – truck driver, warehouse manager, equipment operator, plumber.  When work dried up in one area, he’d learn to do something else. 

By the time he died in 1989 – way too young at 58 years old and shortly after his new daughter was born – he knew how to do practically everything.  He could fix anything and there was little he hadn’t tried. 

He approached life with a great sense of humor.
This remarkable man never achieved financial greatness or worldly renown.  When he died, he was still a humble man by “worldly standards.”  He was still a blue collar worker, although in mid-management at that point.  His last job was as an exterminator, but he had reveled in his newly learned knowledge about pest control.  And he had approached everything in his life with the same vigor and excitement. And with a great sense of humor, too. 

In his small piece of the world, he made a very large impact and had a very important message.  “The world,” he would say “is an amazing place and life is way too short to miss out on all it has to offer.  The whole world is your classroom – you should learn from it.”   

It is this wisdom that I share with you today in recognition of what would have been his 87th birthday. 

Learn something new every day.  Period.  That’s the message.  Learn something new everyday. 

I’m not necessarily talking about formal classes, although they can be very rewarding, but learn from everything around you.  Each and every day brings us a new experience, a new opportunity to broaden ourselves, to improve ourselves.  No day should be wasted. 

With each experience we should come away enriched, more the wiser for what we have learned – even if that lesson was simply what NOT to do. 

Don’t be afraid to try new things.  So many people block themselves off from the many rich experiences that life has to offer. 

Try new foods.  You don’t know what you’ll like until you try it.  Some people say that they eat only certain things because they know they like them, so why take a chance on not liking something else.  My answer to that is, what if you like this something new even better? 

Travel.  See the world. Or see the country.  Or even the state or the city.  Take a different route home.  On the weekend, instead of sitting at home watching the ball game, get in the car, drive up to the mountains, get off the highway and just get lost for a couple of hours on the back roads.  You’ll ultimately find another major road, or you can use an old-fashioned map, ask for directions, or use your GPS crutch if you need it, but think of the beautiful scenery you might get to see.  Or that little hole-in-the-wall restaurant you might find where they make the best burgers on the planet. 

My wife and I have had some of the best meals in places like this. 

Or that little mom-and-pop antique shop that you may stumble across that has the very same dinnerware you had in your house when you were a kid and can bring back a flood of wonderful childhood memories.  I found a lamp that my grandmother had when I was a kid! 

Listen to a variety of music.  Go to live performances of all kinds. 

Take classes and read books, not only in your field, but in other areas that might interest you. Broaden your horizons. 

And don’t forget to apply this to work too.  Try new ways of doing things.  Be open minded to suggestions and ideas.  If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.  If you want something better, you’ve got to try something new. 

And most importantly, pass it on.  Instill this ethic to those around you and you will find that you will enjoy your time together more – whether that is family or coworkers. 

If you take every experience – good and bad – and learn something from it, you will find yourself less stressed, able to deal with change more readily (perhaps even embracing it); able to deal with crises more easily; able to think quickly when you need to.  You’ll be more eligible for promotions (if that is what you desire) or ready to take on a new career field (if that is what you desire) or perhaps ready to play at your new hobbies in your retirement (if that is what you desire). 

You will find it hard to be grouchy.  Sure, you’ll still have bad days – we all do – but they will be easier to deal with. 

I have embraced this lesson of continuous learning.  I learned this lesson first-hand from that hard-working wise man I was telling you about.  The one with the Italian middle name that meant “Flower”. 

Yeah, that's dad and me. 
I can think of no better tribute to my father than to live by his ethics and to spread his advice to others. 

So take this message to heart.  Enrich your life.  Learn from every experience and expand your experiences to expand your learning. 

I hope you have learned something new today.  

Happy birthday, dad. I love you and miss you. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Day of Service, Month of Mentoring, Lifetime of Reward

Today we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., but not just his birthday, but also what he stood for. The day is rightfully called the Martin Luther King Day of Service and encourages involvement in our communities. Dr. King inspired an ethic of selfless service to others. How appropriate then that the month of his birth is designated as National Mentoring Month, for what is mentoring than giving of yourself to others.
There is nothing so important as helping others to learn and grow, to make good decisions, to not be defeated by mistakes, and to have a foundation of support.

I have been fortunate to have great mentors in my life, some formal and most informal. The informal ones were role models, people I watched and learned from, who inspired me to behave in certain ways, to take action, to get involved.

Growing up in the volatile 1960s and 70s, Dr. King was one of those inspirational role models for me, an informal mentor, from whom I learned tolerance, acceptance, and my place as a servant to my community.  I learned the wrongness of inequality, and how the world can be greatly improved when every individual has the opportunity to contribute and fulfill their destiny.

These built upon the basic foundations begun by my very first mentor, my father.
John Fiore Verrico, who would have celebrated his 86th birthday last week and I still feel the void left in our lives when we lost him way too young nearly 28 years ago. Dad was one of those guys who could do just about anything, even though he had no formal training or education. He left school at a young age to go to work to help support his mother and siblings after his father was gone. But he made the best of every situation. If he needed a job and didn’t know how to do that particular type of work, he taught himself the skills he needed.  

Dad loved everyone and everyone loved him. There were no boundaries of color, age, gender, religious belief. None of it mattered. He viewed people as individuals and judged them only how they conducted themselves and how they treated others. The only people that he was intolerant of were those who were intolerant of others.

Dad taught us to learn something new every day – a motto I have taken to heart and live my life by.

Throughout my school life, I had some great teachers and coaches at various points and the ones who stand out the most were the ones who encouraged me to try. Taught me equality, team cohesion, and individual value. They inspired me to reach beyond my self-perceived boundaries and not be afraid to fail.
To this day, I still wonder where my career would have gone had it not been for the very first Chief Petty Officer I worked for in the Navy. Paul Puskar, known lovingly to all aboard USS BUTTE as “Chief Push,” was my first formal mentor. He let me try new things, he let me make mistakes, and he enabled me to learn from them. He held me accountable, but never let me actually fail in an irrevocable way. He was not above sitting in the studio with the new kid through the wee hours of the morning recording radio and television shows that we’d air the next day. Some of my fondest memories were putting together "Chief Push's Time Machine" and the "Rock-the-BUTTE Show" with Push. Although he retired only a year after we first met, he stayed in my life and showed up for my Navy retirement 23 years later. Not a dry eye in the place when he read the Retired Chief's Creed.

As I became more senior in the Navy and later in civilian life with a plethora of experiences, I have tried to emulate all those great people and live to share what I have learned – as a formal and informal mentor whenever I can.
One other thing I've learned -- the most selfishly wonderful thing about mentoring, is that I continue my own learning and growing with each experience.

So, for Martin Luther King’s Day of Service, for National Mentoring Month, and for every day, reach out and serve.

Be a mentor.
Be a mentee.
Be open-minded, learn something from every experience, and share what you’ve learned.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fresh start in 2017

The ball has dropped, the fireworks are ended, the champagne a long-gone memory, and most of us have returned to the workplace. If you’re like me, you’re looking forward to the transition to a freshly minted new year and new opportunities to learn, shine, and share with family and friends, old and new, including those we haven't met yet.
Looking back on 2016, I must admit that I am glad the year is over. It was quite a roller coaster, including a battle with Godzilla-sized kidney stone that laid me out for a few weeks. I don’t want to do that again – ever!
But more than just my personal challenges, the world lost some of the most significant talent in music and entertainment. More than 250 celebrities died in 2016, beginning with Natalie Cole last New Year and ending with William Christopher, the beloved Father Mulcahy from M.A.S.H. on this New Year’s Eve. I know my personal soundtrack was devastated by the loss of icons like David Bowie, Prince, Keith Emerson, Leonard Cohen, and George Michaels. I also mourn the loss of the brilliant Gene Wilder, whose comic wit I could only hope to emulate, and Van Williams, who played one of the heroes of my youth, The Green Hornet. And I can’t even imagine the family’s pain in losing both mother Debbie Reynolds and daughter Carrie Fisher within days of each other.
2016 also saw hideous acts of terrorism around the world, claiming innocent lives for no other reason than intolerance and mindless hatred. There can be no justification for such acts and I can only hope the new year brings some healing and peace. Although the New Year’s Eve nightclub attack in Turkey is not a good indicator.
Yes, I actually wore that suit!
All of these things stand out as stark reminders that life can be unpredictably short. We need to appreciate every moment we have. Take time to spend with loved ones and with our fellow human beings. Volunteer, help others, and take part in our communities. Take time to improve our own health and well-being. Take time for personal and professional development. Learn something new every day. Be bold and don't be afraid to fail, and don't be afraid to be laughed at.
Try new foods, start new hobbies or restart those passions that we may have pushed aside because we were “too busy.”
It’s staggering how busy our lives can get, and even more staggering when we realize we were busy doing nothing that we really wanted to do. I’m guilty of this myself. I tend to take on too many projects – my wife calls it “helium arm” – and put off the things that should be more important. Yes, the guy who teaches work-life balance seems to have a personal flaw in this area. Learn from my foibles and do what I say, not what I do. ;-)
So, going into 2017, I am looking forward to re-connecting with friends and family who we did not spend enough time with in recent years, making new friends, and adding new chapters to the rich story of our lives. I’ll plan for us to travel together more for fun, instead of just me traveling for work. And I’ll restart some of those artistic projects I’ve been putting off.

Not my desk, but the physical manifestation of my inbox.
Another particular goal is to declutter. Those of you who’ve seen my office or, even worse, my home office, are gasping with shock at that statement. My inbox is even worse. But it’s time to dig out and start fresh. Cleaning up and clearing out helps encourage that new, fresh-start feeling. After all, someone told me that my desk has a beautiful faux woodgrain underneath all that stuff. ;-)
So, it looks like I’ll be busy going into the New Year, but busy in a good way.
To all my family, friends, and people we have yet to meet, I send my best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year filled with love and laughter.

Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Still Proud

On Tuesday, November 8th, I was an AMERICAN. On Wednesday morning, November 9th, I was still an AMERICAN. Nothing really has changed.

Over the past several months leading up to Tuesday's elections, I have seen a hideous and vicious divisiveness among friends, family, and the American people in general. And now the hate continues with angry protests and demonstrations. Never before have I witnessed such hate and abusiveness between supporters of political candidates in our country.

Its time to stop. The competition is over. No matter which side we're on about the result, we, as a nation need to accept it, reunite and become again what makes America great. ONE NATION ...INDIVISIBLE. 

Let's come back together now, folks. It is our unification that makes us great, our right to choose, and our right to have a voice -- no matter who is in the White House.

On November 11th, we recognize Veterans Day, honoring those who serve to protect the American Dream. If nothing else, the recent election proved that the American Dream is, in fact, a reality and anything is possible. Eleven years ago (almost to the day) I retired from a nearly 25-year career in the Navy and Navy Reserve protecting that American Dream and our rights to pursue it. I was then, and still am today, proud to have served the greatest nation in the world.

The uniform still fits and I am still proud to be an AMERICAN.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What I Remember

I will never forget 9/11/2001, nor will anyone else who lived through it. But I choose not to remember it for the fear, the pain, the horror and the anger that dominated the emotions of the day and remain so predominant 15 years later. I choose not to remember it for the deaths of friends, family, and shipmates. Nor for the destruction and devastation to our way of life. I choose not to remember it for the loss of our freedoms, or the violation of our prior sense of safety.  

Yes, all of those feelings, emotions, and memories remain and are still strong today.

But what I choose to remember 9/11 for are the acts of heroism and selflessness – aboard Flight 93, at the Pentagon, in New York and across the nation. For the sense of unity, community and togetherness that emerged from the wreckage. I choose to remember 9/11 for the resolve of a nation, our determination to recover and our dedication to rebuilding. Not just rebuilding the Pentagon or in New York, but rebuilding our communities, our neighborhoods, our society, our economy, and our security.

I will never forget how neighbors became friends, communities bonded, and the American spirit became stronger. Remembering seeing the American flag on every porch still brings tears to my eyes.  
I was in the Navy Reserve then, and had just started on what was initially supposed to be my annual two weeks of active duty. Enroute to the Navy installation at Anacostia, I listened in confusion to the bizarre radio reports of a plane hitting the first of the towers of the World Trade Center. Shortly afterward, I found myself on lockdown at the base, and then ultimately, at the Pentagon.
Military members have always had an intense esprit de corps, but that day in particular I saw a coming together in brotherhood and purpose beyond that which I had only previously seen in war zones.
I am proud to be an American, I am proud to have served, and ...
I will never forget.

Friday, April 1, 2016

It's Laugh at Work Week!

Every April 1st the world begins a week-long celebration of the importance of humor – Laugh at Work Week!

While some may sneer at the concept of levity at work, humor is actually a crucial element. Historically, one of the most respected members of the royal court was the court jester. They had no rank, yet were beyond reproach. Their official role was to use their wit to help diffuse tense situations at the royal court. In Medieval Europe, jesters were very involved with affairs of state. He was usually allowed to speak his mind freely, while everyone else had to wait for the monarch's permission to speak.

Often, the jester would use his chance at free speech to criticize the monarch openly, where no one else could. Thus, a function of the jester was to act as a critic, and many stories exist to support the fact that kings did indeed pay heed to the criticism of the court jester. The jester's ability to speak freely also came into play when tense matters were being discussed. Quite frequently the jester would diffuse heated discussions by inserting humorous statements, thereby avoiding any unnecessary confrontations.

Many leaders have recognized this important fact as well:  President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.

Share your stories about workplaces you've experienced where humor was prevalent -- or not. Over the next week, I'll be sharing several examples from both ends of the spectrum.

Meanwhile, enjoy the couple of jokes here. And while you’re yucking it up at work, if somebody gives you a dirty look, stick your tongue out and give them raspberries. Tell them you’re channeling great leaders, like Ike!