"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 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!