Posted by: Susan | March 24, 2012

May You Live in Interesting Times

My good friend, Darity Wesley, recently sent me some words of wisdom.  She said that living in revolutionary times is not easy.  The Chinese have a blessing that also serves as a curse: “May you live in interesting times!”  Revolutions demand that we renounce those ideas and conceptions which keep us from moving forward. One of the most difficult things for us to do as members of the human species is to let go of old beliefs and perceptions.  History has shown that we are often willing to live unhappy, limited lives—or even die—rather than to change our beliefs, to see things in a new way, to release the old in favor of the new.

In parts of the world where peace initiatives keep breaking down over and over again, it is the rehashing of past grievances (whether religious or ethnic) that continuously stirs the fire of revenge.  Once revenge is accomplished, the opposing group wants the same thing and the strife goes on.  The only possible solution is to renounce vengeance.  It is only through forgiveness that we can find peace and freedom.

It is only through the releasing of past injustices, past prejudices, past hurts that we can ever move forward.  Gandhi said that if everyone practiced the eye-for-an-eye morality, soon “the whole world would be blind.”  Perhaps it is natural to want to do to others what they have done to us, but it is not good enough.  It is not the way of spiritual advancement.  It was certainly not the way of Jesus.

It was his way to love the enemy, turn the other cheek, go the second mile.  He could renounce “natural” feelings in favor of spiritual ones.  Two thousand years ago he told us how to break the chain of recurrent strife and showed us the perfect example in the way he dealt with his own life.  He held out the promise of a perfect world.

Almost a century ago, another spiritual leader was envisioning a “new heaven and a new earth.”  Charles Fillmore wrote in the “Renunciation” chapter of The Twelve Powers of Man, “The earth is slowly regaining its equilibrium and will in due season be restored to its pristine golden age.”

But what is standing in the way of this miracle coming to pass?  Only we are.  Charles Fillmore wrote, “Man is the dominant thinking and character-giving force of the earth and he has made it a place of desolation when it should be a paradise.”

All our positive and determined efforts to make our lives and the world better may not succeed until we make the preliminary move of renunciation, of formally and voluntarily giving up whatever old ideas we are holding and presenting ourselves as a tabula rasa, a clean page, giving carte blanche for spiritual Truth to be written in.

Posted by Susan Ireland, Member Rotary Club of Fairfax


Posted by: Susan | April 1, 2011

How Do You Deal With Information Overload?

I don’t know . . .maybe “it” happened when I turned 50.  Or, maybe when the kids left home and I found myself an empty nester.     But these last few years, I’ve had a feeling of being less and less able to deal with the tidal wave of information coming at me.    I think I’m on information overload!  Somewhere I heard the average working American has 3.6 zetta-bytes of information coming at them every year;  for most of us that means 100,000 words every day.  Just think of it . . .100,000 words!    That’s a 350% increase over people’s exposure in 1980!   Wow.   I knew there was a reason I loved 1980.  Life was simpler then.  It was the year after I was married.   It was a time that I could sit and focus . . . taking things in clearly and steadily.   Finishing one thing before I moved on to the next one . . .did I mention no kids yet?

Some days I think I’m drowning in data.  Work emails, home emails, cell phone calls, land line calls, the Internet, my Blackberry, the TV, the radio I have playing in the background all day in my office,  magazines, newspapers, and newsletters both online and at my door.  Oh, and let’s not forget the tons of snail mail that still comes every day.  The other evening I went on the Internet to find something.  Next thing I knew I’d spent two hours reading about other interesting things, while totally forgetting what I was first looking for!   I find if I don’t write things down,  and I live by my lists, I can’t get anything done.    What happened to focus?  Could I be losing my mind? 

The good news, according to Future Shock author Alvin Toffler, is I’m definitely sane.   The bad news is my brain is being forced to process information at a much higher volume than it was built to handle.  Toffler called it “cognitive overstimulation.”  I call it exhausting.  No wonder I sometimes feel anxious, unproductive and oddly tired after a day of sitting alone in my office . . .thinking “what did I really accomplish today?”  Forty years after Toffler uncovered the issue, scientists are beginning to uncover the fallout.  For example, they say that those who attempt to perform two different tasks simultaneously end up doing neither very well and those of us who pride ourselves on being great multi-taskers “don’t get a deeper understanding of information.”  One study shows a 10-point drop in IQ scores after constant distractions from e-mail, text messaging, and cell phones.  Well!  I feel better now!  I practically REFUSE to use text messaging.


The amount of time the average person spent on social networking sites increased from two hours, ten minutes for the month of December 2007 to more than five and a half hours for December 2009. I wonder what it is now.  During the month of November 2009, web users in the U.S. spent an average of 66 hours online and visited 2,603 websites for an average time of less than a minute.  Currently, among U.S. mobile phone users, 66% send text messages.  The average teenager sends 3,705 per month.  As of this past February, Apple offered more than 300,000 apps for its mobile users.*

Seriously, if you’re having more days than you’d like feeling heightened anxiety, lower energy and lack of focus, here’s an idea I got from Minneapolis-based writer Frank Bures, whose work has appeared in Harper’s, Esquire, the L.A. Times and The Rotarian.  (With those credentials, he must know something about all this, huh?)

The idea:  Spend one day (or at minimum a part of a day), every week, totally unplugged.   That’s right!  Unplugged!  No email, no text messages, no phone calls.  And NO Internet!   Frank says that at first, we’re going to feel pretty strange.  Cold.  Alone.  Worried that someone will call or send us an email, wondering why we haven’t responded.  But he says to hang in there.  The world will NOT come to an end, and instead, the most amazing thing will happen.  We’ll be able to finish small projects we’ve been putting off.  We’ll be able to review things that need to be done, get organized, and enjoy a sense of having space in our heads for new ideas.   And by the end of the unplugged day or part of a day, we’ll feel something we haven’t felt in a long time:  a sense of accomplishment.  The next day, we’ll wake up refreshed!  Best of all, when we finally log back “on” to see what we’ve missed, we’ll be surprised to find we haven’t missed much.  At first, we’ll have to train ourselves to unplug.  It’s like an old habit that takes practice and persistence to overcome.  But over time, it gets much easier.  And flexibility is key:  some weeks we’ll have to switch our “unplugged” days.  

Well, thanks to Frank, I’m game to get started.  Wish me luck!

*Sources:  The Nielsen Company, Apple

Posted by: Susan | October 26, 2010

The Great Managers

Recently, I read an article in Harvard Business Review, one of my favorite publications, and it said that just 10% of managers really help move their organizations forward. They’re the ones who zero in on strategic goals and see them to completion; they fuel breakthrough innovations in products, services, and processes; and they tackle heavy workloads under tight time constraints.   But, I asked myself, ” just 10%?” 
What about the remaining 90%? Short on self-awareness, it seems they don’t ask themselves the hard questions required to examine — and improve — their leadership skills. Overcommitted, they succumb to the temptation to concentrate on short-term tasks when pressure mounts.  (We’ve all been there, right?) Blurring their focus even further, many accumulate “monkeys” on their backs by taking on subordinates’ problems.  (The famous “got a minutes?”)
How can you ensure you’re in the 10% — not the 90%?

  •  Regularly take stock of your effectiveness as a leader, rather than waiting for others to give you feedback.  There are numerous ways to access your own leadership skills, by the way, and they don’t take long; many are relatively inexpensive. 
  •  Rivet your attention on efforts that support long-term objectives.   If you don’t know what your company’s objectives are, ask.
  • Throw off time-hungry monkeys.   One of the best resources I’ve ever found in this area is The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard.  If you’ve got monkey problems, you should read it.

The payoff? You redirect your energy to where it exerts the biggest impact: your company’s strategic priorities. 


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