My Life Lessons
I joined the Toast of the Town Toastmasters Club earlier this summer and have been loving the experience. It is such a positive, supportive group that I hate to miss our Tuesday meetings. This week I gave my first speech. I have so appreciated the positive support I received from my friends on Facebook too. I thought I’d share my speech here. I deleted some personal information but the rest of it is pretty much what I said. (Well, not exactly, as I memorized it and adlibed a bit.)
Power is a Beautiful Thing
Have you ever stopped to think about the power that you have to affect lives? To empower, strengthen and ignite in people – in ourselves – a fire to want to do more, be more, achieve more.
To fill chasms in communication wells, break down stereotypes. We all have it you know.
Let me tell you a story…
One day many years ago, I was working in my garden when two young girls, about 7, were suddenly standing on the other side of my fence. I had never seen or met them before. They were inquisitive and persistent. And, in the moment, as I stood holding a carton of pansies, I decided I could do with two less. From that one simple act, our lives became intertwined. Minutes later they reappeared around the fence and spent the remainder of the afternoon weeding, playing, laughing, talking. They came back often after that day, for the next year (until they moved away). Both from homes with personal challenges (to protect the girls, I am leaving out additional information), one became withdrawn when questions were asked and the other had a tendency to not always telling the truth.
At any other time these girls who were prone for trouble, but they always want to help me. And I always found projects for them to do. They watered my plants, sanded my backdoor, weeded my garden, helped me clean bird cages, all the while we talked and shared.
I think what they really wanted was my presence and a positive place where they were encouraged to grow. And they grew so much in the moments and days that we shared.
Those girls were not the reason why my quest for information led me to my first teacher and mentor in animal behavior, Dr. Susan Friedman, who pioneered the use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to captive and companion animals worldwide, or the reason I began writing about behavior but they were my first humans whose lives were strengthened as a result of my knowledge in Applied Behavior Analysis.
I mapped out a plan for how I would help them grow. I will never forget the day I came home to find a spilled can of pop on my back wooden porch. I was aggravated knowing it most likely was the little girl who had a talent for fiction. Then I remembered that she probably was there because it was a safe place to be after school. I didn’t say a word about it when she came over but the day that she told me what she had done was huge. I was so proud of her.
Yes, ABA has served me well. It has seen me go from sharing a home with an incessant screamer to an incessant talker. (That’d be my African Grey parrot, Barnaby) It has seen me strengthen my relationship with my pets, and led me down a path that has involved hundreds of hours of studying and practicing, ultimately earning the status of Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed and Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant.
And, ABA has helped me in my public relations work as well. Everyone performs better, learns better, works together better when their strengths are the focal point and their wanted behaviors are what is reinforced. It is a perspective that all managers, co-workers, and sales people can benefit from when it comes to motivating others to listen and take action.
I have always been one that has been driven to affect change. ABA is helping me to do that better but my drive to be a change agent has always been a part of me.
For more than 25 years, I have been using my communication skills to support the cause of organizations making profound impact on individuals and communities. I create messaging and strategies for raising awareness, building relationships that support individuals who are in constant pursuit of a world void of complacency and injustice. I’ve earned local and regional awards for projects and campaigns but the real reinforcement for me is in the change I am part of creating.
In 2014, I was hired for my largest project ever. I was part of a team whose shared purpose is inspiring others to look beyond differences to appreciate each other’s unique gifts that collectively strengthen us all. When I was hired by the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival much of Greater Cincinnati had never heard of it; and few people who I reached out to had any idea of the scope of the event or its value to our community – including me, admittedly.
People experiencing a disability or cognitive, genetic, physical and behavioral difference are often misunderstood. They are portrayed in photos and sometimes news stories as ‘less than’ normal or super human just by virtue of their own being. They are often not included, or at least not to the extent that they are people first with interests, hopes, dreams, talents, and even bad days, just like everybody else. Yet ‘they’ are about 20% of our population. And ‘they’ are the only minority population in which all people will be counted among them at some point in their lives.
The overarching goal of LADD and ReelAbilities in hiring me was for me to be a catalyst for change – to bring the community together in support of not only an event but a cause so powerful as to have impact on each and every one of us in a direct or indirect way. I wanted to get people in this region talking to each other and realizing that inclusion and togetherness is not about ‘other people’, it is about themselves and each other. I wanted to get people excited about ReelAbilities as a world class film festival, and come out to support and learn from it. The challenge was to do all of this with a very limited budget including for my own time.
It exceeded beyond our wildest dreams. Events sold out. It was the talk of the region. It became a selling point for Greater Cincinnati. And its impact is continuing through inclusion in the workplace and in the community.
So, it was a Saturday night and I was rushing, preparing to go out….years after that beautiful day when I gave up two pansies in my garden. The girls’ families had long moved away, and although they were no longer present in my life, they will always have a place in my heart.
There was a knock on my back door. I opened it.
And, standing before me was a blossoming teenage girl standing before me. She remembered me. She remembered my impact.
Power is a beautiful thing.
It has become an annual tradition around New Year’s when my mom reminds me of how much we need to appreciate every minute of every day because time doesn’t stand still. When the clock struck midnight last Wednesday, one more year was behind us, never to be gotten back again. The 2014 hourglass expired.
But not before permanently etching memories into the crevices of my brain. These are the reflections that give me pause on New Year’s. What has 2014 taught me about life and living; and about being a better person, friend, teacher and co-worker? How will I use these lessons to inspire myself and those around me to be better, stronger and more connected?
The Gifts of 2014
It was in 2014 when I became part of a team whose shared purpose is inspiring others to look beyond differences to appreciate each other’s unique gifts that collectively strengthen us all. Through the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival organized by LADD, Inc., I have met so many people who share my passion for building a community where differences are celebrated and everyone is included.
ReelAbilities gave me the opportunity to get to know world renowned photographer Rick Guidotti. I will always remember how, within minutes of our meeting, I felt as if we were lifelong friends. That is one of Rick’s incredible gifts. It is how he is able to share the beautiful humanity in those with differences, in all of us actually. Through his images, his words and his heart, Rick inspires us to change how we see the world and how we see each other. Thank you to Rick for all that you are and all that you do.
There are so many powerful messages to be told and shared through the ReelAbilities Film Festival. I hope you will make plans on joining us.
It was in 2014 when our region – and the nation – was introduced to a valiant warrior, who, in a few short months taught us about courage and vision and purpose. By now you have probably heard the story of Lauren Hill. You probably even feel as though you know her personally. I have no doubt that her indomitable spirit has impacted you, strengthened that place deep in your soul where hope grows.
Lauren was less than two months into her 18th year when an MRI revealed one of the most insidious forms of cancers with tentacles weaving through her nerves. When she took to the court of her first NCAA college basketball game, it was before an unprecedented sellout crowd of 10,000+. They were her cheerleaders. She was their teacher. She was…is…a teacher to all of us.
Her quote was the headline of a USA Today story, “I want people to know, I will never give up.” Lauren challenged us and challenged herself. Her goal was to raise $1 M for The Cure Starts Now Foundation by the end of the year. With media support and an army of fighters in schools, congregations, businesses, and communities here and nationwide, she met that goal. She looked cancer in the face and said, ‘you have not won.’
None of us know when Lauren’s journey here on earth will end but her legacy will live forever in all of us who have grown from her strength.
What have these 2014 lessons taught me?
Wow, there is so much. Truly, life can be so short. We never know from day to day what tomorrow will bring yet we spend so much time worrying about things that will be insignificant in a year. We stress over deadlines, mistakes, and what if’s. We go from place to place without noticing the beauty around us or the person having a bad day. We don’t stop to ask how we can help. We forget to smile at passers-by. We say we will reach out later to that friend we have lost touch with. We overlook letting those around us – our co-workers, family and neighbors – know we appreciate them. We let our fear of failure keep us from pursuing our dreams.
Time goes by too quickly to take it for granted. In 2015, I am going to pay more attention to smiling at strangers and noticing the scenery around me. I am going to reach out more to people in my life and remind them that they are valued and appreciated. I am going to do more to help others. I am going to make mistakes, and learn from them. I am going to pursue my passions.
What lessons will you carry forward in the new year?