I Thought I Would Learn About Classical Music…

I thought I would learn about classical music, but ended up learning about life. This is my conclusion after listening to yet another great TED Talk. This one is by Benjamin Zander. To prove to you how little I knew about classical music, I didn’t know who the hell Benjamin Zander is! I do now. Since 1979, Benjamin Zander has been the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic.

What impressed me most about this talk is how he used a lesson in classical music appreciation (and, by the way, I now appreciate classical music) and turned it into, at the very end, a lesson in life. I will not tell you what he says at the end. It is worth watching this all the way through. I will only tell you this: It reinforces the power of a well-told story…a well-told life story!

Please take the time to watch this: http://tinyurl.com/ntqr4 on and then let me know what you think.


Live Theater – An Unexpected Love Story

I don’t remember my parents taking me and my brothers to live theater growing up. We went to plenty of movies and loved it, but no live theater. It still baffles me how, after soooo many years, I have fallen in love with live theater. How did this come about? Here’s a synopsis of the love story:

I mentioned to my business coach about seven years ago that after nine years on the Board of Directors of a wonderful non-profit organization here in Austin, I was ready for a change. Her eyes lit up as she said, “You have to come to a ZACH party!” I learned not to question the advice of this business coach, so I did just that…I went to a ZACH party. She was right!

The Zachary Scott Theatre (ZACH) http://www.zachtheatre.org/ in Austin is the oldest continuously operating theatre in the State of Texas. “So what?” you say (as did I back then). I was not interested in theatre and certainly knew little about it. But like so many things in life, it’s not the building, business, or idea that’s important, it’s the people! I quickly discovered that the people associated with ZACH were not only smart and caring, but also fun folks to be with. And while that is an important ingredient in my decision to get involved, that alone wasn’t enough to cause me to fall in love with it.

My love of theater began with the first play I saw at ZACH. I saw their production of Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire. I saw the Marlon Brando movie and liked it, but it’s a very different experience when it is performed live…and with professional actors. Part of ZACH’s mission is to “create intimate theatre”. To me that means that you leave the experience of your day behind when you are in the theatre and are taken to the time and place where the play is living. And at ZACH, you feel like you can almost touch the actors. I actually feel that I am a different person in a different place when experiencing live theater. That’s probably why I love live theater so much. It’s an escape from the “outside world” for a brief period of time…and yet it seems like it lasts for countless hours.

Many of you might be thinking, “Sure, Mike. There is live theater, and then there is LIVE THEATER!” If you have never experienced the joys of the escape that I am describing, come to a play at ZACH. Thanks largely to the expertise and professional talents of the Artistic Director at ZACH, Dave Steakley, you will not be disappointed! And if you’re not careful, you might fall in love, too!

End of Life Lesson Learned Today

Just two days ago at around noon I received an email from my friend, Kristi Curry, who has a wonderful business called Survivorship Now http://survivorshipnow.com/. A friend of hers in Katy, Texas named Ben wrote to her saying that his church buddy, Dan (age 49), was just given bad news about his cancer and was advised to call in hospice care immediately. Ben called Kristi to ask for her professional advice to help Dan’s wife organize her life for what was to come. He also said he wanted to videotape Dan’s stories so his two kids would know him better when they grew older. Ben asked Kristi for advise on what questions to ask and how to ask them. That’s when Kristi referred me.

I connected with Ben yesterday via email, then by phone. Ben explained that Dan didn’t have any funds to afford a professional LifeStory and that he was going to do it pro-bono. I don’t know why it happened, but something inside me said I have to do it. I told Ben that I could be there (two and a half hours away) the following morning by 10:30 to conduct the interview, as long as Ben filmed it.

When we arrived at Dan’s home this morning, we were greeted by Dan’s beautiful and gracious wife, Marcina. We set up the camera in Dan’s bedroom and tried to get as much as we could of an interview, but unfortunately, due to the medications he was on, could not record much. What we did record, however, showed what a loving, caring father and husband he was. Rather than coming home without much of anything for Dan’s family, I asked Marcina if she wouldn’t mind being interviewed…to capture Dan’s LifeStories through the stories of his loving wife. She agreed and we filmed about two hours of her smiles, tears and love for her husband. She showed unbelievable bravery and unselfish caring for her husband who was too ill to express his story himself.

By 1:00 PM, we left her home with hugs and well wishes to her for strength during the tough journey ahead that she faced. I arrive back home at around 4:00 PM, exhausted, but glad I had accomplished what I had that day. An hour later Ben called. He said he called to thank me, to be sure I got home okay, and…after a long pause…to tell me someone from his church called an hour ago to say that Dan had just died.

At first I was in a bit of shock. Yesterday, Dan was a total stranger to me. And now, after only knowing he and his wife for a few hours, I feel like an integral part of their lives. The lesson I’ve believe I learned from today’s experience is to share your stories with the ones you love often, to celebrate life at every opportunity you get, and to give unselfishly whenever you can. Had I thought, “It’s been a long week, I’m too tired to drive all the way to Katy early on a Saturday morning, conduct this unpaid interview, then drive all the way back,” I would not have met Dan and his wife. And I am a better man now…because of them.

Thank you Kristi, Ben, Marcina, and especially Dan. May you rest in eternal peace.

Which Pencil Will You Choose?

Staying organized is a challenge I have been working on for a long time. I am getting much better thanks to the professional advice I gather. Some of the best advice is from my friend, Helene Segura, CEO of Living Order San Antonio http://www.livingordersa.com. Here is a bit of advice on how to start your day using a great analogy…picking a pencil:

What Does Your Pencil Choice Say About You?

Helene Segura, M.A. Ed, CPO®

CEO of LivingOrder® San Antonio

Every day is exciting for me because I get to coach an individual or group on organizing and productivity and help them curb the stress that they’re under. Sometimes, though, I get a request to return to my past life as a teacher, and each time I learn something new from observing the students.

I get a call every year to conduct a workshop series at a particular high school with students who have been removed from their standard classroom environments. They have been invited to leave their home campuses for a variety of reasons – misbehavior, truancy or arrests. The choices and mistakes they’ve made have caused them to fall behind in their credits by one year or more. My job is to get them focused for their exit exams and help them with decision-making skills along the way. In a nutshell, I try to rewire how their brains think and plan for life so they can become productive citizens.

We have the same routine at the beginning of each one of my sessions. The students pick up their activity packets and borrow a pencil and highlighter to use for the class period. It struck me the other day when I watched how the students chose their pencils that their choices reflected who they are. Those who chose their pencils based on the sharpness of the writing tip were the same students who were working hard to make changes in their lives and get back on track. The students who chose their pencils based on the condition of the eraser were the same students who were fumbling aimlessly in life. They were already planning to make mistakes and erase the mess. Their counterparts, on the other hand, chose based on the tool they needed to complete their work; if they wound up needing an eraser later, they knew where to get one.

The attitude you have in your approach to projects will determine your success. If you start every day prepping for your tasks and telling yourself you will complete them, then you will. But if you start every day with the expectation that you won’t meet the standards, well, you’ll do just that.

So, how will you choose your pencil: by the sharpness of the tip or the size of the eraser?


Organizing and productivity expert Helene Segura helps stressed out folks – especially entrepreneurs and educators – regain control of their chaotic living and working spaces by teaching clients how to understand their core issues causing disorganization and thereby prevent it in the future.  She is a Certified Professional Organizer® and Certified Productive Environment Specialist™ and has provided coaching for clients as varied as authors, attorneys, physicians, artists, students, teachers, domestic engineers and business owners. As the owner of LivingOrder® San Antonio, Helene also conducts informative organizing workshops for larger groups such as non-profits, schools and businesses, and serves on the trailblazing team providing organizing help online at The Clutter Diet.  She has been a featured organizing expert in publications such as Woman’s Day Magazine, as well as on Fox, CBS, and NBC affiliates. Helene is the author of Less Stress for Teachers: More Time & An Organized Classroom.



Organizing & Productivity: www.LivingOrderSA.com

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Elie Wiesel – a Conversation I Overheard

It has been said that there have been certain people through history whose presence and energy could be felt when they walked into a room. I felt such an energy from Elie Wiesel http://tinyurl.com/pjkde when he walked into the studio yesterday morning at our local PBS station, KLRU http://www.klru.org/ , for a taping of Overheard with Evan Smith.  This taping was part of the incredible Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project http://www.balletaustin.org/light/  (more on this project in a future blog post). Being a partner in the Light Project, I was invited to be in the audience for the taping.

Evan Smith did an excellent job facilitating this conversation with Professor Wiesel. There were many things he said that were noteworthy. Here are a few that meant a lot to me:

I was able to ask him a direct question at the end of the interview. I mentioned Edmund Burke’s quote, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” My question was, “I am at times frustrated by friends and colleagues who choose to do nothing when they know injustice is present. What advice would you give to encourage them to do something?” His answer was for me to speak up against the injustice first. He said, “If there is an injustice and I am silent, I am guilty.” Those around me will only speak up if they witness my example of speaking up and doing something against the injustice. Brilliant!

Other questions were asked that had to do with humanity and injustice in the world. One of his closing quotes was, “I am not defined by my humanity unless it is linked to yours.” This man of peace (1986 Nobel Peace Prize awardee) realizes and teaches that it is our link to one another that will cause peace (or harm). It is up to each one of us to accept that responsibility, the responsibility to link to one another, and act upon it, in order to achieve peace.

I encourage all of you to learn from, or be in the room with Elie Wiesel, if given the chance. If you cannot be in the same room with him, pick up and read one of the many books he wrote. You will feel his amazing energy through his words.

“Rescuing a Single Life” – Tom, Judy, and The Homeless Coach

“Whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.” This is a quote from the Talmud, also mentioned in the movie Schindler’s List http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108052/. I have had the honor to have met two people who have done such an act of selfless compassion. The first is Tom Baum, founder of The Homeless Coach, a live, interactive social networking approach to reverse homelessness http://www.homelesscoach.org/. Tom has combined his experience and success in the high-tech industry with his huge heart for the plight of the homeless population in Austin and the world. The Homeless Coach’s mission is to reverse homelessness “a single life” at a time.

The second person is Judy Knotts. Judy has developed a mentoring relationship with Kim, the first graduate of the Homeless Coach program. While Judy’s background and experience in private education gives her enough knowledge to help Kim, her involvement goes way beyond logical giving and enters into heartfelt compassion for another people.

Tom mentioned to me that he was scheduled to interview Kim when the StoryCorps http://storycorps.org/ mobile recording booth came to Austin last month. I asked if I could volunteer to interview her instead. I knew a bit about Kim’s story before, but this interview opened my eyes regarding how a life can be transformed from familial abuse, to 22 years on the streets, to coming clean and sober, to earning her associates degree in Medical Billing and Coding from an accredited university, to now studying for a full Bachelor’s degree in Health Care.

In a recent email, Judy writes (to both Tom and I), “Mike you are great on the tape, terrific voice, amazing articulation, and inspired questions. I have heard the CD 3 times since getting it on Saturday. Kim was with me in my car when we began to listen. When I got to the part where she described being beaten, I had to turn it off for a time. It was just too painful. Kim said, “Do you now know why I call  you Mama?”  I get it now. She has never called me anything else. Funny to hear her call me Judy on the CD. There were other things I didn’t know about her. There is value in having someone a bit removed and also experienced conduct the interviews. Kim astounded me with her insights and I told her. She said, ”My speaking is still not good.” We are working on this, hard to change a life time of grammar errors! Amazing men, you two! Proud to know you!”

I am flattered by Judy’s kind words, but more honored to be associated with two people as incredible as Tom and Judy. I hope all of you can some day know a Tom and Judy of your own, so you can personally witness, as I have, how someone can “…rescue a single life.”