How Do You Honor The Lost?

It’s the 14th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and just like the previous 13 years, we made our way down to the 9/11 Memorial to listen to the names of the lives that were lost and remember and honor our loved ones. And for some reason I started to ask myself, what exactly is the best way to honor someone?

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The 9/11 Memorial serves as a great reminder for everyone about the lives that were lost on that tragic day, and for some the location is a cemetery simply because their loved ones remains were not found or identified. Each year, on this day, many are somber and sad while they remember those people that that they loved and are no longer with us. But it occurred to me though, that visiting this site once a year, or maybe twice or three times for some, isn’t the best way that you can honor someone.

Now before you start commenting about how you completely disagree, hear me out. Going back to the 9/11 Memorial, or any memorial, gravesite, or cemetery is a great way to remember whom you lost and reflect on how they positively affected your life, and to express how much you still miss them. But after your visit is done, the best way to honor your lost loved one is to show it in how you live your life.

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It’s simple, actions speak louder than words. It’s not what you’re going to do, it’s what you’ve done that matters. If someone truly meant something to you, if there was someone you really respected, then it would show in how you live your life because you would want to exhibit the same characteristics and principles that they did. In other words, you’d model some part of your life after them.

Year after year, the crowds at the 9/11 Memorial seem to get smaller and smaller. It seems as if a lot of people have moved on, and I don’t blame them because life goes on. But as life does move on and I hope you do too, don’t just always say, “never forget”, instead live your life like you haven’t forgotten.

Can Leadership Be Taught?

I’ve had a recent love hate relationship with Twitter. There are times that I go and check my feed and I just don’t see anything that I want to respond to, and at others times the conversation drags me in and I can spend hours chatting. The latter happened recently when I was online one night and happened to see the #SocialLeader chat in my feed. The official topic was “The Threat and Promise of Autonomous Teams” and leadership was a focus of some of the questions the host asked. A comment was made saying that some leadership skills couldn’t be taught, and I didn’t quite agree with that.

Can leadership be learned? Photo Credit: Svilen Milev / http://efffective.com/
Can leadership be learned? Photo Credit: Svilen Milev / efffective.com

First let’s define what attributes a good leader should have. And since I don’t expect you to take my word for it, here’s what Peter Economy lists in his article on Inc.com, The 9 Traits That Define Great Leadership: Awareness, Decisiveness, Empathy, Accountability, Confidence, Honesty, Focus, and Inspiration. If those are the traits of a good leader, the question is are we born with or without those traits, or can they be acquired or learned? Can leadership be taught?

I do believe that some people are born natural leaders. Some people just happen to have it in them to lead and they can lead well. They don’t get nervous in the spotlight, they make good decisions quickly, and motivating others seemingly comes easy to them. If you happen to be one that has these gifts naturally, you’re at an advantage. If you don’t happen to be one of these people, are you just out of luck?

There’s a difference between learning a skill and being comfortable using it. If public speaking doesn’t come naturally it’s still something that you can practice and learn to be good at, but that doesn’t mean it makes it much easier to get in front of a crowd and talk. Case in point, I was recently watching The Next Food Network Star, and one contestant clearly was not comfortable in front of the camera. Towards the end of the season, he was able to learn how to relax and embrace being on camera. But it didn’t make it any easier for him, and I’ll bet that if you asked him that he would tell you the same. It is a skill that he didn’t naturally have, but had to acquire.

Just because people seem to be born with some leadership traits doesn’t automatically make them good leaders. There are plenty of people that love to take command and throw their voice around and act with confidence, but can’t get anyone to follow them.

Ultimately I do think that you can learn to be a leader, and that it’s not either you have it or you don’t. What are your thoughts?

Are You Ready for Kindergarten?

During our family game time, my boys have recently been asking to play “Are you ready for Kindergarten?”.  It’s a game show board game, where there are various questions about math and language to help prepare a child for kindergarten.  It’s a fun game which allow both my boys to have fun while learning.  But the last time we played, I realized as a mom I am NOT ready for kindergarten!

This summer we played this game a lot.
This summer we played this game a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m so excited that my older one is growing up and I am ready for him to go to school, but as I am counting down our last few days before summer is really over, I can’t help but feel a little sad.  (though of course I don’t tell my boys).

And now as I sit here the night before the adventure of school begins, my heart is racing with anxious excitement as it’s a new journey for our family and at the same time I’m worrying about the bus ride to school and all that the day will entail for him, when it hits me that I need to stop and breathe.

So after a restless night of sleep (for me), the first day of school comes and we are all ready!

So proud of him!
So proud of him!

Breakfast is eaten, Lunch is packed, and off to wait for the bus we go.  As the school bus comes down the block, I feel a squeeze in my hand – all of the excitement and anticipation on D’s face now turns into nervousness.  Tears begin rolling down both D’s and L’s faces as one doesn’t want to let go of my hand while getting on the bus and the other wants to get on the bus too.

We did survive the day! D shared what he did his first day and how he enjoyed all the things they did and I’m so proud of him! I’m excited to see what this year bring – ready or not, kindergarten here we come!

Do you remember your child’s first day of Kindergarten?

Summer Getaway: Sunset Island in Ocean City, MD

Summertime is a great time and popular time for families to take a vacation and just get away from life, as they normally know it. For us, it’s no different. This was the first time that my family has gone down to Ocean City, Maryland for vacation, and it did not disappoint.

Getting There

Coming from New York, there are really only two ways (that I know of) to get there. You can take the New Jersey Turnpike all the way down to Delaware, and then drive through, or you can take the Garden State Parkway all the way down to Cape May, New Jersey, and take the ferry to Delaware. On the way down, we opted to take the ferry.

The ferry ride to Delaware starts at Cape May, NJ.
The ferry ride to Delaware starts at Cape May, NJ.

There are definitely benefits to taking the ferry. It breaks up what would be a close to five-hour drive (without traffic), and it gives everyone a chance to get out of the car and stretch. The ferry also has food that you can buy and some arcade games on board. If the weather is nice you can just sit outside, watch the ocean and from what I hear sometimes you can see dolphins.

The trip is about ninety minutes and it’s not free, so you do have to pay for a ticket. Also if you’re planning on choosing this route you should plan ahead because the tickets sell out fast. After docking in Delaware, we were about 30 miles from Ocean City.

On the ferry looking for Dolphins.
On the ferry looking for Dolphins.

Sunset Island

We had the great opportunity, thanks Stephanie’s parents, to stay at Sunset Island for the week. If you haven’t heard of Sunset Island, it’s “a private, 37 acre Island located in the Assawoman Bay off 67th Street in Ocean City, Maryland just two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean”. It’s great for kids because everything you can pretty much do everything without leaving the community.

Sunset Island is a nice coastal vacation spot.
Sunset Island is a nice coastal vacation spot.

The Fun Stuff

The kids spent most of their time at the pool and the water fountain. There are two outdoor pools, one is a small pool for kids 2 years old and under, and the other is for everyone ages 2 and up. There was also an indoor pool that all ages could go into.

The outdoor pool at Sunset Island was a lot of fun to play in.
The outdoor pool at Sunset Island was a lot of fun to play in.

My boys had a really fun time at the fountain, and you could argue that they enjoyed that more than being in the pool. It was pretty cool, the water shot out of the ground in patterns and different heights. They probably enjoyed it more because they don’t know how to swim yet.

The boys really enjoyed the water fountains.
The boys really enjoyed the water fountains.

Sunset Island also had a couple of unguarded beaches, and those were nice too. The water was calm and in the evening you could see some really great sunsets. You can also do some crabbing off the pier if you’re so inclined.

Sunsets at the pier.
Sunsets at the pier.

If you’re one that likes to stay in shape while on vacation, there is a one-mile path that goes around the whole property, and there is a fitness room too. It’s nice run in the morning to start the day, or if you prefer you can run it in the evening and catch the sunset.

Public Beach and Boardwalk

We did venture off the property to the public beach and boardwalk too. Although we didn’t spend too much time at the public beach it was a nice change of scenery, and the great thing was that it was just a few blocks from community.

Ready to catch the waves at the public beach.
Ready to catch the waves at the public beach.

The boardwalk was a bit further down but it was worth the visit. There were lots of games to play and rides to try, but we ended up just walking up and down and eating fries and funnel cake. We got to see this really cool sand castle sculpture that must have taken hours to create.

These sand sculptures must have taken a long time to build.
These sand sculptures must have taken a long time to build.

I’m sure that when the kids get older we’ll be spending more time on the boardwalk.

Ice cream, funnel cake, and fries are things you must have when walking down the boardwalk.
Ice cream, funnel cake, and fries are things you must have when walking down the boardwalk.

Northside Park

Another place we went to see was Northside Park. There was a really nice playground for the kids there and they didn’t want to leave. It had a good number of things for the boys to climb up on and play with, and it was also really clean and well maintained.

Cool rock climbing wall for the kids.
Cool rock climbing wall for the kids.

Northside Park was another popular place for crabbing because it had a really long pier that went pretty deep into the bay. We saw a lot of people fishing and crabbing, checking their lines from time to time to see if they caught anything. In order to get a good spot, you have to get there early!

Lots of crabbing and fishing going on here.
Lots of crabbing and fishing going on here.

Assateague

Before we left for this trip, someone told me that there were these wild horses that ran wild on this island near Ocean City.  And that’s no lie!  We didn’t go all the way into the island (because we didn’t want to pay) but we got to see some wild horses anyway.  I think the next time we go back, we’ll pay to go into the park because I’m told the horses can come right up to your window!

Wish we could have gotten a little closer!
Wish we could have gotten a little closer!

 

Staying Connected

Had to check the FiOS app to make sure our shows were scheduled to record.
Had to check the FiOS app to make sure our shows were scheduled to record.

I was really happy that the house we stayed at had Wi-Fi. Unfortunately during this particular vacation I couldn’t completely unplug. With our current schedules, Stephanie and I mostly record the TV shows that we like to watch on our Verizon FiOS DVR and watch them at a later time. While we might not be completely up to date with the latest episode, at least we can fast forward through the commercials. One cool thing about having Verizon FiOS is that I was able to check my DVR from my phone and make sure that the shows I wanted to record where actually scheduled.

Going Home

All good things must come to an end at some point and so did this vacation. Instead of taking the ferry route back home, we decided to save some money and drive back the whole way. The ride wasn’t too bad. We did hit some traffic but it wasn’t much. Our decision to take the ferry down was validated when we saw all of the traffic going the opposite way when we were leaving.

The barometer of a successful family vacation has to be whether the kids enjoyed it or not. And since they definitely did, the vacation was a success. The truth is, is that we all had fun and we’ll probably go back again in the future. What’s one vacation spot that your family enjoys going to and that you would recommend?

Disclaimer: This post is part of a campaign I’m doing with Verizon FiOS in NYC. #FiOSNY

Feedback is Essential for Community, Even if it is Negative

I recently wrote a blog post about this topic for an internal company community that I manage. Running an internal community is pretty interesting. Contrary to what people might think, it’s not the same as running an external, or public, community. For one thing, I’m finding that internal communities don’t need the “fluff” that an external community needs to attract members. I’m also finding that in the battle of function versus aesthetics, function always wins in the end. But there is one thing that both external and internal communities need to be successful, and that’s feedback.

photo credit: Feedback checklist via photopin (license)
photo credit: Feedback checklist via photopin (license)

Feedback is essential because without it, you can’t be sure if your community is actually adding value or serving its members the way it needs to be. The word “community” applies to your own personal one as well, not just to those official corporate internal or public community forums. When we post things on our social networks, we automatically look for feedback. The feedback can come in the form of likes, retweets, comments, +1’s, etc. Receiving, or in some cases not receiving, that feedback shapes what we share. We view the positive reinforcement as validation for what we are doing and are therefore encouraged to continue down the road we are going.

But sometimes the feedback isn’t positive, and that’s ok too. Not everyone will agree with what you’ve posted or shared. When you receive negative feedback, it’s good to take a step back and think about what was said. If you’re like me, you’re probably itching to respond right away and defend your position, but a knee-jerk defensive reaction isn’t always a good idea. Sometimes the negative comments have validity, and that has to be taken into consideration along with the fact that people are entitled to their own opinions. Negative comments should cause us to pause and think about our position, and either rethink or affirm our original stance.

Feedback is important because it helps evaluate your own thoughts. For example, I thought this was a pretty interesting shot when I took it, but the non responses proved me wrong, and that's totally ok!
Feedback is important because it helps evaluate your own views. For example, I thought this was a pretty interesting shot when I took it, but the non responses proved me wrong, and that’s totally ok because when I started out I thought every shot I took was good.

If you do disagree with something though, do it in a constructive way. Sure you’re free to comment how you’d like, but disagreeing constructively leads to conversation, which is much better than the alternative. I recently wrote a blog post, Are You a Social Media Jack of all Trades, But Master of None?, and a friend of mine, Vitus Feldmann, commented but didn’t quite agree with everything that I said. I was quite impressed with the way he did it, and it should be used as an example on how to disagree. He spoke his mind, but gave reasons as to why he disagreed, and he chose his tone carefully so that it didn’t come across as abrasive. The result? Continued the conversation with Vitus on Facebook, and I respect him for now for it.

Negative feedback is often viewed negatively, but it shouldn’t always be see that way. How you choose to comment is just as important as the comment itself, so choose your words and tone carefully, and always think before responding. How do you deal with negative feedback? How do you communicate negative feedback to others?

Are You a Social Media Jack of All Trades, but Master of None?

Sometimes I read blog posts that compel me to say something, or write, and a recent blog post by Ann Tran did just that. If you haven’t read. “Five Ways to Find Out If Your Instagram is Boring”, you should. And if you’re on Instagram it will make you think about your feed and what you share. Whether you agree with it or not is up to you, but it is very good food for thought.

I remember when I first started with social media that I shared everything and anything to every single network that I was on. If it was of any remote interest to me, I shared it. I was sort of the same way with photography. If I took a photo, any photo, I shared it. Now I won’t go and tell you how you should post on your social accounts or what photos are good enough for you to share, there are plenty of other people out there that are more than happy to do that. But what I will share with you is what happened when I started to focus my sharing more. And I feel those results are positive.

Being selective of the photos that I chose to share has paid off.  Let's face it, not every picture we take is good.
Being selective of the photos that I chose to share has paid off. Let’s face it, not every picture we take is good.

My first hesitancy to focus my sharing was that I wanted everyone everywhere to read what I found and know that I found it. And honestly when I first started out, it worked for what I wanted, it increased my follower count on social media. But as time went on, I started to notice problems.

Let me first preface this by saying that I don’t have a ton of followers. In fact compared to a lot of people, my social media following is rather small. But even with my meager social following, having a conversation with everyone about everything under the sun was very difficult. And to top it off, I wasn’t becoming an authority on any one subject.

Like I mentioned earlier, my photography was the same way. But when I started to be more selective of the photos I posted, they started to become more popular. I believe this happened for two reasons. One, being selective of what photos to share eliminated the bad and marginally good photos, and really made me think about the shots I took before I took them. Each photo became meaningful and intentional. Two, being selective meant that I didn’t share as much which meant that I wasn’t constantly filling my followers feeds with uselessness. I subscribed to the “quality over quantity” theory and it worked. Overall what I’ve chosen to share (whether it be photos or other things) have been more well received than in the past.

I still have a long way to go. I’ve really just started trying to separate what I share per network, and I’ve only been pretty good at it with Instagram. But I’m working on doing the same with all my other networks too. In the end, I’m thinking I’d rather be extremely good or great at one thing, than just ok at lots of things. How about you?

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Whenever I see a photo that has an effect that I’ve not seen before, I usually make a mental note to try replicating it somehow. When I first saw photos that looked like they were taken in motion, I wanted to see if I could take photos like that as well. One of the advantages of photographing New York City is that there’s always something going on and usually something is moving.

Taking a shot of a car that’s moving and trying keep it in focus so that only the background is blurred is pretty difficult. In fact it took me a long time to get the shot I’m sharing here, and I’d be the first to admit that it really could be a lot better. Even though it took me roughly 45 minutes to get this one semi-decent shot, I don’t feel that it was time wasted. Instead, I feel that I learned enough from my mistakes (and I made a whole lot) that when I go and try this again, it won’t take nearly as long to get a shot much better than this.

Don't give up on things too early, you might miss out on something big.
Don’t give up on things too early, you might miss out on something big.

It would have been really easy to give up after the first couple of attempts and move on. I could have moved on and went somewhere else to take photos and left this sort of thing to the professionals. But I didn’t, I kept trying. Instant gratification seems to be the theme nowadays. If something doesn’t work right away, we ditch the idea and move on to something else. When the new method or idea doesn’t work right away we move on from that. We expect success much too soon and way too often.

This sort of thing can lead to frustrations very early on as the constant little “failures” seem to pile on. It can also lead to the pursuit of “low hanging fruit” all the time, which might satisfy the need for immediate success, but ignore the big picture. In my opinion, failure is not a bad thing if you learn from your mistakes.
You might call a 45 minute block of time with only one photo show for it a failure, and I might be inclined to agree. But it allowed me to expand my skill set and become a better photographer. That’s a success in my opinion.

You can finish the phrase “If at first you don’t succeed” any way you want. I would just recommend against finishing it with the word “quit”.