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Monday, March 25, 2013

Leo Tolstoy

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."

— Leo Tolstoy
Russian Writer
1828 - 1910

Most of us at some point in our lives have a desire to change the world — to change how the world works and how others behave.  Some of us outgrow these desires and others spend a lifetime of activism.  Some of us become cynical and dropout.  Others rant and rave against the system.  Yet few of us ever think about changing ourselves.  

The perfect example is marriage.  I bet everyone whoever marries attempts at some point to change the behavior of his or her spouse.  Maybe it is putting down the toilet seat.  Or trying to change the spending habits.  We have all tried to change a spouse and nine times of ten we have failed.  You cannot change other people easily because most people resisted the efforts of others to change them.  If you want the marriage to be successful, you must learn to first change yourself.  And if you are successful, you will change the other person in the process.

As creative leaders, we must learn to work on ourselves first.  If your writing or your paintings are rejected, don't blame the editors and the gallery owners.  Look inside.  What do you need to do differently?  What do you need to change?  

Lasting change comes from within, not from without.  What work habits do you need to change?  What habits of procrastination do you need to change?  What attitudes do you need to change?  Changing a habit does not happen overnight.  Some experts say that it takes a minimum of 21 days to change a habit.  Changing yourself is not easy, but with hard work it can be done.  You can change who you are by changing what goes into your mind and heart.  

I believe the heart drives change more than the brain.  Most people know intellectually that smoking is harmful to one's life and yet many people are unable to stop.  You have to emotionally want to change for change to happen.  Our emotions are the basis for change.  Love for another person can motivate someone to change his behavior.  Fear can be a powerful motivation for change.

Creative Practice:
This week choose some habit that you would like to change and begin the work necessary for the change.  Remember that it takes at least three weeks for the change to take hold.  Commit yourself to the change.  Believe that you can change.  Choose to change.  Plant seeds of hope in your heart.

Born in the Tula Province of Russia, Tolstoy was the youngest of four boys.  He was two when his mother died and nine when his father passed away.  He was raised by his aunts.  French and German tutors provided his early education at home.  At fifteen he enrolled at the University of Kazan but failed to graduate because of partying to excess instead of studying.  He attempted to become a farmer on his parents' estate but failed as well.  He did develop the habit of keeping a journal.  After failing at farming, he joined the army and fought in the Crimean War.

Tolstoy published his first story, Childhood, in The Contemporary when he was 24.  His greatest novel, War and Peace, was published in 1869.  Anna Karenina, the second of his best novels, was published in installments between 1873 - 1877 to critical and public acclaim.

After the writing of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy suffered a spiritual crisis.  He rejected the Russian Orthodox Church because he felt it was corrupt.  He developed his own unconventional  and controversial spiritual beliefs.  His later fiction was more moralistic than his earlier work.

The Last Station, a movie about the last year of Tolstoy's life, was released in 2009.  Here is the trailer.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Les Brown

"Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago."

American Speaker, Author
1945 -

What are you doing today that will help someone a generation from now?  We all need to be planting seeds today that will bear fruit tomorrow.  Whether you are a writer, an artist or a singer, you need to be giving back.  None of us have gotten where we are without the help of others.  And each of us owes something to future generations.

Years ago, when we lived in Indiana, we had sold our house and were moving to Minnesota.  My wife and I planted a flowering tree in the backyard.  We knew we would never see it grow, but we also knew that someone would enjoy its beauty some day.

As creative leaders, our gift to future generations is often our creative work.  People may not read our writing and buy our paintings while we are alive, but sometime in the future people will come to appreciate what we created.  People will be inspired by our work.  We will touch lives and change hearts.

Creative Practice:
This week do something that won't bear fruit for years to come.  Give back to future generations.  Create a masterpiece.  Plant a tree.

I have listened to Les Brown often on tape and CD.  He tells a powerful story about growing up poor in Miami, Florida.  He was born in an abandoned building in Liberty City, a low-income section of Miami.  He was adopted at six weeks of age by Mamie Brown.  Mamie was a 38 year old single woman, cafeteria cook and domestic worker, with little education or financial means.  The one thing she did have was love which she gave in bushel baskets to Les and his twin brother, Wesley.

In the fifth grade, Les was labeled, "educably mentally retarded" and returned to the fourth grade.  He later flunked the eighth grade and he was often call DT for dumb twin.  Les began his career as a DJ.  He has been a broadcast manager, community activist, political commentator, state legislator, nightclub emcee and keynote speaker.  In 1992, he was selected as one of the top five outstanding speakers by Toastmasters International.  He is the author of the books, Live Your Dreams, and It's Not Over Until You Win.

Here is Les Brown speaking:

Monday, March 11, 2013

Alan Alda

"If you are just looking to take bows, you'll almost always be disappointed, because the applause is never loud enough."

— Alan Alda
American Actor, Director, Writer
1936 -

As a speaker, I understand almost immediately what Alan Alda is talking about.  There are speakers who brag about getting a standing ovation every time they speak.  The applause is more important than touching the lives of people.  Applause is very short-lived.  If you blink, it might have faded away.  Yet, people yearn for the applause.  Whether you are a writer, a comedian, an artist or an actor, we all crave recognition and praise.  Yet the novel, the poem, the painting, or the performance are more important than the reward.

There are writers who become so caught up in the applause that they stop writing and instead live the life of a writer going from party to party enjoying the praise and recognition.  Some live off their reputation for the remainder of their lives.

Too much praise and recognition from the general public can be harmful to a person's creativity.  They may stop growing and maturing.  The key to avoiding the negative impact of applause is to remain humble.  True humility will free most people from the harmful impact of praise.  

Don't believe your own press releases.  You are not as good as people say.  And on the flip side, you are not as bad as people say.  I have had people tell me that I am the best speaker they have ever heard.  Now, either they have never heard any other speakers or they say that to every speaker.  Within 15 minutes of the end of the speech the meeting room is empty except for the speaker and the staff who are cleaning up.  Most people have moved on with their lives and the applause has faded.

The person we have to learn to please is ourselves, not our readers or our audience.  Our readers can be very fickle — love you today and hate you tomorrow.  Have you applauded yourself lately?  Have you given yourself a standing ovation lately?

Creative Practice:
Cast of M*A*S*H
This week find reasons to give yourself standing ovations.  Review previous poems, paintings and stories that you have written or painted and praise the good that you find.  Ignore the bad.  Be thankful for the gifts that you have been given.

Alan Alda was born Alphonso Joseph D'Abruzzo in The Bronx, New York City.  His father was an actor and singer and his mother was a showgirl.  Alda began his acting career in the 1950's as a member of the Compass Players.  In 1966, he starred in the musical, The Apple Tree, on Broadway.  Alda is remembered most for his role as Hawkeye Pierce in in the TV series, M*A*S*H.  He was nominated for 21 Emmy Awards for the show and won five.  He also wrote and directed many of the shows.  He appeared in all 251 episodes of the series.

Here is a video of Alan Alda being interviewed on CBS about his memoir, Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself.

Quote Source:
Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself, by Alan Alda

Monday, March 4, 2013

Albert Einstein

"Don't think about why you question, simply don't stop questioning.  Don't worry about what you can't answer, and don't try to explain what you can't know.  Curiosity is its own reason."

— Albert Einstein
German Theoretical Physicist
1879 - 1955

Do you question the world around you?  Do you ask: why? how? when? where?  Do you challenge the assumptions of others?  Do you challenge your own assumptions?  Do you challenge your beliefs?  Do you question your habits?  Or do you simply accept what was taught you?  Do you accept without question the statements of experts?  Do you question what you read in the newspaper or hear on television?  Are you willing to think differently than those around you?  Do you hang out with people who think like you do?  Or do you surround yourself with people who think differently than you?

There is so much that we don't know.  The more I learn; the less I feel I know.  Are you curious about the world in which you live?  Are you curious about your neighbors?  Your friends?  The physical world?  The world of the mind?  Are you curious about what you do not know?  Have you stopped learning?  Stopped reading?  Stopped growing?

There is a story of a man who was watching his wife cook a pot roast.  She cut off the end of the pot roast before putting it in the pot.  He asked her why?  She said that was what her mother always did.  Since she was curious, she called her mother and asked her why she cut off the end of the pot roast?  Her mother said because her grandmother did.  The woman called her grandmother and asked her why she always cut off the end of the pot roast.  And the grandmother said that she cut off the end because the pot was too small.  What habits have you formed that are based on out-of-date information?  What habits do you need to change?

Creative Practice
This week take a belief, an assumption or a habit that you have held your for most of your life and question it?  Challenge your assumptions. What assumptions have you made about the creative process?  Or creative people?  Painters?  Writers?  Actors?  Find out why you believe what you believe.  Where did the belief come from?  Where did the habit come from?  What makes it valid?  Is it true?  Or is it false?

Albert Einstein was born In Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1879 to Hermann Einstein and Pauline Einstein.  His father was a salesman and an engineer.  The Einsteins were non-observant Jews.  Albert attended a Catholic elementary school for three years.  Einstein built models and mechanical devices and showed a talent for mathematics.  In 1900, Einstein earned a Zurich Polytechnic teaching diploma.  He married Mileva Maric in 1903.  They had two sons born in 1904 and 1910.  They divorced in 1914 and less than 4 months later he married Elsa Lowenthal, his first cousin.  She died in 1936.  Albert and Elsa immigrated to the United States in 1933.  Einstein became a U. S. citizen in 1940.

Albert Einstein experienced internal bleeding caused by the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm in 1955.  When he was admitted to the hospital, he refused surgery, saying: "I want to go when I want.  It is tasteless to prolong life artificially.  I have done my share, it is time to go.  I will do it elegantly.  He died the next morning at the age of 76.