What Used to Be A Blog Is Now Basically An E-Book: The Tale of 33

I turned 34 last Monday and decided that the best way to spend my birthday was to reflect and write my traditional annual blog. What I didn’t anticipate was that I spent the entire day writing, and it turned into an e-book, pictures, chapters and all!

So many lessons learned and experiences remembered, all chronicled here. I hope it’s helpful to you in your journey in some way. All 77 pages of it.

Bonus points to anyone who reads it in its entirety, and thanks for allowing me the space to share.

Here is it.

Until next year…


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32 in Review

I couldn’t think of a better time to reflect and write my 7th annual birthday “year in review” blog than now. I’ve spent the last week in Bali amongst a group of 30 entrepreneurs, learning together about both business and personal growth in arguably one of the most beautiful settings on the planet.

I’ve always known that sharing space with people who share a mission to always be bettering themselves, and as a result, use that to better the world around them in their special way, would result in nothing but positive outcomes. This week has been no different and has set the perfect stage for me to dive deeply into what has become a cherished annual practice of commemorating the close to one year, and the beginning of a new one.

I’m a very intentional person, so I try to only make decisions actively, not passively. So in doing this long exercise now 7 times over, I’m often asked why. My reply is that by taking time to slow down, remember, and pay homage, it allows me to see on a greater arch the big and small things that occurred in a year (which my forgetful mind often loses), as well as to help me in visioning for the future.  Time passes by so quickly and it’s so easy to forget what I did last weekend, let alone what happened 12 months ago.  So this has become my time capsule for each year.

It’s taken a lot of personal growth to get a place where I can make this public and not fear what anyone on the other end will think. This is for me, but I make it public because others have shared their own positive takeaways and things this has sparked for them as a result of my sharing it. So, I continue to do so for as long as it resonates with me, and look forward to continuing to share my journey with you.

So here it is, year 32 in review:

32 began as I boarded a cruise ship out of Miami, heading to the Bahamas, alongside 3,000 innovators, entrepreneurs, and creatives for “Summit at Sea”. Mother Nature didn’t allow us to actually get off that ship and get to the island, but it was a powerful way to begin the new year. I extended my stay in Miami after the cruise for a short moment to gather my thoughts and rest after immediately having boarded the ship post a 10-day jaunt in Rwanda and Kenya (which deserves a whole post of it’s own, as so much was experienced and learned on that journey).

I returned to Atlanta thereafter to have a belated birthday party with 50 of my favorite local friends and soaked in the love that one feels on those special types of occasions. But of course, I didn’t stay in Atlanta for long as yet another year of incredible travel was about to get underway.

A favorite quote of mine is “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”…and I sure hope so because it’s certainly the thing that most dings at my bank account! So, with that in mind, I was off to Belize for Thanksgiving with my family, which included a healthy competition of fishing and lobster diving, lots of snorkeling, swimming with sharks without a cage, and an unusual solo stay in an international destination after the family departed.

As the December holidays approached, before I knew it, I was on a flight to Lima, Peru, to kick-start an adventure around the country including Lake Titicaca, The Sacred Valley, and Cusco. I’m a sucker for living history, and Peru, particularly Macchu Picchu, did not disappoint.

While on that trip, I was completing my annual goals, one of which was to relearn to ski after a 21-year hiatus. Much to my delight, a friend reached out to me 2 weeks later, offering me a place to stay at the chalet he’d rented in Zermatt, Switzerland in February. What better way to relearn to ski, I thought? So of course that came next.

But, before that, I made a quick trip back to where I spent half of my childhood (Baltimore) for the surprise 70th birthday roast of my dad. It was a great night celebrating him through his favorite communication tool: jokes.

As February turned into March, it was time to go back to Austin for SXSW to visit with many friends in attendance, learn, and connect with new people. From there I went to straight to LA (Santa Monica), for some sun, friends, and reflection. From there, straight to SF, my home-away-from home, for the usual: deeper exploration of the city, reconnection with family and friends, and to continue to develop community there. I even got to do a quick Half Moon Bay trip and get out of the city for a bit.

Time to fly back East before driving to the coast of North Carolina for the beautiful wedding of a close friend.

Shortly thereafter, tragedy struck for two of my childhood friends who each lost a parent unexpectedly, so I hopped a flight home to Baltimore. This set into motion a ripple effect of contemplation about my relationship with my parents and my sincere intention to not have regrets whenever this fateful day comes.

Frankly, here, my timeline gets a little hazy, so let me save everyone a little reading and rattle off some of the next destinations: Paid a visit with some friends to our friendly neighbor to the North (Canada) and explored Montreal. Headed to China for the first solo trip I’ve ever taken with my parents to visit my cousin, explore, and see the Great Wall. Snuck in 2 more visits to SF, 2 visits to NYC and one to the Hamptons, 2 trips to DC (one for an incredible White House event called “The United State of Women Summit” where I got to share a space with the likes of both Obamas, Biden, Oprah, Warren Buffet, and the list goes on and on), a revisit to Detroit, 2 more visits to Miami, 2 trips to Chicago, 1 more stop in Baltimore, the Poconos for a mother/daughter wellness retreat, Philly for my favorite thing (an Indian wedding) and got to pay a visit to my childhood home just outside the city, a lovely jaunt to Portland, 2 visits to Nashville (once to launch our newest Network Under 40 city, and once for Camp No Counselors…adult summer camp), other Portland (Maine) where I was in a sailing accident…hand injury included, a Global Shapers retreat in North Georgia, a LEAD Atlanta retreat in South Georgia, an incredible Eastern European adventure including Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia and Italy (even got to practice my rusty Italian skills), St Simons Island, a weekend at Lake Oconee, an actual night of camping, completed by getting stranded with my group while tubing on the river and almost not being able to get off it, and most recently, to wrap up the year, a trip to Bali and South Korea, bookended with a Thanksgiving stop in Denver with the family.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, I work, and do so from all of these locations.

Each year I write out goals for myself, with mantras I select to help me describe how I want the year to feel. This year’s were: Dream, Achieve, Do, Give, and Live Big.

The adjectives I chose to describe the year were: generosity, curiosity, abundance, love, passion, adventure, intentionality, gratitude, non-attachment, romance, compassion, peace, freedom, fun, authenticity, wellness, and prosperity. Clearly I had a lot to do this year…

In reflecting back, there were a number of lessons I’ve learned, some of which include:

Presence: being present in the moment.

Boundaries: being thoughtful and stronger about creating and keeping them for myself, mostly around my time.

Beauty: Realizations about my lifelong struggle with beauty, what we’re told is ‘beautiful’, and the beginning stages of acceptance about my own beauty, which I’ve never been seen.

Personal worth: Recognition of every human’s equal worth and not characterizing myself as less than some and/or greater than others.

Success: Not defining my success by ‘resume virtues’, but rather, by character, growth, what I have to share and offer to others, and experiences. I also have the ability to continue to define what success looks like for me, and not allow other pressures to define it on my behalf.

Don’t take things personally: In line with my favorite book The Four Agreements, I worked on one of the agreements to (in my case) take less things personally, recognizing how selfish it is to assume people’s actions, words, or inactions are in any way an assault on me.

No year is complete without some reflection on dating. Last year I made the conscious effort to ‘date like a man’, which meant that I would date many people casually and be open to what might come out of it, but not attach myself to any one person too quickly. This year I just let things evolve, happy with that experience, but also open to whatever might be, understanding that I can’t control or predict this arena.

The lineup of dates this year was diverse as ever, including men in San Diego, Atlanta, NYC, Baltimore, and beyond. And, as usual, I continued on my “UN of dating” streak, and dated the gamut of races and cultures. I even got a completely unprecedented date request in the form of a FedEx package including a book for me to read, a 45-minute personal video message, and 21 pages of typed information about this stranger and why he wanted to date me. Flattering to say the very least.

Most of these were short-lived connections, and as my 32nd year came to a close, I was fortunate to meet an incredible man who is in my life today. Regardless of what the future holds for us, he’s already elevated my expectations of what partnership can be like, and I’m grateful to have met him.

I also had three men from my distant past circle back and apologize for their historic actions. These were each wonderfully unexpected surprises, because to hear the things you once so badly wanted to, and then to get them out-of-the-blue, was very much appreciated.

On to family we go, where I vowed to get out of my comfort zone in these relationships. Going to China with my parents and without my siblings was a huge intentional leap in this direction. Prioritizing time to go home for my dad’s surprise birthday, carving out time in the Bay Area at multiple points throughout the year to be with my brother, sister-in-law, nieces, cousin, aunt and uncle, all were thoughtful choices. Shifting my attittude about past frustrations in partnership with my twin proved immensely helpful. Also did a 3-day wellness retreat with my mom which included archery, juicing lessons, paddle boarding, art, yoga, and more one-on-one time than we’ve perhaps ever spent together in my adult life. I also continued to invest in my non-biological family relationships, as well, recognizing that we are also gifted with the family we choose, in addition to the family into which we are born.

Friendships have always been a priority for me, so I continued to pour into those, even though that looked different in some cases because of my hectic travel schedule. I had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone would be accepting of this, but that if I came from an authentic space and did my best, that that would be okay (#boundaries).

I continued to seek out and surround myself with people who bring joy, love, and positivity. Those who are running towards things that make them happy and about which they are passionate, as well as those who want to leave a bigger legacy on this planet than just to take from it.

I made a point to reach out and let people know I care and was thinking of them.

I never took my furry best friend, Chairman Meow, for granted, especially since I only see her about half of every month when I’m home.

I made some incredible new friends, I believe because you get what you put out, and this is something I highly value, seek, and into which I invest. I was also reminded with a couple friendships that not all things last, and that when people show you who they are, believe them.

My businesses made a shift this year, as I made the decision to reallocate much of the time I’d historically spent on my merchant services company, Equitable Payments, into Network Under 40 because it felt like the right challenge for me at this juncture. Growing our team to 10 people and into 6 cities has been a monumental learning curve for me, but I love to grow, so I take it in stride (mostly).

We opened our Nashville market, celebrated 1 year with our Baltimore and DC markets, Atlanta celebrated 5 years, and Network Over 40 celebrated 2 years. We even signed on event directors in Birmingham and Charlotte to launch in early 2017. I redesigned the infrastructure of the company, hired a director of operations, a new marketing firm, and took a lot more risks than I’d ever before in my businesses as I learned to operate a multi-market business-to-consumer company.

I signed up and started a 9-month marketing course because I’ve never taken a single business class and wanted to expand myself.  This self-expansion also included learning what it takes to make really hard decisions like letting team members go. Through all of this, I felt enormously grateful to be tapping into my gift as a connector through this company.

This also spun out into my getting hired to do networking and relationship building trainings for other organizations, which included an international lingerie company and one for an international Christian organization’s Southern leaders.

I continued to get quoted in and write for a number of national publications like Inc., Forbes, Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, CNN, Time, Business Collective, Fox Business, and Yahoo! I was on a handful of podcasts, spoke on a number of panels, and was the featured speaker for groups like Levo league on entrepreneurship and authentic relationship building. I was beyond flattered to be featured in several magazines like Darling along side Rosario Dawson (and others) as ‘A Female Entrepreneur Who Inspires Us to Keep Going’, got interviewed for Breakout on what being a connector is all about, was featured in Forbes, and was called a ‘Warrior Woman’ in a feature by CocoEco Magazine.

I spent some time working on the development of a technology to scale connections (think LinkedIn and Match.com having a baby), and decided to table it.

I sold a marginal number of my kids books, Finance Whiz Kids.

I recorded my first video series on “a guide to better networking” with 27 installments which will go live shortly.

While on the cruise that kick-started year 32, I learned my new favorite hobby: acroyoga. Along the way, I found a wonderful community of friends, teachers, and partners, as well as challenged my marginal fear of heights and rational fear of being upside-down in the air on top of another shaky human.

My meditation practice fluctuated from 2x/day to about 1x/day with a period of about 2-3 weeks where I intentionally shut it off to re-center without it. My gratitude practice (trying to focus on that for which I’m grateful, rather than that which I lament) continued. I prioritized rest and sleep, as well as ate well and relatively cleanly. I continued to prioritize fun and was less attached to outcomes.

I took on a continued attitude of self care as I invested in things that make me feel good about myself like regular hair treatments, eyelash extensions, the occasional massage, manicures and pedicures, guilt-free shopping, and having a beautiful home, car, and surroundings.

My love of black and white photography continued as I brought my camera around the world with me, marginally learned how to use LightRoom for editing, and finally committed to printing, framing, and making a photo wall of my work at home.

I continued my hobby of writing, not only for public consumption, but also for personal processing. I published 25+ articles for major national outlets including these on ‘6 steps to more effective goal planning’ and ‘The Unconscious Power of Brands’.

Cooking has always been an elusive and intimidating fascination, so I continued to learn new dishes, and accepted the thoughtful gift from my parents of having a chef come to my home to teach some friends and me some new dishes.

In line with boundaries, I let go of some hobbies that no longer served me and invited in new ones.  I ‘graduated’ from Global Shapers, joined the Emory Alumni Board (and said goodbye to my previous board position), ‘graduated’ from LEAD Atlanta, volunteered as social chair for the new class, got into standup paddle boarding, and picked up watercolor painting and adult coloring books.

While in LEAD Atlanta, I experienced some eye-opening immersion activities like working with the homeless, doing a ride-along with our EMS department, sitting in on Atlanta’s 911 call center, touring our federal prison, and along with a team, created a turnkey solution for the KIPP Atlanta High School for a student and parent life skills program.

I continued to invest time in relationships with my three mentors (each of whom personally and professionally kicked me in the ass…in the best of ways).

I read 28 books.

I celebrated 9 years of home ownerships, 8 years of self-employment, my 10-year college reunion, 5+ years with Network Under 40, and 7+years with Equitable Payments.

I leaned in further to the power of delegation and outsourcing by hiring a housekeeper, bookkeeper, marketing agency, director of operations, handyman, and pet sitter.

Think I broke the bank doing all of this? Incorrect! I stuck to an aggressive savings and investment plan and even invested in my first outside company…subsequently owned by my twin brother. I also gave more to charity than ever before and paid off a six-figure loan from my mother.

I saw an “intuitive” (aka psychic) for the first time.

Got a casting offer from a new reality dating show by Mark Burnett.

Got cultured at all sorts of museums all around the world, and even threw in a show or two at the theatre (okay, one was a murder mystery theatre). Took in a few concerts, saw a drag show, took a swing dancing class, attended a charity gala or two, had a few bowling adventures, celebrated gay Pride, and planned a scavenger hunt in the middle of Atlanta for a group of friends.

Got involved with a new nonprofit: feedabillion.org.

Like most of America, got addicted to “Stranger Things”.

And lastly, in my typical fashion, I threw some great parties (A Patriot Party, Olympics opening ceremonies costume party, and topped it all off with my “20 Years Too Late Bat Mitzvah Candy Land Birthday” party).

If you made it to the end and actually read every word, shoot me an email, I owe you some sort of thank you. After all of that, I have little more to share short of my gratitude. This was an exceptional year and looking back at it is such a vivid reminder of that.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 33. If these first 2 weeks are any indication, it’s going to be a year beyond my imagination and I can’t wait to share it with you.

Cheers to you and your personal rotation around the sun!






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31: A Year In Review

 Values drive our actions. Our actions are an indicator of our true values, not the ones we claim to hold. I value freedom (of my time primarily, which is underpinned by other things like financial freedom), learning, growing, comfort, and authenticity (among many other things). As part of my values of learning and growing, I appreciate the perspective that comes from stopping every year around my birthday to reflect on the past 12 months, to take inventory on what occurred, to see if it aligns with my values and my goals, and to celebrate the good and help design the future. I’ve been doing this publicly via this blog for the past 6 years now, and I cherish each historic year’s reflections as mile-markers of where I was at that time. It often feels a bit indulgent, especially to make it public, but I realize how infrequently I slow down to be grateful for more than what happened in the recent past. So, this is my annual birthday gift to myself (as well as, apparently, a great learning tool for people in my life to get the wrap-up report on the year). So here goes: a CliffsNotes version of November 13, 2014 –November 13, 2015:

 My personal mantras for the year were abundance, fun, exploration, peace, growth, authenticity, love, wellness, and freedom (clearly abundance was one of them as there are an abundance of mantras). I thoughtfully choose these mantras each year and craft my goals around them, then write a narrative version of those goals, which helps me to envision the integration of them as they will be lived out. In re-reading that narrative, I was struck by this which I wrote, “For years I’ve defined success as freedom: the freedom to make choices because I have the financial ability to do so. The freedom to be myself, and to be confident about who I am in every environment.  The freedom to learn, travel, grow, start and expand businesses, make choices of my time that suit me and not others, and the freedom to love and make mistakes because they are opportunities to grow.” Spot on. I could conclude this annual review with that sentence alone as it truly encompasses my journey during age 31…but I won’t.

During my season of goal planning at the end of 2015, I felt the urge to make a vision board, too. In looking back at in now, I was amazed that to a T, most of the things on the board came to life. I even forgot about some of them like a picture of Macchu Picchu, where I’ll be spending the holidays this year.

When I kick-started 31, I wanted it to be a beautiful expansion of the great year that 30 was.  I settled more into myself and my own skin and came more to terms with the fact that not everyone has to like me for me to be happy.

So what actually happened over the last 12 months? Here goes:

 I kicked off the year with a birthday party blowout at STK and rented a couple rooms at the W to celebrate in style with my friends (after all, some of my favorite things are bringing people together, celebrating, and dressing up). Travel was the contstant this year. Started off 31 in Austin with my family for Thanksgiving. Headed from there to San Antonio to see the Alamo, explore, and deepen my relationship with my Aunt.  Decided pretty quickly never to return to San Antonio. Based on my plan to eventually spend about 3 months each year in San Francisco, I started working towards that goal that by spending a couple weeks there for the holidays. I deeply explored the city, invested into friendships and family relationships, worked, and took a Transendental Meditation course.  I ultimately spent a cumulative month in SF in 2015.  Headed to NYC in January for a girls weekend filled with Broadway, great eats, laughs, and an epic sorority reunion.  Craving a warmer climate, booked a last-minute trip to Jamaica with some of my girls, and this trip included a potentially idiotic ‘adventure’ to the countryside to see the caves with a complete stranger, multiple beach headstands and gymnastics, and glorious sunsets. Soon after, was back Stateside and drove up to the North Georgia Mountains for a Global Shapers weekend retreat which is always a fun time with friends. Next stop Vegas for a whirlwind party weekend for a friend’s 30th. Baltimore beckoned next as the pendulum swung to tragedy, and I flew in to support a friend in her time of need. With her loss still on my mind and in my heart, changed gears and hopped over to Houston for one of my favorite things: an Indian wedding (and even saw the rodeo).  Next up: Curacao with a beloved friend from Oregon to study the oldest Temple in the Western Hemisphere, spend Passover with that community, and play on the stunning beaches. Ready for some more time in San Francisco, I headed back to get deeper in the community there and (much out of character) to dog sit for French Bulldog Sabrina. Sonoma and Scottsdale came next for a long-awaited college girlfriend reunion of hiking, relaxing and catching up. After finding an irresistible $39 fare to DC, that came next to celebrate the birthday of my buddy and catch up with some friends, family and business folk. Straight from there back to NYC for the “second quarter sorority reunion” and for general fun and business endeavors. Hopped a flight from there to Denver and spend a beautiful long weekend in the mile high city, hiking in Boulder and exploring the area.  Was invited last-minute to join a “conference” called Breakout in Detroit in June and did so, open to new people and experiences, and fell in love with the city, the organization that hosted the gathering, and the people involved. Craving some time with the Atlanta girls, we headed to St. Simon’s Island for a relaxing beach weekend. Shortly thereafter, we drove to Nashville to celebrate the 4th of July, honky-tonk style (which is not my style, but I can play the part for a weekend). Wanting to go deeper with Detroit and explore some investment opportunities, headed back there with a wonderful new friend. We even crossed the border to Windsor, Ontario, and got accosted and searched by border police (so much for ‘Canadian nice’). From there went back to NYC to throw a party with said friend and as you may have guessed, host the ‘3rd quarter sorority reunion’ and get some great time in with friends and business contacts there.  Ready for some sunshine (it being August and all), migrated South to Acapulco and spent a week in the sun, on a lazy river, and reading poolside (oh and getting what I like to call ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’). Feet back on US soil, headed to Edenton (a lake area outside Atlanta) for the kickoff retreat for my new LEAD Atlanta class for a weekend of bonding and learning.  Next up Baltimore for the launch of Network Under 40, then straight to Chicago, primarily to celebrate a best friend’s bachelorette. Straight back to Baltimore for a night with my parents, then a train to DC for some quality time with extended family and a nice combo of work and play meetings.  And then naturally, why not go back to Baltimore, this time to celebrate the marriage of my ‘non-biological brother’.  Home for a minute before going back to my birthplace (Philly) for a wonderful few days at the Forbes Under 30 Summit. One night home and back to Baltimore for the next round of Breakout. Ready to be in the South for a minute, headed to the coast to Charleston for the wedding of my sorority ‘big sister’, my first lesbian wedding (so beautiful)! Then a trip for which I’d long-awaited: Rwanda and Kenya to explore, safari, and support a friend’s great work there. Nearing my birthday, took a flight to Miami to board a cruise for Summit at Sea on Friday the 13th, my 32nd birthday.  Tired? Me too. But in the most fulfilled sort of ways. (Which is great because in a matter of days I go off again to Belize, Chicago, and Peru.) Think I value travel (and the relationships I can grow/develop while doing so, as well as the learning and perspective it offers)—you’d be correct!

Even in the rare weekends I was home in Atlanta, I was able to hosts friends from afar and show them (or remind them) why I love my fair city.

Weddings have been a staple every year for basically the past 10 years, and this one was no different, celebrating that milestone with 5 couples (and sadly having to miss one of a life-long friend).

Published something like 15-20 articles with Entrepreneur and Forbes (a fave was this one about the things my dad has taught me as a surprise birthday gift to him).  I even had the #1 trending article on entrepreneur.com at one point. Was the guest on 2 radio shows, a handful of podcasts, and a TV show. Got a mysterious email from a marketing agency in LA, asking me to be a paid speaker for their Toyota Scion event, and shared fearlessly about my failures and the power of authenticity in relationship building.  Spoke on numerous panels as well as to a class of 9th and 10th graders about entrepreneurship. Was featured in the Huffington Post, Inc, and other national publications.

Met Kelly Osbourne (and loved her).

After learning Transendtenal Mediation, work hard to do it 2 times each day.

Met a diamond dealer who let me play with a 7 karat diamond…and ruined me forever on anything smaller.

Signed on 4 new franchises for Network Under 40, launched 3, have had success with 2, and celebrated 1 year with the Atlanta Over 40 franchise. Atlanta Under 40 hit record attendance numbers with 600 (and that was when we capped ticket sales).

Shifted gears from about 80% of my time on Equitable Payments to about 50% (and felt fulfilled by this shift).

Paid a visit to the largest homeless shelter in Atlanta and designed a plan to help with some of their pressing needs.

Got cultural and saw the Nutcracker and Les Miserables.

Invested time with my two nieces who live in SF, spending Christmas with them and taking them on their first horseback ride.

Made a decision to “date like a man” (which means, to me, to keep dating light and not to tie myself to one person too soon, keeping my options open with ‘multiple burners’ going, dating a few people at a time as I see fit–all while being upfront about this with said men).  It was surprisingly liberating, and resulted in a surge of confidence. Have joked that I’m the UN of dating, and this year was no different with 2 Persians, 1 Nigerian, 1 Parisian, 1 Irishman, 1 Israeli, and even a couple Americans.

 Because I had a beautiful white dress that needed an occasion to be worn, I threw a giant white party… and ‘wore it better’ than Caitlin Jenner did.

 Did a 90s flashback and saw Boyz II Men and Counting Crows in concert.

After a year of lazy car shopping, I showed up at the Audi dealership for the first time and wore down the salesman until midnight on the last day of the month to give me a great deal on a new car.

After being mis-diagnosed as having Celiac disease, I excitedly re-introduced gluten into my diet after 13 months G-free. Thank goodness because gluten is delicious.

Felt athletic by proximity when I attended multiple professional sporting events.

Read 28 books (and reread several more), which subsequently is the exact same count as last year and again, all non-fiction books.

Wore a sari (which I learned is impossible to put on oneself).

Went to the best drag show I’ve ever seen.

Along with 3 friends, designed and hosted Atlanta’s first charity comedy roast roasting the city (and sold it out).

 Saw a screening of the new Magic Mike movie (along with Jada Pinkett Smith and a bevy of male strippers).

 Met Bubba Watson’s former coach and semi-successfully convinced him to give my parents a private lesson.

 Welcomed lots of friends’ babies into the world.

 Celebrated 8 years of home ownership, 7  years of being self-employed, and 9 years out of college. Also marked 4 years of Network Under 40 and 6 years of Equitable Payments.

More deeply embraced delegation and outsourcing as I continued to lean on the help of my marketing partner, franchisees, accountant, bookkeeper, pet sitter, and housekeeper.

Stuck to an aggressive financial plan around earning, saving, and investing.

Took thousands of black and white photos.

Cooked more (in the rare times I was home).

Leaned more on writing, not just for public digestion, but also for my own use as a processing tool.

Loosened up a little and starting treating myself to some personal luxuries.

Concentrated on being in the moment and being present.

My yoga practice (quantity) dropped off, but didn’t go away.

Worked to continue to appreciate what is, and not lament what isn’t in life.

Worked on some deep-seeded insecurities…and made progress.

I thought 30 was an incredible year, and it just scratched the surface of 31. Looking much forward to the adventures of 32! Thanks for being a part of this journey with me.

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May I help you?

If someone asks you “How can I help?”, what is your initial reaction?  It likely depends in large part on your context as well as your relationship with said help-offerer. I recently ran a personal experiment to ask one person every day for 2 months how I could be of help to them in their life, with no strings attached.  The outcome was surprising and one that I think is worth sharing.

I’m a believer that what you put out comes back to you.  Some mistake the term karma to mean this. My understanding of it is simple: if you put good out, good comes back your way. The same for the opposite.  I also happen to really like to help people, especially as it pertains to leveraging what I see as my primary resource: my network.

So, I recently set out to make it a priority to ask one person each day about whom I cared how I could be of service to them. From there, the recipient of this offer’s reaction generally followed as so: 1. Surprise, 2. Confusion, 3. Clarfication around whether or not there were genuinely no expectations/strings, 4. Gratitude, and finally 5. No idea how I could help them.  Upon getting to this stage, I’d welcome him/her to follow up with me to ‘cash in’ on my offer when ready. Of the approximate 60 people (1 person a day for 2 months) to whom I made this offer, 3 people had a request for me on the spot. The remainder did not, nor did they ever come back to take me up on my request.

I was initially surprised to see how few people really knew how I could help them. I was also surprised at how few people could soak in the idea that someone really wanted to help them and wanted nothing in return.  Upon further review, it didn’t surprise me as much because I know how much I dislike asking other people for help (or taking it when offered), as well as how infrequently people really stop to think about what it is that they need.

Another reaction of mine to this ‘experiment’ was feeling a bit disheartended, that my genuine intention to help other people (because after all, it’s kind of selfish to do that becuase you know it will make you feel good) barely got off-the-ground becuase so few people wanted to accept.  The plus side was that it was a great excuse to reconnect with old friends and contacts. The down side was that I barely got to do any of the real work I’d challenged myself to do.

You may be asking: ‘Why the hell do you care so much about this? People clearly aren’t interested in your help, so give it a break!’. And if you are thinking that, it’s totally fair. But, as I mentioned previously, helping others is actually kind of self-serving because you do it knowing you’ll feel good and that, if you believe as I do, you know that good will ultimately come back to you in some way.

I was feeling a little burdened with some work-related stuff, so it occurred to me that the best way to get over it would be to get out of my own mess and help someone else.  This morning I thought of trying it another way: of posting to social media here and there to see if anyone would bite and give the broader network a chance to take me up on my offer. So keep an eye out for that.

So, what’s the point here? My point is that I still believe in the power of paying-it-forward and leveraging my greatest resource, my network, to help others.  I suppose that much like in a scientific experiment, I tested a hypothesis, found the outcome to be different than anticipated, and now I’m onto version 2.0.

I’d challenge you to try something similar in your life if this resonnates with you. If it does, share with me about your experience. That’s what I ask of you 😉

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31 on the 13th

Five years ago I started a personal tradition of writing an annual wrap up around my birthday. It’s become something I cherish as a mile-marker which I use to reflect back on years past, as well as to take time to remember and pay homage to what I’ve done in the past 12 months. I’m guilty of letting time slip by and quickly forgetting what happened. So, I use this as a chance to look back and consolidate it into my annual report of my thirtieth year (in no particular order of importance, nor in chronological order):

Age 30 kicked off in Orlando, with some of my closest friends, having some of the most fun I can remember, running around Harry Potter World. I subsequently spent the rest of the year wanting to go back and re-live that childlike joy.

Travel was a mainstay of this year because after all, travel is “the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”  After Orlando, I enjoyed a stay-cation at the local boutique hotel; spent Thanksgiving in San Francisco (and was even able to fit in a mini high school reunion with those of us out West) and finally visited the “Brustein” vineyard in Sonoma; enjoyed three cabin weekends in North Georgia; explored Nicaragua (which was basically a yoga retreat including but not limited to a memorable beach bond fire, new friends, howler monkies, fresh family-style meals, a catamaran with dolphins swimming alongside, and swimming to our very own private beach); a girls beach trip to St Simon’s Island; a visit Baltimore and DC for time with friends from both high school and college; jetted to Portland to see old friends, hike the coast line, and visit a cheese factory; got reacquainted with my favorite US city: San Francisco and did a jaunt over to Napa; had a party weekend in Miami; finally got my chance to visit Israel (after my first attempt 10 years ago)…amidst a full-blown war; visited LA/Santa Monica and for the first time, thought it was a nice city; backpacked through Argentina and had my first experience hiking a glacier; and wrapped up a year of travels back in Baltimore.

This year was certainly the year of freebies which included: massages, a simulated dead sea float, many hotel stays, dinners, conferences and workshops, and airfare. Definitely not complaining about that!

I used some of my skills to teach.  I worked with undergrad business students to teach them about networking. I also worked with elementary-aged kids to teach them about financial literacy. I wrote articles to teach about things like networking and entrepreneurship for national media outlets.

I volunteered for organizations like Trees Atlanta (in the cold and pouring rain) and Habitat for Humanity.

My payment processing business grew into 38 states and we launched a successful partnership with a medical purchasing group in Augusta.

I executed 12 Atlanta Under 40 events (totaling over 3,000 people in attendance), and re-launched the Over 40 brand with early success! I took my learnings and packaged them into mini-franchises and set out to find event directors in new cities to bring the fun and networking to them.  Fingers crossed for a few launches in 2015!

I embraced being single and focused on the benefits that come with that lifestyle. But, also made some time to date with an unintentional international perspective including a Peruvian, Brazilian, Canadian, Israeli, and even a couple Americans.

I got one step closer to a life goal of being in a bowling league by subbing in one. While doing so, I scored my first turkey!

I picked up a lot of new hobbies and habits. One includes a practice of mediation: which started with 2 hour sanskrit group sessions and evolved into independent daily home meditation. I then converted my spare bedroom into a yoga and meditation studio to practice both.  I picked back up my old tap shoes and tapped in my garage. I even got into the cirque arts and learned a thing or two on the silks. I finally switched from film photography to digital and fell back in love with black and white photography and started an online portfolio. I even learned some basic gardening and managed not to kill my tomatoes for most of the summer.

I spent time volunteering as an ambassador for the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Board Member for the Emory College Alumni Board, and Vice Curator of the Altanta Global Shapers. With the Shapers, I helped plan and execute the Shapers first major project: Shape Atlanta, a “hackathon” for Atlanta’s young professionals to help create ideas around ways to improve the city.

I hosted an Olympics opening ceremonies costume party (where everyone had to dress as their favorite country or country of origin)–so basically hosted the UN for a night.

Got cultured and saw the Broadway show “Book of Mormon”. Since one cultural excursion wasn’t enough, I also saw a Rokmoninoff performance.

Dealt with ice storms like the city of Atlanta hasn’t seen in about a decade. When it thawed, took some beautiful hikes in North Georgia.

Had many a movie or tv night with friends and many cherished visits from out-of-town visitors. I even hosted my mom for the first time ever for a weekend of just the two of us.

Had two meetings with the Mayor of Atlanta (one immediately before he met with President Obama).  Got asked a lot if I’ll run for politics, to which I say ‘no’.  But, I did meet the President of my city’s Chamber of Commerce and thought that that might be the job for me one day.

Continued to think that being Indian-American might be ideal as I had a blast celebrating the holiday Holi (which meant throwing colored powder at willing bystanders).

Just like every other year, I celebrated a lot of weddings, showers and birthdays.  One of which was for my twin brother whose wedding was half family reunion, half high school reunion. Subsequently, I welcomed a new sister-in-law to the family.

Had to say goodbye to friends who moved and sent off a best friend to DC.

Pretended to give a shit about local sports and caught a women’s pro basketball game, a couple men’s games (Hawks), a Brave’s game, and a Falcons game or two.

I traveled back in time to Medieval Times. And no, this didn’t even happen in Orlando. I got veto’ed on my own birthday to do that there.

Bought my first bike as an adult, a yellow cruiser, and did a 6 mile moon bike ride around the city with 2,000 other people.

Attended a charity gala.

Upped my fashion game, thinking that 30 was time to make my wardrobe chicer and sleeker.

Threw a “sha-bbq”–basically a shabbat/ bbq combo. It was the most Jewish thing I’ve ever done short of visiting Israel.

I spoke at several conferences and was featured on several podcasts and radio shows. The press continued as I wrote for or was featured in outets including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Time, The Huffington Post, CNN, Inc, Fox Business, US News, and LearnVest. I even got a monthly column in Entrepreneur.com.  I was also named “Atlanta Jewish 40 Under 40”.

I decided to create a  a personal website so it would be less complicated to explain to people ‘what I do’.

I showcased at one of the country’s largest book festivals for the 2nd year.

I got closer to my dream of meeting Oprah by attending a conference she put on in Atlanta.

I crashed Emory’s 10 year class reunion.

Read 28 books this year, all non-fiction, I believe.

Was misdiagnosed as having celiac disease and went gluten free the entire year! This is a quite a challenge for a lover of all things Italian.

Poured into my friendships deeply. Tried to listen and be there physically and emotionally for them. Also came to realize that some friendships have changed, and came to terms with that. Similarly, I worked to strengthen relationships with family.

I felt grateful every day to come home to Chairman Meow (my cat), the best roommate there ever was (sorry old roommates, but this is no surprise to you).

Celebrated 7 years of home ownership, 6 years of being self-employed, and 8 years out of college.

I chose to focus this year on wholeness: my 20s felt chaotic to me, with 1 or more major life areas out of balance throughout that time (home life, money, work, spirituality, health, love, relationships, etc). There was so much self-doubt and criticism in my 20s, and I wanted to focus on what was, not what wasn’t.  I learned to appreciate myself more, give myself more credit, and take a compliment or two.

Dove more deeply into the beauty of outsourcing: hired a housekeeper, a bookkeeper and a marketing agency.

I reminded myself that if you don’t throw your hat in the ring, you’re certain to fail, so I pitched to Kevin Harrington from Shark Tank in hopes of a shot to get onto HSN.

Continued to seek out people in Atlanta and around the world who are inspiring–and the call was answered.

I set out to do an unassisted headstand– and did it!

I completed a silent film version of the ALS ice bucket challenge as well as successfully executed the “dirty dancing” lift (there exists video evidence of both).

Got sucked into the show “House of Cards” and now forever fear our government’s corruption.

Hosted a party at my parents home (but for maybe the first time, they knew about, were there, and the drinking was legal).

I tried to quit cable but instead, ended up with cable, Netflix, Hulu and Prime. Oops.

I discovered that some idiot (savant) was trying to sell used versions of my books on Amazon for $999.11 (retail price $16.95).

Met Jamie Lynn Spears.

Had my name on the jumbo tron at the Atlanta Hawks game.

Picked a bushel of apples. Still haven’t eaten them all.

Picked up the positive habit of flossing daily. Yet, still had to get a cavity filled.

Dove into an intentional and aggressive investment strategy.

Learned a lot of lessons. Some included: Integration is sometimes better than striving for balance. Sometimes you make decisions that you think you’re better than, and you learn from those ‘mistakes’.  There is a lot of world out there, and most of them don’t know or give a f*uck who you are–it’s for me to decide what to make of that and how to write my script. I continue to lean on goal setting, planning, and visualization to help me navigate my dreams.  Gratitude is the attidude as I try to wake up every day and immediately say “thank you”, and then reflect on the things for which I’m grateful before I fall asleep at night.

I started my 30s with absolute excitement, feeling that my biological age was catching up with my mental one and it didn’t disappoint! All in all, 30 will go down as one of my best years yet.  A year of working daily towards balance and figuring out what I really want.  A year of breathing in each moment and shrugging off the stuff that won’t matter in the long run.  I reminded myself that life comes in seasons, and it’s important to embrace them while they are there. There is no value in salivating for what you don’t have which you cannot control. Live in the now and appreciate what today brings.

The adjectives I set for myself to define the year were: joy, creativity, positivity, wellness, abundance, and connection. Sounds like what the year had in store for me! Onward to an ever better 31!







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Argentina Big. Me Small.

Of the many reasons why I love to travel, particularly abroad, is because it offers great perspective. Typically, that perspective takes shape in helping me to see how other cultures live. It helps me to realize that while our terrains may be different, our landscapes varying, and our languages diverse, I often see the similarities between us. It takes a “them” mind-set and makes it an “us” mentality.

I also love to learn from the lifestyles of other cultures.  In some cases it’s the joie d’vivre, the appreciation of arts and culture, the joy in the small things (or few things at all), the music and style, language, innovation, and/or the focus on family and relationships before work and money.

I generally come back from travels feeling inspired and like a part of a larger global landscape, ready to bring back my lessons and experiences to my day-to-day existence.

I had the opportunity two weeks ago to visit Argentina and travel around the country to experience it’s diversity. For whatever reason, this trip left me with a more rare takeaway, most simply defined as ‘who cares?’.  To be clear: not ‘who cares?’ about the country, but rather, ‘who cares?’ about my goals, my work, my ‘impact’? Why does it matter? For what am I striving and am I really making a difference?

There are times when I look from the outside to people who seem to live a peaceful and simple life. Their needs are met. They don’t yearn for much and don’t veer far from their individualistic needs.  Perhaps they share of themselves in some way with their immediate community (neighbors, family, friends), but that’s it. There are days when I envy that simplicity.

Most days, though, I’m driven by achieving. By identifying needs that I think I can fill and working to do something about them.  And usually I feel satisfied with this mission. But not in Argentina.

In Argentina, I continued to have this nagging feeling that asked me, ‘What for?’. Basically: why are you pushing? Are your efforts really amounting to anything? You think you’ve made a name for yourself in your community, but really, in the world’s span, no one knows you, or your work, so why and who cares?

There is a part of me that sees this is an important reminder to stay humble, to keep the ego down.  There is another part of me that sees this is as moment to reflect and think about the balance between feeding myself (spiritually, emotionally, etc) versus pouring into others.  I know from experience that you need to be full to give of yourself. But the question then extends to: ‘Who are the others?’. Is it the people who network at my events? Is it the merchants whom I assist by saving them money on their credit card processing fees? Is it the kids who are learning about money by reading my books? Is it my friends? Or is it none of them? Is that enough? Are they the right audiences? Or should I care at all (and just pack up and do what serves me)?

More questions arise: Shouldn’t our natural gifts overflow into the things we offer to our communities? On how large of a community should we focus? Is my asking these critical questions evidence that I have more in me to do more and stretch farther? When is enough enough? To what degree do you focus on the ‘me’ before the ‘we’ or the ‘them’?

In some sense, I guess I got what I sought from another international adventure: perspective. Perspective that I am just one of about 7 billion in the global population. And with that I have a choice on how to live my days on this planet: serving myself and/or a small community around me and/or a larger one. And with that, wondering what service is adequate given my skills and gifts and continuing to determine the why that drives me.

I’ve pondered on these questions over the last couple weeks and even debated them with some friends and family. I continue to get to the same dead end, feeling like none of us will come to an answer.  Also feeling that we need to live with some sense of naivete’ and ego to keep waking up every day and thinking that we and the work we do matter.  I don’t want to quit thinking about this topic yet inevitably fear that habits will take over and I’ll continue to work in the same manner I have in the past, and shy away from asking these important questions.

I hope this post will spark in some of you similar questions for you ‘why’ as opposed to leave you feeling like I’m bitching about an incredible experience in a foreign country (because that’s by no means my intention). I’d love to hear from you if you have feedback on this or have wrestled with the same thought patterns.

Cheers to asking the challenging questions. Onward…

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The Road To Israel (is 10 years long)….

When I was in college, I applied for and was accepted to go on a Birthright trip through Emory’s Hillel.  For those who don’t know, Birthright is an organization that allows any Jew between the ages of 18 and 26 to go to Israel, all expenses paid, thanks to philanthropic Jews who make it possible.  From my understanding, their intention is to help Jews connect with Israel, Judaism and each other.  I was excited to go to Israel for a number of reasons. These included being in the midst of a religious studies major; having grown up “Jewish” (born to two Jewish parents but stopped going to Hebrew school and synagogue at age 10, never having a bat-mitzvah); my love of travel and exploration; and my (at the time) four-year investment in studying and practicing Christianity.  Yes, you heard me right, Christianity.

The application and website for Birthright said only that you had to come from Jewish lineage, and if I remember correctly, a minimum of one parent’s being Jewish.  Nowhere did it state you needed to be a practicing or badge-carrying Jew.  So, under no false pre tenses, I applied, and was elated to find out I’d be going over winter break of my junior year of college.

Until I wouldn’t be.

Only a couple weeks before  the trip’s departure date, I got a cryptic phone call from someone who, upon my answering, bluntly asked, “What do you believe about Jesus?”.  Not even a, “Hi, my name is _______ and I’m calling on behalf of Hillel.”  Needless to say, I was completely taken aback and tried to gather my thoughts and understand the situation at hand, while I was being read the riot act about why I would no longer be allowed to attend the trip because of fear that I would “proselytize other participants”.  I tried to ask for an opportunity to provide my side of the story, given that I wasn’t allowed to offer one (their leading question was actually just rhetorical).  Also, I tried to emphasize to this mystery person that I should be their target market: a Jew who had fallen away from the faith/culture/religion/people, and would be a great person to bring on the trip to help me reconnect.  However, they were having none of it and abruptly ended the call, assuring me that I wouldn’t be going on this trip, nor any future Birthright trips.

Fast-forward through the coming weeks which involved differing levels of protests from Jewish friends attending the trip, they proclaimed that they were neither devout nor practicing Jews, so I should be able to attend, but they all were rebuffed.  That, coupled with my thoughtful aunt and uncle (who happen to be a judge and an attorney) who stormed the Birthright offices in DC to explain why I should be allowed to go on the trip. Yet, they too, were turned down and told that “All monies donated to make these trips possible are given by private donors, so it is at their discretion who can and cannot attend.”  So basically, I was left feeling really warm and fuzzy about being a Jew after that…

It took me a while to get past the negative feelings I had about that experience, the way it was handled, and how I felt about my Jewish identity because of that.  In addition, there were other negative experiences I faced from other Jews in college who took it upon themselves to let me know that my version of being Jewish (ie a cultural Jew…like the vast majority of Jews I knew were) was not acceptable, because I coupled it with a spiritual practice that made them uncomfortable.

Let’s fast forward again, this time to 10 years later (now).  It’s no mystery to anyone who knows me that if there is any soap box on which I’ll stand, there’s a good chance it will have to do with networking and the power of relationships and connections. In 2012, I volunteered to join a fledging organization called the Global Shapers.  One of many things that happened as a result of that was that I befriended a fellow member who was not only an Israeli Jew, but worked for an organization which takes groups to Israel.  One of these groups was for social entrepreneurs.  I applied in late 2013, and found out in early 2014 that I’d been accepted and would finally be getting my chance to visit Israel.  This time, I was excited, as well as apprehensive, because it brought back memories from ten years prior.  While this trip wasn’t exclusively for Jews, I had a fear that I’d find a similar result if anyone “knew” that I did things like go to church from time to time, meditate, and pray to a God who could be Jewish, Christian, or anything else for that matter. Fortunately for me, that call never came, and I was able to visit Israel for two weeks, one with the program and one on my own.

I’d actually written what you’ll read next before everything that proceeds it, but realized that without this context, it didn’t truly shed light on the context of my experience. So, here are the details of said experience, unedited from original creation:


Where there is no man, be the man.”

–Talmud (L Pirket Avot, Ethics of our Ancestors)


Israel: For me, a place that carried a lot of meaning for a number of reasons:  1. the country so many of my “people” claim as their own; 2. a hot bed of historic and current events;  3. the intersection of my academic studies of world religions (mostly Western) and my personal spiritual journey; 4. a country I’d intended to visit in 2003, but ultimately was told I could not.

A lot of anticipation led up to my eventual landing there.

I’m a big believer in the old adage, “It’s about whom you know, not what you know.” Were it not for a friend I’d met through a volunteer organization in which we both participate, I wouldn’t have known about this program and therefore, would not have been able to apply for and ultimately participate in, this trip to Israel.  Through the generosity of The Schusterman Foundation, a group of 37 educators and social entrepreneurs were invited to go to Israel for a week and learn not only about the dynamism of the country, but also about leadership, driven by questions of values and equity.  Because of the current war, only 11 of the 37 attendees opted to participate.  While I’ll never know what it would have been like at full capacity, I’m pleased that the group was this size, as it led to quick and deeper bonds amongst us.

There are so many details I could share about where we visited, what we learned, what each of the participants was like, and then some. I think it best that I paint a broad stroke to give you an idea, but will highlight some of the items that left an impact on me.

A practice I try to embrace is to identify daily points of gratitude.   When we were taught the “Modeh (Modah for women) Ani”, a morning prayer of gratitude which we’d reflect upon and sing as a group every morning, I was pleased.  For perhaps one of the first times in my life, I felt a small connection to my Jewish roots.  A thing that always felt so foreign and disconnected, in this small way felt more relatable. This gratitude not only was expressed by us, but in so many ways it was expressed to us.  When we arrived at the airport, it was expressed to us by Lynn Shusterman herself, the founder of the organization, who apparently had never before gone to the airport to greet a group. Her gratitude for our being there during the current conflict continued to be echoed by so many: the tour guides at sites we’d visit, shop owners, people we’d meet, and hotel staff members.

I tend to have some anxiety before meeting a group of strangers with whom I’ll be spending a week or more without interruption, especially when I read their bios beforehand and got to see how impressive and accomplished they all are. I was relieved to meet so many laid-back and welcoming people right away. With that quick reassurance, we got on our bus and drove North, with the intention of leaving Tel Aviv where the Iron Dome was in full force.

After a beautiful dinner at Moshav Nahalal (our first experience with the fresh, delicious, and abundant spreads of food we’d be offered every night), we checked into our first hotel exhausted.  We were assigned our roommates, and we settled in for a night of a solid 5 hours of sleep (after not sleeping on the flight out there).

The following days were jam-packed with opportunities to meet and speak with a variety of people, who offered different perspectives on life as Israelis, hitting the tourist hot-spots, debriefing as a group, and hopping from city-to-city.  One of the highlights included meeting two Arab-Israeli women who spoke about living as minorities in Israel and the discrimination they feel. Another was a meeting in an

Urban Kibbutz in Nazareth (a Kibbutz literally means a  “gathering, clustering”, and while traditionally it’s a large group of people who live in a shared environment based on agricultural work, many urban groups are now doing more acts of civic or factory work.) We met Dina, an Ethiopian Jew, who’d always heard her mother speak of coming to Israel and after walking through the Ethiopian desert to Uganda, eventually was taken in by Israel

Some of my favorite moments included an ATV tour of Mt. Bental with views overlooking Syria and Lebanon, led by a former military commander.  What a great intersection of fun and learning—maybe some of the educators will take that concept back to their classrooms J Another was visiting Masada, such an incredible history and beautiful remains of a civilization lost. After a hot visit there, it was time to float in the Dead Sea, the lowest place in the world.  We experienced what it’s like to feel weightless and decide for ourselves if the water and the mud do, in fact, have special effects on one’s skin and well-being (they didn’t for me, for the record). That evening included a surprise, and one of my favorite moments of the trip: a pop-up dinner and lounge in the middle of the Masada Desert, accompanied by some talented musicians who led us in a group drum circle! Absolutely incredible!

We eventually made our way to Jerusalem about halfway through the week, and stayed there for the remainder of our time as a group.  What a beautiful city that merges history with modernity!

Some additional perspectives we heard while there came from an ultra-orthodox rabbi, city councilwoman of Jerusalem, a social entrepreneur who was doing work in Africa (only perspective of someone doing work as a Jew, not specifically for the Jews or Israelis), and a teacher at a school that combines Arab-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis.

After lots of learning, we were treated to yet another lavish dinner, this time at a Morroccan restaurant with a special guest who is a leading venture capitalist in Israel. I’d never considered what the entrepreneurial landscape looked like in Israel, but was so excited to hear how huge it was: basically the Silicon Valley of the Middle East 🙂

Mid-week, the idea of crafting our Shabbat was presented to us.  It was nice to take some ownership in part of the programming and share our ideas for what we think of when we think of Shabbat.  (For all you non-Jews reading this, it’s the weekly Sabbath that begins at sundown on Friday night and goes until sundown on Saturday. Different Jewish denominations practice it in their own way, but the basic principle is to rest for one day out of the week.).  I had little personal history with Shabbat, but thought of my friend who would host a dinner at his home most weekends in Atlanta.  It led me to think of two things: 1. that I appreciated his willingness to prepare a meal for everyone, and 2. my goal to learn to cook a local dish in every country which I visit. So, I volunteered to help prepare one of the meals during Shabbat (if you’re reading this and you’ve known me for any amount of time prior to the last few years, I realize this will be hugely shocking to you).

The next days in Jerusalem, we toured the old city, which I loved! So much culture and history wrapped up into one small area! We went through the 4 primary quarters (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian (who are also Christian).  We spent time at the Western Wall, which was more emotional than I’d anticipated.  We also spent a short time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is on the land where Jesus was crucified.

After an emotional panel with three male Palestinians, we decompressed, and then went to a private dinner at Lynn Shusterman’s beautiful home overlooking Jerusalem. As if that weren’t enough, we did something that was probably the most in my comfort zone: we had a networking mixer with a group of entrepreneurs at a local bar! It was really energizing to meet such vibrant young people and learn about life and business in their country.

The following day we started with a conversation with a holocaust survivor (Annika) who surprised me with her choice to “protect us” from certain details and stories about her experiences.  As she exited the room upon the conclusion of our time together, she limped, put two fingers above her lip as if to mock a small moustache, and said, “A lasting gift from Hitler…” and exited with that chilling joke. Something that stood out to me about Annika was her ability to continue to push forward, believe in humanity, and never give up. She also identified bullying as the root of the problem of the Holocaust. That’s pretty terrifying to think about bullying amongst kids and think that, in it’s extreme form, could lead to genocide.

We spoke about how in 15 years or so, there will be no more remaining Holocaust survivors.  This set the stage for us to visit Yad VeShem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial: a place where the memories can be retained when the people cannot share verbal histories. It was interesting to note that, when you talk in numbers, it’s easy to dissociate the humanity that makes up those numbers (ex: 6 million people were killed in the Holocaust, then divide that up into the stats of the different sub-groups, etc).  Those numbers are so hard to understand, which can result in not understanding, and can lead to apathy. I was also struck by the beauty of the people who helped all those in the Holocaust to find safety, even when it meant they jeopardized themselves and their family’s safety.  I wondered if I would I ever be so selfless and/or full of conviction that I’d do what I knew was right?

Somehow making a jump from a powerful experience like this, we were taken to the busiest local market for lunch. Instead, I went off with one of the group’s participants and facilitators, and ventured into the chaos to shop for food for a surprise Shabbat picnic dinner the next night for 20 people (that we could prepare without a kitchen, in a hotel room).  It was a really cool experience to feel for a couple hours what it’s like for many locals every Friday afternoon, as they prep for Shabbat before the city (well, country, for that matter) practically shuts down in observance of Shabbat.

We kicked off that evening on a rooftop in the Old City, listening to sounds of the cultures combining.  On one roof there was a cohort of Orthodox Jewish men chanting prayers. About a block away was the Muslim call to prayer.  It was a pretty incredible moment listening and taking in the sunset.

We walked from there back to the Western Wall.  The energy was entirely different there this time, with people singing and dancing and really celebrating the evening.

After being invited by many women to join their singing circles, we wrapped up our time.  We walked to dinner atop a hill in Jerusalem at Mt Zion Villa, with special guest Avraham Infeld, President Emeritus of Hillel.  (If you read my introduction, you’ll know why someone who is or was affiliated with Hillel made me feel apprehensive.)

The following day, Shabbat continued and we were hosted for lunch graciously at a private home by a family from South Africa.  It was our first time in someone’s home while visiting, and was nice to see. That afternoon, we had more time with Avraham (of Hillel).  Then I bustled to get the picnic ready with the others involved, and took it to a neighboring park where we all enjoyed the food and one another’s company.  Everyone had become like a family in less than a week’s time.

The next morning, Sunday, was our last day together.  We started with a visit to Mt. Herzl, a cemetery for the founding fathers of Israel, the country’s leaders, and a military cemetery.  Being war time during our visit, the experience carried a somber mood. We moved from there back to Mt Zion Villa for our first time to synthesize, reflect, and consider some action steps to take home with us based on our experiences and learning that week.

One of the goals of this trip was to have us better identify our values, as well as to test/try on values that are not necessarily our own. I spent a fair amount of time and energy doing this. Upon arriving in Israel, recognizing that I was amongst such a high-quality group of leaders, I decided to take a step back. In so many arenas of my life, I jump into a position of leadership, which often means to me that I’m taking the lead. I thought it could be valuable for me to take a step back and allow others to shine, as well as to be able to watch and learn from them and their styles of leadership and thought. At first, this was entirely uncomfortable. Not knowing the other participants beforehand, insecurities set in, wondering if I would be viewed as incapable, undeserving of being there, or not smart enough.  I spent the first several days in this quieter approach, really only engaging in smaller groups and one-on-one environments, otherwise mostly listening. I’m a big believer that there are moments when things come together.  If you’re listening, you hear a nugget of wisdom you need.  That nugget knocked me upside my head on night five when I was seated next to one of the program’s staff members who was joining us for dinner that evening at Lynn Schusterman’s home.

During our conversation, he shared with me the quote from the Talmud written at the top of this passage, “Where there is no man, be the man.”  We both agreed that the obvious interpretation of that is that when there is a need and you can fill it, step up and “be the man” (forgive me and the Talmud for the fact that it is from the male perspective).  But, the less obvious interpretation is what really resonated with me: when there IS a man, let him/her be the man/woman.  I loved this because it helped me to identify that some of the discomfort I was feeling from not “being the man” really was okay, and that I was exercising a lesser-used leadership muscle of allowing others to shine.  As I mentioned earlier, each morning we’d start the day by singing the “Modeh Ani” together, a traditional morning prayer of gratitude. Each day, one person would volunteer to share some reflections and lead the gratitude session.  I was able to share this passage from the Talmud and express my experiment in trying on this new way of practicing leadership. It was great to let it be known that this was what my aim had been, and that the side of me they’d gotten to know was just a facet.  I was blown away at the end of the week when we shared some reflections with one another and so many encouraged me for my “quiet leadership” and support of their development.

I’d like to take a moment to point out a few other recurring themes that stood out to me that seem worthy of mention.  The first is that our lifestyles are a choice.  So many people we met chose to make Aliyah and move to Israel. Others chose to stay there even when it wasn’t the easiest decision. Some chose to live in a communal environment like the Kibbutz. Ultimately, so many people were making active choices about where and how to live their lives and it reminds me not to take that for granted. A second is the value in being taken out of your comfort zone to have space to think and challenge your ideas. A third is the question of what leadership is, and how do we deconstruct our preconceived ideas of what that means? On the first day, I had a conversation with one of the participants who was from Madrid.  She shared that in her culture, “being a leader” is perceived as inherently negative.  This was shocking to me who grew up being told always to drive towards being a leader, and reminded me to challenge my own norms. Another item worth noting was the focus on what our core values are, and the diagnosis of if and how these line up with  our lifestyle and leadership choices.  I was pleased to determine that my values are clear, and that my life is in line with them. Where things get blurry is that even though that’s the case, I still feel a bit of unease about some of my decisions on how to spend my time and energies professionally and how I reconcile that. I also noted that values change/shift/grow over time. Some will be consistent, but others will shift in level of priority. It reminds me of the importance of keeping tabs on this for oneself, as well as to identify that when you make decisions based on values that impact other people,  yours might adjust over time.

As if those weren’t enough, a few other themes came to the surface to me.  One was that a culture of separation and discrimination exists between Jewish and Arab Israelis.  20% of Israel is Arab. Many don’t want Arab neighbors. Schools are separate for the most part.  This, to me, was so reminiscent of the US before the civil rights movement.  If citizens, or the country, say they value equality, inclusion, etc, how do they justify this disconnect? This question plays into the next theme which was the dilemma of assigning labels to things.  This is a struggle I’ve had for years, understanding that labels are necessary in so many ways to help us categorize and quickly identify things in life. Yet, they are oftentimes also the root cause of discrimination, prejudice, and hate.  These ideas of discrimination make me pause to wonder how I can use my networking organization to further conversations about diversity and inclusion.

As I mentioned by sharing my history with trying to get to Israel, it presented the foundation for a recurring theme for me: the idea of “what is a Jew?” This is a question I’ve been asking emotionally, spiritually, and academically for about 15 years. It was interesting that of all the people on the trip whom we encountered, the one who put it best for me was Avraham from Hillel (oh, the irony!) who said that Jews are a people, and there are five primary characteristics that unite them.  He continued by saying that not all Jews will embody all five of those elements, but that just by holding on to two or more, you’ll always have something in common with each other.  I loved this because it finally allowed me to feel a part of the peoplehood, not shut out like I had on that cryptic phone call at age 20.

Lastly, I loved the Jewish edict of “Tikun Olam”, to make the world a better place.  It made me wonder how I could be doing more of that.  When coupling that with the current events during a wartime, I wondered if I’d ever be so moved/driven/passionate about something to incite a war, start a movement, etc. A quote we heard during our time there that seems fitting was,“We are not master builders, we are workers.” It’s a good reminder that we will work towards a good goal, but that we will never see the results if we’re working on big enough issues.

SO, are you tired of reading? Well that’s just week one!  But rest assured, week two will be described in way less detail!

Week two: a different vibe than week one, as the group dwindled from 11 (plus 5 staff members) to 5, to 4, to 3, to 2 over the course of the week.  It was certainly a bit of a shock to go from having every moment and meal planned out to being on our own.  Interestingly, we kept to a pretty similar schedule, waking up early and touring ourselves around. But, we also fit in a little more time to go to the beach, socialize with each other, as well as new and old Israeli friends.

The last week is easier to summarize quickly: it included 1 night in Jerusalem (with hookah and the world’s best hummus), 3 nights in Tel Aviv (with a variety of interesting tourist spots, new people met, beach time, and gawking at the beauty of the local Israeli women).  The last 2 nights were spent in Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel, which is bordered by both Jordan and Egypt.  It’s a tourist beach destination known for its world-class diving. This portion included catching up with a friend from college, making new friends, going to the beach, more hookah, and general relaxation to cap off an exhausting 2 weeks.  The final afternoon was spent driving 4.5 hours through the Negev (beautiful and desolate desert) back to the airport for 24 hours of travel home.  After a nice inquisition from 3-4 different security guards and a pat-down from 2 female ones in a private room, I was en route back to the States, with a head full of memories and thoughts to digest and sort through… And you’ve now witnessed said digestion. Thanks for making it to the end and taking this journey with me.  Here’s to more adventures, learning, and the continued extrapolation of these lessons and questions.
(Want to see some images from the trip? Check out some of my black & whites…)


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