Wonder and Connection

In October, we learned that Annie Pontrelli was diagnosed with brain cancer. Because of what kind it was, she knew before any of us would even consider it that she didn't have long and that she wanted to make it count. She sprung into action as the planner, the uniter, and the encourager that she has been for her entire life. She wrote to Annie incredible emails filled with wisdom and one of the lines that jumped out and stayed with me was this:
"Sharpen your sense of wonder and connection."
She truly lived a life with a full heart and curious mind. And not just that, but she brought people along with her on that journey and invited others to explore with her. Whether it was the latest exhibit at the Met or returning to deep Brooklyn to show others the best Italian Bakery, everyone was invited. She never let her work get in the way of her life. She surrounded her daughter with friends and asked them to be teachers. Adriana, at the age of nine, has had so many voices sharing their story and has a network of people invested in her and caring about her unlike anyone else.
Annie was a part of our NYC story from the very beginning. She was a voice of encouragement when we friend to move here and failed. She was a cheerleader when we finally did arrive and was one of the first to hike up the 66 steps to our Village walk up to survey our precious 300 sq feet that we called home. She never tired of asking about our jobs or our travels. Her curiosity and generosity made for an incredible combination. As she was asking questions, she was ever so subtly sharing advice. It never felt like a lecture or anything other than a loving conversation. She was so smart that it elevated every single interaction and everyone around her to be their very best.
We know Brooklyn, all parts, better because of Annie. We know NYC, all parts, better because of Annie. We know ourselves, all parts, better because of Annie. We know what it looks like to live life, all parts, with a sharpened sense of wonder and connection because of Annie.

Rainy Day, Keeps The Fake Friends Away

A friend of mine recently had his birthday party in a Meatpacking Gallery space. He invited just about everyone he knew in NYC to be there. He knows a lot of people in NYC. The day of the event, torrential down pour and the kind of rain that no one, regardless of size of umbrella or having Uber on call, escapes.

As a result, the attendance of his birthday party was about half of the RSVP list.

And it was, by his telling, the best weeding out process of real friends vs. tag along when it is convenient friends. He said it was one of the best birthday parties ever because it was just real friends that didn't care about showing up looking like a drown cat for the first five minutes, friends that wanted to be there for him despite the conditions.

Will Smith said, "If you're absent during my struggle, don't expect to be present for my success."

Woody Allen is famous for saying, "Half the secret of success is just showing up."

Whenever there is a change in life circumstances, for the better or for the worse, you learn a lot about your friends. Which ones show up on a rainy day, and which ones wait for the sun to come out.

Here's to being able to spot the difference and be a better friend regardless of weather.

REBBL Tea: The Rest of the Story

In my Forbes post today, I dig into the Right People, Right Place, and Right Time that the team from Not For Sale created and the ideas that generated in that moment leading to the creation of REBBL Tea (you can read the whole post HERE)

But beyond that, there is the awesome story that REBBL Tea has the chance to be one of the first truly sustainable companies that is directly tied to and launched by a non-profit. The ideas of the Philanthropreneur that I first started writing about here in 2008. REBBL is working extremely hard to show they're not just a "do good company that has some products to sell" but that they are a full fledged best in category tea beverage.

"We're not trying to guilt people into buying our product," Mr. Batstone told me. "That's not sustainable. What we are doing is creating the best tea company out there. It just so happens that we are a part of a much bigger movement in the process." He then went on to tell me that their marketing and in store retail displays will not resemble the current typical "guilt wear" products that are out there. "It is essential that the reason people buy REBBL is that it is a great product and not that they feel bad for others. The first is a sustainable business the second is a fad."

"Slavery is a business," says Samuel Baker, Director of Business Development for Not For Sale, "And, we're going to fight it with business."

To learn more, check out this video below and go to causes.com/REBBL

#AE30 Recap

I turned 30 yesterday. And for about 30 hours, it was one surprise after another and I feel pretty safe saying, even though I'm still on a high from it all, it was one of the best birthdays ever. The night before my birthday, Annie some how got us a 7:45 reservation at the best steak house in New York, Peter Luger. We treated ourselves by taking Uber (my favorite location based app - so useful) out to Williamsburg and we sat down for an incredible dinner. The steak for two was some of the best steak I've ever had and the German potatoes and cream spinach took the meal over the top.

We get home from this great dinner and were talking through the final details of what all needs to happen on the actual day of my birthday to get ready for having people over for a little birthday party. Then there is a knock at the door. I wasn't  expecting anyone so I slowly got up to see who it was. When I opened the door, my sister Katie (who lives in Dallas) was standing there and yelled "Happy Birthday!" It took me over 10 seconds of both her and Annie saying Happy Birthday and laughing for me to even eek out a word. I was so surprised.

The really fun part is that Katie and I share a birthday. On my 2nd birthday, instead of the box of crayons I asked for, I got a little sister instead. And, it has been the best birthday present ever. Not only is Katie my sister, but she is one of my best friends ever. It was so much fun to have here in NYC for OUR birthday.

As the final appetizers were being laid out, there was another knock at the door. It was about two hours early for anyone to be here for the party so I assumed it was someone from the apartment building. When opened the door, my Dad was standing there and yelled "Happy Birthday!" He had been on the east coast for work and took a train up from Princeton, NJ to surprised both Katie and I.  Amazing.

And, after a full day of awesome messages and friends from around the world tweeting, texting, and posting on Facebook, some of my favorites in NYC swung by the apartment for one of the most fun birthday parties I've ever had, including another amazing friend, Adrienne Barber, flying up from Dallas and being the THIRD surprise guest.  As I looked around the room and the conversations happening all around, I waspumped and so grateful to have the friends that I do.

Most of the time the morning after a birthday party, there is quite a bit of gatorade and more than a few advil. But this morning, I'm still smiling from the amazing day and the incredible friends that were a part of it.

When I grow up....

Last night, Annie and I went out with one of our favorite couples to The Smith in the East Village.  Our dinner conversation ranged from the insanity of extended families to politics to Bob Ross' Joy of Painting (happy little trees!) The discussion also turned to the lists that we all wrote down as kids about what we wanted out of life when we grew up. We all recounted the categories and the hilarity of the details that we went into when describing our expectations of the future.   My favorite was the description of the perfect husband though the eyes of a 17 year old: "He must be good looking (if at all possible) and not go bald." This morning, still relishing in the glow of the great dinner (think beer battered green beans, bacon wrapped apricots, and a culinary piece of perfection:"Stout Braised Beef Short Ribs."), I got to thinking: when do we stop writing down what we want out of life with the expectation that it is still something that can and should happen? When do our lists have more to do with this week's to-dos and less to do with the biggest ideas that we can imagine? When did the lists we make change from our dreams and goals to a detailed account of this week's groceries and bills that need to be paid?

My favorite book in the world is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Early on in the book main character, a young boy name Santiago, meets a wise king. The king exhorts the young boy to not believe the world's greatest lie:

“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised. The King responded, “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”

At a certain point we all run into a brick wall on our way to achieving what we committed ourselves to when we had the innocence of a child. That brick wall, the first failure or set back of our adult life, is the end of their pursuit of the much larger vision they envisioned for themselves before the toils and responsibilities of "growing up" were upon them. That first roadblock is enough of a disappointment for the majority to stop, slow down, and put away their childhood lists. It is enough to convince them to believe the world's greatest lie.

But for others, like Santiago in The Alchemist, it is just the beginning of an incredible adventure up, over, around, or through that wall.  It is hitting that wall, and the next, and the next, that strengthens our resolve to go through this life with a resolve that we were made for the things of our dreams and the only thing standing between us and the life we've imagined is our own cowardice and willingness to turn our backs on the dreams of our youth.

Wisdom from the Front Seat

When Annie and I landed at LaGuardia this morning, we must have pulled the winning lottery ticket and actually had our luggage come out within 3 minutes of arriving at the baggage claim. Our good fortune continued when we hopped in the back of the next taxi queued up and asked our driver to take us home. When he found out that we'd just come back from a weekend in Texas seeing my family, he asked what we thought about Rick Perry running for President. We talked a little further as he zipped in and out of traffic on the FDR and found out that his son is a Spine Surgeon having finished up at Cornell Medical School and his daughter is a banker in Midtown having completed her degree at NYU Stern.

Our cabbie was 62 years old and moved to New Jersey 45 years ago after leaving Hungary as a young man. He waited in Italy for over 2 years to get his visa approved before arriving in New York and starting a new life in America. He met and married his wife of 35+ years and worked 7 days a week to put food on the table for his young family. He started driving cabs on the weekends to make some extra money and then realized he could own his own business. He took all the money they had in the entire world and took out a loan to buy an NYC Taxi Medallion. When he bought the Medallion, it cost him $27,000. He eventually bought two more and had a small taxi company of his own. This past December, he decided that he wanted to sell his business and only drive a couple days a week for a friend. He sold each of his Medallions for $910,000 and is now sitting on $2,700,000 deciding what he wants to do next.

He said something that really stuck with me: "Back then, everyone knew that if you work really hard to become really good at what you did, you could make a life for you and your family. You might not have everything, but with enough hard work, you could be happy. And I guess you could say that worked out for me."

That is the kind of country I want to live in. That is the kind of truth I want to share when I'm in my 60s.

That is the reason I love talking to NYC Cabbies.

Good People

I was having one of those mornings, just a little overwhelmed with everything that is going on and all that the next few months have in store. I sent a quick email to a long time friend.  I asked him to "sum up in one sentence what is the big picture vision that has you motivated today."  The quick response he sent from his Blackberry was beyond amazing and exactly the perspective I needed.

"The quickest and surest path to greatness is to involve yourself with Good People, and then spend your days quietly seeking to make them great." - Kyle E. Carlton

Go Give

Steve Case is one of the three or four people that I have had on my radar screen as I have sought to define what are the traits and behaviors of current and future philanthropreneurs.  I have looked up to he and his wife Jean as role models in giving for impact and learned a lot watching how they have repurposed their wealth to leave a sustainable impact on this world.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to guest blog on the Case Foundation website about the work that Gowalla is doing this month and the way that we are giving back to charity: water during our holiday gift giving campaign.

Read the full post here: Gowalla giving back with Gifts to Go