Thursday, August 23, 2007

Books That Inspire Me

I love to read. It probably started while my mom was pregant with me. She was a reading teacher and I'm certain that she read to me during those 9 months. Once I was born, my parents read to me so much that one night when I was two, my dad saw me in my bed reading Twas The Night Before Christmas (my favorite book). I was reading the words out loud and turning the pages appropriately. All excited, he ran to tell my mom what a genius I was. For a few minutes, they actually believed they had a prodigy on their hands and then they took the book away from me and I kept reading! At that point, they realized that I wasn't reading, I had memorized the book because they had read it to me so often! Ok, so maybe I wasn't a toddler genius, but I really did start kindegarten already knowing how to read.

To this day, reading is one of my favorite pastimes. I would rather read than do almost anything else. Really. I read everything from the back of cereal boxes to the manual that came with my cell phone. I prefer to read non-fiction over fiction, but read fiction to escape, especially while I'm on vacation.

There are books I love because they are great books and then there are books I love because they inspire me to be better. These books have each given me an "ah-ha moment" at some point, and many more than once.

What books inspire you? Let's start a discussion in the Comments section.

In no particular order, these are some of the books you'd find on my bedside table.

by Og Mandino

by Tal Ben-Shahar

Think & Grow Rich
by Pat & Ruth Williams

The Power of Focus
by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hanson, & Les Hewitt

More Than A Pink Cadillac
by Jim Underwood

The Bible

The Secret
by Rhonda Byrne

Permission to Succeed
by Noah St. John

Chicken Soup for the Women's Soul
by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Jennifer Read Hawthorne, & Marci Shimoff

I Can Do It
by Gillian Hennessy-Ortega

Oh, The Places You'll Go!
by Trina Paulus

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Climbing Baldy

I wrote this almost three years ago and as I get ready to depart for Michigan in the morning, I thought this was the perfect time to post it on my blog.

Every summer that I can remember, my family has vacationed in a quaint resort in Northern Michigan. It’s a wonderful time that I have always used to relax, read, swim, hike, bike, and generally restore my spirit and soul. One of my favorite activities had always been a particular hike up a huge sand dune named Baldy. This hike is partly an easy walk through the woods where I enjoy looking at the scenery, birds and flowers, etc, but the last 1/3 of it is truly grueling. In fact, the last ½ mile is almost entirely straight up. For many reasons including having gained a significant amount of weight, I have not made this trek in 12 years. But this summer, I was determined to do it. I had until mid-August to reach my fitness goal.

One of the important things I’ve learned about setting goals is to share them with someone who will hold me accountable and be loving simultaneously, because, when I feel like letting myself off the hook, if I’ve made my goal public, then there’s usually someone there to keep me from giving up. That’s exactly what happened in August. Two nights before I was scheduled to come home (and having not climbed Baldy yet), my brother Dave wisely announced towards the end of dinner that he and I were going to climb Baldy that evening. Understand, I’d had a pretty big dinner and a couple glasses of wine (it was vacation after all) and at that moment, I simply wanted to roll out of dinner and go watch the sunset in peace. Remembering the promise I’d made to myself, I agreed, changed clothes, grabbed my water bottle, and off we went. Frankly, without Dave announcing to all of our friends that we were doing this, I would have found an excuse to get out of it.

The beginning of the hike was beautiful. The sun was starting to set, the leaves were changing and I thought I was in Heaven. Well, until we really started to climb. Dave is in awesome shape and this was easy for him. In 12 years, I’d forgotten about quite a bit of the difficulty of this climb – all except for the last little bit. No one ever forgets the last part of the Baldy hike. As we reached the end, I was working harder than I remembered being necessary and had many moments of uncertainty about my ability to finish. Dave reached the top about 40 minutes before I did and sat patiently waiting for me (although out of my view). The truth was that this was my battle and it was nice to have a cheerleader, but he couldn’t do the climb for me and nothing he could say would make it easier. As I trudged through the sand – my feet sinking up to my mid-calves with almost every step – I was unsure I could make it.

Some people aspire to climb huge mountains like Mt. Everest and they train for it their whole lives. My Mt. Everest was named Baldy and it represented more than just a big sand dune to me. Baldy was truly a metaphor for many things I’d fought to overcome. As I struggled through the last part of the climb and with each step fought to stay on my feet, self-defeating thoughts kept going through my head. I stopped frequently, but always kept going. Finally, I reached what I thought was the peak and I called out for Dave because I didn’t see him. He yelled back and told me to keep climbing! “KEEP CLIMBING???” I thought, “Good God! I thought I was done!” But it turned out, that just around the bend, there was 1 more mini-dune that was probably 50 feet tall, pure sand, and no trees or branches to help me balance and stay on my feet. I took a deep breath, a big gulp of water, and started up the almost 90 degree climb (I swear this is not an exaggeration). Even though it was only about 50 feet, I still had to take frequent breaks because of the difficulty, and at one point about ½ way up the mini-dune, I made the almost fatal mistake of sitting. I say fatal because as I sat there and looked out over Lake Michigan and Lower Herring Lake I thought “I’ve gone far enough. This is gorgeous and I don’t need to really reach the top to feel good about this. I'll just climb back down the way I came and call it a night. No one will know the difference.” A second later when I was ready to give up, another thought entered my mind. “I'll know! When else in my life have I given up on an important goal just short of the finish line and let myself off the hook?” The long list of times I had stopped short flooded my head and I rushed to my feet, determined that THIS time I would finish. Failure was not an option.

About 25 feet later, I reached the top. As I did – I turned around to see where I’d started and what I’d gone through to reach this goal – my eyes just filled with tears. I was so proud that I’d set a huge goal, worked hard, encountered obstacles, overcome them, kept going, and reached the prize. The view was more magnificent than my 12 year old memories had provided me. My belief in myself was higher than 10 sand dunes named Baldy. As Dave and I sat on top of the dune and watched the most breathtaking sunset of my entire vacation, I knew that I wasn’t really watching the sunset. I was seeing my old doubting self disappear for the final time, knowing that my journey up this dune had been about more than just climbing a dune. It was about confronting my fears and walking through them head on. I looked my fears in the face and said “I WILL NOT BE STOPPED!” I said good-bye to my old self who doubted her every move and enthusiastically welcomed the new me who could achieve anything I dreamed of. For proof, all I need to do is remember the feeling of pride I felt that night and continue to feel each time I tell this story.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Being Dave's Sister

I have a younger brother. His name is Dave and he's 3 1/2 years younger than I am. Dave is one of those guys that give guys a great name and I've always been proud to be related to him. But let's be clear, I have "oldest child syndrome." I like the spotlight and I'm not terribly fond of sharing it with anyone.

Growing up, until I was 17, I was known for my own accomplishments - be they academically, because of my debating skills (come on, you knew I was on the debate team!), as part of the marching or concert bands, because I was a cheerleader (don't pretend you didn't suspect this too), or my appearance on the Today Show. Dave was also known for his accomplishments on the soccer field. To say he was a great goalie would be an understatement. We ran in separate circles and until my senior year of high school, I pretty much ruled the school . . . because he wasn't there.

Then Dave arrived. And I kissed my status as Jessica Gardner, person-in-her-own-right, good-bye. I suddenly became Dave's Sister. At first, it was kind of cool. My little brother was the new darling of the Varsity Soccer Team. And I was proud. But after about 15 minutes, it got old when suddenly all anyone talked about was Dave's performance on the soccer field.

And being Dave's Sister continues to this day. Now that I'm living in our hometown again, I regularly hear "oh, you're Dave's Sister" when I'm meeting people. Even when I run into people who were in my high school graduating class. It even happens at Watervale, where we've both spent significant portions of our lives. And with people I've known for years. Somehow they've forgotten that I even exist. And when I have to reintroduce myself, the easiest thing to say is always "I'm Dave's Sister." Usually, that works. On a few occasions, I have heard "I didn't even know Dave had a sister." That one cuts me.

And then tonight, I had a table at The Mane Event. About 6:30 a couple in their mid-30s walks up to my table and we chit-chat for a couple seconds. The wife looked familar, but I couldn't place her. After a few seconds, she leaves and the husband starts to follow, but then stops and looks at my name tag. "You're Jessica Gardner from Hersey, right?" I almost fell over. "Yes, I am." It turned out both he and his wife were in my graduating class and he stood there and talked to me for another 5 minutes like it hadn't been almost 20 years since we'd last spoken. And since we didn't really know each other well in high school, being remembered by him was quite a surprise.

The best part was that the whole time Dave didn't even come up. Maybe I've finally turned a corner.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Quotes That Inspire Me

There are many things in this world that inspire me, but sometimes all it takes is for me to read one of the quotes below and I am instantly reminded to keep beating my best. This list continues to evolve and as I find more inspiration, I'll add to it.

What inspires you? I'd love it if you posted your favorite inspirational quotes in the comments section.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
Hebrews 11. 1, The Bible, King James Version

"Do or do not. There is no try."

"There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle."
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), Physicist & Nobel Laureate

"Life goes by pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

"No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself."
Rabbi Sofer (1762-1839)

"I've missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot... and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Michael Jordan

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience."
Eleanor Roosevelt

"Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution."
Dr. David Schwartz, author of The Magic of Thinking Big

"That is what greatness means: to keep never let anyone stop you from what you love doing...even when the most impossible odds stand in your way. I believe there is greatness in all of us. And especially in the smallest of us. Every single story I write is about that. Every story . . . is about fighting the fight for what you love (whether it's your wife, your universe, your family, yourself, or your team). And the best fights are the ones where you're fighting for who you are. The odds never matter. What matters is who we are underneath. What matters is that we're true to what we love. And what matters is never ever ever changing to be anything but who you are."

"Brevity is the soul of lingerie."
Dorothy Parker

"Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one's courage."
Anais Nin

"One cannot consent to creep when one has an impulse to soar."
Helen Keller

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Eleanor Roosevelt

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature . . . Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."
Helen Keller

"I'd rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed."
Robert H. Schuller

"If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been."
Robert H. Schuller