Tag Archives | Gratitude

What Makes a Successful Community?

The Backstory

In a few days you will get to read the next installment in the Captains Curious series, which was written by creativity expert Connie Harryman. Connie and I became friends through our mutual involvement in an online community for Organization Development professionals, and we both serve on the Operations Team (the board) for this community.

Last night in our semi-monthly board meeting, Connie mentioned to the group that she had written a guest post for my blog, and she told the group that this was really a success for the community. It demonstrates the benefits of being an active participant in a community: We would never have met, much less become colleagues and friends, were it not for our active involvement with this group.

The Question

This got me thinking about communities (one of my favorite subjects). In particular, it got me thinking about them in a new way, with a question: What is “success” for a community?

I started thinking about the communities of which I am a part: Various online communities, two Master Mind groups, two business networking groups, a local community of coaches, the community of people who volunteer for the Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation, the community in which I live, various circles of friends, and my extended family. How would I gauge the “success” of each of those?

The Real Question
This raises a core question: How do we define “community?” This is a question I have been investigating for a couple of years.[1] Different people define “community” differently, but one consistent thread is that community members have something in common. In addition, communities often have a shared purpose.

So a Community Is Successful When…

So, it seems to me, one could assert that a community is “successful” to the extent that it achieves the goals that arise from that purpose, to the extent that it is true to its purpose.

In the case of the Global Brain Trust (see the first paragraph), part of its purpose is to help organization development professionals to connect, share knowledge and collaborate. Since it was the platform that allowed Connie and I to do that, her guest post for my blog is indeed a success for the community.

Surprise Benefits

This has me thinking about my other communities, and their purposes, and the extent to which they are “successful.” Which also has me thinking about the benefits of membership in a community, and how sometimes those benefits aren’t part of the stated purpose.

For example, the purpose of the Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation is to provide financial grants to cancer patients who are going through traditional treatments, so that they can pay for healing therapies that help them cope with the effects of those treatments (therapies that usually are not covered by insurance). Those of us who are part of the community of volunteers know that we are helping to achieve this purpose, and the higher purpose of making life better for cancer patients and their families. But there is another benefit, which I can’t really say is part of the purpose, but it certainly contributes to my desire to be a part of this community: I get to hang around and work with some of the most amazing, extraordinary people. And I have to say that is true for most of the other communities I choose to be a part of.

The surprise benefits, like that one, that come out of my participation in my various communities are the “secret destinations” in one of my favorite quotes:

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

The Purpose May Change

Sometimes the purpose may expand, or it may shift.

For example, one of the mastermind groups I participate in was formed by local people who had attended Marcia Wieder’s Become an Inspiring Speaker[2] program last fall. The initial purpose was to give us a forum to support one another in continuing to expand our skills as Speakers. Over time, the number of members shrank but the purpose expanded to include supporting one another in a variety of ways as we build our businesses. (And we have become very close.)

Although we tend to think of communities as being stable and grounded, they are not; they evolve, people come and go, and we are all fellow travelers in the best sense of the word.

Which leads me to another thought: Perhaps one higher purpose of all communities is to provide support of one kind or another to its members, and to facilitate support between members. It is this that makes it a community, not just a demographic.

Our Role

All of this has me thinking about my role in helping my communities to be successful. While some communities provide a safety net to members who cannot contribute, it is the mutual support and support of the community by its members that makes it possible for the community to support its members. A community is not a one-way channel to which its members are entitled.

So that’s what’s on my mind this morning: Gratitude to the people in the communities of which I am a part, and a reminder of the responsibility I share to help my communities – and the individuals in them – to thrive.

Questions for You

What communities are you a part of? What are their purposes? What benefits to do you receive – whether expected or unexpected? And how do you contribute to the health and success of your communities?

Back to Post [1] I have been interviewing people on this exact subject, so stay tuned. If you would like to help with the transcriptions, please contact me in the comments below or at susan at susantblake dot com.

Back to Post [2] Affiliate Link

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Image: xedos4 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parkinson’s, Dance, Spasmodic Dysphonia, Singing – and Joy

Friday night I luckily tripped over a story on the Newshour on PBS, which was rebroadcast from December 2010.

Watch this video. Substitute…

  • “Dance” for “Sing”
  • “Dance class” for “Choir practice”
  • “Look” for “Sound”
  • “Movement” for “Speech”
  • “Physical” for “Vocal”
  • “Parkinson’s” for “Spasmodic Dysphonia”


This is vocalizing with Spasmodic Dysphonia, and it is one of the reasons I am so happy to have returned to singing. Dancing and singing bring joy under normal circumstances, but even more so under these circumstances. My voice works better when I sing, just like they move better when they dance. And it hopefully explains what I mean by learning to speak more like I sing.

I am reminded of something my brother told me, that his singing instructor said to him: “Good speech is half sung.”

And there’s that Joy thing again. It keeps coming up.

Thanks for listening.


Today is my birthday, and my blog is one year old!

Momentous occasions like this tend to make one (me) pause and reflect. I have a lot to be grateful for, not the least of which is the vast number of people who have helped me over the last year…

…Friends and family who have encouraged me as I build a business…

…Fabulous people who have given freely of their knowledge…

…People who have solicited my help, which reminds me to believe in myself when I begin to forget to do so…

…Members of my mastermind/accountability groups who have been generous with their support…

…Friends, family and even strangers who have visited my blog and either left comments or sent me emails in response…

…People who have stepped up and participated in the Captains Curious series, helping to expand the conversation around curiosity…

…Strangers who have become acquaintances, and acquaintances who have become friends, many of whom I have never met Live And In Person…

…all of whom have reminded me to not lose sight of what is really important.

I have a lot to be grateful for.

In honor of the day, I have decided to have a Birthday Sale. A 51-Hour Birthday Sale!

For the next 51 hours (or so), or until mid-day Thursday…

Ask Your Customers: If you are curious about what your customers think or what they want and need, you can sign up for one of three levels of assistance in creating a conversation with your customers. Please enjoy a 51% discount until Thursday. Click Here

Coaching: Would you like to cultivate creativity and connections in your business or personal life? Whether you prefer a single targeted session to explore an issue, or a series of sessions to help you on a journey, you can purchase coaching sessions for only $51 per hour if reserved before mid-day Thursday. Please email me at susan@susanTblake.com.

Custom Training, Group Facilitation or Consulting: Perhaps you’re planning a meeting or event for your group, but there’s a problem: You don’t want to facilitate it, you want to participate. Or perhaps you would like to bring in a trainer to lead a brown bag or workshop on an issue such as Customer Service. Contact me before mid-day Thursday so we can talk about your goals and reserve a date, and I will give you a 51% discount. Please Click Here for more information, and then email me at susan@susanTblake.com.

And, of course, you are welcome to download my two e-books, Remember to Look Up and The Survey as Conversation!

Thank you for your support! I hope you enjoy these birthday gifts to you!

Photo Credit: Ian Britton www.freefoto.com

Take Life by the Lapels and Shake It

November 3, 2010. Today my late husband, Robert (the) Bruce MacRury, would have been 62. This is his fifth birthday since his death on June 14, 2005.

This birthday is a lot different from the first birthday. One of the things any widow(er) can tell you is that the first of anything is hard. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Holidays. Weddings, baptisms, funerals. The first car accident. The first time you have to figure out how to turn on the sprinklers. The first date. Some of those you see coming, some you don’t. But it’s still the first time you have to go through it without him. (Or her.)

One of the things I learned pretty quickly is that the anticipation is usually worse than the actual event. After dreading the event for days (or weeks) in advance, it was almost anticlimactic once it arrived. But perhaps that is because I also learned to be gentle with myself on those days. Although there was little planning I was able to do in those early days when all I could do was take each day one at a time, I did plan what I was going to do on those days. Even if it was only to plan to do nothing, or to play it by ear.

On Bruce’s first birthday after his death, I took the day off from work and went to a local park with a big lake. Bruce loved lakes and lake life, and if we didn’t live near a lake we would always find one near us and go hang out there whenever we could. So I honored the day by keeping some traditions, such as getting the first carton of eggnog of the season and a cranberry-orange muffin, and I went to the lake.

As I drove into the park, fairly early in the morning, the woman in the gatehouse asked if I was there to go fishing. “No,” I told her, “It’s my late husband’s birthday so I’m here to have a talk with him.” And she said, “Cool. Tell him I said Hi.” So I did.

I sat on the dock and drank eggnog and ate half the muffin and threw the other half in the water, along with a rose. I just sat and enjoyed the quietness of the lake, and talked to Bruce, and missed him. Then I made a little spirit bundle of autumn leaves and feathers, and went home.

The next year, when I was no longer living so one-day-at-a-time and was able to plan a little further in advance, I went to Yosemite for four days. By myself. We had been to Yosemite twice together, and it was a special place. This was also a special trip, symbolic in that it was my first trip by myself.

Every year it gets easier, although it is never Easy. I still miss him. He was smart, and courageous, and funny. He could always make me laugh. (When I showed the slide show for his memorial service to the minister who was to lead it, she said, “He was goofy, wasn’t he?” Yes, he was.) He was always up for an adventure. He watched cartoons on Saturday mornings. He would go out of his way to help people, and he was a teacher and mentor. He was my favorite person. And he believed in me.

I was talking to two girlfriends a couple of years ago, and I made the comment that I was very lucky. “You’re still lucky,” one of them said. She’s right.

It does get easier. It is a process. The third year I went back to the lake with a friend, and I can’t remember what I did last year (which says something). This year there was very little anticipation, and I am writing this post.

It does get easier. It is a process. I have reconnected with the wonder and sense of adventure that was part of our lives before. It’s part of what helped me commit to being here once I started to come up for air. I have learned not to drive myself crazy with guilt and what-ifs. I have learned not to ask, “Would I do this if Bruce were here?” He’s not here, so that question doesn’t have a place here either. I do sometimes ask, “What would Bruce say?” and that’s another question entirely.

I look at life differently now. I appreciate it more. I live it more. Not by going skydiving; I notice it more. I choose it more. And sometimes I have to grab it by the lapels and give it a good shake. I was thinking about that image last night, and how it’s not exactly a very Zen image. And yet it is a completely Zen, in-the-moment-right-now thing to do.

I have fallen in love twice since Bruce died. Neither relationship turned out the way I had hoped, but we are still friends. Those relationships do not diminish what I had with Bruce, nor does what I had with him diminish other relationships. I am writing, and singing, and taking photographs, and starting my own business. I am living a life I could not envision in the first months after he died. Life is good, even when it’s hard.

It is really too bad that it takes something significant like this to wake a person up, to make a person choose life. Maybe it doesn’t have to; maybe I can help with that. You can live. You can choose.

Yes, I look at life differently now. And I’m ok. I think Bruce would be happy to know that. And he’d be proud.

Happy Birthday, Bruce.

A Modern-Day Barn Raising

I recently had a remarkable experience.

A dear friend of mine is going through a significant life change, and she sent out the call for friends to come and help her reorganize her home. So a handful of her friends and relations gathered to divide and conquer the task of helping her create a new home life.

As she explained when she showed us her project list – from which we got to pick what was most interesting or best fit our skills – when she made her list, she looked at it and realized it would take forever to do it alone. She felt overwhelmed. So she called for help. Which was, as one of her friends said, a brave (and wise) thing to do.

So each of us picked a project. The kitchen was reorganized, the office/guestroom/dumping-ground became a meditation room/guestroom/office, the living room and dining room were reorganized. Furniture was redistributed or repurposed, art was hung, and electronics were hooked up.

Sometimes we worked alone, and sometimes we teamed up. There was a lot of collaborating – What if we moved this over there? Could this go in the other room? Could you hold this level while I mark the wall? – and a lot of laughter.

Part of what was so remarkable was that people brought themselves and their skills, but left their egos at home. Another was the unspoken idea that if you were a friend of hers, you must be OK. I felt quite honored to be included in that. Everyone was interesting, and everyone was interested. I only knew two people when I arrived, but I felt like I had several new friends when I left.

The idea of the “barn raising” is an old one, rooted in the fabric of what makes communities work. We go with a primary purpose in mind but, as so often happens in life, we often end up receiving as well as giving.

What did I receive? Aside from the new friends that I met, and the sense of pleasure and satisfaction I get when I think of my friend looking happily around her “new” home, my sense of wonder was refreshed. Wonder at the openness, generosity and curiosity of her friends. Wonder at this little community (one of my favorite subjects) of which I am a part – a community whose uniting factor was our friend, as well as the values we share.

I’m sitting here thinking about this story, and my recent posts, wondering about the threads that connect them. The threads that jump out at me are not only the way the people that day were curious about each other, but also the unexpected gifts I received by showing up and being open. Back to Martin Buber and his quote that I love: “Every journey has secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.

Do you practice noticing things like that?

Management Lessons from My Cats – Part I

Note: I wrote this in April, and just realized I never posted it. Shame on me!

One of my cats, Abby, is sick. She developed a nasty abscess on her behind that had to be cleaned out surgically, and now she has to wear a satellite dish for 12 days until the stitches come out. (We are currently on Day Four.) And she has to live in the bedroom during that time, since my other cat will try to lick her and there is no satellite dish for that. So both cats are unhappy, and I’m a wreck. But my sister said, “You should get some great blog posts from this!”


I’m thinking… give me a minute…

There are a lot of things to be grateful for:

  • I am less of a wreck than I was four years ago when my other cat (Rocket) got sick. That was only a year after my husband died, and I remember sitting in the car, sobbing and thinking, “What is wrong with me? I was a calm, capable Caregiver, and now I’m a wreck over a cat?” (Of course, I forgot at the time about the mornings this Caregiver stood in the shower, sobbing.) So progress is measured in strange ways.
  • The antibiotics come in liquid form, thank God, so I don’t have to pill her. (Pilling Rocket was a Nightmare. The Nightmare on Rose Street.) I just have to pry her mouth open, jam an eyedropper in and squeeze before she shifts. (While she has a satellite dish on her head and without ripping the stitches on her cute little behind. That’s all.)
  • When I miss, she licks the droplets off of her face and the inside of the satellite dish, so she must not mind the taste. (Update: She won’t eat food with the medicine mixed in, so she must mind the taste after all.)
  • Abby has figured out how to eat and get to her water dish (after I figured out how to wedge them so her dishes wouldn’t move when she bulldozed into them).
  • She has, therefore, been using the cat box. I never thought I’d be grateful for having to scoop out a cat box.
  • There are moments of warped humor, such as when I brought Abby home and she started walking the perimeter of the bedroom like a Blind Cave Tetra in a new aquarium, and she kept walking into things. The satellite dish would get caught on things as she walked by, over and over again. It reminded me of the old Saturday Night Live episodes when Gilda Radner played an autistic girl who kept walking into things. I don’t know if Abby did it because she just didn’t know her new boundaries yet, or because she couldn’t feel her whiskers, or she was trying to knock the thing off of her head, but it was all I could do to not laugh. (Cats hate being laughed at.)

Don’t Give Up – the Management Lessons are Coming

There are also some lessons and reminders:

  • I don’t know how parents do it. I have so much respect for my mom and all the parents I know. I bow before Your Greatness.
  • I have learned how to spell “abscess.”
  • Just because I don’t know how to do something (like give Abby her medicine) doesn’t mean I’m a failure as a parent/caregiver. It’s just another thing I have to learn. Hmm. That kind of applies to everything, doesn’t it?
  • Giving cats medicine is like terminating people: The more you do it, the better you get at it, but it’s not something you ever want to get any practice at. (I actually learned that about terminating people when I was a recruiter, and then later as a manager. But this was an ironic reminder.)

That last one is true for most difficult conversations. Avoidance doesn’t help. Rehearsing helps, and it’s best not to rehearse by yourself. It is OK to ask for help and practice with someone you can trust, who is appropriate for what might be a confidential situation. And it’s easier than practicing pilling a cat.

Management lessons come from funny places. I wonder, What are some surprising lessons you’ve learned? What are some surprising sources of those lessons?

Note: It’s now six months later and, although the 12 days turned into three weeks, Abby and Rocket and I all recovered.

Update: Finding My Voice

While this has been the year of Finding My Voice (metaphorically speaking), this has also been the summer of finding my literal voice. I have received a huge amount of support around my talking to people and blogging about my recent diagnosis of Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD). I want to say Thank You and provide a brief update before we return to our Regularly Scheduled Programming.

A number of things have happened since I originally posted about this on August 10:

I have had two sessions with a Speech Pathologist

I have had two sessions so far with a Speech Pathologist, and so far they seem to be helping. A lot.

We are working to improve my breathing and resonance, and the exercises are similar in many ways to those I had to do when I took singing lessons years ago. (I suspect that my familiarity with the concepts helps the process, but I think anyone can learn this.)

The exercises are a pain in the ass to do and my cats sit up in alarm (or annoyance) and then leave the room. They (the exercises, not the cats) make me speak in what feels like an unnatural way, but I am finding that, when I have done them, speaking in a new way comes more easily.

I have continued talking to people

I have continued talking to people around me about the process, and about my fears (and my successes) and that has also been helping. A lot.

As a result, I have gotten a HUGE amount of support. That support ranges from people reminding me to do my exercises to being patient with me on calls while I practice saying something, to providing me with feedback. People are telling me that they can already hear a difference in my speaking voice and that it sounds more even and less strained (at least some of the time!).

I am also learning more about how people perceive(d) my speaking voice. Some people have said that they never really paid attention to it; another told me that once she knew what was going on with my voice, she stopped hearing it. Not that she stopped hearing me, but she stopped noticing my voice and wondering what was going on – Why was my voice breaking? Was I upset? Was I OK?

I also received a lovely comment on my blog post from a woman who has had SD for years, and who is a trainer by profession. She said that now she tells her clients and students up front about her voice, and they are wonderfully patient and supportive.

I have joined a choir!

After my diagnosis, I immediately began looking for a group to sing with. I found the Broadway Chorus, a local community chorus, which meets about four blocks from my home. I took myself in hand and went to the signups; the director tested me and determined that I am (still) a First Soprano (much to my surprise). We just had our first rehearsal, and it was heaven to be singing again. It was a mixed bag in terms of how I did – sometimes doing better than I expected and other times thinking, “Yikes, did I make that sound?” But this is going to be a Very Good Thing. It will strengthen my voice, and my confidence, and it serves to remind me that there is more to my voice than how it sounds when I talk. Besides, singing is such a joy.

Oh, and the irony of the theme of our first program isn’t lost on me: It is the chorus’s 20th anniversary this year, and the theme is: Can’t Help Singing.

I am practicing Compassion with myself

This whole process continues to give me the opportunity to practice compassion with myself. I don’t perfectly employ the techniques I am learning, but I keep trying. I’ll do better next time.

Someone once said that “the difference between procrastination and time off is intent.” Well, the difference between being gentle on myself when I fail and having a lack of ambition is Compassion. (And Persistence.) Being compassionate with myself doesn’t mean I don’t keep trying. It just means there is no whipping involved.

I faced the opportunity to reaffirm my decision – and passed the test

As I came to the end of my group health insurance coverage under the federal COBRA program at the end of August, I spent a rather intense week researching my options. It looked at one point as if my diagnosis of Spasmodic Dysphonia 37 days before the end of my group coverage meant that I have a Pre-Existing Condition that would cost me another $200 per month in premiums when I switch to an individual policy. I reached a pivotal moment when I had to ask myself, “Was I a complete and utter FOOL to pursue this when I did, rather than waiting for another month?” And I embraced my decision. I was able to say, “No, I did what I needed to do when I was ready to do it.” (It also helped that several friends and family members reinforced that; not one said, “Boy, you really messed up the timing on that one!” Thank You!)

Oh, and it turns out I am eligible for extended group coverage through Cal COBRA. At almost the exact moment I embraced my decision, I got a call from my insurance carrier saying, “Oops, we’re sorry, we gave you incorrect information, you’re eligible to keep your group coverage after all.” Was that whole exercise just a Cosmic Test?

I am taking steps

I am actively working on developing a workshop I will lead; I am not letting my voice be an obstacle (or an excuse). More on that later.

I am more than my voice

If I believe that, then I have to let that More shine, and be confident in that shining. That’s kind of scary. And exciting. I have to embrace my voice. It is part of me.

Well, that wasn’t so brief after all. (Surprise!) Thank You, Thank You, Thank You to all of you who have been so supportive and who have helped me along this journey. I will continue to update you on my progress.

Now we return to our Regularly Scheduled Programming…

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