The Graduate


dustin-hoffmanDustin Hoffman was talking this morning on Desert Island Discs. He described how he had had years of failing at school and more failure at college. He then  attended an acting class and said that it was the first time he’d studied anything without looking at his watch, and that 6 hours flew by like 20 minutes. Now that is what FLOW looks like. We are lucky if we find what it is that we have an aptitude for, and also a passion for. Mr Hoffman was lucky to find out what would provide FLOW for him, but he still had to put the hours in to develop his acting talent, and didn’t ever feel like he could take it for granted. He also had to overcome some family resistance. His aunt actually told him that he was too ugly to be an actor.

FLOW is an interesting concept.  I had a lovely sense of it on Monday whilst presenting a workshop and talking about inspirational leadership. I was telling a story about JFK and his promise to put a man on the moon by the end of the 60’s. I was saying how back in 1961, he had no idea how it would happen; the USA had only three weeks earlier launched Alan Shepard in to space. JFK had no idea how they were going to manage to land a space craft on the moon, and bring the astronauts back safely. Anyway, on Monday I was lost in the story and could tell the group were with me., and it felt good. That’s one of the ways that I can get in to FLOW. Everyone has it inside them. We all just have to keep looking until we find what it is for us. Once we find it, we should probably be looking to do more of it. I’m never going to win an Oscar presenting workshops, but on a day like Monday , it just feels good to be doing what I love to do.

Ground Zero Revisited

The devastating events of  9/11 ripped the heart out of the city of New York and its effects were understandably wide reaching, not only in this city but throughout America and the rest of the world. Despite the human tragedy of that day, which touched the lives of so many thousands of people, New Yorkers were galvanised in to rebuilding the financial district of downtown Manhattan, and with it, the pride of New York City as a whole. Ground Zero has, ever since that day in 2001, been a hive of activity; from the initial search through the rubble for survivors, with the workers only pausing to listen, when it was thought that there was some sign of life coming from beneath the debris; to the clearing of the site, ready to start the rebuilding process; from the laying out of the 9/11 memorial, to the new tower blocks that are now rising up as testament to New York’s spirit; the work has carried on relentlessly.  I was here eight years ago when the bulldozers and diggers were preparing the ground for what was to emerge, and back then it was hard to believe that the city was picking itself up, dusting itself off, and starting all over again with a new World Trade Centre site.

Coming back to New York now, four years after the financial crisis and eleven years after the terrorist attacks, it is strange to find the city reeling from the forces of nature, in the form of Superstorm Sandy, which has wreaked havoc in Staten Island and Long Island, and is still being felt on the underground system in Downtown Manhattan.

That’s where I have been this afternoon, visiting the monument to 9/11, which will form the heart of the new World Trade Centre, when it is finally completed. The usual visitor centre has fallen victim to Sandy’s flood waters and so a temporary centre has been thrown together. Somehow this feels like a fitting setting for a 9/11 centre, it being a makeshift response to the effects of the city’s latest disaster.

The array of exhibits feature recordings of emergency services’ conversations that occurred on the day of the attacks, and odds and ends taken from the rubble of the towers, including the charred remains of an airplane window frame, which is very unnerving. The most moving element of the display is a wall covered in the ‘missing’ posters that were originally posted up at the crisis centre in the days and weeks after the attacks, when relatives and friends were desperately searching for any news of loved ones that had not been heard of. None of the people featured on this wall were ever heard from again and it is a striking reminder of the individual human tragedies that have become lost in the disaster movie memory we refer to simply as 9/11

More very personal reflections of the day come on a walking tour of the area, led by Joe, a volunteer and a survivor, who had been on the 77th floor of the South Tower, and had been alerted to a potential problem by a colleague who had seen smoke coming from the North Tower. Back in 1993, they had both been working in the same building when terrorists had driven a van containing explosives in to the underground garage of the North tower. During that attack Joe and his colleagues had ignored advice to leave the building and had carried on working. It was only after the event that they learned that the bombers had intended to topple the North Tower in to the South Tower, bringing both of them down. On September 11th Joe and his colleagues were better prepared and had made it in the lift down to the 44th floor, where they were waiting for a second lift. They then heard an announcement over the building’s P.A. System, advising them all to return to their offices. This advice was apparently based on the amount of debris that was pouring down from the North Tower, which was considered a risk to those trying to exit the South Tower. Joe informs us that the first fire officer to be killed at the scene, died as a result of someone jumping from the burning building and landing on him. Joe ignored the advice given and had made it safely out to Soho by the time the towers collapsed.

Another volunteer, Frank, tells us about his sister Lucia, who wasn’t so lucky, and who died in the American Express offices on the 92nd floor of the North Tower. Her name is one of eleven inscribed on a memorial called eleven tears, which is situated in the American Express offices in the World Financial Centre. Frank is still visibly moved whilst telling his story, and talks of the hours of uncertainty following that attacks, when he was unsure whether Lucia has been in the building.

Joe and Frank leave us to wander around the 9/11 Memorial and I wonder whether their volunteer work is cathartic and serving as a therapy for the trauma visited on both of them in different ways, or whether it keeps them in a loop of constantly visiting that fateful day and actually stops them moving forward with their lives. I am not sure which it is, but they both spoke of not wanting the world to forget. I hope that they do gain some release from their pain in the opportunity they have to share their stories. It was certainly a mesmerising experience listening to their accounts of the day.

The 9/11 Memorial itself will, eventually, become a haven of tranquility in the midst of the hubbub of commerce that will exist around it in the new tower blocks that are being erected now. For the moment the construction noise proves difficult to block out, and so the reflective atmosphere that was intended is difficult to perceive. Nonetheless the vast twin waterfalls running down in to seemingly bottomless pools  that represent those that died in each of the tower attacks, as well as those that died at the Pentagon and on United flight 93, are sombre reminders of what was lost. In the fullness of time, when the trees that have been planted have reached maturity, and the building work gives way to tranquility, an oasis of calm will be here for those looking to remember and reflect.

For the moment, the phoenix rising from the flames in the shape of One World Trace Centre, originally named the Freedom Tower is,  a wonder to behold. It is well on it’s way to completion with over 100 floors already erected. The construction work should be completed by the end of 2013. New York will then be able to claim that it has truly overcome the terrorist’s attempts to bring the world’s financial capital to it’s knees, and will have found a way to heal it’s collective wounds.

A New York State of Mind

I’m sitting in the coffee lounge of the Marriott Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Sitting here, it’s hard to imagine that New York has recently been hit by Sandy; that there has been a divisive presidential election or that the USA is currently going through the most turbulent economic period since the 1930s. Manhattan seems to have a commercial energy that is unstoppable. It’s forever inching forward, sometimes almost imperceptibly, but forever moving on, devouring all that stand in it’s path. Having said that, it would appear that beyond Manhattan people are still struggling to get back to normal, with Long Island, Queens and Staten Island all suffering with power and transport problems that have existed now for over two weeks. Even downtown at Battery Park and in the financial district the subway is flooded and trains aren’t running in that part of town. However, the wheels of commerce keep turning regardless and New Yorkers just find different ways of getting to work.

Yesterday I was looking out over the city from the observation deck, which sits atop the Rockefeller Centre, and it was difficult not to be impressed by the towering structures that surrounded me; symbolic of man’s ability to achieve what might sometimes seem impossible. The Rockefeller centre itself was built during the years following the 1929 Wall Street crash and there were times when it seemed like utter folly to be going ahead with the project. But go ahead it did, and for now it provides the best view of the city, much better than that from the Empire State Building, by virtue of the fact that it actually has a view of the Empire State Building.

The never ceasing energy of New York had me thinking about what is so often the difference between success and failure; that is the unwillingness to allow external influences to derail us from our path. It is often easy for us to encounter an unforeseen event, and to decide that it is reason enough for us to put a hold on our plans. Whether it’s a sudden fall of snow that means we don’t make it in to the office, or just someone that acts in a way that places a hurdle on our track. We all have times when we need to keep our resolve and stride over the hurdle or trudge through the snow in order to reach our destination. Sometimes that is all that lies between achieving what we set out to, or finding someone or something to blame for our lack of success.

The collective will of New York that keeps it moving forward is a reminder that we as individuals only move forward in life and achieve our personal goals when we refuse to allow external factors to deflect us; when we keep in our minds what we originally set out to achieve. I shall endeavour to hold on to this thought as I settle back in to business life next week, and I’ll try not to give in the jet lag.

New York, New York

I have the opportunity to travel to New York next week, and will have five clear days with little to do but to hang out in the city, and do some thinking about business and life in general. I’m hoping to use some of the time productively and to do some writing. I have a few ideas for new workshops, speeches and even a book, so I’m not short of inspiration. What I need now is motivation. I have a workshop to put together for delivery on 3rd December, so that’s a priority, but it would be lovely to get an outline for my book in the bag before I fly back from the Big Apple. I think a week of sipping latte’s in Greenwich Village coffee shops, not to mention the odd stroll through Central Park, should provide the right environment for a little literary creativity.

I’m just about to have new business cards printed that will include both my blog address and my twitter address, and as a good friend has pointed out, I do little blog writing or tweeting, so inclusion on my business card means that I have to start.  So now is the time.  The friend in question, one Hazel McNabb, is a great source of inspiration. She set herself a target earlier in the year to design and post an inspirational heart every day for a whole year. Take a look at Hazel’s brilliant hearts at inspiringhearts or at 366 Hearts on Facebook.

Now, I’m not going to take on anything quite so ambitious, I have other things to think about, but I intend to write a twice weekly blog and to tweet something profound every day. I believe that my goal is achievable and that belief should be enough for me to persevere and hopefully, see me provide a regular source of inspiration to any one who cares to read my posts. Just writing my goal down and letting you know by posting it here is going to increase the likelihood of me sticking to my plan. So thank you for reading this far.

Right then! Roll on New York, where the wind whistles down the boulevards and will cut through you like a knife if you’re not dressed for the weather. I must remember to buy thermals before I go, and some new gloves. I’m looking forward to the vibrancy of the city and the space to get my writing off to a bright start. That first step is always the trickiest.

So, keep visiting and let me know your thoughts on what you read. I shall write again next Tuesday.