Category Archives: Inspiration

The Best! The Worst!

New-York-Marathon

Today is marathon Sunday in New York City and, for years now, I have lived less than a block from the marathon route. It is one of the most exciting days of the year for me and I love walking down to the end of my block to join the over one million spectators who line the 26.2-mile route to cheer on the runners. All too often, New Yorkers are thought of as people who just don’t care about others. Per the stereotype, it’s just keep out of our way, don’t look us in the eye and don’t do anything that will slow us down and we won’t have any problems. Marathon day is a day when I am reminded that the city is a city full of people who do things like come out to cheer and high-five strangers as those strangers test their bodies and spirits. I love it.

There are moments, such as the marathon, that bring out the best in people. Disasters, as sad as they may be, also bring out the best in people. People come out and give time, money and other resources to help those in need. Tragically, disasters also tend to bring out the worst in some people. Some among us see disasters as a great opportunity to take advantage of others, for personal gain. Some of the fraudsters are blatant in their unscrupulous ways because they are targeting the desperate among us. A current example is the migrant crisis in Europe, where refugees, seeking to escape dangers at home, will give up all their resources in the hopes of reaching a safer place. Instead, some hand over money to greedy criminals who then lead them into more danger and, sometimes, even death.

Other fraudsters are more slick in their strategies to profit from the suffering of others. In recent months, natural disasters such as fires and tropical storms, have left many in the United States needing assistance. Just in October, while communities in South Carolina were struggling to recover from flooding damage, warnings were being sent out because of an influx of fake charities. These counterfeit charities, preying on the generosity of those wishing to do something to help the displaced and impacted, were taking people’s money and doing nothing to help those in need. Just a couple of days ago in New York, a company agreed to pay a settlement of $700,000 for pretending to collect secondhand clothing to help charities. Instead, this company sold the clothing, paid almost nothing to the charities and made profits of over $10 million dollars, it is estimated.

Because, even in situations where we should be helping others, there are those who are looking to help themselves at the cost of those around them, it is important to be vigilant.

  • It was Halloween yesterday and parents were checking to make sure that the treats that their kids collected were safe for consumption. Yes, people may appear to be doing good things, but it is only smart to make sure that everything is above-board.
  • Even though it may seem like a drag, check up on who you are giving your money or time to.
  • The name may sound familiar, but make sure it really is who you think it is.
  • If you feel uncomfortable about something, it is okay to say no. There are many opportunities to give back to those in need and you will find the opportunity where you are sure that what you are doing is benefitting those who need it.
  • Don’t give your personal information to anyone.
  • If you believe that you have been scammed, contact your local authorities and report it.

Giving is a vital part of what makes us communities. Just make sure that you are giving to the right people and not the unscrupulous scammers around. You know, like that obnoxious person in the neighborhood who decides that they just have to cross the street as the runners are passing by. Don’t give that guy the time of day.

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All For Love

Al_Capone_in_Florida

“Valentine’s Day; red roses
It’s said that some have died for love.
In North Clark Street, Chicago
They died for money…”

It was with those words, uttered by Laurence Olivier, on a Paul Hardcastle song about greed, that Al Capone first fascinated me. It started with that tale of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – “It’s a good day to die,” the gangster laughed in a scene in the video – and it continued as I learned more about his legacy as a famous gangster. I mean, as perennially single as I have been most of my life, I have been known to don black clothing and disdain on February 14th, but to shoot a bunch of people on that day? That just seemed a little much. You couldn’t wait until the 15th? What kind of person does that? I found out that others were similarly outraged by Capone’s actions and expended a lot of time and energy trying to bring him down.

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of Al Capone when I spoke with Meredith Engel of The New York Daily News. She was reporting on the financial issues faced by those in the marijuana business. Marijuana is legal in some states, such as Colorado and Washington, but is still illegal on a federal level. This dichotomy may lead to confusion on what income is taxable on a state level, where pot is legal, and on a federal level, where it is illegal.

What does this have to do with Al Capone? Well, despite being blamed for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, among other murders, and in spite of being investigated for racketeering and his bootlegging business, the authorities struggled to get Capone convicted on his gang-related crimes. However, there was a government agency that he had not seriously considered; the IRS. You see, it does not matter where your income comes from, be it from legal or illegal sources, you have to pay taxes on it.

It doesn’t matter whether you are selling pot or stealing from your boss, if you don’t pay taxes on that money coming into you, you cold find yourself in trouble with the IRS, ranging from interest and fines to imprisonment. Federal agents couldn’t find enough evidence to pin murder on Al Capone, but they were able to use forensic accounting methods to put together enough evidence to indict Capone on tax evasion charges. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison, was fined $50,000, was charged $7,692 in court costs and $215,000 plus interested in back taxes.

Preparing a tax return can get rather complicated. Figuring what deductions, exemptions and credits you are eligible for can be a like navigating a maze. However, the most simple part of the tax return is the income that you start with. If you don’t want to get into trouble with the IRS – REPORT ALL OF IT, regardless of how you came about it.

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More Equal Than Others

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Every time he is channel surfing and comes across The Godfather, my husband, James, watches it. It doesn’t matter whether the film is one minute or one hour in, he stops and watches the rest of the movie. He never tires of it. He is happy to watch The Godfather every day of the week, if that is how often it pops up on the television. In high school, I had a similar relationship with Animal Farm (and some other books). It is a good thing that I didn’t mind reading Animal Farm, because it was a book we studied, at great length, in school. It has been many years since I read the book, but the commandments stick with me. For those that have not read Animal Farm, in a nutshell, animals on a farm rise up against the humans and come up with seven commandments. The commandments include declarations like “No animal shall drink alcohol” and “No animal shall kill any other animal”. However, as time goes by, some animals are sucked in by the intoxicating nature of power and the commandments are amended – “No animal shall drink… to excess” and “No animal shall kind any other animal… without cause”. This week, when Jim Ulvog wrote to me about UBS in the news, I was reminded of the commandment that was, initially, “All animals are equal” but morphed into “All animals are equal… but some are more equal than others”.

Last year, when writing about high frequency trading, I mentioned dark pools. Watching the news, the stock market that gets the most coverage is the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). However, there are 16 national securities exchanges and then there are a further 45 so-called dark pools. Dark pools are not easily accessible to the public and are run by private brokerages. UBS ran one such brokerage and the SEC charged this brokerage with telling its customers that they were all equal while behaving as though some customers were more equal than others. In doing this, they not only violated their customers’ trust, they also, allegedly, violated securities law.

Dark pools are so-called because they give anonymity to the traders who use them. Like an extreme version of poker, in dark pools, the identities of the traders and the size of their orders are kept secret until the orders are filled. In this way, dark pools give traders the freedom to trade without other parties being privy to what they are doing. However (according to the SEC’s charges), with UBS, it turns out that UBS was operating its dark pool at an additionally shady level and giving some of its clients flashlights. For example, to its market makers and high-frequency traders, it gave the option, called PrimaryPegPlus (PPP), of being able to bid in fractions of a cent, despite this practice being illegal. So these PPP customers were able to jump ahead of customers bidding in, legal, whole penny prices. Furthermore, UBS did not disclose this and other practices to all its customers. So the uninformed customers were trading in this dark pool, thinking that they were equal to the other members of the dark pool, while, in reality this was not the case. It is as though UBS held a road race that a bunch of people entered but then UBS picked out a few cool kids and, secretly, gave them rocket-propelled shoes.

Trading in the various securities markets is complicated enough as it is, with some players being more experienced and sophisticated than others. We have high-frequency traders who use complex tools, large volume and nano-second speeds, tools that the ordinary man on the street generally does not have access to. To add to all of this complexity, if you have the markets advertising themselves as one thing, but selling something completely different, something that gives clandestine, unfair advantage to a group of clients over another, that just doesn’t sound right. It didn’t sound right to the SEC either – they fined UBS $14.5 million (even though UBS neither admitted nor denied guilt when paying the fine). Maybe that’s because the Animal Farm commandments are, right or wrong, just the way things are?

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Oh Yes, She Did!

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In previous posts, when talking about the importance of controls in a system to help prevent fraud, I discussed the case of Amy Wilson. These posts were specifically about how trust is not a control. Regardless of how nice a person seems to be (or is) or how long someone has worked for you, you should never decide that you can trust them enough to forgo system controls. It really cannot be said enough, trust is not a control. It does not matter how good a person is or how long they have worked without ever considering defrauding their employer, there may come a time when they face great pressure to commit fraud. It is important that, should this time arise, there are controls that deter them from giving in to temptation.

In my first post about Amy Wilson, I discussed how many controls I come across when I run a race compared to how few controls I have seen in many businesses. I continue to be amazed by this; people will put so much into making sure folk aren’t fabricating their running times, yet they are willing to trust those very same folk with their money and assets. The second time I wrote about Amy Wilson, I had watched her enlightening interview on the Attestation Update website. Here and in the articles she has authored, Amy Wilson speaks very clearly about what she did and how she could either have been caught or have never had the opportunity to perpetrate the fraud.

Well, fast forward to today. I received notification, this morning, that Amy Wilson had visited my website and left me a comment. She was very complimentary (whew!). I am glad because Ms. Wilson does have great lessons to impart and I appreciate that she does not take issue with how I have shared her story and lessons. To have real life examples of where the weaknesses in a system were, how they were exploited and the ultimate consequences of all of this is absolutely priceless. When it comes to designing and instituting controls in a financial system, it is imperative that this is performed effectively and consistently. In order to make sure that this process is correctly implemented, the stories must be told clearly, correctly and honestly. It is fantastic that Ms. Wilson is unflinching when she talks about what she did; that kind of thing does not happen often. This kind of honesty helps forensic accountants get better at what they do and, hopefully, businesses get better at deterring, preventing and detecting fraud. Finally, feedback like Amy Wilson’s helps me feel happier about what I do.

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2015! Three Years, Three Words…

James Petrozzello

James Petrozzello

Three years ago, I was inspired by Tom Hood, by way of Chris Brogan. As someone who gave up on New Year’s resolutions years ago, partly because I was not very good at keeping them, partly because I would change my mind about them and partly because I would often lose track of where I had written them down, I found power in the concept of Three Words. I embraced the magic and power of three during my lessons in Latin and in rhetoric. I have found my three words a great theme song that plays in my head throughout the year. They pop up in conversations, in my planning and often at unexpected, random moments. And this year, the magical and powerful three are Receptive, Synergy, and Service.

Receptive: This year, for Christmas, I gave my husband a Bluetooth headset. Ever since I came across my first Bluetooth headset, I have hated those things. People walk around with those things constantly plugged in an ear and it always seems to me that they are only giving you a small piece of their attention and are, essentially, waiting for something more interesting and important to beep in their ear. I have often felt as though people wear the headsets to make themselves feel important and busy. Around Christmas, when my husband mentioned that he wanted one, I started thinking about the Bluetooth headset in a different way. He spends a lot of time travelling and alone in an office. It makes sense that, should he wish to answer the phone, it would make sense to be able to do this and still be able to use both his hands. He has promised to put it in his ear only when he needs it and to not wear it when we are together. Beyond me and my relationship with the Bluetooth headset, I am realizing more and more, how essential it is to success and happiness to be receptive to new (and old) concepts and ideas. At work and as a part of the various boards and committees that I serve on, I have discovered how essential it is to listen to the opinions of others and process them before concluding how I feel about a situation or idea. At times, the ideas of others are better than anything that I had considered; other times, after taking their opinions into consideration, we can come up with a great plan or compromise. In order to continue the spirit of my words from last year, Transform, Pursue and Collaborate, being receptive is key.

Synergy: Last year, one of my words was collaborate. There is the saying, no man is an island, and I have found it to be true. I have lived and learnt in many places and my world and experiences have been touched by an incredible spectrum of people. All this has contributed to who and what I am today. Collaboration is so very much of getting things done but, this year, I want to hone in on synergy. I want to really think about the wonderful notion of how one plus one can equal more than two (sometimes significantly so). So collaboration will not be solely for the purpose of doing things together; to do this without thinking about how to best leverage the power of collaboration can be wasteful, frustrating and diminish the contributions of each party. I want to be mindful of the concept of synergy and ask myself, often, how can we do this so that what we achieve together is greater than what we could achieve acting alone.

Service: I have talked before about the CPA’s obligation to “serve the public trust, honor the public interest, and demonstrate a commitment to professionalism.” As a forensic CPA, this is a very important aspect of our profession. Often there are pressures upon us and, it is at times like this, that it is necessary to act with integrity, in order to honor our obligation to the public and to our profession. As a member of various committees of my State Society of CPAs and the American Institute of CPAs, and as I prepare to take over the presidency of our chapter, I, along with my fellow members must always keep in mind that our goal is to serve the public, our members and our profession with the work that we do.

A couple of years ago, my husband, James, and I traveled to Berlin for a wedding. I had often told him how much I love karaoke and so, when we heard about Bearpit Karaoke, we had to find it. The place was packed and the singers were excellent. My husband encouraged me to put my name down to sing. After hearing the caliber of singers, and after seeing how many people were in attendance (a dauntingly large crowd), I hesitated and tried to make excuses. He finally convinced me and I put my name on a long list. I was told that I probably would not get a chance to sing as many people were ahead of me and they were shutting down soon. I was pretty okay with that – it was enough for me to have been part of the crowd and to almost get a chance to sing. At six o’clock, the time the karaoke was to end, we were just walking away when I heard my name being called. I was nervous and James whipped out his camera. As I got onto the stage and introduced myself and the song I had chosen, Fame, an old man in the crowd caught my eye and gave me a thumbs up. As I sang, the crowd joined in for the chorus and a little kid ambled onto the stage. When I had moments of panic, I looked at him and took courage from his cute face, gazing up at me. Because I chose to be receptive to the idea of singing in front of this crowd, I found that I added a joy to our day that was magnified by our coming together in happiness. And, of course, what a gift and public service this Bearpit Karaoke is. If you are in Berlin, go and get yourself some joy.

The spirit of my words
From 2013: Change, Discover and Motivate
From 2014: Transform, Pursue and Collaborate
carry on and to that spirit I add my three for 2015
Receptive, Synergy and Service.

What are your three words will bring you magic and power this year?

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How Are You Confirming Your “Facts”?

Journalist falling for teen claiming M in stock market profits is object lesson for auditors

Journalist falling for teen claiming $72M in stock market profits is object lesson for auditors.

Attestation Update just wrote about a recent hoax, where a teenager claimed to have made $72 million, trading on the stock market. This article got me thinking about a piece I wrote last year on professional skepticism and the importance of knowing who is confirming your information. The least reliable confirmation comes from the party making the claim, in this case, the alleged millionaire teenager. The journalist that he dealt with thought that the bank statement that the teenager showed her was a valid third party confirmation. This is a very easy assumption to make. It appears that the party is coming from a third party, so it is easy to see that as a third, independent, party confirmation. This, however is not the case. In order for a confirmation to be truly independent, the person making the claim cannot have any control over the confirmation process. As we have seen here and in the cases noted by James Ulvog, it is very easy for someone to hand you a fake document that looks very real. There are actually places that will create very realistic fakes for you, for a price, of course.

Ulvog also pointed out several red flags in the boy’s story. An auditor or forensic CPA, coming across these red flags, should seek to further investigate and seek independent confirmation of the claims. For example, there are age restrictions that make it illegal for minors to buy and sell securities. You should look at the piece at Attestation Update and see if you can determine why the items highlighted by Ulvog are red flags. This piece also underlines the importance of using diligent and qualified professionals. It also emphasizes how we, as professionals must consistently practice professional skepticism and be aware of what are truly third party confirmations and how important it is to make them.

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True Tone at the Top

NYSSCPA

 

I am reading “Tragedy of Fraud – Insider Trading Edition“, a book recently released by James Ulvog. This is the story of Scott London‘s journey from KPMG partner to prison inmate. James Ulvog covered this story in depth, from the moment it broke up to when Scott London went to prison. I would not be surprised if Jim picks up the story again when London is released from prison. In the book, Jim has spoken about the possible consequences of London’s crime and a lot of these stretch well into the future, potentially affecting him both professionally and personally. It is always a big disappointment when members of the CPA profession completely disregard the ethical and professional standards that have been set by the various governing boards. It is, therefore, important when people like Jim of Attestation Update and Francine McKenna of re: The Auditors
call out the CPAs who are setting a terrible tone at the top of their profession.

It is equally important, if not more so, to recognize those who have provided a positive contribution to the CPA profession. We are trusted professionals for a reason; it’s not just empty rhetoric. A little over a week ago, I had the indescribable privilege of meeting Bernadine Coles Gines, CPA. I am pretty sure this is not a name you have heard before, but she is a woman worth learning more about. I met her at a New York State Society of CPAs (NYSSCPA) ceremony honoring the 60th anniversary of Bernadine Coles Gines’ CPA license. This is a big deal because Gines was the first black woman to receive the CPA license in New York State. It becomes even more of a big deal when you learn more about the challenges she faced, both while working towards becoming a CPA and beyond.

Bernadine Coles Gines moved to New York City from Virginia, where she is originally from, to get her master’s degree at New York University. She moved because, at the time, Virginia’s segregation laws kept her out of graduate school in that state. Once Gines had graduated and passed her CPA exams, she looked for work. She found that she could not find work with a black CPA firm in New York City because they would not hire women. She also found that she could not find work with white CPA firms because they would not hire black people. While interviewing at a white firm, one partner told her that, even though he could not hire her, perhaps Gines could help his wife, who was looking for a maid. She was finally hired by a two-partner Jewish firm, but only after she had convinced them that she was not a communist. Of course, getting work was in no way the end of her challenges but at no time did Gines give up or compromise. She persevered and continued to work toward achieving her goals, despite (or perhaps more resolved, because of) the challenges in her way.

I read a little about Bernadine Coles Gines before I met her, but when I met her, I was even more impressed. She spoke of her principles and her determination and her story is living proof of both. To come to face to face with a person who epitomizes unwavering grit and the drive to stand by what she believes in is truly motivating. To learn about people like Bernadine Gines reminds us about the types of people who have made CPA the trusted professionals that they are and they also show why we harshly judge those who give us a bad name. They are a reminder to us and to those we serve of those of us who are professional, ethical and will stand strong, despite the pressures put upon us.

You should go out and learn more about Bernadine Gines and others like her. As though her achievements were not enough, she shared during her interview, that her sister, Ruth Coles Harris, was the first Black woman to be certified as a CPA in Virginia, in 1963. Ruth Coles Harris faced challenges of her own when she decided she wanted to be a CPA. I wonder what those family reunions are like – I would hate to be the black sheep in that family (if they even have one). I am truly fortunate that I had this incredible opportunity to meet Bernadine Coles Gines and that I was reminded how important it is to uphold ethics and principles and that I should not compromise, especially when things are very challenging.

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A Better Mousetrap

IMG_2078Growing up, Saturday was the day that my mother ran errands and, because she tended to attack several items on her to-do list in one car trip, she tended to drag us along with her. At times errands involved going to the grocery shopping and this invariably meant my mother paid the bill by check. Now, writing out a check takes long enough but my mother never rushed the process, and I mean never. She would write out the check amount in numbers and words, pausing to direct the packer not to mix food types in the same bag. She would sign the check slowly, and beautifully and then, just when you thought she was done, she would balance her checkbook. It did not matter how long the line behind her was, she would take her time and complete her process. It did not matter how much grumbling was going on, she would ignore everyone, as she made sure that her numbers were correct.

Last week, I returned from an amazing trip to Zimbabwe, where I was the maid of honor at my sister’s wedding. I love traveling to Zimbabwe for countless reasons; one of these is seeing the changes to the financial systems that I see every time I go back. My last trip to Zimbabwe was a little over a year ago and I wrote about the process I went through in order to get a prepaid phone line. During this trip, I only had to deal with two people and I did not have to travel from one desk to another in order to get things done. I still had to hand over identification but this time, I could hand over the original and the phone company made a copy for me. The system was more computerized and I only needed to deal with one agent but I left with sufficient paperwork for my transaction. The SIM card for my phone line and airtime both had pre-printed serial numbers and I also received one receipt for my transaction, where I bought a line and airtime.

Just about everywhere I went, I was struck by the technological advancements since my last trip. More and more transactions are becoming completely computerized and the changes give me the opportunity to observe whether the advancements have weakened control systems and whether the designs of the new systems took control systems into account. One place where we saw significant changes was with the highway toll system. Last year, most of the toll stations were merely agents standing at a point in the road, with armed guards to make sure that no one tried to fly through the stations without paying. This year, there were built up with automatic booms that let drivers through, after they had paid. These stations had cameras installed in various places and these cameras transmitted images to a central office, as one of the controls to ensure that all vehicles passing through the stations were charged. Just as had happened the year before, every time we drove through a toll station, we received a receipt for our payment. The additional controls, such as the automatic boom and the cameras, added layers of controls without adding time to the process of going through the tollgates.

The challenge, when it comes to the technological advancements, is to ensure that those using them do not pave their cowpaths. This is a concept very well explained by Tom Hood. There is a big risk of using new technologies to do the same things in the same way; instead of using these technologies reimagine processes. It is very easy to dress up the same old processes in a fancy new exterior and convince yourself that you have created a new process. I shall keep taking notes during my future trips, as technological advancements continue to see whether people are paving cowpaths or creating superhighways.

Thankfully for those standing in line behind her, my mother no longer writes checks when she goes shopping. She has found new ways to keep track of her finances that ensure that her numbers are correct but that take less time than writing a check and balancing her checkbook used to. I even had a paper trail for the exhilarating lion walk that I went on at Antelope Park, a lion conservancy just outside Gweru, in Zimbabwe. I had a receipt for my payment and I also signed an indemnity form to prove that I went willingly, just in case the lions got grumpy, smelt my fear or just wanted to play with me with their massive paws!

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In My Time…

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I have known my mother all my life so, at this point, I should not be surprised by anything she does. Yet, just about every time we spend time together, which is nowhere near as much as I would like, she tends to both surprise and impress me. This time it was as we were driving her to our home from the airport. She had been visiting my brother and was now chatting on the phone with a college friend of hers who lives in Connecticut. We overheard her congratulate him on his new job. “I saw the news on LinkedIn,” she explained to him. LinkedIn! I knew my mother had a LinkedIn profile but I had no idea that my mother actually used LinkedIn. After she got off the phone we quizzed her about her LinkedIn use and discovered that she is quite active in social media. It got me thinking about a piece I wrote on social media: Use Social Media, Don’t Let It Use You.

My mother is an amazing example of this maxim and she did not even need an AICPA Forensic and Valuation Services conference to understand the power and usefulness of social media. My mother is active on LinkedIn and on Facebook, making checking on these sites part of her daily routine. She has perfected her routine so that social media does not become a time suck. She is in and out before we realize it and yet, she comes away with knowledge about what her connections are up to and she has also interacted with several people in her network. Often, she uses YouTube to learn more about taking care of her orchids, a big passion of hers. I have heard my mother recommend that others seek information from various social media sources, telling them how helpful those resources have been for her. Taking her own advice, while she was visiting with us, she created a profile on Pinterest to help easily expand her access to knitting and crochet projects, she explored Instagram and became curious about Twitter.

What makes her embrace of social media  all the more surprising, for me, is that, for the last ten years, my mother is a farmer who lives just outside Gweru, the fifth largest city in Zimbabwe. Because she is out of the city, her access to fast and reliable internet can be challenging. In addition to this. my mother tended to use her computer as a fancy calculator and word processor. Now she uses Dropbox to store her large files in an easily accessible space and shares files quickly and efficiently, like a pro. When she sees someone using social media in a way she has not yet discovered, she asks questions, takes instructions and uses what she has learned. She has told me that she used to be afraid that something would go wrong and that she might break something by pressing the incorrect button. However, she has now found that it is sometimes fun to mess up and it is simpler than she imagined to rectify an error. An added bonus is that, at times, messing up can help her find a new and improved way to use social media.

During her visit, my mother would start many stories with the words, “in my time”. She would exclaim about how things have changed and, though she had happy memories about those days, she was also always willing to have new experiences. “I used to think, what can the internet and all this technology really do for me at this point,” she told me, “but now I see that there are so many things I can do better and faster and more easily. I can find so many things and I can learn about anything!” My mother has inspired me to continue my explorations in social media, while keeping in mind the first rule of social media, “don’ t say anything you wouldn’t say to your mother” because, in my case, my mother may very well be taking note. We are both seeing that this too is our time and we are making the most of it.

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2014…. New Year, Three Words

ImageLast year was the first year that I officially gave my year a theme song, so to speak. Via Tom Hood, social media, learning and sticky note aficionado, I learned about Chris Brogan and the concept of Three Words. When I studied Latin, in high school, we were taught about the magic of the number three – fewer than three can seem too little and more than three can feel like too much. Three is a number that just works. Veni, Vidi, Vici. Signed, Sealed, Delivered. And my words – Transform, Pursue, Collaborate.

Transform: On the Saturday before Superbowl in 2011, I went to the emergency room with a stomach ache. Who lives that life? The life where your stomach packs in before the party even begins. My then boyfriend and I were about to have our first Superbowl Party – the themed cake had been ordered, we were due to pick up our 6-foot long sandwich and the guests were coming. Instead I ended up spending that Sunday and a few more days in a hospital room. While I was there, my aunt came to visit and brought me a beautiful flowering plant. I brought it home, the flowers died and all that remained were the leaves.

As 2013 neared its end, my now husband and I talked about making big changes to our lives, to our work, to our play. Sometimes we find our lives take unexpected turns, sometimes we get busy and never get around to recalibrating and sometimes we lose track of our wants and desires. We decided that we were going to dedicate ourselves to rediscovering our loves and transforming our lives accordingly. This morning, on New Year’s Day, I awoke to find a flower blooming on the hospital plant. Three years of nothing but leaves, but it seems my plant has decided to transform as well.

Pursue: Sometimes there is nothing scarier than a goal. What happens if you don’t attain it? No one wants to be a failure; failure sucks. This fear of failure is incredibly good at keeping us in a state of atrophy, a comfort zone of sameness. This fear of failure can keep us from evolving and it can keep us from fulfilling our goals. In November 2013, I ran the New York Marathon. Watching runners pass my block as they ran the New York Marathon is the reason that I started running distances further than three miles. Back then and since, there have been many moments when I have wondered whether or not I could run 26.2 miles. Several years in a row, I would start training for the marathon and experience a setback that kept me from running the marathon. During the heatwave of 2013, I found myself unable to make it through 12 miles and I was convinced that there was no way I would make it through 26.2. And with all of that going on, I still aspired to run a Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3 hours and 45 minutes. I set this goal, even though the only other marathon I had run, in 2008, I had run in 4 hours and 50 minutes. In 2013, I did get to run the New York Marathon and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I ran the New York Marathon in 3 hours and 51 minutes, short of my 3:45 goal and it was still amazing. Though I did not attain my 3:45 goal, I found that I achieved many things I did not even know I was aiming for. More than anything, I discovered how wonderful it is to have goals and to pursue them. Even if things don’t turn out the way you hope, you tend to end up with things turning out in fantastic new ways that you may not have imagined. In 2014, I plan to pursue goals and dreams – I may not pursue them fearlessly but I plan to persevere, even through fear.

Collaborate: Nothing that I do of any substance can I say I have done alone. There is invariably a support team of one kind or another. I have people that believe that I can and I have people that will help do what I cannot. I have people who will speak sense to me when I am being irrational and I have people who will urge me to be crazy when I am being too rational. I have strangers who smile and give me support and I have friends and family who do the same. It is easy to take this for granted and to perhaps believe that I can be a one-woman superhero. I plan to remain mindful of the power of synergy, the strength of the network and the force of the team.

Last year my words were Change, Discover and Motivate. This year, the theme song is different – Transform, Pursue, Collaborate – but the music is still thumping. 2014 will be blooming awesome!

What are your 3 words?

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