The Linchpin to Your Own Creative Habit

Recently I met a woman struggling to decide her next career path. She was significantly older than I was, mid-50’s, and currently unemployed. To get her bachelors degree, this woman went to school full-time, worked in New York City, and made time to pick up her son from college when he needed to come home. Now as an experienced financial analyst, she is working part-time filing papers and doing little better than minimum wage. I was struck by the failure of her determined work ethic and “keep-my-head-down” kind of attitude, trying to make ends meet. In my opinion, she had worked hard and deserved  better opportunities without needing to worry about relocating back to New York or planning for retirement.

This one woman’s story is all too common. In the current job market, both young college graduates and middle-aged professionals find themselves in the same position– unemployed. I have friends who spend hours online, combing through job listings and tweaking cover letters, sending their career futures deep inside the Internet’s black hole. Unlike opportunities in the past, hard work and good grades just aren’t enough. Employers are looking for something more.

I recent read two seemingly different books that address this problem in very similar ways. Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable, discusses the changing business market through a how-to guide toward becoming an indispensable employee in any company or career opportunity. Godin defines a linchpin as an individual who functions as an essential part of their organization or business without necessarily identifiable job responsibilities. Linchpins accomplish tasks without waiting to be asked, assigned or directed. They think outside the normal confines of “no,” “too difficult” or “status quo”. Godin reminds us that while it may appear only the smartest and the best can attain such a coveted linchpin position, every individual has the power to create and make a change. At a time when the market is obsessed with cheaper and faster, Seth Godin argues companies need more creativity and art in order for success.

The second book is written by Twyla Tharp, titled The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life. Her how-to book explores the ways to work your creative muscles, to create and explore around the mental blocks all artists face at one time or another. Tharp approaches artistic creation from a dancer’s point of view but uses personal experiences and everyday exercises translatable in any medium of creative thought and design. Choreographing a dance is not easy and it is never easy. But the awareness of that struggle and ability to move beyond is one reason why any art (painting, engineering, carpentry) is such as essential part of the human spirit.

Both Godin and Tharp share a wholehearted faith in the power of the creative mind. Creativity, unlike hard work and following the rules, is constantly evolving and requires present, complex thought. In my mind these authors’ unique philosophies present us with a challenge. Approach your current or future job as if you are an invaluable and intelligent asset; one with the knowledge and creative insight to see opportunity and make a revolutionary change. Picture how interesting your job would be. Granted, there will always be assignments and deadlines that cannot be changed. Some paperwork must be completed regardless of your insight and ingenuity. A creative linchpin, however, looks for the moments of challenge and improvisation to create something new, something the world cannot believe it has previously lived without. The world may be waiting for you.

Also read: Forbes’ The Key Missing Ingredient In Leadership Today

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Trials and Tribulations of Apartment Hunting

In many romantic relationships, moving in together is considered the next BIG step. Maybe the guy asks the girl spontaneously after dinner on a Wednesday night or the couple decides paying rent for two apartments just doesn’t make sense anymore. Either way, the commitment is the relationship is magnified: requiring prolonged decision-making, nice dinners and a trustworthy hardware store individual who can make an extra copy of the apartment key. Now compare this to the last month of my life–the blind housing search, without a significant other or help from bland college roommate surveys, in a city I have never lived with future friends I have never met. How are they similar? They aren’t.  House hunting is a mad dash of bedroom musical chairs. When the music stops and your job begins, one can only hope there is a house, an apartment, or a soft futon to call your own.

In lieu of renting an apartment with my non-existent boyfriend, I developed an unhealthy addiction to craigslist in the hopes that the perfect person would need a housemate and a new best friend. My requirements were few and far between. Affordable monthly rent. Acceptable driving distance to my job. Living breathing person with heartbeat. Turns out those requirements were a little too vague.

I dragged my best friend along for my first six apartment dates to see the places and meet my potential new roommates. The majority of these apartment owners were male, significantly older, and had strange obsessions with board games, knitting, and obscure music. One bathroom had a rich history- it had once been a distillery during Prohibition- and the tub and linoleum floor hadn’t been cleaned since alcohol became legal. We also met the drummer from the Number 1 Jimmy Buffett cover band (so many bongos), received an offer to stay for homemade penne a la vodka, and consoled a woman with recently bad housemate history. On one hand, seeing potential homes was exciting, a snapshot into the lives of complete strangers. But the stark reality that I would have to choose one of these places and people to live with for the next year was humbling. I remained hopeful despite the number of older single men with a spare bedroom and my depressingly limited stipend from my upcoming fellowship.

And now I am thrilled to say that I finally found a place. It took over 50 emails, voicemails, and house walkthroughs but I have a bedroom and a duplex to call my own. Both women, age 26 and 28, are kind, reasonable, and totally responsible. One of them is even a vegetarian and I look forward to sharing meals with her every now and then. I must thank craigslist for providing me with a source of house-hopping entertainment while I shopped for the right place and the right people. Now all I need is a bed, dresser, desk, and a car to transport me there.

This growing up thing is a lot of work. 

Peach Strawberry Lemonade

With the temperatures hovering in the mid-90’s and the humidity gluing my legs to the seat of any vinyl chair, saying the weather is hot is an understatement. Back in Colorado where forest fires have destroyed thousands of acres, the story of drought and prayers for rain clouds is all too common. Farmers in the Midwest are worried about their corn and soy plants as estimates for crop productivity decrease. Deaths have been reported in states such as Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Charred land, fragile food supply, human lives. For those who still do not believe climate change is drastically affecting the recent weather patterns and extreme fluctuation, it is not too late to change your mind. In the meantime, make a peach strawberry lemonade.

 Peach Strawberry Lemonade

  • 1 can frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 1 bottle lemon seltzer
  • 1 peach
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • ice
  • blender

I will be the first to admit fresh lemonade is much better. However, if you don’t have time or energy for squeezing lemons, the concentrate will work just fine. I had frozen strawberries left over from the farm as well as a fresh peach from a local farm stand. Work with what you have.

In a pitcher add the amount of water suggested on the can and stir. Add half the liquid to the blender. Cut the peach into pieces, take a handful of strawberries and add both to the liquid. Blend together. Strain out fruit pulp ( I leave them in to give it more color and have something fun to chew on. You decide). Pour the mixture into a glass about 3/4 full leaving room for a seltzer with a hint of bubbles and some ice cubes.

Note: Some people prefer smoothies instead of more simple cold beverages. If so, adding 8-10 ice cubes into the blender will give the drink a nice ice-y consistency.

I never said it was a difficult recipe but it certainly is delicious. Whether you have attempted to jog outside (sweaty) or done yoga indoors (still sweaty), this drink is delicious and will quench your thirst. Staying hydrated, specifically drinking lots of water, in the heat is extremely important. So sit outside, or lay against your air conditioner, and sip your lemonade while planning a trip to the Arctic.

Chasing Ice

We all have passion. It is this passion, this innate hunger, that drives our actions and fuels our path in life. For some people, the passion is clearly realized in a job career or series of business practices. For others, the passion is less known, centered around travel or care for immediate family members. For James Balog the original passion, that of photography, grew into a cause much greater than himself. Through his work, Balog has inadvertently inspired others’ passions with renewed adrenaline and purpose. 

James Balog and the documentary Chasing Ice appeared at the Aspen Ideas Festival just as we arrived in Aspen from our 5 hour shuttle from Denver. The film, directed by Jeff Orlowski, followed Balog and his incredible team during the trials, tribulations, and revelations of the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS). The survey’s mission? To install time-lapse cameras in various Arctic locations to document the changes in glacial retreat. The film, which premieres nationally in November, received the award for Excellence in Cinematography of a U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012. The footage will floor you.

James Balog, an original climate change skeptic, is leading the movement to educate people on the reality of a changing planet. His haunting photographs show dramatic changes of 15 different glaciers vanishing more rapidly than they ever have before. Through Orlowski’s cinematography, audiences bear witness to glaciers the size of skyscrapers tumbling into the choppy frigid waters, never to be seen again. My instinctual reaction-hand over mouth, eyes wide-revealed my shock when I first saw the beautiful yet devastating images on the screen. The audience reacted similarly and Balog’s presence onstage was greeted with a standing ovation and reverent applause.

“I think the bigger place where this change is going to play out is on the level of local governments and consumer choice,” Balog said when asked what audience members could do for the cause. Even my college roommate, who is neither an environmentalist nor avid glacier enthusiast, talked about what she could do to help decrease the impact of climate change in her daily life. The film fueled the desire for action, for instruction to slow the dramatic changes occurring in the Arctic; previously apathetic individuals standing up and asking how they could do more. The documentary makes up a small part of the larger fight, a fight of modern environmentalists across the globe to change minds and evoke action devoid of political debates, biased media coverage and radical activists.

Caring about the planet and about the environment is a universal responsibility. No individual wants to see their house destroyed by fires in Colorado, ocean level rises in Bangladesh or heat spells in Washington D.C. The movie Chasing Ice is just one look at the implications of human actions on the earth and as a collective, we must face the future with more than shuffling feet and eyes blindfolded by nervous denial. 

For more on James Balog visit:

TED talk Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss

Extreme Ice Survey (with 40 sec video preview)

James Balog’s website

Columbia Glacier in Alaska has retreated 2.3 miles since EIS began and 11.3 miles since 1984.

On Hiking

Hiking can be intimidating. First there is the gear: Camelbak packs or Nalgene water bottles, Columbia hiking boots , the North Face wind resistant pants, and obscure maps with contour lines like thin strands of hair marking the receding elevation. You need necessary snacks, torn between Cliffbars, trail mix, and varieties of dried fruit that you imagine other experienced campers eat on a daily basis. One must also choose the location. Do you travel long distances to the Rocky Mountains or attempt to navigate the trail behind your house in upstate New York, hoping your deer hunting neighbor will not mistake you for a young doe.

Of course, the real fear is not the brand names of waterproof clothing, the food or the specific location of the trail. It is nature itself. Weather is unpredictable, bugs are prevalent, and Googling “beautiful nature views” takes a fraction of the time it takes to actually go out there yourself. But stop for a moment and think. Think about the most beautiful sight you have ever witnessed or the most beautiful place you have been. How many of those memories took place in nature, watching the sun slip behind the gently rolling waves or smelling the violets on the first day of spring? We have become so removed from nature that outdoor adventures are increasingly unknown and dangerous experiences, saved for mountain men and expert campers. Go ahead. Reclaim nature for yourself.

My college roommate and close friend is not a hiker. While Jen is outgoing and very athletic, her favorite experiences in nature are laying on the beach and reading a good book. However, she dressed the part and was more than willing to try a number of hikes during our week in Aspen. The Maroon Bells are some of the most photographed mountains in Colorado. Towering over 14,000 ft, they are a magnificent sight seen with ice patches at all times of the year. Jen and I did the Crater Lake Hike get a special view of these natural wonders. The 3.6 mile hike was a moderate trail, taking less than 2 hours. Our pictures were spectacular and our memories were unforgettable. 

Two days later, I attempted Aspen Mountain which begins at the base of Little Nell and climbs 3267 feet up the Aspen Mountain ski area finishing at the Sundeck Restaurant at an elevation of 11,212 feet. The benefit of such a climb other than the incredible view is the free gondola ride, bringing you safely down the mountain back to where you began your journey hours ago. Our four person group became two about halfway up the steep ascent. The combination of unyielding vertical climbs and high elevation made me question my sanity and physical conditioning more than once as I continued to the top. Many Aspen locals and expert athletics jog up the mountain for exercise, racing during the America’s Uphill spring ritual. Who are these people with the lung capacity and mental stamina? In my mind, they tower over me like gods with large wings and a golden aura around their dusty running sneakers. 

Most of us will never reach this caliber of hiker/jogger/athletic extraordinaire. But each of us can look on a map and pick out a trail that is right for them. Look for opportunities locally. Hike a mile to a nearby waterfall or walk through your local bird sanctuary with a bottle of water and a pair of binoculars. The natural world has sights, sounds and wildlife for everyone to experience. Even if you don’t want to run up Aspen mountain. 

First Day in Colorado

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The shuttle from Denver International Airport took us along I-70 heading west before rumbling through Glenwood Springs and curving south along 82. We past the red hills of Basalt and winding mountain passes in Snowmass, blurring past the windows of the Colorado Mountain Express. By 5:30pm, we had reached Aspen with a towering natural landscape and 8,000 ft elevation that quite literally took our breath away.

I imagine the air in Aspen feels the way it wants to be felt: lighter, cleaner, and away from smog clouds and gas exhaust. The people here seem to feel it too. Families ride bikes along quiet neighborhood streets where pedestrians always have the right of way. Aspen’s downtown center is filled with upscale restaurants and luxury clothing brands, connected by cobblestone walking streets and outdoor seating. The grassy park in the center of the city is framed by looming mountains to the north and the south, regal protectors of the idyllic scene. I couldn’t help but marvel at the newness. I’m not in Kansas anymore.

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Energypath 2012 Conference

Empty dorm room. Unknown roommate. Campus map. Detailed yet confusing daily schedule of events. For just a moment, I am transported back to my first day as a nervous college freshmen anxiously lugging my bins of shoes and clothing up two flights of stairs. How do people make friends? Where are my classes? Did I brush my teeth this morning? But in my current scenario, it is four years later and I am settling into my room at DeSales University. Reason? Energypath 2012 conference on sustainable energy.

Energypath 2012 is funded by the Sustainable Energy Fund,a private non-profit focused on energy efficiency and education in the state of Pennsylvania. The conference brings together students, educators, and industry members in the field of renewable energy to discuss available options for sustainable energy and educates participants on the steps required for an energy path for the future of the country. The three-day workshop and two-day conference include hands-on educational seminars and keynote speakers by renown experts in their field. This year’s speaker was William Kamkwamba, the author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind–an autobiography about building a electricity-producing windmill in his home country of Malawi at the age of 14. His TED talk can be found here: How I Harnessed the Wind.

I spent the first three days in one of the energy bootcamps: Solar PV (photovoltaics). Tables were filled with college students, homeowners and experienced professions with a vested interest in the value of solar energy. As our instructors flipped through slides on wiring, installation, electric currents and incentive programs, questions flew about the ideal wiring size and difference between a main inverter and a series of microinverters. I sat between my electrical engineering friends and quickly realized my liberal arts education had not adequately prepared me for the technical discussion that seemed to be boring my peers.

We ventured outside to assemble our own solar arrays in small groups. There was a Penn State engineering student, a zero emissions homeowner, and a retiring/unemployed mechanical engineer. Together, we built the ground mount and attached the solar modules, mirroring the other eleven groups on either side. By the end of the camp, our assemblage of solar arrays was channeling energy through the inverter and into the grid. I was impressed with our ability to harness the sun’s power and even more impressed with my growing knowledge of AC/DC and the difference between a circuit in series or in parallel.

Small scale Aquaponics Model

Thursday and Friday were jam-packed with speakers representing sustainable energy companies, nonprofits, and universities. We heard from supporters of nuclear power, wind, solar, biogas and natural gas. Lutron explained the immense energy-saving power of light dimmers. Honeywell broke down a commercial energy audit. One woman presented the self sustainable system called aquaponics with the ability to provide fish and vegetable supplies to developing countries. John Jimison from the Energy Future Coalition believed a growing consensus among the American public would drive renewable energy as a realistic solution for Congress in building future policy.

Will we universally embrace the smart grid? Electric cars? Widespread solar and wind production? Reduced consumption? I don’t know. But Energypath sought the road paved with education and innovation so maybe someday, a chorus of voices will someday join together in a harmonious “YES!”

6:40pm I just read an interesting article about the removal of tar sands for oil in Canada. An Oil Rush Up North