“Getting There is Easy …

… Staying there is hard.”

Years after I stopped training with him, the words of my trainer, Jimmy Ng, still echo inside my muscle memory every time I step foot into a gym.

“You’re an athlete, Barb,” Jimmy would say.  “You’re not working out, you’re training.”

Although I wasn’t training for anything in particular, Jimmy was right.  I’ve always been an athlete.

According to my mom, I learned how to swim before I could walk.  When I was barely 6 months old, my dad took me into his arms and together we went into the waves off the beach at Guanabo, Cuba.

My dad was a swimmer.  I was about to become one.

Legend has it a wave knocked me out of my dad’s arms as my mom stood screaming by the shore, losing sight of her baby, not knowing what was to become of her only child.

Mom was not a swimmer.  She was, and always has been, an overprotective mother whose unconditional love taught me that no matter how much it hurts, love will always lead me back to the person I was put on this earth to be.

But that day on the beach in Guanabo … as my dad calmly searched for me underneath the churning waters, and my mom stood by helplessly on the shore, I was taught a lesson in patience that has stayed with me ever since.

Wait for it … always seems to be the gift the Universe longs to give me if I trust Her enough to just wait and see what She has in store.

What seemed like an eternity later, my tiny feet cracked the surface and my dad pulled me out of the water feet first.

I was a laughing hysterically, apparently quite fond of what had just happened.

Hence began my love affair with athletics.

I was never much of a team player (Another legend says I’m a selfish only child), but I was always an athlete. Swimming, running, and cycling have always been my drug of choice.

At midlife, however, I discovered weight training and suddenly the scrawny kid from Brooklyn found a strength I never knew I had.

When I began to train with Jimmy, I wasn’t training for anything in particular, except for the greatest game of all, the game of life.

At 55, I was fitter than I’d ever been.  Everyone noticed.  I noticed.  It was the kind of fit that would help me lift two fifty pound suitcases into the trunk of a taxi — after I’d flown 5,000 miles across the pond with little sleep — and make it look like I’d tossed two rag dolls over my shoulder.

I stopped training with Jimmy after a few months but I kept on a regular gym schedule, determined to “stay there” no matter how much work it took.

But life got in the way. And even though I found it harder and harder to “stay there,” I always knew I could “get there” again.

And then the unthinkable happened.

A couple of months ago, I fell off my bike and broke my wrist.

I’m an athlete.  Injuries are for wimps.

But this time, my body didn’t heal as fast as I had hoped.  The weeks of dumbed down training took a toll on all of me, physical, mental, and spiritual.

Getting there is easy, staying there is hard, I kept reminding myself.

Jimmy was right.  When you start to train, you reach your goals very easily.  Your body adapts and grows stronger day by day.  But then you plateau.  And to go beyond that plateau, to stay there, you have to double your efforts.

And that’s when it gets tough.

It’s the same with any new skill you’re trying to learn.

Sports, after all, are a metaphor for life.

But my injuries and inabilities to work out have humbled me.  And they are once again my teacher.

And this is what they are saying …

Begin again.  Don’t expect to pick up where you left off. Welcome the challenge of getting there again and perhaps discovering something new.

Are the physical “injuries” a metaphor for a deeper pain?

Can it be that to find the source of my physical injuries, I must first find the source of the injuries to my soul?

Can it be that as I heal from my physical injuries, I will heal my soul?

Perhaps.

But I know one thing … I’ll get there again.

And I’ll always find reasons to stay there.

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Does it matter?

 

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That thing you’re worried about?

That thing that is consuming your life, your moments, your Right Now.

Will it matter in 100 years?

Will it be something important enough to be included in your obituary?

Will it matter tomorrow?

Will it matter in an hour?

Does it matter right now?

If not, let it go.

And make room for something worthy of your legacy.

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Why setting goals could hinder your progress …

Breathe and Trust

“When you were in school, did you always know you wanted to create and manage content on websites and social media?”

It’s the inevitable question … The one I get asked the most whenever I speak to a group of Millenials.

The concept of life before the Internet is as foreign to these young people as life before television was to me when I was their age.

So, the answer is, “No.”

Creating and managing content on websites and social media were not even blips on the radar of career opportunities when I was in school.

It would have been impossible for me to set a goal to pursue a career in digital journalism for the simple reason that the world of reporting news via the Internet didn’t exist when I was first starting out on my journey.

When I was in college, I watched many of my fellow classmates map out their career paths down to every turn, every choice at the forks in the road, every strategy to swerve past the deepest of potholes. Keep going no matter what was their motto. Stopping for gas was not an option, not even when the needle toyed precariously towards empty and engine burnout was inevitable.

Then there was me.  I knew I wanted to be a journalist.  But I didn’t worry too much — or at all — about the details.

I loved living life in the moment, I loved to write, I loved to explore spirituality, I loved crafting stories, I loved music, I loved anything to do with health and fitness.  And, I didn’t know it yet, but I loved animals.

My goal was simple: To use my skills and talents to fulfill my purpose on Earth and be happy along the way. The details didn’t matter.  I knew how I wanted to feel as I lived my life.  And I trusted my gut, my feelings, and my God to get me there.

Compared to my fellow classmates, my strategy to reach my goal seemed so trivial.  Simple, but not easy.

As I enter my 6th decade, my “trivial” strategy remains the same, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The problem with setting concrete goals is that it assumes that life, and people, will remain as they are for infinity.  The reality, however, is that life and people change.

Things like the Internet are created, and if you were too focused on your goals to notice, you miss the thousands of opportunities it offers.

Furthermore, you change!  And if you don’t modify your plans along the way, you may reach your goals but you’re miserable when you get there. Then what?

My friends, always remember that the journey IS the destination. Don’t waste time setting so many goals that you miss the magic of the moment.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.                                 – From “Beautiful Boy” by John Lennon

This isn’t spiritual mumbo jumbo.

Thirty years ago, I watched in amazement, wondering what I was doing wrong while my fellow classmates wrote down and, one by one, checked off the goals on their to-do lists.

I now realize I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Breathe, trust, let go, repeat has always been my strategy. It has never failed me. I find myself exactly where Life thinks I should be.

Frustration and restlessness are the barometers I use to gauge if I’m on purpose.  If I’m happy, I’m on target.  If not, then I remind myself to breathe, trust, and let go.

And when I try to deviate from this — when I start considering that making lists and setting goals might be a good idea — the Universe patiently waits while I exhaust myself and surrender, then gives me to something even greater than I could have ever imagined.

I am now at a juncture of change in my life — a time to move on — but experience has taught me that trusting the process during these junctures will always lead me to the fulfillment I seek.

What about you?  Are you ready for your next adventure in life?  Are you tired of things not working out quite the way you had planned?  Perhaps it’s time to stop planning …

 

Breathe, trust, and let go.

Your heart will never fail you.  Listen to its wisdom.  And follow where it leads.

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Temporary Insanities …

Those moments when your breath and your brain compete for your attention …

Those moments when what was, what is, and what you hoped would be laugh at your silly attempts to control them …

Those moments when you’re awake enough to realize there’s nothing you can do to stop the plans Life has in store for you.

Those moments when you thank Whatever You Believe In for introducing you to this moment …

Those moments when you pray that, no matter how painful, you are given more of these moments …

That’s the moment when the only thing left to do is get on your knees and give thanks.

I want more of these moments …

Do you?

 

 

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Master Fail! Why Academia is Responsible for the Dumbing Down of America

pile of books

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” — George Bernard Shaw

“Wow.  I’m sorry this happened.  Academia has to follow the states’ accreditation and they can’t seem to get their head out of their ass.”

This was the response I got from a friend after I shared with her an e-mail I received from the head of the department at the university where I taught “Introduction to Broadcast Journalism” this past semester.

My friend is a professor — one who, for obvious reasons, shall remain anonymous.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled: My kids call me Professor. In it, I described how, although I do everything professors do — create a syllabus, write lesson plans, create and grade exams, keep up with emails, and oh, yes, teach — academia denies me the right to the title, Professor, because I don’t have a Master’s Degree.

And now, after an amazing semester as an Adjunct Instructor at a major university, it seems that academia is denying me the right to teach at all.

At the end of the semester, I sent the head of the dept. in which I teaching an e-mail offering feedback on improving the course and the program, thanking her for the opportunity to teach this past semester, and telling her I was very much looking forward to the Fall term.

“Thanks for the feedback and your great work with our students. I ran into some credentialing issues with HR because you do not have a master’s degree. Do you have any plans to work on one?” she responded.

It seems that thirty plus years of working in broadcast journalism isn’t enough to qualify me to teach a course on the subject.

To be honest, I didn’t take it personally.  Her response was so brief, that it seemed almost apologetic.

I exhaled and thanked the good Lord for protecting me from an industry covered in so much red — red tape, that is — that it makes Valentine’s Day look like its albino bastard child.

“I will not be pursing my Master’s degree,” I responded. “It doesn’t make sense for me to invest time and money to obtain credentials for knowledge I already have.”

I wanted to add: “I find it absurd that the people who teach and grade the courses I would be required to take to obtain my Master’s will most likely be professors who have never stepped foot inside a newsroom, or written anything besides a thesis, analyzing the textbook definition of broadcasting and journalism.”

But realizing that I was targeting the wrong person with my message, a person who herself was the messenger of the ridiculous rules of the powers-that-be who ruled above her — I decided to keep that thought to myself, and use it as inspiration for this article.

I’m a firm believer that the fire of disappointed passion should never be allowed to burn a bridge I may want to cross in the future.

But I also believe that quenching that fire with an ocean of indifference, is equivalent to death by drowning.

I would love to teach again.  However, I refuse to let my experience in academia during the past six months remain silent, especially since that experience affects the very students that “education” in America claims to serve.

My apologies to the teachers and professors who work their asses off to pursue their passion, to those who have the necessary letters next to their names to be welcomed into the exclusive world of “higher education,” yet don’t get the credit, recognition, or salaries they deserve.  My respect for you is greater than it’s ever been.  Contrary to George Bernard Shaw’s popular quote, sometimes those who can also choose to teach.

As my strongest evidence that this is not an angry attack — or revenge — on an industry that rejected me, but a disclosure of what is wrong with that industry, I offer this:

My mother is a teacher by profession. She’s one of those people with a string of letters next to her name.  You can call her Dr. Besteni-Castellanos.

As for academia and the powers that rule it … SHAME ON YOU!

Shame on you for cheating students out of the right to an education from those who have spent their lives working in the industries those students are seeking to enter.

There are exceptions, of course.  I want my doctors and lawyers to have formal education and lots and lots of letters next to their names. The thought of allowing people with only life experience into these professions is frightening.

But when it comes to journalism, or any other creative career, if given the choice between a professor with formal education and no field training, or a person without post-graduate education who has spent her life working in that career, my choice is obvious.

To deny me, or any other person, the ability to share our knowledge and experience, simply because we haven’t had formal training in a classroom is like erasing Abraham Lincoln from the history books because he had no formal schooling whatsoever!

I do have a Bachelor’s Degree.  But I earned my Master’s at the University of Life known as a Newsroom.  Nearly 35 years later, I refuse to play by the rules of an institution that doesn’t recognize the value of what I have to offer.

“What about credit for life experience?” you ask.

Well, I asked that too.  And the answer is that they would happily consider life experience for half the credits I would need to obtain my Master’s Degree.  However, in order for those credits to be applied towards my degree, I would have to pay for them.

Bottom line: I would be paying for the experience I had spent my career obtaining.

Um, no thank you.

My mom, Dr. Besteni-Castellanos, didn’t raise a fool.  Neither did my dad, Dr. Felipe Besteni-Socvi, for that matter. (I know, compared to my parents, I’m a slacker.)

And so, I’m moving on.  Knowing that another door will open.

As my anonymous professor friend added to the quote that began this article …

“Academia is in a world of its own and will be swallowed by a black hole one day!”

I refuse to tumble into that black hole.

In closing, I would like to thank the students who allowed me to share my knowledge and experience with them this past semester, and taught me more than any book or school could ever teach me.

It was truly an honor watching your eyes shine during those “Aha! moments,” when the light of understanding illuminated concepts that you had been struggling to grasp. I can only hope and pray that I played even a small part in that.

My heart will forever carry the lessons that you taught me, and I will use them as inspiration to continue teaching beyond the confines of academia’s classrooms.

As always, I welcome your comments and rebuttals.

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So Long, News Alerts

Push Alert

We interrupt your life to bring you … stuff that shouldn’t interrupt your life.

This morning I did something that was so simple, so painless, so easy to do, I nearly dropped my iPhone into the toilet after doing it.

It was something that just a few months ago was the lifeline to my job and career.  But now, it was just plain distracting and annoying.

The crying sound of wolves had gotten too much for this journalist-turned-layperson-turned-picky-consumer-of-news.

And so, I went into every news app I had previously downloaded into my iPhone, and opted myself out of their news alerts.

#SweetFreedom

My initial choice had been to fling my iPhone into the alligator-friendly lake behind my house, but I feared for the gators’ well-being should one swallow my phone whole and have to suffer through news alert after news alert.  It just seemed cruel.

The knee-jerk reaction to reach for my phone every time I heard a ding, indicating that something more important than whatever I was doing was happening, had started to wear thin on me.

Frankly, I was tired of hearing that sound every time “news broke,” which was pretty much all the time.  Except 99.9% of the time it wasn’t really news that demanded my immediate attention, and my life could go on without being affected by it at all.

For example, just because someone who had been on the run from police in Miami for 5 years had been caught in Georgia was not that big a deal.  And yet, these were the types of alerts the local news stations in South Florida were sending out.

Most of the time, I would read the alert and think … I don’t care. This doesn’t matter.

If I was with another person, I would ask if it mattered to them and they would give me a look that said … “Barb, why do you think I unsubscribed from the alerts you used to send out when you were working in news?”

Furthermore,  because of the number of characters to which news alerts are limited, what I saw on the screen was either incomplete, confusing, or made no sense at all. (See example at the top of this article.)

You might think this is a ploy to make you click through to the story.  (Tease readers with a weird or incomplete headline so they will have to open the article to find out what it’s about.) But that’s not the case.

Contrary what someone who owns a large building overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach County might tell you, news editors don’t conspire to trick readers or mislead their audiences. (OK, maybe some do, but this is the exception, not the rule.)

In the majority of cases, bad news alerts are simply the frantic writing of a digital editor rushing to be first to send out the alert, before committing the mortal sin of allowing a competing news organization to beat them to it.

Thursday afternoon, one of the local television stations in South Florida sent out three news alerts within a 5-minute interval.  I’d had enough.  I made a pact with myself to get my life and my priorities back in order.

I accepted that if Armaggedon was imminent, a phone call from my mom would let me know faster than any news alert ever could.  And if a nuclear bomb was heading my way, I’d rather not know.  Dying on impact was a much better option.

Yet for someone who had spent the better part of the last few years working as a digital news journalist — sending out news alerts and encouraging others to subscribe to them — I was amazed at how easy it was for me to let them go.

I’ve been away from a traditional newsroom for nearly seven months now.  Seeing news from the receiving end of the smart phone screen has shown me how much of what newsrooms call news really isn’t.

Those of you who follow my blog and articles know how passionate I am about journalism.  And although I’ve been hesitant to criticize those who I know from experience work their butts off to bring you the news each day, I also feel it’s my responsibility — my purpose — to do everything I can to keep the profession which I love from continuing its plunge into obsolescence.

My fellow journalists, please stop the madness!

Please stop sending out news alerts every time someone in the newsroom stands up and starts flailing their arms uncontrollably because “news” is breaking.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Ask yourself:

“If I didn’t work in a newsroom, would this alert matter to me?”

I know the challenges you face.  Your boss thinks it matters.  And so you pick your battles and comply with his or her definition of news.

But unless you’re courageous enough to “just say no” to news alert nonsense, our industry will continue to decline into the frenzy of fake news in which it currently finds itself.

Be responsible. Take a risk. For crying out loud, be a journalist.

Treat news alerts with the same caution that the networks use to break into programming with Special Reports.

It begins with you.

Your audience has already figured out the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.  It’s time you did too.

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My kids call me professor

Nova Southeastern University, Business School

In my sophomore year at Brooklyn College, I had an instructor named Peter Pitzele who always got a kick out of being called “professor.”

Peter guided me through twelve weeks of Ancient History and Philosophy, and from the moment he entered the classroom on the first day of the semester, I knew he was different.

Decades later, I can clearly picture his Ronald McDonald-style shock of salt and pepper hair and the faded jeans, poncho and sandals he wore on a daily basis. It was the perfect attire for the man who wore his heart and soul on his sleeve and shared so much of himself with his students every day.

He seemed like a character right out of the ancient texts we were studying. But his uniqueness went beyond his physical appearance. It wasn’t until years later, when popular culture coined the phrase ‘live with passion,’ that I was able to define what Peter did every day.

He loved teaching. He loved his students. He was a man with a mission to make a difference. And through his passion for his work, he shared his vision and inspired his students to seek and pursue their own passions.

I never saw Peter again after I left Brooklyn College. But he has been in my thoughts often throughout the years.

He was one of the greatest influences during my college days, and continues to be so … especially now.

Peter always laughed when we called him Professor Pitzele.

“I’m not a professor,” he would say. “I’m just an instructor.”

I never understood what that meant.  After all, “Professor” was what you were supposed to call your college teachers.  Or so I thought.

In January of this year, I began teaching Introduction to Broadcast Journalism at Nova Southeastern University.

And although I do everything that all the other instructors do — create a syllabus, write lesson plans, create and grade exams, keep up with emails, and oh, yes, teach — academia denies me the right to be called professor.

That’s because I don’t have enough letters after my name.  And at the time, Peter didn’t either.

When I graduated college, I decided that going to work in the industry that I passionately wanted to be a part of was a better use of my time than staying in school and getting a Master’s Degree.

I had a job in television news before I even completed my Bachelor’s Degree.  Why in the world should I get a Master’s?

And so today, even though I have more that 30 years experience in the industry about which I teach my students, technically, I’m not a professor.

Apparently my experience doesn’t count, because I didn’t get it from a textbook.

But my students, my “kids,” don’t seem to care.

They call me “professor” and I get a kick out of it just as much as Peter did.  You see, just like Peter …

I love teaching. I love my students. I’m on a mission to make a difference. And through my passion for teaching, I hope to share my vision and inspire my students to seek and pursue their own passions.

While doing a little bit of research for this article, I Googled Peter just to see what he had been up to all these years.  And I had to smile when I read that he had not only received his Master’s degree, but he had also gone on to receive his Ph.D from Harvard.

He is officially a professor.  But in my heart, he always was.

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