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Bring Out Your Superhero!

As a founding member of the AARP Volunteer Leadership Institute (VLI), I had the opportunity to learn about the background research that went into developing the Life Re-imagined and Work Re-imagined programs. Time and again, the research revealed that Life Re-imagined is not about being 40 or 50 or 60 or any other age. Discovering “what’s next” and creating a new stage for oneself is a “frame of mind”.  It involves being open to suggestion. It involves recognizing that yesterday’s activities do not necessarily have to be the activities of tomorrow. And, perhaps most difficult, it involves considering the unexpected as a possible path to greatness.

Serendipitous events often play a key role in these unexpected connections. For example, it is time for me to start a new exercise routine and swimming was to be the sport of choice; Aqua-aerobics to be exact. I went onto Yelp to find swimming pools in my geography. Between the Equinox Clubs and the local Community Centers was an ad for an aquatic program targeting pregnant and postpartum women. Although I am no longer looking to make more babies,   I was open to doing a good aqua-aerobics class with this special group of people. And, so, this innocent phone call led me to Andrea; a 30-somethng year old woman who has already created numerous chapters in her life. As Andrea shared her story with me, she credited much of her journey to situations which simply fell into her lap. I agree that situations do come about when we least expect them to appear, however, even when something falls into our lap, we have to be ready to see it, to consider it and to do it. In other words, to create a Life Reimagined, we have to be open to receiving new experiences.

Let me share part of Andrea’s story with you. Through a series of fall in her lap situations, Andrea found herself becoming a go to person for pregnant women wanting a personal trainer. Andrea has never been pregnant herself. Schmoozing with a few of her pregnant clients, they started talking about doing new things. They spoke about doing new things that are difficult or challenging. Pregnancy is an example of something that is new (the first time for sure), as well as difficult and often challenging (“Oh, my aching back”).  

As the conversation with the group continued, Andrea shared her discomfort with running and jogging activities. From the way she told me the story, this led to a conversation comparing pregnancy to the Marathon des Sables.  Ranked as the hardest footrace on earth, by the Discovery Channel, the Marathon is a six day adventure through the Sahara desert. Rules require the participants to be self-sufficient; everything that you will need to survive –except for water and a tent to sleep in–must be carried on your back. Whoa! And, before you know it, Andrea, the non-runner is making arrangements to participate in the Marathon des Sables. She ran. In fact, she was the only woman from the US who finished the Marathon that year! The Superhero came out; Yesterday’s activities were no longer the norm.

I asked Andrea if I could include her story in one of my blogs for AARP.  “What is AARP?” Andrea asked me. Remember, Andrea is 30-something. I explained that AARP is a member association of approximately 37 million people. While seniors play a significant role in the AARP agenda, the organization has programs that can help ALL people, at any age, to see the Real Possibilities that life offers.   The philosophy, I said, is Life Re-imagined. “Sure, you can share our conversation”, said Andrea.

“However”— we both said almost simultaneously—-“this story has nothing to do with age and everything to do with frame of mind”.

Thank you Andrea for providing me with such a great story — better yet, is the great visual! Your motivational story found me; I did not go looking for it. Or did I…. by changing my own frame of mind?

So, where is my own Superhero hiding? Within my one original piece of artwork (that I felt was good enough to put into an expensive frame)?  Within the six moves that I arranged for my family – each of which brought us to new neighborhoods in new geographies with  new schools, new jobs, new friends, new doctors, and more!  Or maybe my Superhero is waiting inside of the blogs that I will weave into a storyline of thoughtful anecdotes. Stay tuned.

Follow @SharonLewisNYC on Twitter or @AARNY

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Can Diversity Practices be Self Defeating?

Complicated gender balance programs in the corporate setting can result in frustration for all involved. Consider the following:

  • There are only two genders, so you can’t have a diversity of them; your organization is either balanced or imbalanced.
  • Make sure targets are gender neutral and focused on balance, not women, For example: strive for a minimum of 35% (or 50%) of either gender at all levels across all functions. 
  • The HBR annual Global Gender balance Scorecard shows that 63% of the women sitting on Executive Committees of the top 100 US companies are in support functions, not P&L roles. This isn’t balance; it’s just Mad Men, repainted.

Check out the HBR blog post at

The Future of NYC–MAS Summit 2012

What a treat to be viewing a classic Central Park landscape and listening to thought leaders discuss the challenges and the opportunities for making our city more livable. On October 18, I attended the MAS NYC Summit 2012 held at the Allen room-Jazz at Lincoln center ( With a view of the Christopher Columbus installation, it was fitting that one of the speakers asked: “Will the Christopher Columbus living room serve as a prototype for the smaller NYC apt models being considered for future development? (Unlikely -) The annual MAS Survey on Livability in New York City was overall very positive: • 84% of New Yorkers are satisfied or very satisfied with their life in NYC. • Employment is the #1 overall threat to being able to live happily in NYC (reported by 22% of participants) • NYers recognize the importance of infrastructure and transportation improvements and are willing to tolerate short term inconveniences for the longer term benefits. Identifying with their local neighborhoods, it is not surprising that meaningful community engagement builds exponentially on both the creative solutions to today’s challenges and the support needed during the implementation of same. As conversation continued around the breadth of opportunities and critical planning needed to deliver smart and sustainable urban planning — the point was made that the current boondoggles affiliated with zoning, landmarks and ULURP — must be simplified. Today’s industries are filled with examples of industries that have streamlined their activities and approval processes using the efficiency and intelligence offered by today’s digital economy. While this conversation took place in the morning, I laughed when the afternoon conversation surrounding plans for East Midtown was emphasized as a long term plan necessitating some 20-30 years to complete! Hmmmm Innocuous comments that make for great cocktail party conversation included: • The projection of bridge tolls reaching the $25 mark in 2020. • In the quest for the creation of middle class jobs- what constitutes a good job? What jobs are more likely to create wealth for the individual and for the economy? Economic data highlighting the job growth in low skilled industries since September 2009 emphasized this point further. What can we learn from the positive evolution of the manufacturing job status in previous years which generated very positive economic activity? How can we maximize the melting pot of local area residents, technological advancements and changing consumer attitudes and behaviors for ourselves and for our children? • NYC has more students than the general Boston population. • Within 15 years, 20% of NYers will be 60-plus years of age, representing a bigger segment of the population than school aged children at that time. No discussion would be complete without addressing the role of the arts. Rich stories demonstrating how best to re-purpose space that is not maximized exemplifies the magic in smart alliances. Reasons for this vacant space range from the building use and design to the economic factors which present under-utilized real estate today. The best examples of the alliance with the arts community brought real time revenue for the artists and the landlords; other examples ensured local manufacturing opportunities. My day ended with one of the most exciting presentations: Grand Central Terminal-The Next 100 • With the facility soon to celebrate its’ 100th birthday and plans to rezone the district around the terminal offering a rare opportunity to change the City’s skyline, three prestigious architectural firms presented their vision for both GSC and the surrounding area. • All spoke to the need for an improved pedestrian experience; taking their visions both above ground and below ground. • The challenge in balancing private developer interests with urban interests, and consumer needs cannot be under-stated. • And, I learned a new phrase during this presentation: “making the urban fabric more permeable”. Here comes the Jetsons Age! Kudos to the MAS Summit team for a wonderful event—you mastered the content, the logistics and so much more. So much wonderful food for further thought and discussion! Join the discussion #SummitNYC