As I take time to ruminate on the year that was 2005 I’ve come to discover many things. On a personal level, there were way too many close calls and brushes with the grim reaper for comfort. I think not only about what I’ve put myself through but all those who might love and care about me in one way or another and what they’ve had to go through.

But then again, there were an awful lot of moments to be proud of. My kid remains a constant source of wonder and inspiration. Right now, she seems to be the fuel that feeds my fire. There was a gathering of old friends and a chance to make new ones.

I guess, at times, life is a pretty funny thing. You do some things that you can be awfully proud of as you meander through it. But then again, there are those times when you can’t believe some of the things you’ve pulled and what the hell was going through your mind when you did.

I wonder what makes those times, the times you did so good, so different from the times you’ve behaved in a way you’d rather not. It’s probably something very simple but when you break it down, most things are.

Whoever coined the phrase “the circle of life” was really on the ball.

A Quick Life

Yes, I’ve romped among the innocent
Because they weren’t hard to find
They were young and unsuspecting
They were willing and were kind

Yes, I've danced among the joyful
With a smile upon my face
When the sound of music filled the air
And where lovers would embrace

Yes, I’ve played among the playful
Our arms raised in victory
We were comrades then and remain comrades now
For all the world to see

But then, I’ve crawled among the guilty
And I’ve crouched and stooped so low
And I’ve told them things they needed to hear
And there are things they’ll never know

And then I’ve fallen over victims
And yes, I’ve made some of my own
In another time and another place
I see the winds of change have blown

Yes, I’ve struggled with my conscience
It’s that ever nagging thought
That pounds away inside my head
One day I’ll rue what I have wrought.

Yes, I’ll take them to my grave
All these things that I have done
The good, the bad, the ugly
The sorrow and the fun

Here’s hoping that 2006 smiles on us all.

I woke this morning from a dream. Sweat from the desert heat ran cold upon my face as the red sun vanished in the opening of an eye and was replaced by a cool blue morning in New York. The leaves of the prayer plant on the nightstand had not yet unfolded; barely six yet. Quiet and still enough outside to pass for dawn someplace else. A half-hour to go before the first of the delivery trucks took away the need for an alarm clock. Nineteen hours left until the garbage trucks came to tell me it was time to go to bed. The prayer plant will have been hard at work for an hour by then.

I woke up from a windowsill. Toes over the edge in the daylight a thousand stories up. Rarefied air and fog below: standing in the open eye of a decapitated head floating above a hidden body. I the pupil, taking in everything and shrinking, contracting, trying to keep out the sun as it threatened to evaporate the haze. Too much light and you'll be blinded; you'll see spots, your brain will burn. You have to turn away. The haze blew away on a breeze that filled the room and pushed me forward. I caught the sun full in the face and couldn't see the ground as I fell. I was on the top floor of the Tower of Babel, and its foundations were unknown to me.

A tin of pineapple. My favorite scene from Three Men on a Boat. Three men trying in turns to open a tin of pineapple. They can't do it. Pineapple was rare in turn-of-the-century England. In the 17th century it was a luxury. You could rent them for fancy parties. They featured as the ultimate exotic fruit in the philosophy of John Locke, and showed up as carvings in bedposts and tablelamps. Signs of wealth, signs of trade, signs of conquest. The trucks would deliver crates full of them to the grocery store around the corner in just under half an hour. Whole pineapples. As many as I could carry.

I don't look at the labels on my pineapples. I don't know if they come from Hawaii or the Phillipines or Brazil or Paraguay. I know Columbus brought them back to Spain five hundred years ago. I know the trucks don't come from Spain. The trucks are made in Japan, in Korea, in Germany, in the U.S. The drivers are made pretty much everywhere. I know, more or less, where the gasoline comes from.

Pineapples are going to be a luxury again.

On the last day of the last year I bought a bottle of champagne. Not real champagne. Sparkling white wine. I wanted sparkling white wine, I told the shopkeeper, because I am a graduate student and I can't afford to spend fifty dollars on a bottle of champagne. There was a long line; I was trying to make light of the situation. My sparkling white wine came from Italy. He asked me what I was studying.

"English literature."

He laughed. Not a giggle. He held his sides and laughed. Shook his head, pointed in the direction of the jugged wine, cheap wine sold by the gallon, and said, "for the rest of your life."

On the way out I bought a bottle of vodka. From Russia.

I laughed too. That's what you do. You can't have a ten or twenty minute long conversation with every person you meet who thinks what you do isn't important. You don't polemicize. You don't even contradict. You put on your comedy mask and broadly appeal to God for the reason you're doing it. Everyone has a titter, and the ones that have business about which to go go about it and the rest climb back up into their ivory towers. The shopkeeper thought he was living on the ground floor. In the dream I had he was my downstairs neighbor.

Six-thirty a.m. There's the beeping that stands in for the clock. Something going in reverse. Backing itself into a corner. Time to wake up. Formally.

I reach for the remote and turn on one of the two TVs I own, which is hooked up to one of three devices that play DVDs, CDs, or video games. I don't buy CDs anymore, naturally. I have an iPod. The second of two. This one is engraved. 135 killed in Iraq this morning, and all twelve of those guys in the coal mine in West Virginia.

Or did you think this was about something else.

The windows of my bedroom face east. I live on the second floor. Nothing goes by my window but light and time, and with the curtains drawn I get no sense of either unless I pay attention. Classes start again in about two weeks; but I'm not exactly sure what day it is today. Two years ago, I was studying Romantic poetry, and the modern British novel. Byron and Shelley, Conrad, Woolf, and Forster. The end of Enlightenment and the end of Empire, respectively. Failure of something, success of something else. Did the Age of Reason really end with the French Revolution, the Terror, and the Napoleonic Wars? Did the monarchs and tsars of the first world war really call each other family? A month ago I handed in a paper on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and the unlikely optimism of a consortium of brilliant minds that believed, for a short while, that with enough time and effort men could devise a complete System of the World -- a perfect understanding of how everything related to, interacted, and communicated with everything else.

Tell me again where my pineapples come from?

I missed both world wars. I missed Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam. I was barely ten years old when the Berlin Wall came down. Too young for Gulf War I; too old for Gulf War II. I have been able to do what it is I do, without interruption, and without substantial change. The grocery store has always been just around the corner. If there's something I can no longer get, I haven't noticed its absence, or never knew I wanted it because no one told me that I should. Still I have a bitter taste in my mouth. Still I'm sitting in a chair in front of the television with spots in my eyes and a mind on fire, because I can see the future in the past. I've read how this part ends, and I'm not sure which character I'm going to be in the new kind of book that gets written. Of what will history make mine the Age? Will my lifetime be recorded as one of humanity's unfortunate missteps in some as of yet unwritten Decline and Fall? The benefit of knowledge never seems to come without some tremendous sacrifice, and just as often it only comes too late.

I want to tell the shopkeeper that he'll understand why I do what I do when someone tells him that the bottle of real champagne in his hands is the last one he'll ever get, but he wouldn't, and it's not true anyway. It won't matter.

Sooner or later the people who say the time for our way of life is running out will be right, and by seven a.m. on a quiet blue morning in New York I already feel the hour is late. I dreamt of a home I lived in on top of a tower built in a desert I couldn't see. I am still dreaming, and there's fresh pineapple in the fridge.

How to Become a Real Person and Become Successful at it.

Yes. I know. I'm not there yet.

Though, I have been reading and applying much of the principles being taught.

John C. Maxwell said it best. A person of influence is usually a person that also has this thing called character. There is a dichotomy between credentials and character.

The one greatest fallacy I have found, a mistake or misconception that most people make is that they assume having many degrees or credentials such as those that are given to you when you've finished a 3 to 5 year course in a college or university will get you ahead in life. While obtaining such credentials will give you a better chance at a better job, it does NOT provide certain security (there are no secure jobs, only secure people), nor does it excercise your personal development as a leader or someone of influence.

A person of character will get farther ahead because of the people that he/she attracts to develop a certain group or community where everyone works together as a unit to achieve greater things than a single individual could ever achieve. That's one of the reasons why successful businesses requires business teams. Robert Kyosaki says, "If you're the smartest person on the team, then you have a great problem." The best thing to do is to have a team with different talents so that they work synergistically filling in all those gaps of what is needed to become successful. Imagine a team that excercises all their strength and not their weaknesses.

Let me give you an example.

Let's say I wanted to be a CEO of a company that is in large debt and my objective is to turn it around and make it profitable in two years or less. Now, this situation sounds no different than when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain in the World War II just as Hitler was taking over most of Europe.

While experience is necessary to turn around a nation or a company, ask then what kind of experience is required? Would credentials and getting degrees be enough? From what I have gathered in my reading and application to life is that those who have endured life challenges, people who have been ridiculed but have persisted in going on, maintaining their course no matter what, people such as this have character.

"Long before the mood is over, you do it anyway."

So why does this frighten certain people? Indeed, it's acutally more powerful than credentials. Credentials do not tell you who a person is and what they are made of. Character tells you everything about who they are and how they behave. For example, ask if a person has integrity. Do they do what they say and say what they mean?

If I became the CEO, what is the first thing I ought to do to start the process of changing the company? Give myself a 7-figure salary? Have I earned it yet? Obviously not. But if I were to invest a 7-figure dollar amount into developing the business and adding resources to it to get it to where it needs to be, wouldn't that be more productive?

The challenge most people would have in this situation is the fact that they would have immediate access to all these resources and all this power and authority - but they do not know how to use it properly and with a humbled, serving spirit.

To become successful as a person, at your life, you need to first influence those around you. Influence, not manipulate. (Read Dale Carnegie's "How to Make Friends and Influence People", as well as any John C. Maxwell book.) And then putting into action what is need to accomplish certain objectives with a group of people with all the necessary talent. If you just think about it, operate without your credentails, it will seem pretty simple. Not easy, but simple, if you ask the right questions all the time and find the answers with your circle of influence.

To become successful, build your character, not your credentials.

I must say, this type of information has been within me for a long time. And as I see myself writing all this out, that is indeed than plan I need to execute. All I need to do is find team members who want a better life for themselves, but those who are willing to do something about it.

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