Visionaries share personal history tidbits

Two years ago, I completed a book, Bright Lights of the Second City: 50 Prominent Chicagoans on Living with Passion and Purpose. As a lifelong interviewer of accomplished individuals, writing the book was a professional pinnacle. It introduced me to the personal histories of 50 renowned Chicagoans, including Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell, jazz great Ramsey Lewis, and broadcast legend Bill Kurtis.

Soon after my book was published, I read a post on titled “5 Breakthroughs You Can Learn from These Visionaries.” The piece, packed with a couple of fascinating video clips, sprinkles nuggets of stellar advice delivered in neat, concise but totally believable little packages. They exemplify the kind of inspirational cheerleading messages that can help us breathe more easily — if we remember to follow them when, for example, we’re panicking about whether (1) our new project is as viable as we first thought, (2) our problem-solving approach is actually making said problem more manageable, or 3) our new take on a classic situation will appeal to anyone but us.

Take Philippe Petit, for example. He’s the high-wire artist who boldly scaled a wire between the World Trade Center twin towers in 1974 — a more innocent time when the terror of 9/11 was simply unimaginable. See the astonishing You Tube video here. Ever emphasizing his rarely matched pursuit of perfection, he proudly says, “people label me a madman of detail, and I don’t refute the title. I work towards perfection for thousands of hours ….”

On another front, paleontologist Neil Shubin, Ph.D., agrees with many individuals profiled in Bright Lights of the Second City that luck is, quite often, an underrated factor in achieving one’s desired outcome. (See Shubin here on “The Colbert Report.”) Bright Lights front cover lo-resHe is also quick to remind us that tenacity trumps many other characteristics. When talking about how he and his team found the snout of a Tiktaalik roseae (a 375-million-year old fossil). Shubin emphasizes, “we could have given up — it had been six years! But we didn’t.”

Read the post to meet celebrity stylist June Ambrose, cellist Zoe Keating, and Jad Abumrad, cohost of WNYC’s Radiolab. They each contribute insights that can stimulate us to live our lives more creatively .

Scouting for Memories

As a small-town girl of seven years old in suburban Philadelphia, my favorite day of the week was Tuesday. On that day, I eagerly dressed up in my Brownie ensemble, consisting of a freshly ironed, cocoa-colored, short sleeve shirtwaist dress, a brown cardigan sweater, and knee socks — all topped off with a beanie.

My mom, Jean Storm, "modeling" for one of my Dad's freelance writing assignments.

My mom, Jean Storm, “modeling” for one of my Dad’s freelance writing assignments.

Best of all, my mom was my Brownie leader. A few years after we started Brownies together, I graduated and became a full-fledged member of the Girl Scouts of America. Not a particularly warm and maternal type, my mother nonetheless believed she had a duty to serve as a community leader, which included sheparding a group of 20 girls through the scouting process. Because of her natural organizational and people skills, Mom was an ideal scout leader.

Her fun-loving streak led her to devise a variety of field trips and encourage us in the earning of badges that, to my mind, represented the golden nectar of scouting. (For those unfamiliar with Girl Scouting, badges are small colorful fabric patches that are awarded after a scout masters a set of activities related to a specific skill, such as financial literacy or sewing. Badges are then affixed to a sash, which scouts usually display with a great deal of pride.)

Looking back, I consider my scout troop to be my first community outside of the nuclear family. We worked in teams, depended on each other, planned excursions together and sold cookies — quite competitively, as I recall — to earn money for our activities. A sense of teamwork and partnership emerged, and in today’s parlance, our self-esteem blossomed as a result of this camaraderie.

Like many girls, however, I dropped scouting in junior high school. It was “uncool,” or so I thought. Most significantly, however, scouting still evokes in me vivid and fond memories of precious hours shared with my mom. She set an example for me that I never forgot, one that I eventually emulated. Nearly 30 years after I donned my first uniform, I organized a Brownie troop for my daughter, Katie, when she started first grade in a suburb north of Chicago. I was a troop leader for three years. We even won an award for being one of the top cookie sellers in our district one year —a thrill for the girls (okay, I admit it, for me too).

Clearly, scouting created a lasting impression on me. I learned many of life’s essential skills in those weekly meetings — how to make new friends, work cooperatively, complete projects and meet goals (again, those colorful badges were a powerful incentive). As life progressed, I continued to appreciate the strong foundation that scouting prepared for me, with my mom at the head of the trail.

Childhood Memories

Many of us have fond and funny childhood memories of our family cars. Here’s mine. (Please feel free to share your own as a comment on this post.) I’d love to hear it.

Excitement Up, Top Down

I grew up in a family with a split personality. My parents led double lives — 50 percent of their drive time was logged in a station wagon, but on the weekends, they (and my sister and I) hit the open road in a series of great-looking convertibles, including a fire engine red Mustang, an ice-blue Camaro, and a buttery-yellow Buick LaSabre.

blue convertible
Driving in a ragtop is one of life’s simple but divine pleasures. Even before the top goes all the way down, a surge of excitement punctuates the air.

My parents were sporty types. Dad was a newspaper reporter and mom was a snazzy, jazzy homemaker. Saturday nights were devoted to adult socializing, but on Sundays, mom and dad were fond of mobile excursions — like loading my sister, Leslie, me and our hound dog, Gretchen, into the back seat for a two and half-hour drive along country roads to a restaurant in rural Connecticut for dinner. (Growing up in the ‘50s in suburban Philadelphia, there wasn’t all that much traffic on the road. Words like “gridlock” were, happily, still a few decades away.)

My most recent convertible, christened “Jazzy,” is synonymous with some of the most enjoyable family time I recall from childhood.

Growing up in the back of a convertible makes you a little bit tougher than the average 12-year-old. A gentle, soft-spoken man, my dad brooked few complaints about the, shall we say, degree of “breeziness” in the back seat. To maintain some semblance of a hairstyle, my mom, sister and I donned scarves or hats; for warmth, we stowed our coziest sweaters in the trunk. The radio played Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett, and our dog traveled to hog heaven (make that “canine” heaven) as her long caramel-colored ears whooshed in the wind.

These memories created lasting impressions. As I write this, I can sneak a peek out my home office window at the cranberry-hued Mitsubishi Spyder Eclipse in our driveway. And even though he’s long gone from this earth, I can visualize my father at the wheel… headed down a rural byway, Connecticut bound.