Remembering Mattie Stepanek


Ten years ago this week, America lost a young hero, Mattie Stepanek. His name may not be widely recognized, yet, his poetry and his passion for life touched the hearts of young and old alike. Mattie Stepanek achieved more in his short life – just 13 years – than most do in a lifetime.

I first discovered the poetry of Mattie Stepanek while standing in a bookstore in 2001. A table near the front door was filled with dozens of copies of a featured book entitled Heartsongs. It was the cover’s whimsical design and vibrant colors that captured my attention. I opened to the first page of the book. Greeting me was a photograph of the author, Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek, along with his biography. I began reading his heartwarming story. In this book of poetry, I selected and read several poems. As I read his story, I learned that Mattie was born with a rare disease, Dysautonomic Mytichondrial Myopathy, which interrupts the body’s automatic functions, like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and digestion. It also causes muscle weakness.

Mattie began writing poetry at the age of three. From an early age, he accepted his disease, even though he required a ventilator, regular blood transfusions, medicine, therapy, leg braces and eventually a specially designed power wheelchair. As a prolific author of several New York Times best sellers, he appeared on all of the major television networks (yes, he appeared on Oprah), cable and radio stations and was featured in most major print publications.

His message was simple: Love life and love one another. Despite a life-threatening disease, he joyously embraced life and treasured each day. The disease claimed the lives of Mattie’s three older siblings and then in 2004, it claimed his life. He wrote seven books and created several audio recordings. He regarded himself as a peacemaker because he truly cared about the global community.

I keep his poetry books on my bedroom nightstand, ready to be picked up and read any time I need to listen to Mattie’s words of hope, love and joy. To learn more about Mattie’s legacy and the continuing work of his mother, Jeni Stepanek, Ph.D., and the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, visit Be sure to sign the petition by July 17, 2014 to officially create a Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peace Day.

“Peace is possible…it can begin simply over a game of chess and a cup of tea.” Mattie J.T. Stepanek


Starbucks’ Sweet Smell of Success

cap-and-gownWith the announcement this week that Starbucks is partnering with Arizona State University (ASU) Online to offer Starbucks workers college tuition reimbursement, it positions both Starbucks and its workers in a favorable light. The coffee giant’s College Achievement Plan provides a win/win for both employer and workers.

How it positions Starbucks: This new plan complements the Starbucks mission: To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” It positions Starbucks as an industry leader, encouraging its workers who work 20 hours or more a week (either part time or full time) to complete their college education through convenient, online courses. It also demonstrates that Starbucks is paying it forward, investing in the future of its workers. And of course it solidifies the iconic Starbucks brand by building a stronger workforce since workers will remain at Starbucks over the long haul.

How it positions Starbucks partners (they are not called employees): It encourages partners to enroll in college and apply what they learn directly to their work. The more partners learn outside the realm of their daily jobs, the more well-rounded they become. As they continue through college, they may work their way up in the organization. When they apply the “pay it forward” philosophy to their own lives, they become more philanthropic and involved in their communities.

Some are criticizing this plan, claiming it creates another corporate monopoly. Within the College Achievement Plan, when partners complete their freshman and sophomore online courses through ASU, they will be given a discount. Completion of their junior and senior year coursework is fully paid by Starbucks. How refreshing for a corporate employer to offer tuition assistance to its workers. Wouldn’t it be nice if more employers invested in their employees’ futures?

What investments are you making in others and in yourself? How are you paying forward?

In Angelou There Was an Angel

MayaAngelouThe world is still mourning the loss of the humanitarian and inspirational leader Maya Angelou. Some might say she had too much talent for one person, for one lifetime, yet she wore each with uncompromising grace and dignity: social activist, author, poet, actress, dancer and advocate, an eloquent elocutionist, whose words mesmerized and delighted. While her commanding presence filled any space with resonant sound, she remained humble and one of us. She invited us to sit at the table and enjoy open dialogue and debate.

Maya Angelou’s inimitable, expressive voice accompanied me on a long business trip to Indiana a number of years ago. I felt like I had a friend along for the ride as I listened to Hallelujah! The Welcome Table. Through my own laughter and tears, she made the trip go by quickly. Her lived experience taught many lessons. While this international treasure is gone, her words and her voice will live on forever, inspiring and motivating people to live their lives to the fullest, to stand up for what they believe in and let their voices be heard.

As a tribute to one of the most influential role models in my life and in the lives of millions of others, I offer this simple tribute to the great Maya Angelou:

MotherSisterFriend to all whose lives she touched, across the miles and around the globe, she reminded us of the importance of compassion, joy and hope.

Angel on earth – it’s in her name – she embodied a heavenly spirit with words offering a protected, safe haven from life’s struggles.

Youthful enthusiasm for life, no matter what age she was, she looked to each day as a gift.

Abundant Acceptance of all people, regardless of age, nationality, gender, race, social status, income level, education or orientation.

Advocate for society’s nameless, faceless and voiceless; she recognized their plight and encouraged their voices to be heard.

Nurturing spirit, she guided us through the peaks and valleys of our lives and offered us an oasis of food for thought.

Grace, amazing, was her true essence, through which her every experience, revelation and celebration was revealed.

Eloquent words – volumes – embraced us and drew us into her comforting bosom for quiet reflection, a respite from busy or troubled lives.

Love and Light emanated from her soul, making people feel like they were worthy of loving themselves and also of being loved and valued.

Optimist for possibilities and potential, she rose above life’s burdens to reveal the strength and tenacity of the human spirit.

United Nations embodied in one person, Maya Angelou represented the collective conscience of our global society.

May her light continue to shine in each and every one of us.

Gen X and Y: Dress Like a Pro

IScreen shot 2014-06-04 at 7.52.48 AMn 1978, John T. Malloy wrote the classic book, Dress for Success. The primary message from the book was this: Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have. For the younger generations X and Y, think of where you want to take your career, and dress the part.

It was a warm summer day. I entered the corporate headquarters of a highly successful IT company, checked in with the receptionist and waited for the staff person to escort me to the meeting room. Before she arrived, I heard a sound all to common in more casual work environments today: Squeak. Click. Squeak. Click. Squeak. Click. She was wearing – you guessed it – flip flops. She was an attractive young woman, recently graduated from college, with all the potential for dressing professionally.

flip-flopAs I scanned the rest of her attire, I quickly realized she was dressed more for the beach than for the work environment. Her skirt rose about 8 inches above her knees. Her tight top revealed way too much cleavage for 7:30 in the morning. I found myself wondering: How far will this young woman get in her career? Does she not see how other people may perceive her? If she’s not dressing professionally now, will people advance and promote her?

I fully understand that some work environments welcome casual attire. For some, beachwear is completely okay and even encouraged. My first impression of this company, though, fell down a few notches that day. When meeting and greeting people from outside the company, you still want to make a positive first impression. With this young woman, she was impressing me in a certain way, and it wasn’t good. I thought to myself, If I owned this company, I would never allow my employees to greet vendors or clients this way.

There is a very thin line between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable professional attire in the workplace today. I err on the side of conservative. I remind young women that a close-fitting skirt (which most are these days) will creep up an average of three more inches when you sit down. You don’t need to be a math whiz to know where that skirt is going to end up! For young men, I encourage them to either own an iron and learn to iron their clothes or take them to the cleaners each week. Nothing destroys a positive first impression more than a wrinkled shirt and pants on a young man. If you think that the steam from your body as you exit the shower will magically press out the wrinkles in your shirt as you put it onto your body, you’re wrong. Only an iron will do it. So buy one!

With Baby Boomers retiring in great numbers in the years to come, a rather large window is opening up for Generations X and Y to move up the ladder of professional success at a much more rapid rate than we Boomers did. For Gen X: Dress the part and serve as a positive role model for the generation behind you. For Gen Y: Think about where you want to go in your career. Then take a look at your wardrobe. If you’re still dressing like you’re in college, it’s time to upgrade. There is nothing more attractive than young people who take their jobs seriously and dress the part for the career positions they want.

Question: How does your wardrobe position you in your career? Are you dressing like the future leader you want to be?