“Beware the Ides of March!”

This was a soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar before his assassination by members of the Roman Senate on March 15, 44 B.C. Although the term “Ides” merely refers to the date of the event – not what happened – it is a reminder of the dark side of humanity and a significant date in history.

Ironically, two days later on March 17, people joyfully celebrate the death of St. Patrick – the Patron Saint of Ireland. A few days after that, on the 20th, the world welcomes the birth of spring with the vernal equinox. And, for college basketball fans, this is the month of March Madness!

Come on, feel the noise!

The juxtaposition of these different events suggests a balance of positive and negative energy. Intriguingly, the month of March seems to encapsulate the cycle of life: birth, life, and death. Notably, the first domain name, symbolics.com, was born (registered) on March 15 in 1985 — and given my involvement with the Internet, this is especially interesting.

On a more directly personal level, March has always held a unique place in my life; consider the following:

One of my most meaningful March memories was that day in March when I finished my last college final. After finishing the test, I gathered in the hall with a classmate for whom the exam was also her last. We improvised a celebration with a small bottle of champagne she mysteriously had with her and an over-sized brownie I had purchased before the final. We talked, laughed, and wondered what opportunities and obstacles our futures held.

Looking back on that moment within the context of the themes discussed in this post, I realize that while you can’t always expect to succeed in life, if you work diligently towards a clearly defined goal, you are more likely to make progress.

Of course, the great paradox of life is that, the achievements for which we are entitled to claim responsibility are rarely those to which we had originally committed ourselves. Nevertheless, you need to remain open to whatever opportunities the universe avails you of. Without question, you never know where something could lead. So take a leap of faith on occasion and reach for the stars.

Isn’t it better to have tried and failed – knowing you made an attempt – than to regret never having tried and not knowing what might have happened?

“I have to work on my birthday?”

For most people, the idea of working on their birthday is anathema. For me, it was an advantage. More specifically, the “presence” of my students during part of my recent birthday was a priceless “present.” Teaching is my passion, but I would not be a teacher without students. I am therefore thankful for my students, my priceless “birthday gifts” with whom I am privileged to learn.

Case in point: I celebrated my birthday yesterday, February 22, and was fortunate to end the day teaching a “Marketing Research and Strategic Applications” class for UCSB Extension (where I have taught marketing classes since January 2008).

February 22, 2012: Celebrating My Birthday at UC Santa BarbaraTo my surprise, and sincere gratitude, my students — many of whom I  taught previously in a “Buying Behavior” and/or “Principles of Marketing” class — had baked and brought a cake, brownies and other treats.

They also sang “Happy Birthday” which I recorded and threatened to upload to YouTube, but out of gratitude for their kindness, I spared them!

It has been a long time since I experienced such kindness from people I primarily know professionally. I was never this thrilled to have “worked” on my birthday (although I enjoy teaching so much, I hesitate to call it “work”).

I spent the earlier part of the day (and President’s Day two days earlier) with my family and volunteered with my younger son’s class the day after my birthday, and planned to do the same the day after that with my older son. Definitely an exceptional birthday week!

Nevertheless, birthdays offer me a moment of self assessment: a time when I look at where I’ve been and where I see myself going. I am hopeful for the future, despite some recent challenges. I am also thankful to feel fortunate about my career.

Unfortunately, as Henry David Thoreau once mused, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I interpret this to mean that most people live without ever realizing their dreams or getting a chance to “follow their bliss” (as Joseph Campbell would say).

For many years I was in that predicament. Pressured to support someone else’s dreams while my own were relegated to irrelevance, I knew my situation needed to change. Fortunately, I persevered and, when opportunities arose, I took control of my destiny and finally found my bliss.

This inspires me to surround my sons with unconditional love, impenetrable support, and rational guidance. I will do what it takes, regardless of the sacrifice, to help them achieve their dreams. I will help them see challenges as opportunities and problems as purpose.

Similarly, I discovered a September 19, 2011 convocation speech by John S.W. Park — Chair and Professor of Asian American Studies and affiliated Sociology faculty member at UCSB.

In his speech, Park encourages students “instead of just picking a major, pick a problem;” with the goal of solving that problem during their time at UCSB. Quite an inspirational approach to figuring out your life’s purpose!

Looking back to my years of “quiet desperation” I am grateful for the opportunities I had to pursue my professional dreams while growing personally.

So, will you celebrate having to work on your next birthday?