Tag Archives: Life

To the Class of 2016…Advice From a Parent

Archbishop Rummel Class of 2016

For both students and parents, High School graduation is a time of remembrance and of celebration – A backward glance at accomplishments, friendships, and a measure of innocence lost. A reflection of joy, love, and sometimes pain and sorrow, amidst the realization of a journey ahead that will leave friends and mentors behind.

$Rum057It is also a time of anticipation – of endless possibilities, of hope, and of uncertainty. The apprehension that comes when discarding the comfort of that which is familiar eventually succumbs to the promise of potential fulfilled and the discovery of new horizons.

To the Class of 2016, a few words of advice…

Follow that which provides fuel for your soul and provides a service to others. There will be a time in your life for compromises, but those moments can wait. Be relentless in pursuit of a life that yields no regrets. Your future depends upon it.

Your energy, enthusiasm, and optimism not yet diminished by life’s disappointments and the shortcomings of the human race, work diligently to resist the temptation to turn cynical and lose faith in the goodness of others. Our future depends upon it.

$RumSrProm029Think big and remember that greatness has been achieved time and time again by those who simply outwork those with more talent, intelligence, and skill. Failure is a given, but merely a speed bump on the road to success. Quitting is optional.

Yet in your pursuit of greatness, never forget that the measure of a life well lived is simply the sum of tens of thousands of small moments that might seem inconsequential in isolation, yet are monumental in aggregate. Every smile, gesture, compliment, word of advice or encouragement, and sacrifice for others has a ripple effect that becomes a wave.

In the end, the quality of your relationships will provide your most lasting satisfaction.

Know that you alo$RumGrad012ne are responsible for your happiness. Don’t live a life based on the expectations of others, even your parents. Forgive us for wanting to guide your steps. We’d like to keep you from disappointment, heartache, and harm, but we can’t. Life’s most meaningful lessons must be lived to be learned. Besides, we don’t have all of the answers. Life at any age is a work in progress.

When you take your final breath, you’ll have to answer to yourself and your creator. Simply live a life that leads to the conclusion at that moment merely one simple thought, “Well done.”
$RumSrProm009And know that you are not alone in your journey. Everyone who has achieved success owes a measure of gratitude to those who took an interest in their development along the way. We hope that we’ve lived up to your expectations and haven’t disappointed you with regard to our duty as role models. As you develop your own sense of identity you will travel your own path, but we will take pride in your footsteps.

To Michael and to the entire graduating Class of 2016 from your greatest cheerleaders, your parents – We wish you success and love, and all of the above.

Onward and upward.


Dr. Michael E. Guillot In Memoriam (1953-2015): 10 Lessons of a Teacher’s Life Well Lived

(Note:  An education fund has been established to ensure the future education of Dr. Guillot’s 10-yr-old son, Spencer. For more information and to make a contribution, please visit:  GoFundMe.com/SpencerGuillotFund)

Thirty five years ago I wrote a dozen or so essays for my high school English teacher during my Junior year. Tonight for my friend and mentor, I’ll write one more.

Dr. Michael Guillot was a man of extraordinary talents, and the loss to the education community of New Orleans with his passing is incalculable. Educator, guidance counselor, education administrator, certified fund-raising executive, organizational development expert, non-profit advisor, education reformer, visionary, husband, father, NCAA hoops enthusiast, and friend only begin to scratch the surface.

IMG_2676What made Mike so uniquely special was that he took on all of those roles with infectious enthusiasm. The difficulty in eulogizing someone like Mike Guillot is that a simple list of accomplishments, of which he had many, doesn’t begin to convey the sense of how the people in his presence were made to feel. When you spoke to him about an organization, an idea, or you as an individual, you always walked away feeling as though greatness was not only possible – it was probable – if we were willing to push the limits of our talents. He knew that we were better and capable of more than we believed. He saw potential.

I first came to know Mike in 1980 as a junior at Archbishop Rummel High School in New Orleans, LA when he taught English composition. He was a demanding teacher. His 8 golden rules of composition were to be followed precisely, and even one violation garnered an automatic failing grade. As I recall, half of those compositions were written at home, but half were completed in class under the pressure of time constraints. I must say honestly that many a student mumbled the name Guillot under their breath in frustration when grades were distributed.

But Mike’s passion for quality of the written word and his genial demeanor helped ease the bite of his demanding approach. Also, it’s funny how the passing of time brings with it a greater appreciation in life for those who expected and demanded our best – those who understood that there were no shortcuts on a journey to excellence – and trying to convince ourselves otherwise was a terrible disservice to our higher selves, and to our creator.

A year later when Mike served as my Senior year homeroom teacher, I recall an intramural volleyball game. While other teachers sat casually in the stands and observed, I remember Mike standing by the net, clapping his hands exuberantly, urging us on, trying to rally his homeroom boys to victory. We went ahead and won game 1, lost momentum and lost game 2 in a close one, and got clobbered in game 3. I remembered thinking, “He sure does seem excited about this. It’s just an intramural volleyball game.” But for Mike, there were no mundane events, and no moments in life that didn’t matter. He was always present and engaged when he was in your presence. He always helped you understand that in life there were no dress rehearsals. Every day was the real deal.

Mike Guillot wore many hats during his career. He served as teacher, guidance counselor, and administrator at several schools in the New Orleans area. He began to develop expertise in assisting educational institutions and nonprofits in setting up their fundraising programs. In 1989 he founded Virtual Development Group, taking on the practice of fundraising consulting as a full-time endeavor. Over that 16 year period, he assisted so many education and nonprofit organizations in refining their mission, structuring their fundraising programs, and in providing guidance on board selection and management. For a time after relocating to North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he worked for nonprofit organizations there, including a stint as V.P. of Patron Services for the North Carolina Symphony. He also developed and taught a series of Nonprofit Management Program courses for Duke University’s Nonprofit CertiWk. 12 - Art class posters (1)ficate Program. He would return to New Orleans education in 2010, while continuing his work toward a Ph.D from Antioch University, work that he completed in the fall of 2014. After a brief tenure at Holy Cross High School, he accepted the position as President of De La Salle High School in New Orleans in 2012, a position he held until his death.

Mike’s impact on De La Salle H.S. in three short years was impressive, where all of the skills that he had amassed during his career came together. With an eye for innovation and excellence, he began to build classrooms of the future centered around the 4 C’s of 21st century education:  Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking, serving as a model for education reform efforts. He was a rare visionary talent inWk. 12 - C pd (1) education – someone with not only the understanding of the necessary changes needed in the classroom as the antiquated “repository of information model” of education gives way to skills and project-based learning – but also one with the skills, understanding, and drive to secure the resources and buy-in to turn ideas into reality.

It was in 1981-82 during my senior year at Rummel when Mike served as my homeroom teacher that we found the common joy that would serve as the link connecting our friendship through the years. When Mike played the annual Rummel teachers’ March Madness NCAA basketball pool in 1982, he shared his predictions and the daily standings with his students. I showed him my bracket as well, though he made it clear that the “official contest” was open only to teachers and alumni. I would later learn that some of the current students had coerced their teachers into allowing them to enter, but Mike held firm in his adherence to the rules, and I never let him forget that he was the cause of all of my office pool futility for years to come. In what I would later refer to as my March Madness “Guillot curse,” I became the “unofficial” winner of the 1982 Rummel teachers’ March Madness competition. After Michael Jordan’s game-winning jumper that gave the NC Tar Heels the championship and a comparison of my bracket to the winner, Mike sheepishly proclaimed, “Wow, you would have won our pool.” I was doomed.

I joined the pool officially in 1983, my first year as an alum, but I had no chance. But each year in March, Mike and I would find one another, catch up on our careers, lives, and families, and join in whomever’s company or organization had an open competition. Some years we’d play my office pool, some years we’d play his, and some years when neither organization we were affiliated with held a March Madness competition, we’d just compete against each other for an oyster po-boy and a Barq’s root beer. One year it was me, his son Ted, and Mike – $5 bucks a head – winner take all.

But it really was just an excuse to reconnect.

I have been fortunate enough to have had a front row seat for Mike’s wonderful journey of excellence for more than 3 decades. As our friendship grew, I came to think of Mike as my compass. Whenever I came to a crossroads in life, I turned to him for guidance, encouragement, and support. Like any great guidance counselor, he didn’t give direct advice, only asked the right questions that made the choice of the appropriate path seem obvious. I have been successful in life by often choosing the more difficult path that would help challenge me and grow my skills, a “lifetime of continuous learning” model that Mike exemplified and that I tried to emulate. I will always view this brief social media exchange that Mike and I had during teacher appreciation week with great pride:

It would have been easy to lose touch after Hurricane Katrina rolled through New Orleans, but thankfully we serendipitously bumped into each other at a local bookstore shortly thereafter. We gave each other a hug, exchanged our stories, and updated contact info so that we could stay in touch.

Once when I had reached one of those crossroads in my professional career, I turned to Mike for counsel. I dropped out of corporate America for a time to pursue my passion for writing, public speaking, and consulting. And when I began to conduct research for a book espousing the life benefits of music education, I knew that I would want to get Mike’s perspective and thoughts and include them in the content for the book. You see, Mike was a great proponent of the arts in education, his own life shaped by his participation in choir as a youngster. Secondly, Mike was of a generation whose experiences were profoundly shaped by the music of their time, a “golden period” as Mike described it, where the arts provided a conduit for social change. I knew that Mike would express those thoughts in an articulate and clear manner.

When the book was completed, I sent him a note to thank him for his contribution. I confided that although I was proud of the work professionally and felt as though I was making a difference, I wasn’t sure if I could make a living. His response:

“As for making a living…I’m pretty sure that’s not the point, right? Our job is to make a life, or as you say, make a difference. The money will take care of itself. You are putting yourself out there and establishing clearly your unique contribution to the world. It is working and it will continue to work…and counting dollars is not – repeat – is not a measure of success. 

Talk to you soon,


It was comforting to hear Mike’s words and they gave me a sense of great clarity. I knew my mission at that point. Mike made it clear that when you had a calling to make a unique contribution to the world and challenge yourself, you should trust your intuition and not let fear rule the day. And things did work out. I would return to the corporate world a much more polished, skillful, and valuable employee years later, and I owe a great deal of that success to the lessons learned from my association with Mike.

As Mike migrated back to education and began to implement his own vision for education reform, I took great pride in his accomplishments. We shared a belief that sweeping changes were needed in 21st century education. I would later invite Mike to join a panel of New Orleans professionals whose success was influenced by music education that included Sheriff Newell Normand and U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Again, Mike so eloquently shared his thoughts and experiences, as well as his vision for 21st century education:

I was privileged to serve on a peer review group near the end of his Ph.D. work, just prior to his dissertation defense. I know that even when there were professional sacrifices in the pursuit of his degree, he persevered because he believed in the work and the need for a practical model for non-profit leadership.

I once spoke to Mike about his career as a non-profit and organizational development consultant. He said, “Craig, essentially I still consider myself a teacher.”

That was his life, inside or outside of the classroom.

When we experience a death that seems so untimely, we point to our understanding of God and the fact that we don’t always understand our higher power’s plan. I would like to believe that the impact of the life well lived by a great teacher can be measured by the students who were impacted. So what lessons do we take away from Mike’s exemplary example of life? Here are a few:

1.  Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking – become the model of education that Mike envisioned – live those concepts and integrate them into your work every day. It would be a shame if the reforms that are so necessary in 21st century education that Mike had envisioned and begun to implement at De La Salle High School in New Orleans lost momentum with Mike’s death. I just saw anrainbow_081110 article in TIME magazine recently citing a survey of CEOs and once again it’s these so-called soft skills that students lack coming to the workplace. In my own experience I can say that I echo his sentiments, and we shared our like-minded thoughts on the subject often. I would implore not just the administration and teachers of De La Salle High School, but all of the educators in this city to explore 21st century skills and education reform models and to make meaningful changes to both the environment and curriculum to better prepare our young men and women for the future.

2.  Read Mike’s dissertation and share with your colleagues in the non-profit world. It’s available for download at Antioch University’s website, and Mike was uniquely qualified to complete this work. The One Less Traveled By:  A New Model for the Nonprofit Leadership outlines 10 building blocks for Nonprofit leadership, but there are life lessons for us all in this work, with Mike’s distinct voice evident throughout. He gave his heart and soul, his time, and he sacrificed in many ways to see this work through to the finish. When I think of how unfortunate it is that we lost Mike only months after he achieved this esteemed honor of education, I take solace in the fact that he DID complete the work prior to his death and that we can share his research.

Mike was intent on conducting practical research. Whether you’re involved in nonprofit leadership or not, read this work. The document is filled with great lessons of society, community, purpose, and life.

3.  Emulate Mike’s model of a commitment to a lifetime of continuous learning. If we can all become ambassadors of learning, pursuing a cycle of an insatiable thirst for education followed by a burning desire to share our knowledge and experience for the good of others, we’ll honor his memory appropriately.

school girl 3 x 4Mike’s approach to social media was an indicator of his thirst for knowledge. I had a conversation once with a mutual colleague regarding how frequently we enjoyed the material that Mike posted on his social media feeds. Thoughtful essays, music and art reflections, productivity tips, education ideas, leadership doctrines, and business case studies were commonplace if you connected with Dr. Guillot (@meguillot on Twitter). Social media like most anything, can be good or bad – a great resource of enlightenment or a breeding ground for negativity, criticism, and even hatred.

For someone with such an insatiable appetite for learning as Mike Guillot, social media and the web were simply tools for more efficiently accumulating and organizing knowledge based on your interests and professional needs (He once informed me of the newsfeed tool Zite with the enthusiasm of a child with a new Christmas toy).

Make social media an extension of the values, goals, aspirations, interests, and beliefs you hold dear in your offline existence.

4.  Live every moment with enthusiasm for the task at hand and for the people who share those experiences with you. Mike contacted me once to let me know that one of the children of the members of the folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary had contacted him to discuss his sentiments regarding Music and Social Change that she’d seen in excerpts from my book. He wanted me to know that sometimes our actions can have very unexpected ripple effects in ways that we could never have envisioned, and provide affirmation for the validity of the work I’d completed.

Such is the nature of every interaction of every day. The manner in which we inspire and support each other’s efforts, ideas, and passions can have a multiplier effect on those whom they impact, and so it goes. Don’t ever lose sight of effect you can have, both positively and negatively, on those around you.

5.  Make a commitment to the arts – in education and in life. 

Mike Guillot was a believer in the importance of the arts, both for the critical role that they will play in 21st century learning and preparing our students for the creative economy for the future, but also for the role that they play in the quality of life. He shared his thoughts on both.

(I’ve included excerpts of Mike’s interview in the text below. Here’s the audio interview in its entirety:)

“I would sit in front of the stereo listening to Beatles songs, trying to figure out what they were playing. I still listen to their music and think they are as powerful an influence on art in general as anything that’s happened in the last 50 or 60 years,” he said.

Beatles Abbey RdBeing a part of that generation also opened his eyes to the power of music in terms of its potential for providing a conduit for social change.

“Art reflects life,” said Michael. “It was expressing that era of heightened change, of personal discontent, of grappling with core issues, of looking around you and not making a connection between what you saw and what you felt. Some of that had to do with justice issues, of race. Some of it had to do with equity issues – how come so and so has this and other people don’t? We claim to be the land of opportunity. Part of what we were striving for to identify in those days was how equitable was that opportunity.

“And of course, we were pressed on by a war,” he added.

“That war for me and many other Americans was not just an abstract exercise. We knew people who had lost their lives in that war and their families who had been affected. And of course I was at the age where I was eligible for the draft, so it was not an academic exercise. So to find any art form, but particularly one as accessible and as present as popular music to begin to tussle with those issues [was important]. 

“At the same time you had the Beatles; Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and Pete Seeger. You had the emergence of folk music becoming protest music, and popular music sort of echoing those themes. So Rock and Roll goes from just a mere expression of youthfulness to an expression of serious political and sociological issues,” he observed. “It was a profound time. Many researchers call these periods golden periods, where a convergence of things happens.

“You look at Athens, you look at Rome, you look at the Renaissance, periods where art and civic and commerce and all these things come together. The 60s and all that it meant represented that time in the world. The first time the world had to stop and look at itself since WWII, and not necessarily liking what it found. You had a lot of art trying to tussle with that.”

6.  Commit to excellence in all that you do. Don’t settle for less than your best.

Mike took an important lesson from his own experience in music that would shape his life and career. When I asked Michael to articulate the takeaways of his experience with and observations of music that he now applies to business, his thoughts first returned to the vocal ensemble and of the lessons of his influential vocal instructor, Mr. Malcolm Breda.

Seagull and sun1“In high school I got involved in a superior vocal ensemble,” he recalled. “We had a wonderful director who taught me how to read music, Malcolm Breda. He saw what we were doing, even though we were a small high school, as being at the highest level. He wanted us to see this as a pursuit of excellence.

“We rehearsed all day long, and it really became an important organization in my small school. He taught us how to read music and how to understand what the intent of the composer was. He introduced us not only to the fun music to sing, but also some challenging pieces. I really enjoyed the four years that I spent there. He saw that excellence and joy could be part of the same pursuit,” he said. “That you could work hard, demand the best of yourself and the others you were with, and that would not diminish, it only enhanced your joy.

“That was an important lesson for me to learn. And I think it is [an important lesson] for young people where they tend to associate hard work with pain. I was taught that hard work meant that you could stand in front of a group of people and perform, and they would love you.”

Having the opportunity to observe world-class musicians up close has given him a greater understanding of and appreciation for their dedication to the little details that are considerable in aggregate.

“When you look at professional musicians or artists at any level, what you rarely see is the amount of time and energy it takes to get to that level of virtuosity. As a business person you begin to appreciate that. How many scales does Leo Kottke have to perfect to get to that level of excellence on the guitar? It’s unthinkable.

“Yet that’s indeed the journey in front of you. Every day you have to be willing to do a whole compendium of little things that all add up to greatness.”

7.  Believe in the goodness of mankind. Every conversation that I can recall with Mike seemed to have a tone that would best be described as hopeful. When we spoke of the workplace of the future, he spoke of the humanity of the workplace and the idea that the workforce of the future would be driven not by technology, but by people. When we discussed education reform, he didn’t speak in cynical tones regarding the resistance to change that he might encounter, but rather about the excitement that could be created by the innovations that he envisioned.

It’s much easier to go through life with a positive attitude when you’re an optimist rather than a pessimist. And you’re more likely to inspire those around you.

8.  Enjoy life’s simple pleasures. I once wrote in this forum that if you can’t find joy in the simple thinStL-Cath-8x10gs in life, the joy you find in fancy, expensive things won’t last. Mike’s life exemplified those sentiments. His sharp, sarcastic yet playful wit, his love of college basketball and sports in general, his joy in strumming the guitar or singing a favorite song, and the beauty of stroll through the streets of New Orleans were some of Mike’s favorite things that I knew from our friendship. His family and friends echoed those themes in my conversations with them and in their written thoughts as well.

9.  Courage is a virtue. In the best-selling book Good to Great, author Jim Collins discusses a principle that great companies exhibit known as the Stockdale paradox. The concept was derived from his conversations with Admiral James Stockdale, a prisoner of war of the POW camp known as the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War.

Quoting Admiral Stockdale, Collins writes, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

While Mike was an optimist with a wonderful attitude and great enthusiasm for his work, he understood that leadership carried with it a responsibility to confront and acknowledge realities of your situation and organization, and to make difficult decisions. Great leaders and great organizations understand that problems ignored and not addressed head on don’t simply fix themselves. They have the potential to drain your organization (or yourself) of its resources and sap employee or stakeholder morale.

10.  Live a life of purpose. And finally, I’ll go back to the words that Mike shared at a time when I needed them most on mission and purpose:  “As for making a living…I’m pretty sure that’s not the point, right? Our job is to make a life, or as you say, make a difference. The money will take care of itself. You are putting yourself out there and establishing clearly your unique contribution to the world. It is working and it will continue to work…and counting dollars is not – repeat – is not a measure of success.”

Similarly, Mike referenced this quote in his dissertation work:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to
be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and
lived well.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Threnody

In his nonprofit consulting work, Mike guided his clients toward focusing on a mission that would inspire their team, their current and future board members, and that donors would enthusiastically get behind and support. Once again, focus on purpose, resources will follow.

In the book Man in the Mirror:  Solving the 24 Problems Men Face, author Patrick Morley discusses the difference between goals and purpose:

“Goals are what we do, purposes are why we do what we do…One of the most perplexing problems men face is that met goals tend to become an unrelated string of hollow victories…you have to keep setting new ones, because achieving them doesn’t provide any lasting satisfaction.

Silhouette father & sonTo be satisfying, our goals need to reflect our examination of life’s larger meaning. The plain truth is that most men either don’t know their purpose in life, or their purpose is too small. A man can do nothing more important than to wrestle with the purpose of his life.”

So my final suggestion is to encourage our youth to follow the pursuits that feed their soul and have an impact on others. We are great at celebrating those who exit the doors of our educational institutions and become well paid engineers and lawyers, and no harm in that. But let’s celebrate those who pursue educating impoverished children in 3rd world countries or inner cities. The struggling artist who believes they have a gift to share with the world and perseveres in the face of commercial obstacles. Or the social worker who helps victims of domestic abuse for only a shade above minimum wage. Let’s celebrate the honor in those pursuits with equal fervor.

Pursue a life well lived, in honor of the teacher who showed us how.




50 Life Lessons in 50 Years

Today I embark on my 2nd half-century on the planet. With acknowledgement to all of the wonderful people who have served as my sources of education and inspiration, here are a few lessons I’ve learned from the first 50 years: 

Relationships, Parenting, Family & Friends

1.   FIND PEOPLE WHO SHARE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR. The 2 most important people in my life laugh at the same things that I laugh at. Everything else is easier when you have that going for you.

2.   JUST BE PRESENT WHEN NEEDED. You don’t have to be perfect to be a great friend or family memberCCortello 015 Fam 3 Gens (father, mother, sister, brother, aunt, uncle…) – You just have to be there. Showing up, in good times and bad, despite their shortcomings, is 80% of what they need.

3.   THINK BEFORE YOU ACT. YOUR KIDS ARE WATCHING. Everything you do affects your children. If you have kids, pause and think before you act. The greatest impact you can have on the planet is raising a thoughtful, compassionate, hard-working member of the next generation.

4.   LIFE MUST BE LIVED, NOT JUST TAUGHT. We want to protect our children from mistakes, failure, heartache, and pain. But in the end, we have to let them live their own lives, because amidst all of those emotions and experiences are life’s greatest lessons…But you have to live ’em to learn ’em.

5.   PARENTS DON’T HAVE ALL OF THE ANSWERS. Children, have compassion for your parents. We are endlessly seeking answers to all of life’s questions just like you, and we don’t have as much time left to figure it out.

6.   GIVE HUGS OFTEN, SAY I LOVE YOU, AND GATHER TOGETHER. I was fortunate enough to be born into an extended family that lives by those principles. If you aren’t that lucky, be the person who starts changingCCortello 016 KCC your family culture.



9.   PEOPLE ARE ASSETS, but not all have the same strengths. Don’t judge others or condescend because they don’t think, act, or achieve in the same way that you do. Everybody can operate at genius levels in some capacity (Brian Tracy), and you can learn something from everyone you meet. I’m a relatively talented musician and a decent writer, but lift the hood of my car and my sheltie and I have roughly the same chance of diagnosing the problem.

10.  LET GO OF YOUR GRUDGES. That person you resent, envy, or despise isn’t wasting a moment obsessing over YOU. Holding onto those emotions is like drinking poison and hoping they get sick. Move on.


Life, Attitude, and Well-Being

11.  LIFE’S SIMPLE PLEASURES ARE THE BEST. If you can’t find joy in the simple things in life, the joy you find in fancy, expensive things won’t last.

12.  THIS IS THE TIME TO REMEMBER (BILLY JOEL). If I’d have known how much time I’d spend with CCortello 009 IA Fest Bebopfamily and friends reminiscing about and fondly remembering days gone by, I would have appreciated them more at the time. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking life will get better when I achieve this or acquire that. All we have is this moment in time.

13.  LIVE CURIOUSLY. New experiences will give you a reason to look forward to tomorrow. Observations will provide a compass for finding opportunity.

14.  DO SOMETHING CREATIVE EVERY DAY. Creative ability is like a muscle – it either strengthens with use or withers with inactivity. And there are few things more gratifying than creating something from your own imagination that never existed previously, whether it’s a song, a painting, or a new business.

CCortello 006 Kim-Date15.  KARMA IS REAL…and it can cut both ways. Treat everyone with respect. When you find yourself possessing skills and/or experiences that others on the planet are in need of, answer the call and trust that the rewards will come.

16.  TAKE CHANCES. The safe choice short-term is often the dangerous choice long-term. Take chances – calculated and thoughtfully planned, but take chances.


18.  YOU EITHER LIVE A LIFE BASED ON LOVE OR FEAR. MOVE TOWARD LOVE. Your happiness will be determined by which one controls your actions the greatest percentage of time – Love or Fear (Google “Jim Carrey commencement speech” for a more eloquent commentary, or watch the Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life).

19.  INTUITION IS A POWERFUL VOICE. Once upon a time people who followed their gut instinct or intuition were seen as “just winging it” in life. There’s a growing school of thought that intuition is your subconscious processing all of your past experiences in order to help guide you in your decisions in life. Prior to making CCortello 003 CJDmost of the poor decisions in your life, wasn’t there usually a voice inside of you saying, “What are you doing!?” Take time to get away from the noise in your life, do a little introspection, and don’t ignore that voice of intuition.

20.  IF YOU’RE ANGRY, LOOK WITHIN. That’s usually the source.

21.  DON’T BE TOO PROUD TO ASK FOR HELP. If you’re suffering or engaged in destructive behaviors, reach out for help. It takes courage to suck it up, forget your past and move on. It takes greater courage to confront your issues head on and CCortello 002 Fam-3understand how your fears and insecurities are affecting you today. Scrap your pride. It’s too important to you and the people around you.

22.  FOLLOW YOUR OWN DREAMS. The greatest limitations are those imaginary, psychological ones we place on ourselves when we say “I can’t.” Once you’ve made up your mind to accomplish something, every other obstacle is just a speed bump.

23.  START WORKING ON YOUR DREAM TODAY. In the last 10 years I’ve written and independently published 2 books and recorded a 12-song CD with 6 originals. I get exhausted just thinking about the work it took, and I’m not sure I could do it again. WHAT DID I LEARN?

CCortello 011EdDebChiNo one ever says they aren’t going to accomplish things important to them, they just put them off one day at a time until it’s too late (quote from unknown source). Just do a little bit at a time, but GET STARTED TODAY, and DO A LITTLE EVERYDAY. In 3 years you’ll either say “I’m so happy I started 3 years ago” or you’ll be in the same place you are today. The time will pass anyway, but tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. GET STARTED.

24.  HELP OTHERS, BUT DON’T FORGET YOURSELF. You’re no good to others if you’re not mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy.

25.  DON’T COMPLAIN OR CRITICIZE. We all do, but I find the less I do it, the more peaceful I am.


27.  LIFE ISN’T ALWAYS EASY. In fact, sometimes it’s miserable. Work through it and trust that you are gaining skills and knowledge that will serve you and those around you well when you need them the most.

28.  THE WEIGHT IS OVER. Like most people, my weight has varied (across about a 20 lb. range) most of my adult life. It’s a never-ending battle, but here’s my 2 cents on losing weight: 1) Snacking is inevitable, so keep healthy food around. 2) When eating out, always leave something on the plate to take home, no matter how small. 3) A little larger portion of protein, a little smaller portion of carbs. 4) Soft drinks are my Achilles, but try to substitute water or tea instead on occasion. 5) Treat yourself every once in a while, and don’t beat yourself up when you do. 6) If you’re eating as a comfort to soothe emotional issues, the last 5 tips are useless. Refer back to life lesson #21.

CCortello 008 Fam-3 SBS Grad29.  KEEP YOUR PROMISES AND APOLOGIZE QUICKLY WHEN YOU DON’T. Trust is difficult to earn, and easy to lose. Live up to your promises in life and apologize quickly when you don’t – principles that are simple but not easy.

30.  NO DRESS REHEARSALS IN LIFE. My cousin Joseph always says, “There are no dress rehearsals in life.” He’s right. This is the real deal. Seize the moment. Live with the intention of ensuring that you’ll have no regrets about things you didn’t try, say, or accomplish in life.

31.  BE COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR IMPERFECTIONS, YOUR PAST, AND YOUR MISTAKES. Humans are insecure and so afraid of showing our imperfections and struggles. So we put on a facade and hope the world doesn’t see us for who we are. What a shame and oh, the irony. Our flaws are precisely what make us human, CCortello 012 Craig-Kim Mardi Grasand sharing those imperfections and struggles can be the greatest source of comfort to others. Forgive yourself and stop beating yourself up over your decisions from the past. Until you learn to love yourself, you won’t find satisfaction from anyone or anything else.

32.  GET BACK IN THE RING. KEEP PUNCHING. When life beats you down, just keep answering the bell. If you just keep swinging in life, you will eventually land a few knockout punches, guaranteed.

33.  CELEBRATE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS. Sometimes we’re so focused on the next goal, the daunting task ahead, and the challenges confronting us that we forget how much we’ve accomplished. Make a list and reflect on occasion. It will give you the energy you need to press on toward your next success.



34.  NEVER STOP LEARNING. Pay for training if you need it. Read a book. Watch how-to videos. It’s never been easier to find learning resources. Your employer owes you nothing but the paycheck for services rendered.

CCortello 010 Leadership Challenge35.  FIND YOUR “ELEMENT” IN LIFE. When you are in your “Element,” work energizes you. When you are not, work drains the life out of you. Find the work and activities in life that put you in your Element and pursue them relentlessly. The world doesn’t need another miserable nine-to-fiver. (See the book The Element by Sir Ken Robinson or anything else he’s written, said, or done)

36.  FIND PEOPLE WHO ARE SUCCESSFUL and who have the skills and attitudes you hope to attain and hang around them, talk to them, or just read about them. It’s a cliché, but you can’t learn to fly with the eagles by hanging around with turkeys.

37.  PASSION + APTITUDE + VOCATION = SUCCESS. There are things you love to do, things in life you’re good at, and things that you can earn a living doing. If you find something that fits in all 3 categories, you’ve hit the jackpot.CCortello 013 UConn Book

38.  PUT IN THE WORK. Choose a vocation that you find rewarding, but understand that not every hour of every day is an exercise in self-actualization and fulfillment. Sometimes you just have to do grunt work and make sacrifices until you’re valuable to your company and your customers.

39.  LUCK = PREPARATION + OPPORTUNITY. Luck happens at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. People who complain about other people who are lucky wouldn’t know an opportunity if it hit them in the head and haven’t done anything to be able to capitalize on it anyway.

40.  FOCUS AND FINISH. Multi-tasking is a fallacy and a buzz word. I’m much more productive when I focus, don’t get distracted from the task at hand, and see it through to completion. 


41.  OWN A DOG. No creature spreads happiness so generously and unconditionally.

CCortello 004 CD42.  MUSIC IS MAGICAL. Playing and listening to music can be as spiritual an experience as there is on earth, and the benefits are immeasurable.

43.  MY FAVORITE THINGS. Pelicans in flight, Spumoni from Angelo Brocato’s, writing, songwriting, my son’s laughter, my wife’s smile, waves hitting the beach, clouds, comedies (Groundhog Day, Tommy Boy, My Blue Heaven, Napoleon Dynamite, Let it Ride), streetcars, sunsets, guitars, pianos, The Beatles, Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren, dogs, the view of Jackson Square from Washington Artillery Park, helping a customer make the right purchase, Bocce Ball, Fantasy Football, A golf course early in the morning, family gatherings, and a breeze coming off Lake Pontchartrain – These are a few of my favorite things.

44.  NEW ORLEANS IS A TREASURE. With all of its flaws and quirks, New Orleans and its people are among the greatest treasures in the world. I’m thankful everyday to live in the midst of such a unique setting and population. The resilience demonstrated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is a source of immense pride.CCortello 014 LP Book



45.  GOD BLESSES THE WORKING MAN. There are people who wake up every day and do real work – physical, exhausting, demanding work in sometimes extreme conditions over long hours for less money than they CCortello 005 Fam-3 Saintsdeserve so that the rest of us can enjoy life’s creature comforts. God bless them all. And if they get to cut in line at the Pearly Gates and get better seats than me at Heaven’s Auditorium, well they’ve earned it.

46.  PRAY FOR STRENGTH, NOT FOR ANSWERS. This one comes from Mother Theresa. If you’re not a spiritual person, read it anyway. You can still learn from those who are:

“I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”

~ Mother Teresa


When All is Said and Done…

47.  YOUR LIFE IS YOUR OWN. When you’re on your deathbed the only person who has to be happy with the life you’ve chosen and the decisions you’ve made is you. People-pleasing for their reasons and not yours is a recipe for misery.CCortello 001 SB Fam

48.  IT’S THE SMALL ACTIONS THAT MAKE A LARGE LIFE. In life, everyone wants to accomplish something on a grand scale to achieve a certain level of recognition, fame, or immortality. But when it’s all said and done, your life is more a collection of millions of small moments and actions. The sum of your actions during those moments and the impact you have on the world and others – That’s your legacy.

Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies of all time because it illustrates that principle so well. Do the best you can each and every moment, be the best person you can be in whatever small way you can, and each action is a ripple that becomes a wave of goodwill.

49.  SHARE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED WITH OTHERS. If you’ve lived on this planet for a couple of decades or more, you’ve learned something valuable that can benefit others. Life would be better in a world full of educators. Share your knowledge and experience generously before it’s too late.