Friday, March 11, 2011

Annual rites of spring

Spring is known for many things, one of the more esoteric being corporate annual reports. I eagerly await their arrival in my mailbox and welcome the faint aroma of ink on the pages. (Yes, I like the printed book best, even though I often also view the online version.)

While each book, each year is different, they're all alike in one way: their reputation takes a beating. Financially savvy folk love to denigrate the publication. “I never read them,” they say. “I just ‘file’ annual reports in my recycling bin,” they smirk.

Too bad. That’s their loss. If they read only the cut-and-dried legal financial forms, they miss getting a more rounded view of the companies they follow.

Every element of every book is a clue that speaks to the personality behind the name on the cover. What theme was chosen as a headline for the year? Do the photographs of people and products help to better visualize the brand? How well does the writing convey not only what the company has done, but why it made those moves...and what's next?

When I want to know about a company, I check the annual report. Not just the financials, but how it chooses to present itself each year to a wide variety of audiences. Is this a company I would want to work for? Invest in? Purchase products and services from? Trust as a member of my community?

It’s hard to tell the real picture of a company from any one year, but year after year, a personality emerges. That's true even with accountants and lawyers and auditors scrubbing the book of bold, declarative statements to make sure it’s safe, defensible content.

I’ve been writing annual reports for more years than I care to count, first as a corporate staffer and now as a freelance writer. And every spring, along with daffodils and tulips, I wait for the annual reports to arrive.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Turning the world upside down

There are many ways in which your world can turn upside down. Most are unplanned, unforeseeable, and unlucky occurrences. But not all.

In yoga class, it's intentional, starting with your physical practice. Any inversion changes your perspective about what's up and what's down: handstands, headstands, arm balancing poses. Even the basic downward-facing dog pose makes the floor your visual ceiling.

This changed perspective used to seem like an optical illusion. My brain would puzzle over point of view and horizon lines. Then I gave up analyzing and accepted what my eyes spied. This made inversions a little less scary, if not always doable.

The hardest part of doing an inversion is everything but the actual pose. It's the fear of falling, the worry in wobbling. It's the anticipation and counting how long it's been since last attempting to defy gravity in such an obvious way.

A few years ago, while walking on the beach, I saw two young girls practicing handstands. They made it look effortless -- and like a lot of fun. Basically, they were just playing around and laughing at their inverted world. Yes, they fell, but the soft sand provided a well-padded landing.

My first adult handstand was on a much harder surface, but in the supportive environment of my yoga class. Many pairs of hands helped me to reach and hold my balance. Then I was the one laughing, with the surprise of standing on my hands.

This isn't a feat I can reproduce at will, as the fear of falling is ever present. And I need the support of a wall or willing spotters.

Still, on the rare occasions when the stars align and I'm feeling brave, holding an inversion -- even attempting one -- turns my world upside down. Literally, and for a long time after.