You Do Not Have to Be Good

This is one of my favorite poems. As the cold descends suddenly upon us and the leaves fall, and the world seems to spin out of control, remember that you do not have to be good. You do not have to repent. Instead, let yourself announce yourself in the family of things.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountain and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

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The World Is (Still) Waiting for You

As we Americans head into mid-term elections in a few weeks, I wanted to share a post I wrote in 2016 before Trump was elected, that still holds true two years later. If I could wave a magic wand, it would be to restore civility to our words and actions and to practice listening as much as we speak, since that’s the only way to have real discourse. If we cared as much about our responsibilities to others as we cared about our own rights and needs, we would have a changed world.

One of the things I’ve noticed in this election year is how accustomed we have become to demeaning and bullying others. It’s true that politicians have always been caustic to each other, but in this election cycle, the level of discourse has sunk to a Kardashian low. And somehow we are okay with that.

Part of finding your world stage is deciding what matters to you and what you stand for. So many of us feel silenced into conforming, in order to fit in and not make waves. But who were the people throughout history who really claimed their world stage? They were heroes because they spoke up and said, “Enough.” What if they hadn’t? What if Rosa Parks had just stayed in the back of the bus, because she didn’t want to offend anyone, and just complained to her family instead? What if Abraham Lincoln had decided that it was more important to be popular than to do the right thing? His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was a southerner after all, and all of her brothers and brothers-in-law fought on the side of the Confederacy. What if Lincoln had just decided that it was more important to make Thanksgiving dinner comfortable?

I remember telling an acquaintance recently that Abe Lincoln was one of my heroes, because he stood up against slavery in spite of death threats. He was, in my mind, a true success. Her response was, “He was a failure because he ended up assassinated.” I was a bit stunned by her comment, but took a deep breath and responded with “Really?”  I guess for some people, keeping your head down is success.

Don’t hide yourself and play it safe.  Take a stand.  The world is waiting for you.

 

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Cracks in Everything

It seems that America is breaking apart at the seams. The whole world is watching in horror and disbelief, wondering if our democracy will hold. It’s been a trying last two weeks, as well as last two years, and yet, I do believe that good will come from all of this. As Leonard Cohen wrote in his song Anthem, “cracks are how the light gets in.” For those of you who are angry and tired and wondering when you will feel hope and peace again, remember this lyric. And remember that even though the trees shed their leaves and we are left with nothing but bare branches, eventually the green does return, with new sprouts emerging.

Sometimes finding your world stage is more about remembering who you are and what you stand for, spending time in nature, and looking to poetry for solace. Notice that there are cracks everywhere allowing the light.

Wishing you all a peaceful and joyful fall.

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to see
I can’t run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
A thundercloud
And they’re going to hear from me
Ring the bells that still can ring

 

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Try Reframing

It is so important to not let fear of failure get in your way. This post talks about the importance of reframing failure so that it doesn’t stop you in your tracks.

I love the idea of reframing something. In a literal sense, a new frame can make an old picture seem new. In a figurative sense, it involves looking at something in a new way. This is so important as you venture toward taking more creative risks, because failure is inevitable. Recently I entered a writing and performance contest in which we had to write a five minute monologue about our mothers and perform it in an audition. I hadn’t auditioned in a long time, because I have busy raising kids for a number of years. But I decided that I needed to take more creative risks, while I encourage my coaching clients to do the same. The audition went beautifully, because I felt alive and present and happy, and I noticed that the women auditioning me loved the piece, based on their laughter and feedback.

The next day, however, I found out that I was not chosen to be in the performance. At first, no matter how I spun it, it felt lousy to be rejected, particularly after auditioning for the first time in years.  I let myself feel bad for one day, and then I woke up the next day and decided to reframe the experience. What was good about this? How could I view this differently? I decided that my rejection didn’t take away from the positive experience and that I had written a strong performance piece I could use elsewhere. I reminded myself that each new rejection was leading me closer to success.

When Madeleine L’Engle sent A Wrinkle In Time out, she was rejected by 26 publishing houses until she got a yes. The book went on to be a huge success, but not without controversy. Some saw the book as too religious and some thought it not religious enough. At first, Ms. L’Engle was bothered by the criticism, but then she realized the upside by reframing it:  “’It seems people are willing to damn the book without reading it. Nonsense about witchcraft and fantasy. First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, ‘Ah, the hell with it.’ It’s great publicity, really.”

What is the upside to rejection?  How can you reframe failure?  In order to find your world stage, the first step is to stop letting fear of rejection keep you from taking little steps toward your dream.  What would you do if you didn’t have any fear? Now, go do it.

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Let Go

It’s that time of year again when the leaves start showing off their brilliant colors. It’s not happening in our neighborhood yet, but today we went out into the country and saw an amazing kaleidoscope of colors. I’m looking forward to apple picking and hayrides and hot cider and pumpkin picking.

I remember a guy I knew once telling me about the “energy” of the seasons and that while spring made him feel happy and energized, since it is a time of energy and renewal, fall always made him sad, as the days got darker and the trees let go of their leaves. I had never thought about that before, but it makes sense. Fall is a time to realize that in spite of our best efforts, due to the insane pace, we can’t do everything. In fact, we can’t do most things. It’s not good for us to take it all on anyway, but particularly this time of year.

Right now we have three teens living at home, our Spanish exchange student who will be here through Thanksgiving, my daughter and my son. In the last month, the two girls have gotten a stomach bug, then my son got a cold and now the girls have it. My son is going through the process of applying to seven private schools for high school and my daughter is immersed in her rigorous pre-IB program at her British School. Yesterday we did a college tour of Boston College for the girls and today a tour of one of the high schools for my son. The girls had a fair to volunteer at yesterday while my son played a soccer game. And my daughter had to get out her application to a counselor-in-training program, which ended up taking hours, since the application was almost as detailed as a college application.

With all this swirling around me, in addition to my own coaching clients and music, and my husband’s busy international career, there are so many other things that I need to let go of: overpopulation, global warming, which is causing destruction over and over while many deny the science; massive migration of poor people to Europe and the States, which these countries simply can’t absorb and still take care of their own citizens; political instability and unrest; a MeToo Movement, which was effective at first but has now turned into a witch hunt with no regard to accusing innocent people; and a polarized country in which everyone is focused on their rights and no one thinks of others’ needs. I no longer talk about politics with anyone who is not thoughtful and open to different views. Otherwise, it causes unnecessary stress.

So instead, I remind myself to let go and focus on what I can control. I can make self-care a priority and get back to my meditation practice, get to bed earlier and eat more vegetables. I can take daily walks in nature. I can do less for others, even my kids and our Spanish girl. I can focus on spending less time reading the news and more time creating. I can surround myself with positive people. Last week, I hung out with the girls’ soccer coach during their game and had so much fun laughing and shooting the breeze. My new favorite bumper sticker is “Bark Less, Wag More.” We all need to follow that advice.

As you find your world stage, notice what you are not willing to let go of and try to be less attached to whatever that is this week- whether it’s the outcome of an election, how you want a difficult neighbor to act, what you want your teens to do (or not do), or what will happen in the future. The reality is that most things we can’t control. Given that, let go.

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Sharing Space

This post is even more true now that we have a US president who doesn’t put the greater good first. I often think that we spend too much time thinking about our rights and not enough about our responsibilities.

I was flying with my kids recently from Boston to California. Before take-off, I noticed a family of 4, two on one side and two on the other, in the exit row. Their kids were young and they seemed pleased to have the extra leg room that comes with that row. The only problem is that children are not allowed in the exit row. The family was told by the flight attendants that they would have to figure out how to switch with other passengers since children can’t be in that row for safety reasons. They looked like they cared, but then ignored the crew, hoping that the flight crew would forget that they were there. At one point the mom looked over at me, since I was traveling with my kids, to get assurance that it was alright for her to stay in that row with her kids. I said, “No offense, but I don’t want to rely on your 7 year-old to get me out of the plane if we have to get out in an emergency.” She seemed a bit embarrassed, but finally moved with her child. Her husband on the other side refused to move. Finally, one of the flight attendants shouted, “We need two adults to switch places with this man and his child or we’re not taking off.” No one budged, so she added, “I’m happy to go back to my hotel and get more sleep if you prefer not to take off.” Finally, two people switched with the man who was forced to leave the row.
I have thought a lot about that incident in the days that followed. So often we want to do what is convenient for us. We all want the exit row, whether literally or figuratively. But sometimes what we want gets in the way of what is good or right for others, and we have to defer to them. In a world of instant gratification, sometimes we have to wait, sometimes we don’t get what we want because the greater good matters more. At my son’s sleep-away camp, which was founded in 1903, there are banners flying in the dining hall that sound antiquated now: “Manners maketh the man” and “Better faithful than famous.” How many of us in modern society believe that being a good person is more important than being famous?
 
As you look to find your world stage, think about how you can create something better for the world that may involve you stepping away from your comfort zone. How many of us really allow ourselves to be uncomfortable? What would happen if we put our responsibility to others and the world ahead of our own individual rights?
 
The world is waiting for you. Sometimes the first step is doing the right thing without having to be asked.
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Slow Down

One of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs begins with “Slow down/You’re movin’ too fast/You’ve got to make/The morning last…” (59th Street Bridge Song). After college, when I got my first professional performing gig in New York City, I opened the show with this song, but at a fast clip to show the flip side of what the song advocates. But none of us could have known then how fast life would become once we started walking around with fully-functioning computers in our hands 24/7. My kids tease me because I don’t always have my cell phone on me, but the fact is I don’t want to feel that I’m a slave to technology. But I have had friends frustrated that I didn’t respond to a text immediately. I guess I just don’t want to be that available all the time.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I experimented with leaving Facebook last spring, and felt so much better that I took the summer off as well. I’m on “temporary leave” for now, but am thinking about unsubscribing altogether, since I feel so much better not trying to keep up with what random classmates from junior high are up to. I also feel more at peace when I don’t learn about my good friends’ lives from posts sent to hundreds, when I haven’t heard it directly from them. I do often wonder if we’ve lost the art of connecting. When my husband and I were engaged and living a few continents away, we wrote long love letters to each other, all of which we kept. It’s special to go back and read those and to be able to pass them on someday to our kids. But how will the current generation pass on their correspondence? Can you even store tweets and texts in a meaningful way? Will it even be worth it? At least my kids spend face to face time with friends or FaceTime them, and they aren’t texting other people when they’re with their friends, so there is some hope, but still.

As fall is upon us now, I just want to remind all of us to slow down. We don’t have to do everything and we frankly can’t. This weekend, my husband was at a high school reunion that met in Nashville, and I was in charge of three teenagers, my two and then our Spanish exchange student, who returned Friday from a school camping trip that she hated, feeling exhausted and with stomach pain, and covered with mosquito bites. I spent hours consoling her, talking to her insurance company to get approval to see a doctor, and reassuring her mom (through Maria’s translation), since she is worried about her daughter and only speaks Spanish. On Saturday, I took Maria to the doctor and then shopping for special foods for her, then did endless emails and chores, then helped my daughter with homework, then spent 2 hours at my sons’ soccer game, and then drove two round trips (30 minutes each way) into Boston to drop off and then later pick up my son from a Bar Mitzvah. Then today, more laundry, cooking, dishes, school forms, and on and on. I felt like my head was going to spin off. But then I remembered to slow down. I asked my 13 year-old son to make dinner– he made pasta with sauce and sausages and sliced apples on the side– and I asked the girls to set the table, while I moved forward with the laundry, and I felt so much better. I remembered that I can’t do everything, I can’t be all things to all people. I can choose to slow down.

As the song goes, “You’ve got to make the morning last.” As you seek your world stage, remember that slowing down allows you to enjoy your morning and your day, which ultimately adds up to your life.

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Take A Stand

As we head into another school year, remember that grades may be important, but being kind and thoughtful matters more. This post talks about our need to take a stand for something and teach our kids the same. Happy Labor Day weekend!

I was talking with a friend recently about the strange phenomenon these days of really nice people raising bratty and frankly mean kids.  “How is that possible?  Don’t nice people raise nice kids?” my friend asked, perplexed.  I’ll never forget years ago seeing a mom and her four children in a lecture hall with mostly adults.  The kids started acting up.  All the mom had to do was give them that look–the look that says, “You need to behave now,” and they were quiet and respectful.  I didn’t have children yet at the time, but I never forgot it.  Clearly years of day in and day out parenting went into that mother being able to command that level of respect from her kids.  But how many really nice people just assume their kids will turn out fine because the parents are nice?

I was at another friend’s house recently and her young son came up to me and punched me in the gut for no reason. I was stunned and my friend laughed, since she thinks everything her son does is adorable. I was too polite to say anything in the moment, but shouldn’t I have said something?

I wonder if today, with our busy lives, and our over-scheduled kids, if we really take the time to teach our kids to be kind, to treat themselves and others with respect, to take a stand for something, to stand up for someone. How many of us are taking the time to stand up for an injustice or teaching our kids to take a stand, like for a child being bullied?

If we want to create a life that makes us proud, so much of that hinges on our ability to be true to ourselves. But what does that really mean? It means asking ourselves what we value and standing up for it, even if it is scary or unpopular. It means allowing us to be the misfit or the rebel or the crazy one in order to make the world a better place.

Steve Jobs wrote: “Here’s to the Crazy Ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world–are the ones who do.”

How are you going to change the world? Who or what are you taking a stand for?  What would happen if we replaced complaining with creating?

This is sign I saw when traveling in New Zealand with my family in 2014.  

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Happy Almost Fall

As much as I love summer, it’s exciting to think about fall, particularly if you have kids. My daughter will be starting back at high school tomorrow and my son starting 8th grade the following week. We have a Spanish exchange student named Maria who will be living with us through the fall, who has returned having spent ten days this spring with us as part of an exchange program. She is very brave to live away from family and friends for that long, but she is a joyful and wise person whom we love having around. Today she was giggling with my daughter while Face Timing friends in Spain and then later discussing Spanish politics with us over dinner.

I think of fall as a time to start fresh, whether you’re buying new school supplies for school, or just shifting to a more focused time of year. This fall, we are looking forward to bringing Maria to a Red Sox game, a football game, an ice hockey game, and some theatre and music. Just like having a small child, it’s fun to see the world enfolding through her eyes, like the first time she had blueberries or maple syrup. We forget that there are lots of firsts out there to try, no matter our age or station in life. This year my daughter experienced the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone for the first time, and my son and I worked all summer to write a musical for his school, which is based on teens riding the rails during the Great Depression. Neither of us had ever written a full musical before, and I had never composed so much music and co-written so many lyrics in two months. It was a first and it was thrilling. Likewise, I’m learning Spanish because of Maria. I’m learning that you say “Qué tal” when you want to ask how someone is doing, not “Que pasa” which doesn’t have the same meaning. It’s fun to learn a few words here and there until they become a sentence. I’m also back to going to gym and will plan to start lifting weights again.

As you think about your world stage and as we head into fall, think about what you would like to start that is new or different for you. Now is the time to plan that trip or start that business or find that relationship. The key, with all things, is baby steps. Tonight, I just learned a few new Spanish words and talked with Maria’s mom. When she asked in Spanish how I was doing, I did say “Bien. Gracias.” I said the right thing and she understood me, so that was a great feeling for a new language.

So, whatever your dreams or plans, happy almost fall. May your season be filled with brilliantly colored leaves, crisp air, apple picking, and new things to try.

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Don’t Look Down

Don’t you find that no one looks up anymore? This is from my early posts. As you enjoy the tail end of summer, remember to look up and notice who and what is around you.

I was in the grocery store recently with a large number of grocery items. Normally, I’m asked if I found everything okay and how my day is going. Sometimes I get to know the cashier a little better, so that I know that this one is the youngest of six and that one is wearing shorts in the middle of winter because he hasn’t had time to do laundry.

But this time, the cashier didn’t look up. I wouldn’t have minded if he was just intently focused on my grocery items, but instead he was having a very animated conversation with the guy bagging. He and the bagger were shouting loudly at each other about music, something I’m interested in, but they never once bothered to look at me. Even when I started bagging, they kept on arguing about music. (The one thing they could agree on was that nobody should ever do Beatles covers, because they can never do them justice.) The entire time they engaged each other.  They never once looked at me.

I surprised myself when I decided to speak up with, “Do you realize that you haven’t looked at or talked to me the entire 15 minutes I’ve been here?”

The guy ringing me up replied, “You could have jumped in.”

“But you didn’t even look at me,” I said shyly, as though I were fighting with a boyfriend and not a cashier I had just met. “It makes me feel invisible.”

The cashier and bagger were embarrassed and hustled me out of the store as quickly as possible. They had no idea what I was talking about, because they are part of the “Look Down” generation. The only reason they weren’t texting was that I’m sure it’s not allowed when you’re bagging.

One of the most important things for all of us to remember is that we need to notice each other. We need to look up. But we don’t anymore.

If you want to find your world stage, a first step is to notice others, so that you and they can feel part of the world. You can’t be on a world stage (or whatever that means to your life) and not acknowledge the people around you.

Here is my favorite spoken word poem, called “Look Up.”

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