Do What Matters (Part 1)

Ever since I was little, I needed to be heard.

I started singing before I even talked, and I was a loud child and rather bossy. I was the child who organized the other neighborhood kids to put on a play. I was the lead in the plays and beat out the boys for student body president and head percussionist. I had the freedom to be who I was.

Until I didn’t.

Then I went through puberty and all of sudden other people decided who I was supposed to be. I needed to be attractive and please others; I was supposed to be high achieving but not make others feel bad about my achievement. And even though I was a performer (I wrote songs and sang them) and had a literal voice, I had no clue what my real voice was.

Throughout my childhood, I was always a strong student, and spent years striving for perfection and high achievement. I learned to follow the crowd, to please, to fit in. I was high school valedictorian, won a lot of awards, and got into Yale University where I planned to take the place by storm.

It never occurred to me that I would have to swim as hard as I could at Yale just to be average and tread water.

I learned that it was going to be a lot harder to stand out in that crowd. I had no idea who I was. The pressure to be outstanding got to be too much. I dropped out my junior year to take time off time to regroup and had to actually interview to get back into Yale the following year. That was humiliating, but I was determined to get through college and graduate.

After I returned, I auditioned for the Whiffenpoofs, a famous and privileged all-male chorus, to make the point that women weren’t being treated equally. I experimented artistically in theatre and music. I started listening to my own voice, but I still kept comparing myself negatively to others.

I learned that I needed to find different metrics to be happy. I was tired of succeeding on others’ terms.

I graduated and became a cliche by moving to New York City to become a singer/songwriter. I worked at a law firm during the day and sung at night. It was even harder to stand out as a performer in the Big Apple. So many of my Yale friends were making tons of money in finance or going to law or medical school. Being a legal assistant by day and a starving artist by night was not exactly impressive.

It was hard and lonely, but it made me feel alive.

Then I fell in love with a guy who was different than anyone I had ever known. He was like a sexy nerd, an intellectual who loved my music and really heard me. My parents were thrilled that he was smart and responsible, but my friends thought that I was selling out by no longer dating artistic men. I married him because I felt safe enough to finally be myself.

After we were married, I started teaching voice lessons to supplement my performing income. I originally thought of teaching voice as a day job to make money. But soon, more and more of my mostly female students started wanting to talk to me about their lives in the context of voice lessons. At first I was surprised; talking seemed unrelated to voice lessons, until I realized that my ad hoc coaching was improving their singing voice and helping these students to get clarity about their lives.

Soon people were coming to me to help them find their voice in a literal and figurative way. I loved the work and was surprised that I had accidentally found what I was passionate about.

We bought a house and had two children and I continued working as a musician and vocal and life coach. And yet, somewhere along the way, after I had kids, I lost myself.

So many people were dictating what I should do and how I should do it, that I lost that strong voice reminding me of who I am and what matters to me. I felt like I was back in junior high, trying to fit in and please others. The more stuck I got, the more I lost contact with my true self.

I tried to deny this was happening. I poured myself into parenting and convinced myself that supporting my husband’s international academic career was more important than remembering what I needed and listening to my voice. With the economic collapse, I lost a core group of students, and others moved on. I started volunteering more and being the perfect wife and mom and forgetting what mattered to me beyond my family. We moved and spent two years renovating. And then I developed crippling eye pain from all the stress, as well as other health issues.

I felt lost and feared that I would never find my voice again.

And then…I made a decision that changed my life and started to turn it all around.

Four years later, I am a different person as a result of that one decision.

Stay tuned next week for that one decision that changed everything…

(see http://liveyourlegend.net/blog/ for original guest blog post)

(see http://www.worldstagecoaching.com for my website)

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Be Legendary

A little over a year ago, I discovered an organization called Live Your Legend that really impacted me in two major ways:  1) I got clear on the work I wanted to do in the world, which is coaching, writing and music and 2) I started writing this weekly blog, which until last year only existed in my head.  Live Your Legend was started by Scott Dinsmore, a young, charismatic entrepreneur who quit his boring day job to find something that mattered to him, which was helping people from all over the world find work that filled them up and contributed to others.  In September 2015, after completing 8 months of a year-long travel odyssey with his wife Chelsea, Scott died while hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, due to a rock slide.  His wife, Chelsea, bravely took over the organization while she was grieving and figuring out next steps.  Their story is told beautifully in a video at http://www.liveyourlegend.net.

It’s easy to forget in our busy day-to-day lives that we don’t get to live forever, and that the time to create a life we love is now.  It takes courage, however, to go against the standard belief that work is a chore and that you work hard so you can spend hard, in an endless loop of drudgery and obligation.  Ultimately, we need to go against society to do the hard but important task of creating work we love.  This is really the work of heroes, because it takes so much courage to live outside the norm. Joseph Campbell wrote about the Hero’s Journey in his books, outlining what the great heroes have in common:  starting with the ordinary world, feeling the call for adventure, first refusing the call, then talking with a mentor, then crossing the threshold into new terrain, then being tested until many challenges later, returning changed.  We may not think about ourselves as heroes, but deciding not to go to law school even though everyone does in your family, or quitting your soul killing job, is brave. Starting your own business when you don’t know what you’re doing and need to make money takes a lot of courage, as well as a raising kids who are fearless and kind, in a world that instills fear and encourages meanness.

We typically think of people who are legendary as famous stars, such as legendary singer Ella Fitzgerald.  And legends are often thought of as mythical stories, like the Odyssey.  But legends exists in real life and beyond the famous.  The idea of living your legend is to live that dream story that you want to create for your life, that is so amazing that it feels almost mythical.  Live Your Legend believes that there are 4 pillars to finding work you love:  1) Know yourself 2) Do the Impossible 3) Surround Yourself With Passionate People and 4) Do Something That Matters: Lead, Serve, Give.  We can start right now, wherever we are, to take the time to figure out what we love, to start taking small creative risks, to find like-minded joyful friends, and to do what matters every day.  We don’t have to wait until we’ve returned from the hero’s journey to create work (or lives) that we love, because the journey is in fact our life.

To find your world stage, remember the fearless leader, Scott Dinsmore, and his courageous wife, Chelsea, and the impact they made and are making at Live Your Legend.  Ask your friends and family to answer the question, “What is Your World Stage?” Check out my coaching website at http://www.worldstagecoaching.com, helping women find their voice and claim their world stage.  Remember, it’s not too late to create a life and work you love.  There is always something you can do today as well that will make a difference in someone else’s life, just as Chelsea Dinsmore did in this wonderful picture, helping a woman across the street in the pouring rain. Every time I see this picture, I smile, and I know you will as well.

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Stand Up For You

When my daughter was a toddler, I took her to a Mommy and Me music class in which the children regularly had to pick up little instruments from a bin in the middle of the circle. For most kids, this was not a problem. Not for my daughter. She was shy and tended to hang back, the kind of kid who clung to me at birthday parties until the end. Every week, after my daughter hung back, she would finally sheepishly wander toward the middle to get her instrument and some other kid, who already had a tambourine, would grab it from her.  So I taught her each week to grab back and defend herself.  Every time, however, the teacher would come over and remind me in a very condescending tone: “In Mommy and Me Music we need to learn to SHARE.” I told her, “My daughter doesn’t need to learn to share. She needs to learn to stand up for herself.”  The teacher just rolled her eyes, since I was clearly a pushy, entitled parent who didn’t understand the idea that all of us need to learn to be generous.  And yet, do we?

In a culture in which self-help advice is everywhere, it’s easy to think that all self-help advice applies to you, so then you feel bad about yourself if you’re not exercising more, even though you’re at the gym six days per week, or you’re not saving enough money, even though you have a healthy 401K and need to spend a little.  We can feel almost brow-beaten by the cultural admonishments, many of which may not apply to us. Giving to charity?  We have been giving generously for years. Recycling? I grew up in the seventies and was recycling before it was “in” and long before it was mandated. Marching for causes? Check. The fact is, if we made a list of everything we were supposed to do and be to lead fabulous, fit, fiscally-sound lives, we wouldn’t have any time just to enjoy our lives.

One of my goals for this year is actually to be more selfish.  I know that sounds almost shocking, since so many people in our culture focus a lot on themselves already.  But as a person recovering from the “Disease to Please,” I need to learn to focus more on myself. I’m also working on being less organized, because I have a tendency to want to organize reunions and get-togethers, which I’m good at but don’t particularly enjoy. I’m also trying not to rely so much on a ‘to do’ list, since it allows me to be more spontaneous, and I’m remembering to have more fun, which sounds really pathetic, except it turns out that it’s quite common for busy, stressed people to forget to schedule in fun.  I did make valentines with my kids, went to a basketball game and had a Super Bowl party last month, and we love to watch the show “Modern Family” (thanks Joel for turning us onto it!), but the daily grind of house maintenance and kid shuttling sometimes gets in the way of that.

To find your world stage, remember not to listen to the world’s voices telling you what you should do or how you should change.  Sometimes it’s best not to exercise or to share or to save.  Sometimes being messy or unresponsive to emails or selfish is good.  Because if you find that you have hung back in the music class of life, when the instruments have already been taken,  you will need to step up and grab one before it’s too late, so that you can make your own music.

 

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One Pizza

Last weekend, I was driving a bunch of 6th grade boys home from a party, and since we had some time in the car, I asked for their thoughts about education.  One of the boys had recently left his private school to be homeschooled because the school refused to accommodate such a bright student, even though the school prided itself on celebrating diversity of all kinds.  Apparently, celebrating diversity of intellect was not on their list.  This boy was disheartened by an education system, both public and private, that bends over backwards for the slower students, but does little or nothing for those at the top.  I asked the boys to imagine that our society consisted of just ten people and that all them needed a pizza every day to be fed.  I asked the boys if it would it be fair if we only gave them part of a pizza if another person needed more.  (I reminded them that special needs budgeting takes up to 40% of the budget in some cases, and the rest of the pie is dwindling.)  I said, “If you need a pizza every day to feel good, but someone else needs three of the ten pizzas, should you give up a lot of your pizza?” The boy who is getting homeschooled said sweetly, “It doesn’t cost more to stimulate faster learners; schools just have to think that it’s important.”  Even so, when I asked about the pizza, the answer was: “ONE PERSON, ONE PIZZA.” They understood that we have to look out for everyone’s needs, not just the needs of the most vocal.

I reminded the boys that this applies beyond education.  Sometimes rich people think that since they pay more taxes because they make more money, they deserve more pizza and that other people should go with less.  But with something like health care, I asked, should the younger and healthier and richer get more pizza?  Should the sickest and oldest and poorest maybe not get any pizza?  Nope: “ONE PERSON, ONE PIZZA.”  They all agreed that we are all equal, and therefore we all deserve clean air and water, and education, and access to safety, and health care.  To kids, this is a no brainer.  But somehow American adults make this so complicated. We sometimes get so focused on ourselves, that we forget that we are not the only person who has needs.  Imagine if we said that rich people deserve more oxygen because they have better jobs?  Imagine if we said that the fire department was only for people who could pay, so if you’re poor and your house on fire, tough luck?

Kids see how we are getting it wrong: that we’ve become an entitled society who has forgotten about our fellow citizens.  The boys agreed that sometimes someone needs more pizza, like if they are sick or their house burns down.  But they also agreed that it’s not alright for one group to always insist on more pizza than everyone else, whether special needs kids in education or rich people for health care. It’s crazy to me that US leaders don’t understand the necessity of pooling risk, so that the young and healthy and rich help pay for the old and sick and poor people. In that case, of course, you are paying more for pizza than the person who is poor, but in the end everyone still gets a pizza.

I’m sure that those of you reading this who are not American must be shaking your heads, wondering how the richest country on earth could be that stingy with its citizens.  You also must be asking yourselves how we can be inventive and do great things with our lives if we’re worried about losing our health care. That fact is that we can’t, anymore than if we had to worry about whether oxygen would be available on a daily basis.  The sooner we can look to other countries for guidance, the better. The fact is that we are not spending enough time and money on students at the top and we are not allowing all citizens access to affordable health care.

As you claim your world stage, remember that you have a right to a pizza just like everyone else.  You are as worthy and important as the next person. Remember that for those who are given much, much is expected.  We need to look out for those who are less fortunate who may not realize that they have a right to pizza too.  Remember the world stage is really a globe that can contain all of our gifts and contributions.  There is no ladder to climb to get ahead of everyone else.  There is instead a giant circle of humans who are all worthy.

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Drop The Ball

Recently my son came home from school talking about a party his small advisory group had had yesterday at school, in which they were supposed to bring in a treat from home.  His treat offering?  A few Tic-Tacs from his backpack.  He forgot to tell me about the party, so I get the reputation of having dropped the ball. For a few seconds, I felt bad, wondering, “What will others think?” But then, since I’m recovering from a nasty flu in spite of a flu shot last fall, I let it go.  What a great feeling.

When I was growing up, there weren’t all of these gathering at school in which parents have to feel constantly on the ball.  At my kids’ previous school, second grade is the year that there is a class gathering with food prepared by parents almost every month.  And not just any kind of food; it’s themed to what they are learning.  My favorite was West African Cassava Cakes, which tasted horrible, and didn’t even look appealing, but that the teacher insisted we make.  There was always the mom who managed to make her ethnic treats look and taste great, but I wasn’t one of them.  There were also often themed days, in which kids had to dress up as a famous person on Monday, wear the school colors on Tuesday, don elegant clothes on Wednesday,  and throw on pajamas on Thursday.  My fear was what if I got the days wrong and my child came dressed at Abraham Lincoln while every one else was in pajamas?

It’s all a little bit too much.

I also just got a note from my son’s director, thanking the parents for sending snacks with their kids for the long rehearsals they have had.  Um, I’m haven’t sent in any snacks. It never occurred to me. And to think I was so proud of dealing with scheduling the hand surgeon for my daughter with her broken finger and sending the check for the France trip.  But then I had this realization: whatever you do will never be enough.  Not for you or for anyone.  There’s always more that you could be doing.

This is why people look so exhausted all the time.  They are wacking away at all the balls, keeping them in the air.  And they are taking on concerns that aren’t theirs, like whether school robotics club will happen this year, and whether their friends’ marriage is breaking up, or whether a neighbors’ house should be condemned because it’s in such bad disrepair.  I used to do that, until I got a painful eye condition.  Part of healing for me involves letting balls drop and not taking stuff on that I don’t need to take on.  I no longer respond to emails within the hour, as though I had a gun pressed to head.  I no longer need to solve everyone’s marriage and financial issues.  It’s not easy to change, but I’m doing it.  Today I walked by the dilapidated house on my walk home and didn’t take it on.

This applies to major issues in the world too.  I can’t solve global poverty and the plight of the polar bears, and the transgender fight, and all the racism and violence in our world.  But, I can be kind. I can raise my kids to treat others fairly and be open minded, I can vote and march and write.  I can focus on a being that person who is bringing good energy to the world, not complaining about the weather and housing prices and whether men listen– all things I can’t control.

The reality is, we can control so little.  Starting with a calm mind is a great start, since we can’t offer peace if we don’t have it.

As you think about the work you want to bring to the world stage, think about all the balls you are juggling and how many of them you can let go of.  If you look carefully, you’ll realize that you don’t have to do everything asked of you.  Yes, bringing African-themed cookies is essential for your second grader– and we thankfully got all those years of gatherings right.  But once they are in sixth grade and the teacher doesn’t bother to tell you, let alone your son, a few Tic-Tacs is good enough.  One fewer ball to carry.  Figure out your should’s and let go of those.  The world needs you to be lighter so that you don’t bring more burdens, but instead your humor, your joy and your gifts.

 

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