Bring the World to You

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been surrounded by foreign visitors in my house.  My mom, having lived and traveled in parts of Europe and Africa, felt that it was important for our home to be filled with people and artifacts from all over the world.  We had African masks and drums in the house, and greeted our first Foreign Stay Student from Taiwan when I was six.  The idea was that we were to house a graduate student who would be attending Stanford University from a different country and help acclimate them for a few weeks before school started.  Eve wrote to us ahead of time to let us know that she was “very fat.”  We didn’t know what to expect but were surprised when she showed up to find that she wasn’t fat at all, but quite tall for an Asian woman.  (She confused the world fat with tall.) We had arranged for her to sleep in my bed in my room and I slept in my sister’s room.  But she told us shyly that she preferred to sleep on the floor.  We had a Nigerian couple, which was special for my mom since she had lived in Nigeria, but they didn’t bathe much and wore very strong perfume, so the house had an interesting smell. They also fought a lot because Victor felt that he should be in charge, but Ronke, his wife, was of a higher status since she was the daughter of a Chief, so she felt free to boss him around.  I know they loved listening to me sing show tunes, which they had never heard before.

During one of California’s droughts, we had Masahiro from Japan, who insisted on bathing multiple times per day, even though we tried to explain why there was a bucket in the shower to collect water for the plants.  He just needed to stay very clean, but he was quite polite and came with lots of gifts.  There was David from the Cameroon, who became very close with my dad and planned to name his 7th child, the one his wife was expecting, “Stanford” if it was a boy and “Melinda” if it was a girl.  They ended up having a girl and there is a Melinda Nti in the Cameroon somewhere.  There were others, like Yulia from Russia and Ali from Iran, and not only did they stay for three weeks before their term began, they showed up at many Easter and Thanksgivings. Whenever I came home from college or flew out to visit as an adult, I never knew which “strays” (as my parents called them with a smile) would show up.  I have fond memories of playing Pictionary with foreigners from several different countries.  And, the highlight was getting to be in Eve’s wedding when I was 10.  I still remember the long white dress with the green sash and the red roses down the front that I wore that evening.  I felt like a princess.

Now that I have my own family, my husband and I have tried to expose our children a lot  to different cultures through our own international friends and through travel.  But until this last week, we had never been able to replicate my experience of being surrounded by foreign students.  Since my daughter is part of a French exchange this year at her school, the British International School, we have been hosting a French student from Arles for the past week.  Eva is a spirited and lovely teen who speaks some English but not enough to not have to use a lot of our French.  I found myself jumping in and speaking my very rusty French which is becoming better by the day out of necessity.  Eva gets so excited by things we take for granted, since they are new to her, like pancakes (they only have thin crepes), and large hot breakfasts with bacon and eggs (they have light breakfasts with bread and jam) and Reeses Pieces and barbecue chips (they don’t have as much junk food) and watching Dance Moms (she likes the dance and the moms shouting at each other).  The first time she ate guacamole was like watching my kids discover their first bite of cake. She loves Mexican food and pop tarts and TJ Maxx and all discount shopping and grilled cheese sandwiches and making sundaes with candy on top.  She loves how big the grounds are at my daughter’s school, since she goes to school in a small church that is centuries old.  She loves American pop and knows a lot of the words.  She uses way too much perfume and hair spray and spends a lot of time on her hair.  She is very stylish, in a French teenage kind of way.

There is something about travel that takes us out of our own little world into something new and exciting.  But there is also something about having a foreign exchange student in your home that opens your world even more.  Unlike visiting a country and planning your trip and itinerary, teenagers are unpredictable and mysterious, particularly in a different language.  Last night I found Eva in her room dancing to pop music and watching a video, too excited by the Science Museum and seeing Harvard, to sleep.  This morning, it was all I could do to drag her to school, since she wanted to sleep.  But she got up, took a very long shower, used a ton of hairspray and an hour later was as good as new. I am so grateful to have this fascinating person in our home, and feel hopeful about the world, because foreigners are really just strangers we haven’t met yet.

To find your world stage, consider the idea of bringing the world to you and invite an exchange student to stay.  You won’t regret it.

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Arles, France

All the Same

In a world that is so filled with violence and despair, it gives me hope to coach people from all over the world.  I love knowing that clients in Australia struggle with the same thing as those in France or the UK or Germany or the States.  We all want meaningful work and we want relationships that bring us joy.  We all have challenges with bosses and family members and we all struggle at some point in our lives with feeling stuck or afraid or alone.  It’s easy to forget that, however, if you haven’t traveled, or you don’t have the privilege of getting to know people from all over the world.  When I think about Europeans and how freely and frequently they travel, because of proximity, it makes me sad that Americans choose to be so isolated.  Yes, we are mostly surrounded by water, other than bordering Mexico and Canada, but we are also figuratively isolated.

According to the most recent statistics from the State Department, most Americans do not have passports.  Only 46% do, but it varies tremendously from state to state.  New Jersey has the highest at 62%, followed by New York (59%), Massachusetts (58%), and Alaska, Connecticut and Delaware (all were at 55%).  Mississippi has the lowest, with just 17%, followed by West Virginia (19%), Alabama (22%), Arkansas (22%) and Kentucky (23%). (The Expeditioner.com, Dec 11, 2016.) Most of the red states that voted for Trump are states with fewer passport holders, which makes sense, given the fear of a global economy and foreigners.  And the fact is that international travel is much more expensive than travel by car, something even middle or working class Europeans can easily do.

Travel for me has been such a gift, from the first time I went to Europe as a 12 year-old with a few French phrases memorized, and flirted with a cute boy at the top of the Eiffel Tower.  Or the time I backpacked through Europe solo and got lost so easily (pre iPhone and GPS), that I had a number of concerned citizens walking with me to make sure I got where I needed to go.  I am grateful for the Swiss family who didn’t speak a word of English and tolerated my very basic and slow French, while feeding me the most incredible cheese and chocolate and doing my laundry.  I remember my husband’s Irish great aunt, not a day younger than 70, squealing in delight when she met us, having prepared a huge feast even though we arrived mid-day for a quick stop.  I remember the first time in Japan in my late twenties, when I forgot to take off my shoes or tried to shake hands instead of bowing, and for being grateful to get to experience such a different culture and language.

The greatest gift of traveling and living abroad, as well as coaching people from other countries, is that I remember that there is no right way to be, to live, to work, to raise children, to find love.  All of us want similar things, but each of us seeks it in a unique way, partly based on our geography, values, upbringing and culture.  It is dangerous when we start to believe that our country is the best and the only place to live, that our way of doing things is right and everyone else is wrong.  I used a stroller to transport my kids, but many Africans carry their babies on their backs.  We take off our shoes inside our house like the Japanese, but most people don’t.  I chose my husband based on love, but many couples from other cultures swear by arranged marriages.

To find your world stage, remember that we are more the same than we are different.  We are humans who want to love and be loved, to work in a meaningful way, and to make a difference in our families, our communities, our country and our world.  In the end, no matter our country or politics or religion or race, we are all the same.

 

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My son in Japan in 2014.

 

 

You Are Not Broken

We have this idea as a society that we are inherently broken.  The entire advertising industry is devoted to making people feel that who they are and what they own isn’t enough.  We need a bigger house, a better car, a sexier spouse, a snazzier career.  And we need endless self-help books to help us improve each imperfection bit by bit. I have to admit, that I used to fall into that trap of believing the advertisements and buying one self-help book after another to try to “fix” myself.  Then several years ago, I got tired of listening to others’ views of what I needed and decided to listen to myself.  I realized that I am in fact not broken. I am perfect in my imperfection, just as we all are. It was so freeing to realize that it was okay to drive a seven year-old Subaru and not to have perfect abs and not to have children who perform perfectly on each test and in every soccer game.  And I certainly didn’t need to keep buying self-help books that try to fix every last imperfection. It just made me feel bad about myself.

As many of you know, I am coach and work largely with women helping them to re-find their voice and claim their world stage. But to be honest, I’m bothered by the coaching industry right now.  So many coaches seem to be about the business of helping clients to fix themselves by selling overpriced retreats to Hawaii, or by using flowery language like “life design” and “finding your inner joy” and “dancing with you” and “finding the perfect balance.” These are not words that most people can relate to.  I know I can’t and I’m a coach! While I use goal setting and help clients to visualize steps to get to where they want to go, I also believe that life happens sometimes in ways that you can’t predict and that don’t fall into a perfect “life design.”  This last week, for instance, one of my daughter’s teenage friends inexplicably picked up a rock and threw it hard and fast at a group of her friends who were standing and talking, striking my daughter in the hand and almost breaking it.  We spent a week dealing with a girl who covered the truth to avoid getting into trouble and a school that was reluctant to punish a straight A student who happens to lie well.  In the end my daughter learned about betrayal and the importance of doing the right thing and telling the truth, which are hard but important lessons.  But was this incident on my goals list?  No.  The fact is that sometimes life throws curve balls, whether in the form of a rock or a job loss, or a break up. For me, no part of this week allowed me to find the “perfect balance.” No part of me wanted to “dance” with any of this stress. I didn’t feel “innerly joyful” about what happened.  None of the trite, over-used coaching words applied and no self help book could help me.  (Do they have a book called Teen Girls Who Hurt Their Friends With Rocks?)

Here is my thought on life and coaching:  We are beautiful in our imperfection, in our striving, in our trying each day to get it right. We do not need to be fixed.  No amount of shopping or decorating or working or (fill in the blank) will fix the fact that we are born alone and we die alone, and no one really knows why we are here in this life.  But what I do know as a coach is that my clients are some of the bravest people I know because they show up each week,and no matter how stuck they are, are how trapped they feel by life or their choices or others’ expectations, they take little steps each week in the direction of something that will make them feel more alive.  For one it is finding work that matches her political ideals, for another it’s leaving a small life for a bigger one internationally, for another it’s creating art that matters and using it to help reform prisons.  None of these clients are broken. And none are perfect, just like me.  My job is to remind them not to believe the lies that there is something wrong with them.  But like a flower, we are each unique and unfolding and we won’t be here forever, so why not stretch out right now and enjoy the sunshine?

To find your world stage, remember that you are not broken, but the world is.  Stop trying to fix yourself and instead find a way to make someone else feel a little less broken.

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Do What Matters (Part 2)

The decision I made in 2013, in response to feeling stuck and dealing with unremitting eye pain, was what really changed my life: I was no longer going to listen to others’ voices and instead listen to my own. I started taking risks and caring a lot less about what other people thought:

•I went back to school to get certified as a coach so that I could coach outside the context of voice lessons.
•I started my business called World Stage Coaching, helping women to find their voice and claim their world stage.
•My husband and I pulled our two children out of school for six months while we traveled through Asia and Oceania. My husband did academic research, while I planned and coordinated the trip (including 16 flights!) and home-schooled our kids. I was also able to coach clients while traveling.
•I released my second CD, a jazz recording.

It wasn’t until I took the Live Your Legend Start a Blog Challenge that I began writing consistently and re-found my voice. I had been blogging in my mind long before I started actual blogging, but everything changed when I committed to getting my writing out of my head and into the world.

I started a blog called Your World Stage as an adjunct to my coaching business, World Stage Coaching (www.worldstagecoaching.com), which helps women who are stuck and playing small claim their world stage. When I started writing, I realized I had lost a lot of confidence from listening to the outside world’s voices, but that writing could help me to figure out what I felt and believed.

Here are the 4 Top Ways to Begin to Do Something that Matters, which aligns with the four pillars of Live Your Legend.

BECOME A SELF-EXPERT: I became a detective (figuratively). I looked back at old journals and photo albums to remind myself what I loved and the kind of people whom I needed to surround myself with. I also started recording my dreams to figure out what I was feeling and needing on an unconscious level. Throughout my life, creating and performing music has fed my soul, and yet I realized that in the busyness of my life, I was doing less and less creating. I realized how passionate I was about coaching and how much I loved to write, and that I knew how to rediscover my voice because I had been teaching that to others for years.

DO YOUR IMPOSSIBLE: I reconnected to my greatest joys. I began by committing to traveling more, since I feel most happy and like myself when I’m exploring new places. My husband, who grew up all over the world, and I both realized how important this was for our family. We had traveled a lot before we were parents, but we weren’t sure how traveling would work with kids. We did spend a summer in Japan when the kids were babies, and took them to England and France when they were 7 and 5, but that didn’t feel like enough. Our experience traveling through and living in Hawaii, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and Japan for six months was transformational because we got to teach our children how to be world citizens and break free of constraints we had taken on back home. I also returned to songwriting and started singing more. I recorded a second CD—nine years after my first had been released. I went to coaching school to get certified in coaching, since I loved it and had been doing it for 20 years as a natural outgrowth of my vocal coaching business. I started listening to new music, taking long walks through nature, and doing photography.

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PASSIONATE PEOPLE: I looked for a new, positive tribe to support and inspire me, and I learned to say NO a lot. I made notes about the people in my life who made me feel excited and joyful, and noticed who drained me. I made a list of the types of people I wanted to attract as friends, colleagues and clients. I noticed when those types of people showed up and I took the initiative to get to know them. I had felt drained and overscheduled and I realized that if I didn’t get a clear sense of what I wanted to do, other people would decide that for me. I had been trying to be all things to all people and was definitely addicted to pleasing. I started keeping track of how many times I could say “no” to something I didn’t want to do, so that I would have the time and space to say “YES” to me. I realized that the more I said “no” to people and activities that I didn’t want, the more space I was creating for something better.

DO SOMETHING THAT MATTERS: I started blogging and got my writing out into the world. I also committed to growing my business, which helps women who feel lost and disempowered to find their confidence again and re-connnect with their greatest joys. I am committed to helping women find their voice, when they’ve lost it, and claim the world stage that is waiting there for them.

I have come to know who I am and what matters to me and I am doing things that I didn’t think were possible. I do things that scare me, like learning to build a business and getting my voice out into the world, and I am constantly challenging myself to do more. I’m also consciously surrounding myself with people who make me feel alive. Finally, I am asking myself every day how I can make a difference in the lives of my family, my friends, my clients, my audiences, and in the greater world. When a client goes from playing small to living big, I realize that there is now one more person who has found her voice and is sharing her talents with the world.

(For original blog post, go to http://liveyourlegend.net/blog/)

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