Just Show Up

As Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is just showing up.” I love that quote because it’s so basic. We forget that before we can become successful, we just have to show up. I know we’re all busy and have a lot of things going on, but the reality is that we do the things that we absolutely have to do, like going to work each day, because we don’t want to lose our jobs. We know that we have to show up at our siblings’ and best friends’ weddings, so that’s easy. But how many of us don’t show up again and again in ways that matter? Last fall, I took an online course through Live Your Legend called “Connect With Anyone.” It’s a 12 week course that involves weekly online coursework, online check-ins, and mastermind groups. I was really looking forward to being part of a big community of entrepreneurs, and even though I learned a lot, I was surprised by how few people actually showed up week after week to comment on what we were learning and be there for others. I noticed the people who wrote about themselves but never commented on others’ comments. I noticed the people who dropped out, but I also noticed the people who stood out because they consistently showed up. They have since become friends and mastermind partners with me and I continue to be grateful for their generosity.

The fact is that it’s hard to commit to show up consistently in so many ways. What about playing with your kids? Or staying in touch with your friends? I can’t tell you the number of people who have said to me over the years, “I’m not good at keeping in touch with friends.” The reality is that some people simply don’t make it a priority, so those who do, like my husband’s close friends from high school, really stand out. How many of us show up at our kids’ events but text all the way through? I certainly have my flaws, but texting through performances is not one of them. I know how quickly our kids are growing up, and how important it is to really be present for every second of a cello recital or a first musical, or a house design project. Showing up means unplugging and being present, but in our sped-up world, it’s increasingly uncommon.

I know that showing up is hard to do when you’re tired and have a lot going on, and sometimes the best choice really is to stay home. It’s true that sometimes when you do show up for something that’s not essential, it turns out that it really wasn’t important to come. Sometimes the party isn’t fun or the new yoga class is a bust. But how do you know unless you try? A few nights ago, I went to a cabaret open mic night at a local church. It was scary to do. I hadn’t sung professionally in over 10 years, even though I had written a lot of music and recorded and released two albums since then. Still, I had chosen to put performing on hold for a long time because with two young children and a husband traveling internationally a lot and many evening commitments, there were too many things (and people) pulling at me that mattered. So anyway, this week, since my two kids are both away at sleep-away camp, I decided that now was the time and I was going to show up at this open mic, no matter what the outcome. I quickly rehearsed my two songs, one an original song and one a jazz tune, and drove to the church. I forced myself to meet 30 people who had been coming regularly and to sit through 3 1/2 hours of a big range of performance abilities. I was delighted to hear some strong singers and was also impressed that people who really couldn’t sing well at all still had the courage to show up and get out there.

The best part of showing up when you’re scared and you don’t want to, is that sometimes amazing things happen. In my case, I got great applause and wonderful feedback, I connected with some musicians I really liked, and I even got a future gig out of it, so I’m now officially back in the saddle performing-wise. The last time I had a gig, I was paid really well and reviewed by the Boston Globe. This time, however, I’ll be part of a group of 5 performers, each of us singing only a 20 min set, and I will not only do it for free, I will have to pay $70 toward the pianist and the space since the evening is a fundraiser. Yes, I’m taking a few steps back to get started again, but I’m proud that I took time off for my family, even while keeping other facets of my music front and center all along.  The fact is that when you put something front and center, other things naturally have to fall behind. But the answer to changing that is still to show up, no matter the outcome.

To find your world stage, think about the things and the people that matter to you and make sure you are showing up for them, unplugged and present, because you never know what will happen. You might just discover how much you’ve missed performing.

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Slow Down

For those of us who tend to be Type A more than we care to admit, summer is the necessary pause that allows us to slow down. What I love most about this time of year is that the light shifts to a much more brilliant hue, the weather is lovely and warm, and the pace changes to something much slower. All of us with kids breathe a collective sigh of relief when school is over and camp is on. No homework, no playdate organization, no racing around, no activities. We can finally sit on the front stoop and watch the sky.  Summer is also the time my family and I travel; we just returned from a few weeks exploring Portugal and Spain. Travel is a great teacher, because you are forced to slow down, to be inconvenienced, and to not understand over and over.  It’s very easy when you are in another country to just want everything done the way it is done back home, but that’s not how it works. In Lisbon, we stayed in a tiny apartment in an old Moorish slum that involved over 60 steps (with crumbling cobblestones) to access. None of this would have been to code in the States. The “do gooder” in me wanted to paint over the endless graffiti on every building, and I wondered why everyone moved so slowly and no one seemed to be working much. In Santiago do Cacem, we stayed in the countryside where there was literally nothing to do except relax, or go to the local beach. We had a private house with a little balcony with views of the ocean. As long as I didn’t fret that the pool was too dirty to swim in and the kids were covered with mosquito bites from having no screens on the windows, I was fine. Watching the sunset over the valley and enjoying the pace of doing nothing was the reset that we needed. Then in Faro, we spent the day at the beach with a picnic of fresh tomatoes and cheese and bread, cherries warm from the sun and chocolate, and spent evenings laughing as a family while playing cards. I responded to as few emails as possible. Even though I wanted to clean our apartment’s dirty tile floor and was frustrated by the uneven WiFi, it was a great reminder that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be happy. I could just let go.

In Seville, the weather was 107 degrees every day and the streets in the old city so narrow that the sidewalks disappeared in the middle of a block, leaving cars to travel within inches of each passerby. I missed the safety and ease of American streets and sidewalks, but I was mesmerized by the beauty of this old city, with the Moorish influences mixed with beautiful Spanish architecture. I remembered that when it’s really hot, you have to go slowly. And you need to rest in the afternoon, which is why siestas are so popular in hot southern countries. On the way back to Lisbon, we stopped in Evora and the temperature was boiling and the Roman ruins not as impressive as advertised, but we had a lovely picnic as a family and bought some souvenirs. Back in Lisbon, we had to practice our breathing after our first housing plan fell through (long story) and we had to drag our suitcases up and down the cobblestone hills of Lisbon to get to our new place. But you can’t walk fast when dragging suitcases, and in the middle of this, we passed through a large African wedding celebration, with all the people dressed up in colorful garb, the women and children dressed particularly elaborately.

We’ve been fortunate to travel internationally quite a bit.  I’ve now traveled to 25 countries, and my husband to 35. My kids, at ages 14 and 12, have been to 10 countries.  And yet, we are hardly perfect as travelers. Our trip began with a missed flight due to a scheduling change I hadn’t made note of, forcing us to return home for 36 hours and catch a much-less convenient flight two days later. On our way out of Lisbon with our brand new rental car, we realized we had received a lemon car, with a broken clutch that wouldn’t change gears, and after discovering smoke coming out of the hood of our car, we pulled over to the side of the freeway and spent hours in a public housing slum, waiting to be rescued. We were delayed by hours getting to our next place, and the owner of the hotel almost didn’t let us in since we arrived so late. It was only after I threatened that we would have to sleep in the car with our two children that the gates were opened and we were let in.  I realized in these tough situations, that I had to slow down so that I could respond to each issue calmly and effectively.

To find your world stage, remember that travel is essential to understanding the greater world, as well as yourself. It will never be perfect and it will never be easy, but it will challenge you and delight you in unforgettable ways. And, just as summer naturally does, it will force you to slow down, which is something that we all need in this crazy, chaotic world.

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My family in Seville, Spain

Beware of Bad Guys

When I was in 4th grade, I watched Batman on tv with my best friend, also named Melinda, and loved that we could cheer on the good guys and boo the bad guys, and that it was always clear which was which. Unfortunately, in real life, that is not the case. People aren’t always as they seem, and sometimes the person who appears rough around the edges, like my daughter’s music teacher, has a heart of gold, and yet some of the mom volunteers at my kids’ former school, who were pretty and stylish, were not as nice as they seemed, forming invisible cliques that made middle school look like a walk in the park. (Thankfully, I stopped volunteering with the PTO a few years ago.)

I’ve tried to teach my kids the importance of trusting their instincts, something which is so crucial but is not easily taught or even mentioned in school. We are told to be polite and trust others, which is why it is so essential to learn to have a healthy skepticism, whether toward an internet or mail “offer” or a stranger at our door. I just recently received a bill that looked very authentic for a trademark I had registered a few years ago. The bill was for around $900 and I can see how a lot of busy people with inexact records might pay it. The only problem is that it’s a total fake. I already paid for a 10 year license, so I ripped up the bill. My parents and other retired people are often targets for IRS scams, with phone calls threatening them if they don’t pay up. Thankfully, my parents understand that this is a scam, but many people don’t.

When it comes to strangers at our door, most are innocent, whether they are asking for charity money or trying to proselytize, but some are not. I’ll never forget when my husband and I were newly married and living in an apartment on the first floor. One day someone tried to buzz into our apartment even though I wasn’t expecting anyone. A lot of our neighbors would just buzz in the person without checking, since there was no way to verify who it was without going to the door. I felt that this was unsafe, however, so since I was on the first floor, I just went to the door. There behind the glass was a good-looking guy in a flannel shirt. He looked like a graduate student, someone who I should have easily buzzed in. And yet I knew deep down something was wrong. I asked through the glass, “What do you need?” and the man responded, “I’m here to fix your building’s heating problems since you don’t have any heat.” He even had a badge to validate his story. Now in most buildings, that would have been true. But in our building, we had the opposite problem: the heat was always running. I knew in that moment that this guy was a fake and that he was there to do harm. I told him that he was a fraud and I was calling the police and he threatened to break down the door. The only reason he left thankfully is that he heard other neighbors on the first floor, even though I was all alone in the lobby. This was before cell phones, so I didn’t have a way to call 911 from where I was. As soon as he fled, I went to the police and gave the perfect description for the guy they had been looking for: a good-looking graduate student-type who was breaking into buildings and threatening people. I never forgot how important it is to trust my instincts.

More recently, a few years ago after we had just moved in to our new house, a woman showed up at our door acting very strangely, saying that she had lived in the house when it was rented the previous summer– and yes the prior owner did have summer renters. She said she needed to come in to check out if her jewels were still in the house. At first, I didn’t listen to my instincts– I figured she was just sad and spacy and honestly wanted to get her jewelry back. I told her that nothing was there– the house was empty when we moved in. But she kept still trying to peer around our door, and given that my husband was not home, I was starting to feel very creepy about her. I suggested that she talk with the seller’s realtor in case the seller had seen anything, and then when I had time to think, I realized how strange her story was. I said she had to leave, and thankfully she did. I reported her to the police and they said that this is a common trick that bad guys do; they find a recently sold house that had been rented out and try to clean the new owners out. They also choose a “front man” who appears innocent, and the guys in charge often hide in the bushes for back up. The problem is that this woman seemed like she was either high or crazy or both. Thankfully, I was smart enough not to let her in, and I was just about to call out for my pretend cop husband if necessary to scare her off.

To find your world stage, watch out for bad guys. Things are not always as they appear. Sometimes a graduate student-type might be trying to harm you, and a nice woman who lost her jewelry might be trying to steal from you. It’s up to you to listen to your instincts to protect yourself, whether it is someone in person, over the phone or by computer or mail. Most people really are good, but just remember that life is not always as simple as Batman. It’s up to you to recognize who the bad guys are.

 

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Health Is a Right

It used to be that when you took a flight, you were treated like royalty. I remember the first time that I flew to Europe when I was 12, my parents insisted that my sister and I look nice for the flight, because that is what you did then. They were right. Everyone on the flight dressed up. Flights used to be expensive and fewer people were able to fly, so you were treated in coach class then more like first class today. That was before flights got cheaper, people started wearing sweat pants to travel, and flying began to feel more like traveling by bus. Then to add insult to injury, airlines began cutting back on services to save money. You used to get a free movie and a hot meal; now you’re lucky if you get a bag of pretzels. It’s gotten to the point in which customers are starting to wonder when airlines will start charging money for oxygen.

The idea that oxygen could become a new travel expense may seem far-fetched, but in the United States, a debate is raging right now about who gets to have health care. Republicans believe that health care is a privilege, like cable tv or cell phones or owning a car. Democrats believe that health care is a right, more like oxygen on a plane that no one should ever be denied, regardless of what class they are in. What is scary to me is that neither side can see the merits of the other side, so our country is becoming more and more polarized. Democrats refuse to see the fact that there are people in our society who try to game the system, like educated graduate students applying for Food Stamps, or healthy people pretending to be sick to get Disability. And there are citizens who have four children with four different fathers as teenagers and have no way to support them, expecting everyone else to pay. But Republicans refuse to see that we are not all born with equal opportunity. A child born to a teenage addict is going to have a harder time than a child born to two educated parents who want and love him. And society needs to help those who are born less fortunate.

As I always tell my kids, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I am lucky to have the life I have, and I also know that to those who are given much, much is expected. Every religions talks about the importance of helping those who are struggling. As a society, and as a world, helping to bring others up elevates us all. And yet we have a mean-spiritedness in our discourse, an every man out for himself concept that is uniquely American, something that the rest of the world just shakes its head over. If a child is born with a disability or an older person doesn’t have the money to care for herself, do we just throw them out on the street? A compassionate society understands that if you are more successful, you need to give more to help those who can’t contribute as much. It’s only right.

As you seek your world stage, don’t ever forget that you were once a little baby, relying on the goodness of others to take care of you. Don’t forget all the people who have loved and helped and encouraged you along the way to help you get to where you are. You are not successful because you are more special.  You are where you are partly due to hard work and sacrifice, but also because of luck and timing and lots of help and well-wishers along the way. The best way to celebrate your good fortune is to think of others. Nobody chooses to be poor or to have a sick child and our country is stronger when our people are healthy. Health care should be a right that every one has access to, just like K-12 education and fire and police services. And if airlines ever try to start charging for oxygen, let’s hope that there’s a big fight, because we all have the right to breathe, just as we all have the right to health.

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These are selfies passengers took from a recent flight that required oxygen mid-flight.