Don’t Have the Time

When my neighbor was dying of cancer, she wrote in a blog about the fact that she had put so much on hold, like having fun and spending time with her young kids, because she was working long hours to build her career. She was one of those ambitious high-achievers who had a plan and checked everything off her list, thinking that if she worked hard enough that everything would fall into place. She thought she had all the time in the world to focus on her career. Many people can relate to that. It never occurred to her, however, that she would get aggressive breast cancer at age 37 and be dead three years later.

There were two things that struck me about that. One was how often smart, hard-working, talented people feel that they can control their life path, as if hard-work somehow keeps bad things from happening. I did everything right in my pregnancy with my son, for instance, not even taking a Tylenol when I had a headache, but he still was born with capillary malformation and required years and years of skin procedures with anesthesia. I eat and take good care of myself, and yet still managed to get an inflammatory eye condition six years ago that has baffled doctors and left me, on bad days, feeling hopeless that I’ll ever find a solution. I started to blame myself, thinking that maybe I wasn’t eating healthfully enough, until I heard about a friend’s relative who ran marathons and ate kale (which I don’t like) and died of a brain tumor before she was 40.

The other thing that struck me about my neighbor was how fearless she was once she knew she was dying. She wrote that she used to be scared about not doing well on an exam or in her work, but then would say, “What’s the worst that can happen?” But when the worst that can happen is that you will die a slow horrifying death in a year or two after many painful treatments? That’s terrifying at first, and then ultimately freeing. When I knew this neighbor, it was almost entirely after she had been diagnosed, and she was the most present, joyful mom, having friends over, playing in a teepee with the kids, doing arts and crafts, baking and going on trips. One of my favorite song lyrics is from Me and Bobby McGee: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” There’s a lot of freedom in no longer having the time to care what others think.

But what if you didn’t have to be dying to become fearless? I often tell my clients, who are worried about what people will think, that they just have to keep forging ahead, since you don’t want to look back on your life and wonder why you didn’t try that new career, or leave the bad marriage, or take that trip. I have clients who keep thinking that they aren’t talented enough or educated enough to get the career they want, when from my vantage point, they are all those things and more. And I’ve said before, there is no Permission Fairy that you have to wait for.

I used to have a real fear of failure, so I found myself playing small, until I realized that I needed to take risks. If I wasn’t doing things that scared me, then I needed to do more. I got my second CD out, I pulled my kids out of school for 6 months to travel the world, I got certified in coaching, and I started a coaching business separate from my vocal coaching/music business. I got clients from all over the world and coached people on their business and their relationships and their health and their creativity. I started performing. I started setting more boundaries, like the fact that I don’t want to have traditional Christmas for a number of years and would rather travel with my family instead. And you know what, the sky didn’t fall in. I reminded myself of the famous quote: “What you think about me is none of my business.” It was tempting to wait until my eye pain had healed or to wait until the kids were at better ages (whenever that is), but there will always be a reason not to do something. The fact is that none of us has the time to wait, even if we get to live healthfully into our late 90’s as both my grandmothers did.

Anne Lamott wrote in Operating Instructions about her first year of parenthood as a young mom, during which her closest friend was dying. At one point, Anne tried on a dress for her friend, but found herself asking if it made her hips look too big. Her friend said to her: “I really don’t think you have that kind of time.” It wasn’t that her dying friend didn’t have that time. It was that Anne didn’t either. None of us does.

One of the things that is good about living in such a terrifying America right now is that citizens are FINALLY waking up. We didn’t wake up after 20 innocent 1st graders were murdered, or after many other massacres, but somehow after the recent Florida shooting, we are waking up and we are mad. I received messages from both of my kids’ schools about their active shooter drills that they run regularly, and I’m grateful that I don’t have tiny children at this point who are living in this kind of fear. Once you get to a point where Congress is just out to make money and pay back their donors, where housing is so expensive and good jobs are so few that the homeless and drug-addicted are growing exponentially, and that children are getting massacred with machine guns, then it’s easier not to care what the neighbors think. We don’t have the time to waste. Now is the time.






Fake News

In this current political climate of Fake News accusations, it is useful to identify where in our lives we have our own version of fake news. Until this election, it never occurred to me that there was such a thing as truly fake news, but now that we know Russia tried to interfere with American elections, it’s a sobering reality. We’ve always known that advertising was fake in the sense that words are used to manipulate us into buying products we don’t need, by identifying problems we don’t have and solutions we can’t afford. But fake news exists even closer to home. The newest thing is that businesses are now calling themselves “communities” so that customers will feel compelled to give of their time to help the business. This is very common among businesses catering to coaches growing their businesses. The fact is, if you are buying a service, you have no obligation to help that business. And yet we feel compelled to, because we want to be part of a community. Schools do the same things. One of my kid’s schools tries to hook in parent volunteers by providing “opportunities” to be part of community and give school tours for free or host a student. Given what we’re paying for private school tuition, this is a big ask. This would actually be a favor, not an opportunity. But it’s spun in such a way to make it sound like the school is doing you a favor.

Churches do this too, making you feel that all are welcome and that they care about your needs and opinions. But after trying out multiple churches over the years, none of which felt right after a while, I’ve come to realize that the pattern is the same. You attend a few times, and then the requests for your time and money come in and never stop, but you need to walk on eggshells if you disagree with the priests. And if you have ideas that conflict with what the leadership wants, you will be attacked for not fitting in, even though “everyone is welcome.” We left our last church a few weeks ago because the priest was offended that I had different political beliefs than he did and sent me a very angry email, lashing out at me for having a different view. It was not clear initially, but became clear, that he is part of a radical far left movement that is so extreme, there is no room for any other way of being or thinking. I realized that this church was delivering fake news; it wasn’t about Christianity but socialist politics. We left, and we’ve never felt more relieved.

I noticed in this day and age of sound bites and tweets and social media posing, it’s hard to know if someone is telling the truth. We have a president who lies constantly and congressmen who are getting hand-outs so that they will vote against most Americans’ interests. It’s hard to trust that any politician is telling the truth. This ends up trickling down to day-to-day interactions. I’m amazed by how many people think it’s okay to just not return emails or calls, and their excuse is that they’re busy. I love the idea of “He’s Just Not That Into You” to share with my clients who are struggling with dating unavailable men. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but if someone isn’t returning calls, it speaks volumes about them. If a friend or colleague is ignoring you or disrespecting you, but comes up for all sorts of “spin” for why that is happening, remember Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous words: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” Actions do in fact speak louder than words.

To find your world stage, notice the fake news in your life, the times you’re being told something that you know is a lie, the times when the truth is being spun or when you’re being sold a false bill of goods. All you have to do is listen to your gut. And once you know what is the truth, then you will know how to proceed.




Play Full Out

Woody Allen was once quoted as saying,”Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  Given how important showing up is, however, it’s amazing how many people don’t even do that, whether it’s the student who cuts more classes than she attends, the dad who promises to throw a ball with his kid but always has some excuse, or the friend who keeps canceling lunch dates with you because it’s too much to commit.  When you don’t show up, it hurts you because you can’t be trusted and are viewed in a negative light.  How often do people say things like, “We should have lunch sometime,” but not really mean it and never once suggest a date?  One of the most important things I’ve taught my kids is that they need to be a person of their word. If they say that they are going to do something, they need to do it. Reliable people are becoming a rare breed unfortunately.

But what about the other 20% of success?  I think that is reserved for the people who choose to play full out, no matter what, and who go the extra mile.  When I was in coaching school, the number one rule for our class and for being a coach in general was to play full out.  This meant being open to everyone and everything, being willing to try new things and look silly, and being open to learning and being wrong and looking foolish.  It’s no wonder we all felt so alive during our training, because for the first time in our lives, everyone was 100% committed.  What would our lives and our businesses look like if we all played full out and gave more than was expected?  What kind of world would we have, where people spent less time complaining that they can’t get ahead and more time doing kind things for others, whether picking up trash along a river, or helping a homeless person feel less lonely?  Today, I noticed a woman was trying to load her large toddler into a shopping cart and the cart kept moving.  I just grabbed the cart to steady it and said, “Take your time.  I got this.” She seemed so relieved and it was so easy.  Another woman was parking illegally and didn’t know it, so I pulled down my window and warned her so that she wouldn’t get a ticket or get towed.  Other people have done the same for me.  When I was backpacking in Europe in my twenties, I was always lost since I have a bad sense of direction (and this was before GPS) and I was always running late for the train.  Strangers came out of nowhere to grab my bags and run with me to make the train and help me get where I needed to go.  I will always be grateful.

There is no greater business secret in my mind than providing such “wow” service that people can’t help but rave about you.  Places like Amazon and Nordstrom’s do that beautifully.  Because so many businesses don’t do that, however, it’s not that hard to compete if you always put the customer first.  As both my father and my grandfather, both successful businessmen, taught me, “The customer is always right.”  I also learned that it’s easier to keep a customer than to win a new one, so serving your customers makes bottom line sense.  What about beyond business?  As a parent, if you consistently spend time with your kids when they are little and if you keep your promises, they will want to spend time with you when they are older and don’t need you as much.  Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and they remember what you value– not in words but in action– throughout their childhood.  The same thing applies to friends.  Are you there for your friends in a real world way or do you just chat sometimes on Facebook?  They are not the same thing, and yet increasingly people seem to think that they are.

To find your world stage, it’s not about who wins.  It’s about being there for your family and friends and teammates and customers, trying your hardest, and knowing that no matter what, that you showed up and you played full out and you gave it your all. If you do that, you will be unforgettable.


This is my daughter in a school x-country race.


Sharing Space

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.