You’re Gonna Miss This

Last summer, my husband and his three siblings gathered for 48 hours to be with his parents, given that their dad had experienced some health scares. It was a special gathering for everyone, particularly since in this case, it was just the original siblings—no spouses or children. They realized that they hadn’t all been together in their original family form for almost 30 years, since the older siblings started getting married and having babies. It made me realize how special our time is with our kids while we have them, because once they go off to college and then marry and have their own families, it’s never quite the same. I remember when my kids were babies, and I was endlessly nursing the little one and reading to both of them, balancing them on my rocker as their little bodies squiggled to see the pages. An older friend of mine who had teens at the time, said, “I would give anything to have those days again.” Even though I was exhausted from the constant diapers and tantrums, I got what she meant. This was a sweet time in our lives, when our little ones were so happy to snuggle up on our laps and devour the next picture book. I remember when my son Will would flap his arms in excitement as a baby every time I read Where Is Baby’s Belly Button? He loved that book so much, just as my daughter loved Mo Mo Goes to the City so much that she literally tried to eat it, by pulling off the tabs that moved the images and putting them in her mouth. I remember taking my kids on “nature walks” through our neighborhood with special buckets to pick up treasures. What I loved was how unhurried those days were. We lay on our backs to watch the clouds moving and would hug trees since “trees need love too.”

As my kids got older, my son wore capes for years to keep away bad guys and my daughter dressed up as princesses. (Just for the record, I would have been fine with the roles reversed.) We had a lot of tea parties and the kids dressed up all the time in different costumes. And then it was play dates and special snacks, and performances in the basement and clubs formed, like the Clementine Club, in which anyone could join if they were in 1st grade and loved clementines. There was learning to read, and discovering best friends. Then sleep-overs and soccer games and school plays. And now that my kids are 14 and 12, I love having their friends over, hearing about their lives, and enjoying the sound of loud laughter emerging from the basement, while the kids play Wii or shoot nerf guns. My job is to provide endless food and catch a glimpse into their lives. Getting to know my kids’ friends, who are smart and interesting people, makes me feel hopeful about the world.

The reality is that ever since my kids were babies, their lives has been expanding every year to include more of the world that doesn’t include me or my husband. We don’t really know what goes on at school, beyond what our kids and their teachers tell us. It’s their world, not ours. Camp is their own world, just as their activities are, as it should be. And increasingly the best way to find out about their lives is to take long car rides without electronics. Even on short rides, they start talking about their lives, even if I do have to listen to awful R&B-infused pop in the background as they are talking.

There’s a good country song called “You’re Gonna Miss This” which takes a teenage girl who can’t wait to grow up, through learning to drive, then her first apartment, then babies, and always wishing for the next stage. The chorus of the song is: “You’re gonna miss this/ You’re gonna want this back/You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast/These are some good times/So take a good look around/You may not know it now/
But you’re gonna miss this.” I love this sentiment because it echoes what I’ve tried to remind myself throughout my life. I’m going to miss this so I better pay attention.

As my husband and I get ready to take our kids to Portugal and Spain, we are grateful for the opportunity to hang out with our kids without distractions or friends or interlopers. It will just be us, a rental car, a few hotels, a map, food and alternating time on the beach with time seeing ruins and castles. This is why my husband and I feel so strongly about international travel, using our miles to take our kids to different countries. When we’re in a strange land, we have to rely on each other and we connect in a way that is harder to do back home with so many distractions.

To find your world stage, remember to savor what season of life you are in, whether it’s college, or your first job, or the early married years or being home with babies, or living with teens, because whatever stage it is, it will go by too fast, and someday you’re gonna miss this.

HPIM2664.jpgMy two children and I about 10 years ago.

 

Don’t Eat the Marshmallow

In the 1960’s a Stanford professor named Walter Mischel began a series of psychological experiments with young children, which ultimately revealed one of the most important factors in later success– the ability to delay gratification. The Marshmallow Experiment involved leading a 4 or 5 year-old child into a private room where there was a marshmallow on the table.  Each child was offered a deal:  if he or she did not eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes while the researcher was gone, there would be a reward of another marshmallow.  If the child didn’t wait, there would not be a second marshmallow.  The choice was eat one now or wait and eat two later. All the kids in the study were videotaped. Some children ate the treat as soon as the researcher left, some waited a few minutes as they tried to distract themselves and then finally gave in, and some managed to wait the whole 15 minutes.

Even though the study itself was interesting, what was really fascinating was the follow up with these children over forty years. The kids who held off eating the marshmallow had higher SAT scores, were less likely to be obese, had better social skills and a lower level of substance abuse.  In all measures of success, the group who showed the ability to delay gratification outperformed those who couldn’t wait.  If you think about it, the ability to put an immediate want on hold for a great goal is the key to success.  It means you commit to the hard work of being a good student, you hold off on having a baby until you’re married, you don’t succumb to drugs, you don’t eat everything you feel like eating, you get to the gym even though you don’t want to, and you don’t spend money on a car you can’t afford even though it might impress your friends.  Instead you hold off, push through the discomfort, and wait until you can make the right choice for yourself.

How many of us are able to delay gratification, however, in every area of our life for a greater goal?  It’s not easy.  We may be conscientious in our jobs but not careful with our diet.  We may make fitness a priority, but overspend so much that we’ve racked up a lot of credit card debt.  We may spend a lot of time with our kids, but don’t spend much time on our own self-care.  The reality is that it’s impossible to do all things perfectly and full out, since we only have so much energy and so many hours per day.  Most educated people I know agree that being a good student and working hard in your career are not optional for success, but we may let other things slide, like fitness and exercise, thinking that they aren’t as important, when in fact they are.

I’m currently taking an interesting online fitness program for entrepreneurs called the Entrepreneur Fitness Academy.  Before we even get to learning more about diet and exercise, we need to spend two weeks getting in to a champion mindset and then setting goals that are specific and measurable so that we know where we’re headed.  But most importantly, we need to have a WHY for our goal.  Why is that important?  If it doesn’t matter to you, it won’t happen.  I’m just guessing that for the kids with the marshmallows, those with the strongest why for waiting may have been able to hold off the longest.  Maybe those kids who held off focused on the fact that they were going to get two instead of one, or maybe they wanted to please the researcher, so their parents would be happy.  For those who didn’t wait, maybe they focused on the joy of eating what was in front of them, or maybe they didn’t trust that they really would get a second one.  That can kind of thinking, that life is short so why not have fun now while you can, can be a dangerous trap leading to all sorts of unhealthy behaviors, from drug and alcohol addiction to bankruptcy to crime.

To find your world stage, find what delights you and be aware of the importance of delaying gratification to get where you want to go.  The fact is that being uncomfortable is often a necessary part of creating success.  Change is scary, whereas going with what is known and safe feels good in the moment. In the end, however, it just keeps you stuck.  The key is to find every way you can to hold off on what is easy and right in front of you, knowing that there is a greater reward coming.  Hold off on the marshmallow, since there are better things waiting for you.

 

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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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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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Your Pilot Light

As we write our New Year’s resolutions, it’s worth thinking not just about what we want to achieve, but also what can get in the way of that and how we can avoid that happening. This new year, millions of people will once again claim that they will lose weight or get control of their finances, but how many actually will come up with a specific plan? How many pounds will they lose by when? How much money will they save by when? And how many people will come up with a plan for how to deal with push back, like friends thwarting your new eating plan because they miss hanging out and eating junk with you, or family members who like to shop or go on expensive vacations with you when you need to pay off debt and save for retirement?

One of the best things I learned years ago in my financial life was to have a clear plan outlining how much we made, how much we spent– tracking every single expense every day for over twenty years, which may be boring but is really helpful–and what we valued in terms of spending, such as education and travel instead of fancy clothes and cars. But I realized as ten pounds crept on in the past few years, that I didn’t have the same clear plan and “road map” when it came to fitness and health. It took me a while to realize that I need to treat my fitness goals the way I treat my finances. Now I’m learning to record what I eat, just as I keep note of what I spend. I’m also preparing for contingencies with “Plan B” work-out videos at home for days when there’s a storm outside and I can’t get to the gym.

What’s even more important in this new year is notice the things in general that are getting in the way of the life that you want. Now is the time to assess what works and what doesn’t. Do you have supportive friends and family members who inspire you, or do you feel as though you do all the listening and giving? It is true that opposites attract but not always in a good way. If you are a great listener who is naturally generous, it’s essential to watch out for people who love to talk endlessly about themselves and ask for favors and take advantage of your good will. We all know how it feels to have people talk and/or brag continuously. It leaves us feeling drained and annoyed. Having boundaries here isn’t cold; it’s essential for protecting your spirit.

Beyond relationships, it’s important to ask if you like where you live, how you spend your time, and the work you do. Do you feel as though you’re making a difference? If not, now is the time to think about changes you can make, starting with surrounding yourself with positive people who want to help you and who inspire you to do great things. I often ask clients to think about the scenario that they have a year to live and have to decide how to spend their time and with whom. Some people end up realizing that they are living someone else’s values—with all the trappings of success (big house, nice cars), but that they are not inspired and fulfilled and surrounded by people who build them up. This can be a rude but important awakening. I also ask clients to imagine being very old and looking back at their life and describing all the things that made it so special. This can be a wake up call for some, and for others, a sign that they are on the right path. The key to all of this is to figure out what you value and make sure that all your actions and choices are in line with those values. The worst thing is to let others choose your values by just going along with the crowd, since the crowd is often lost themselves, thinking that social media and reality TV will teach them what they need to know, which of course is not true.

To find your world stage, don’t let the worlds’ demands, your day-to-day obligations or others’ agendas get in the way of preserving your pilot light. That is the light within you that you need to protect at all costs, the way you protect the fire that keeps you warm when you’re in the wilderness. Like a pilot light that allows for a flame to burn, the metaphorical one is the one that drives your passion. You can’t let that go out and must protect it at all costs. If you do that, then the world is your oyster.

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Be the 10%

I recently re-read a fascinating book by Ben Sherwood called The Survivor’s Club, which recounts tale after tale of survival stories, explaining what works and what doesn’t when it comes to surviving.  In plane crashes, for instance, apparently many crashes are survivable as long as you remember that you have 90 seconds in general to get off a plane safely.  Mr. Sherwood’s advice is to keep footwear on for take-off and landing, know where your main and back up exits are (and choose seats close to exits), and don’t drink on flights so you are alert.  The biggest take-away scientists got from many disasters studied, is that in terms of human behavior, 10% of all people will get in the way and hinder others’ safety, 80% will pretend that nothing bad is happening and freeze, and 10% will make a difference.

Two years ago, just after having read this book for the first time, I flew home with my two children but without my husband from Tokyo to Newark en route to Boston.  The 13 hour flight from Tokyo had terrible turbulence the entire flight and the food was terrible, so that when we landed, the kids felt sick and exhausted.  But because of our quick lay-over, we had to push our way through customs and immigration and then run for our next flight.  My 11 year-old daughter felt panicked and sick when we boarded the flight to Boston at the last minute.  (We were so late, everyone was seated and ready to go and the doors were closing.) We were just about to sit down in our seats when my daughter collapsed in the aisle. In that moment, everything went to slow motion as I looked at my child, out stone cold.  I had no idea what had happened and was terrified.  I turned to a plane packed with 300 people and shouted at the top of my lungs, “Is there a doctor on board?”  Another few seconds went by slowly with no one responding, until finally a doctor’s hand went up, a pediatric cardiologist, and then a nurse.  (The flight attendants, who are trained for emergencies, had zero interest in helping.)  The nurse asked the flight full of people who had Benadryl, since my daughter was awake by then but having an allergic reaction. 25 people raised their hands.  I surveyed the hundreds of people witness to this emergency, and most people were looking down at their phones, pretending that nothing was happening at all.  And 10% looked actively pissed that this little girl was getting in the way of their travel plans.  And there it was:  10% helped, 80% ignored the problem, and 10% got in the way.

The good news is that my daughter was fine– she had fainted and was having a mild allergic reaction to something she had eaten.  I later learned what happened to the nice doctor who helped us and even advocated for us to be able to stay on that flight since my daughter was now fine.  (We were ultimately kicked off the flight and had to wait another few hours until my daughter was deemed safe to fly).  But when the Middle Eastern doctor went to the cockpit to talk to the pilot, they thought he might be a terrorist, so they pushed him back to his seat.  I learned about this because he is colleagues with my friend’s husband. I never forgot how people acted on that plane.  And I remembered from the book that in a life or death situation in which you are trying to survive, some people will be there to help, but most people will get in your way, so you need to be able to advocate for yourself and have a plan.

As you think about what your world stage is, however large or small, remember that you want to always be and surround yourself with the top 10%, not just in emergencies, but in life in general.  There will always be the 10% who get in the way of your dreams, as well as the 80% who don’t understand the urgency of your dreams, thinking that you have all the time in the world to do what you love, so why not just wait another 10 years? 10% will be supportive of you and act on their own dreams as well.  Those are the people to surround yourself with. If you commit to being the top 10%, nothing can stop you.

 

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Raise Your Standards

I had a client a few years ago who is a talented performer but felt that he had hit a ceiling, and couldn’t imagine going further in his career.  I asked him a lot of questions about how he was spending his time and whom he was spending it with.  This client was very hard working and put a lot of great writing and music out into the world. To the outside, he seemed to be successful, but inside he felt stuck.  When I asked him, “What’s going to help you to break through to the next level?” he mentioned sheepishly that he had surpassed a lot of his friends, who preferred to hang out and complain about what wasn’t working, as opposed to supporting each other in going for their dreams. I reminded him that if you leave feeling shamed or drained by your so-called friends, it’s time to raise your standards.

As business philosopher, Jim Rohn, once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  Some of us have dreams we haven’t taken seriously because the people around us are too busy expecting us to be there for them, or to just sit around and be stuck, because that will make them feel better.  Making changes and going to the next level of success can be very tough, because it sometimes means making new choices about how you spend your time and with whom.  If people expect you to be the friend who is always there for them and you’re now working 24/7 to finally get that novel done or to launch the new business, they may be hurt.  This is where setting kind but firm boundaries and saying no more often is helpful.  If we don’t set those boundaries that allow for our dreams to flourish, we can easily get pulled back into what is comfortable and easy–which is not writing, not working, not achieving.  We want to be the good friend, the caring parent, the helpful person who never says no.  But is it worth it, just so that we can be the person who is always there no matter what for everyone?

At the end of your life, do you want to have gone for your dreams or pleased everyone around you?  You get to choose, but it’s not possible to do both. The family and friends who really care about you will respect your new boundaries and cheer you on as you say yes to yourself, one step at a time.  The others will fall away. In order to move to your world stage, you have to consciously choose who gets to come with you and whom you need to leave behind.  So this week, raise your standards for what you can and will achieve and notice who is still standing beside you.

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Tiny Steps

I was coaching a client recently who just landed a great job in her dream city. Instead of feeling happy, though, she was feeling anxious about all the other parts of her life that she didn’t have time for yet, since she was traveling a lot for work and still unpacking from her move. I reminded her of all that she was doing and that navigating a new job in a new city is hard enough, without adding more to do’s, like daily exercise, meditation and a set sleep schedule. Maybe this was the time for tiny steps, which are the smallest steps you can imagine taking toward a goal.  “What is the tiniest thing you can do right now?” I asked.  She talked about needing to go to bed much earlier since she wasn’t get enough sleep.  She wanted to start going to bed two hours earlier overnight, but then realized that getting to bed before midnight for starters was doable.  It didn’t seem like a very impressive step but it was something she thought she could do, so it was the perfect tiny step for her.

So often people trying to find their world stage are so overwhelmed by all the things they want to change in their lives, that they don’t do anything. So often we want to lose 10 pounds in a week, as the grocery store magazines promise, but what if we just do one tiny step like start walking around the block once before dinner?  Or eating desserts only on weekends?  Many of us think that doing something small will have no impact, but what if we played the guitar 5 min per day or practiced Spanish every time we were in the car?  We would start to see small shifts that over time really add up to a life we love.

The key to finding your world stage is first asking yourself what you wish you had in your life and then taking the first tiny step. If you want to find a partner, perhaps you try smiling at every person you encounter as you walk down the street instead of looking at your phone.  If you want to start finding paying work after having been at home with kids, perhaps you start by saying no to any new volunteering so you can carve out time for you.

If you think about how a garden grows, it always starts with tiny seeds, that if cultivated, grow into something beautiful.  The same is true for people. What is your next tiny step?

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Try Reframing

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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