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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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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Now Is The Time

We have this idea that there is a perfect time to do everything and that the key to doing the things we want to do in life is to wait for that perfect time when all the stars are aligned and then everything will be wonderful.  I thought that way for a long time about having kids.  I knew I wanted children, but after spending a lot of time with friends who had kids and were exhausted and their marriages frayed, I kept putting off having kids, thinking something would magically happen and I would be ready.  In fact, what happened was that I turned 36 and thought, “If we don’t jump in now, we’re going to miss our window.”  I’m so glad we did take the leap because we have two amazing kids. I was scared jumping into something so permanent, but I knew that it was now or never and I chose now.  But how many people feel that sense of urgency with their other dreams?  How many of us wake up and decide that we have to act now or it’s never going to happen?  The fact is, there will always be some impediment: maybe you don’t have enough money, or your boyfriend just dumped you, or your child is going through teething, or you just moved, or you have health issues, or your family doesn’t approve, or you don’t know what you’re doing.

What I’ve come to realize is that there is literally no perfect time, and most times are very imperfect as a choice.  Right now my daughter has a broken finger that is not healing, my son has the flu, my husband is overwhelmed by work and badly needs a haircut, and I have a sore throat and feel guilty I’m not spending time with my sick child (who just wants to be on his iPad anyway because he feels so lousy.) But my dream is to get my writing and coaching out more fully into the world, as well as relaunch my performing career. I have some important deadlines, so I am at my desk working.  Have I washed my hair?  No.  Have I been to church much in the past few months?  Um nope.  Are dinners starting to look strange again, because they consist of odds and sods from the fridge?  Yes.  But I feel alive in a way that I would not have if I hadn’t insisted that NOW is the time to commit 1,000% to work that matters to me, even if I drop some balls. Now is not the time to rearrange my spices or spends hours on Facebook or offer to volunteer for something.  Just as going to Target is, what my husband calls, “death by 1,000 paper cuts,” since all those cheap items add up to A LOT at the register, all of the little things we do on our “to do” lists add up to a whole lot of nothing unless we’re careful.

It helps me to remember that Mozart wrote beautiful music while mostly broke, and he didn’t wait to get all of his finances in order to compose.  Beethoven wrote while deaf, and he didn’t wait for a cure to get going.  He sawed the legs off his piano to hear the floor vibrations.  Louisa May Alcott didn’t wait until she recovered from mercury poisoning or had found a suitable husband in order to write.  Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t wait until she was pretty or had others’ approval before she became one of the greatest stateswomen of our time. And, great artists ranging from Alvin Ailey to Jackson Pollack to Nina Simone to Frank Sinatra all had bi-polar disorder. But they did their art anyway and the world benefitted from their genius.  Instead of hiding, they did what Carrie Fisher advised: “Take your broken heart and turn it into art.”

The fact is, someday when we die, are people going to comment on how organized your desk was or how detailed your packing lists were?  Or, are they going to remember that your face lit up when you saw your kids and that you took that trip to travel the world and that you started that business and wrote that book and got back onstage and sang? To find your world stage, remember that the time is now, even though nothing is ever perfect about right now.  Grab this moment anyway, in all of its messy imperfection, and don’t let go.  This is your chance to make your mark.  Now go do it.

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Not As They Seem

Earlier this week, I attended a lovely panel discussion at my daughter’s school.  We sat at tables with linen cloths while tiny plates of interesting food were served.  The topic was on healthy eating, sustainability, and mindfulness.  All three panelists were parents at the British School of Boston, including a chef, a mindfulness coach/executive, and a model.  The model, however, was not just any model.  She was Gisele Bundchen, the world famous super model, married to Tom Brady.  She was on stage maybe fifteen feet in front of me talking excitedly to this relatively small gathering of sixty parents and teachers, and she was talking in a warm, animated way that I believe never would have happened if People Magazine had been there, vying for another alluring shot of her.  Instead, we were instructed not to take pictures or videos.  As a result, she spoke to the group as though she were just like any mom, even though she has a staff, including a well-known chef who prepares all of their organic, healthy meals.  She spoke about teaching her children the importance of giving; both of her children asked their friends to give to charity this year in lieu of presents, just as my kids did.  Given that they could afford to buy everything in a toy store for their kids, this was particularly touching.  She talked about watching the sunrise with her 7 year-old many mornings, and teaching her kids to be grateful.  She was warm and funny and real, not to mention beautiful inside and out.  And she was nothing like the media has portrayed her– as aloof, self-focused, superficial.  It was such a great affirmation that so much of what drives the fame machine is not the celebrity, but the publicists and the trashy magazines.

Today as I was shopping for Christmas gifts at Target, I realized the whole Bruins hockey team was in the toy section with me buying toys for underprivileged kids.  At first I just thought it was a few guys dressed up in Bruins jerseys, but once I saw about 20 of them and realized that they looked big and muscular, I figured they were the real team. I am not someone who plays hockey and I have only been to one pro hockey game in my life– the New York Rangers on a double date, which was not the most romantic setting because of all the drunken guys surrounding us shouting. Even though two of my nephews play hockey, as well as their parents, I always figured that hockey players were rough and tough and not that smart.  But as I was moving through the toy section, I overheard two of the Bruins players discussing what to get for two little girls they were trying to buy for.  One was asking the other, “Do you know where the princess shoes and the pink nail polish is?”  It was the sweetest thing seeing these big athletic men who were completely absorbed in finding something special for a few little girls in need.  As I made my way to the games section, a player named Domenic Moore was selecting toys while cameras were filming him.  The helpers from Target were trying to suggest games and he kept asking, “But are they educational?  I want to make sure they are learning something.”  So I interjected, “I would go with Scattergories, since it’s a game that makes you think. My teen and preteen love it.”  He wanted to know how old my kids were and how smart.  I said, “Smart!”  He smiled a big smile.  I added, “So you play hockey?”  He smiled and said yes, even though it was probably obvious to everyone else in the store.  “And you’re on the Bruins.”  “Yes,” he answered smiling again.  “Sorry I’m not that into hockey. I’m more into the arts.”  “That’s ok, he said.” And that was it.  Because of one pro hockey team buying toys for needy kids, all of whom were polite and dedicated to the task of helping kids, I became a hockey fan too, and have decided that the players are lovely and smart.  (Dominic actually went to Harvard.)

I’ve now encountered two famous people in one week.  My daughter couldn’t get enough hearing about Gisele, and my son was so excited to hear about the Bruins, even though he is not a hockey player, since sports are still just something he knows and cares about.  I learned that things are not as they seem, that famous people can be warm and lovely and accessible, but that the fame machine has changed our perception of them so often.  I also learned that it’s disarming to famous people not to be fawned over.  I’ll never forget when my grandfather met my sister’s college roommate, Jodie Foster, at Yale graduation.  He had no idea that she was a famous actress at the time, so he said, “And who might you be?” when she hadn’t introduced herself.  She was very pleased to say, “I’m Jodie.  Jodie Foster.  I’m an actress.” I’m guessing for Gisele, it was a relief to be surrounded by a mostly international crowd, many of whom don’t follow her husband’s football career and don’t care much about modeling.  She could just be a mom and a health nut and talk to us as though she was sharing with a girlfriend.  Likewise, for Dominic, I’m sure he appreciated that I was just helping him find a board game, and that I was not that into hockey.  It’s always charming to be fearless and just be yourself.

To find your world stage, remember that the goal isn’t fame, because the fame machine of publicists and crazy fans and toxic press and paparazzi, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  The goal is to use your gifts to make the world a better place, whether it’s acting, playing hockey, modeling and now advocating for the environment and children, or anything else. Things are not always as they seem, and it’s a gift when you get to peer behind the curtain to see the real thing.

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Be the Spark

 

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  I love that quote, because it reminds me that while it’s easy to complain about the problems in the world, the first step is to see what we can change in ourselves that will have positive ripples on others.  So often we wait for some big change to happen outside of ourselves, when in fact we do have the power to do so much, both internally and externally.  We have the power to be kinder and more joyful, and we also have the power to speak out and vote, and to give to causes that matter.

I founded World Stage Coaching because I believe that so many of us are afraid to show our true light, so we hide and sometimes settle for less.  Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” As a singer/songwriter/vocal coach who has helped people to find their voices in a literal and figurative way, I started World Stage Coaching to encourage clients to claim their world stage, in whatever way that means to them.  (See http://www.worldstagecoaching.com).

Now that my blog, Your World Stage, is finally live to extended family and friends, I encourage you to ask yourself and your friends, “what is your world stage?”  We all have dreams, but some are more buried than others.  The first step to claiming your world stage is to dust off those dreams or create new ones if the old ones no longer apply.  What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?  What would you do if you had one year to live? How do you want to be remembered? What were you born to do?

As you step onto your world stage, remember how important generosity is to your success. Remember to be the spark for someone else.  You don’t even have to wait to do that.  You can do that right now, giving money or time to a charity or organization that matters to you.  Even if you’re not sure what your dream is yet, you can be part of someone else’s dream in the meantime by giving.

The first step is to stop waiting for the world to change and imagine that the world is waiting for you to take the next step.  What would happen if you were the spark that ignited real change?  Today, be the spark and see what happens.

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Find Your Light

Recently I heard a leading expert speak on the topics of teenage girls.  She spoke about the culture of meanness and how girls use micro-aggression so that they can be hostile while appearing to be nice.  She talked about how girls don’t stand up for themselves and don’t take themselves seriously, how they apologize and defer to others.  The speech was compelling, but what was most interesting to me was how the speaker contradicted what she was saying by how she was presenting it.  We sat as an audience in risers above a black box stage, where the speaker had positioned herself literally off-stage, next to the piano shoved in the corner, right next to the exit sign.  I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day analyzing this.  The speaker tried to take up as little space as possible, as though she might be in the way of the real speaker who was going to come on as soon as she was done bothering us, when in fact she was the only speaker.  I also noticed that she had no idea where her light was. Much of the stage was well-lit, but of course the wings were not.

As a performer with lots of experience on stage, one of the first things I ever learned was to 1) claim my stage (in other words, allow myself to take up space on the stage) and 2) to find my light and place myself in it so that I could be seen.  This renowned speaker did neither of these things.  And the strangest thing was that the mostly female audience didn’t even seem to notice.

The speaker not only couldn’t be seen, but her powerpoint has so many light colored fonts, that much of what she presented couldn’t be read either.  Not only was she not seen, but she didn’t seem to see us either, in the sense of doing her homework and understanding her audience before she spoke.  Many of her jokes were directed to Jewish people, references the fact that our town is probably 30% Jewish.  But the only 70% of us in the audience were left… well, in the dark.  And she apologized for her presentation, that she didn’t have a great ending, that she couldn’t come up with an example for something, that she ran over time.  I was surprised that she didn’t apologize for taking up space in the wings.

The point of this is not to bash this speaker, who made some great points and was well-received.  But, if a well-regarded national speaker shows up like this, chance are that many of us show up similarly in our lives.  How many of us apologize, or metaphorically speak from the wings, as though we’re not really meant to be on stage?  How many of take the time to understand our audience, whether it’s a room full of colleagues or our own child?  The fact is what we say matters, but how we say it matters even more.  You can make the best tasting cereal in the world, but if the package looks like garbage (real or metaphorical), people aren’t going to buy it.  If you have a great message, but we can’t see you and don’t feel that you see us, how powerful is it going to be?

To claim your world stage, remember:  1) find your light 2) make sure you’re onstage and not backstage and 3) don’t apologize and 4) know your audience.  Remember the world is waiting for you.  It’s up to you to claim your place.

 

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No Excuses

If you listen closely, you will find that lots of us make excuses for ourselves all the time.  People says things like, “I’m not good at keeping in touch with friends” or “I’m not good at exercising” or “I’m not good at saving money,” when the reality is that they just don’t make it a priority.  Anyone can stay in touch with friends, or go for a walk, or cut back on discretionary spending. (After all, nobody forced us to buy that latte!)  But we don’t do it and come up with excuses to justify it instead of telling the truth, which is that we do the things that are important to us.  What would happen if we changed our language to say, “I don’t want to exercise” or “I don’t want to work to keep in touch with friends” or “I don’t feel like saving because spending is more fun?”

If we aren’t doing them, then they aren’t important to us.  So if you’re not learning Chinese or becoming a better potter, maybe that’s because it’s not important to you.  But what if they are important?  What if what you’re really saying is, “It’s important to me but it’s too hard to do, so I’m not going to do it.” What then?

Tony Robbins is famous for having asked this question to his audiences:  “How long would you give your average baby to walk?” He gives suggestions, such as a month, a few months, up to a year.  His audience always responds with, “Are you kidding?  There’s no time limit.  My baby is going to learn to walk no matter how hard it is and how long it takes.”  And then Tony’s response is “Interesting.”

What if we came up with excuses as to why our baby wasn’t going to walk?  Would we have a human race in which 99% learn to walk?  What if we let go of our excuses and realized that the most important things are often the hardest, but in doing them, they are usually the most worthwhile?  How about being married 50 years?  Or raising great kids?  Or starting a company?  How many of those are easy to do or have guaranteed results?

To step onto your world stage, you must let go of excuses and know that you will learn to walk metaphorically, and that the world is waiting for your next steps.  So next time you catch yourself saying that you’re not good at something, either accept that it doesn’t matter to you or realize that it does and make a commitment to do something about it today.

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Simplify

Our lives have gotten so complicated these days, with the constant demands of social media and email.  Is it any wonder that we are feeling stressed by the onslaught?  The fact is, we were not designed to handle this level of input.  Professor Theodore Roszak, famously quoted:  “A weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information  than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in seventeenth-century England.” Even though we have access to more education today than a few hundred years ago, the quote is chilling.  How can we not be distracted by all the demands in our lives? I often wonder how much geniuses like Mozart would have accomplished if they were constantly distracted by texting.  How many plays would Shakespeare have written if he had spent a few hours every night catching up on Facebook?

Henry David Thoreau, even in the 1840’s, felt that he needed to simplify and get away from the hustle of Concord so that he could think and write. It did help that Thoreau did not have to do a lot of chores, since he regularly walked into town for dinner and conversation with friends (he was not in fact a hermit) and that his mother did his laundry!  (One way to simplify definitely is to delegate chores to others if possible.)  But he realized how important it is to slow down, spend more time in nature, and have time to reflect on one’s life: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

How many of us are so scheduled that we are doing a lot but not really living?  The fact is that our in boxes will still be full someday when we die.  Do you really want people to remember you for how much you jammed into a day? All of us want meaning in our lives and yet, in the day-to-day hustle, it’s easy to forget.

In order to clear the path to your ideal life, one important step is to build in time for silence and reflection, even if it’s just a few minutes per day.  Make time to be outside, to play with your kids, to do something creative.  These are the moments you will remember, not plowing through your to do list.  Every day, ask yourself, “What can I let go of?  What doesn’t really matter to me?” Doing this clears a path to what does matter.

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