You Do Know

We have this idea that we don’t know what’s right for us. We need to read one more article, or consult our therapist, or check in with friends.  I find with my clients that so often when they say, “I don’t know,” they in fact do know. This seems to be a particular issue with women, who are trained from a young age to check in with others, to please, to test the mood of the room, to fit in. It’s hard to trust what you know when you’re checking on Facebook for what’s in or what’s acceptable or what others like. Often people feel stuck because they have so many parts of their lives that are up in the air, that they can’t figure out what to fix first, since they are all interconnected. I just gave the advice recently to a woman: “If you’re trying to take apart a ball of twisted yarn, you just need to grab onto something and work with that and then other parts of the yarn will loosen a bit, so that you can find the piece that allows the knot to loosen.” It’s the same with us.

I have a client who wants to please her family and friends, who expect her to stay in her little town and get married and have babies, but what she wants is to live all over the world. When she says, “I don’t know,” she is just mourning the fact that she needs to break away from her “tribe” to be true to herself, since she values freedom and adventure and they don’t. A woman I spoke with recently knows that she wants to have a baby and stay home and work part-time, but her fiancé doesn’t want to work a full-time job that would support them, since he is a free spirit.  She is realizing that she knows what she needs may be in conflict with the partner she’s chosen. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but better to know this now than later. Another woman wants to keep working when she gets married and has kids, but now that she’s engaged, everyone else in her life assumes she plans to be barefoot and pregnant, and that terrifies her.  Another client just had a successful art show with great reviews and was excited about moving forward and getting her installation into top museums, but suddenly lost all her confidence this week and questioned whether she should do art at all.  When I gently pointed out the connection between her spending a few days tending to her elderly and very critical mother and doubting herself and her art, she saw the link too.  She knew, but sometimes it takes an outside person to remind us of what we know.

My job is to remind these clients that they do know what they need.  The key is to be brave enough to speak up about what you know and let the chips fall where they may.  That takes courage and staking a claim to what you know is scary.  More than anything, we have a need to belong, and facing criticism or rejection feels like outright abandonment.  I have a friend who was disowned when he told his parents he was gay.  The thought of not fitting in or being accepted is awful. But living a life of “I don’t know” is worse, when you know deep down that you do know and just aren’t willing to say it.

To find your world stage, remember that you are unique. What you need and want is going to be different than many people in the world, in your country, in your state, in your town, on your street, and even in your family.  You may be the only vegan in a family of meat eaters.  You may be the only Republican in your town.  You may be the only poet in a city filled with software engineers.  But your tribe exists somewhere.  You just have to find it.  And in the meantime, every time you say, “I don’t know,” remind yourself that you do in fact know.  You have a right to ask for what you need and want, whether it’s staying home with a baby, or traveling the globe and leaving your little town for good.  You do know.

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Beware of Traps

When I first started coaching, I thought naively that the key to helping clients achieve what they want is to identify their goal and break it into small, actionable steps, using SMART goals. This was drilled into us in coaching school as well.  The only impediments, we were told, were internal gremlins that remind us that we aren’t good enough. We even had to create a large 3D version of our own gremlins in school.  I brought in a black angry bird-type creature who had a sign around his neck that said, “I Don’t Deserve” on one side, and on the other side, “I Do Deserve.”  (I still have him somewhere in the attic.) While I do believe we all have internal voices that can get in our way, I have found that the biggest traps are 1) family expectations and 2) blind choices that are societally imposed.  Just like that silly and addictive phone game called “Temple Run,” in which a man has to jump over broken bridges and run around fire balls and out-chase various crazed gorillas, we have those challenges too. The difference is that in the game, we know that we need to avoid the fire and the gorillas.  In real life, it’s not so easy to recognize a trap when we see it.

When I graduated from college with a music degree and got a ‘hot’ job at a law firm that paid well and involved lots of free and expensive dinners with clients, the trap would have been believing that I loved the law, when in fact I loved the pretty art work on the walls, the pay, and the free food.  Many of my friends ended up at law school because they were smart and everyone in their family went to law school, but then they realized that they hated the law and if they were lucky, they never used their degree. I thankfully had parents who supported my dreams as long as I supported myself financially, but a number of my clients struggle with going against the tide.  One client wants to leave the small town her family has been in for generations and live and travel abroad, but to her parents, their daughter may as well be joining a cult. Another wants to leave the family farm but she is so invested in being the good girl, that she’d rather keep that image up than move to the city and embark on a new career. Another traveled half way around the world to get away from a stressful family situation, only to find that her family had in essence traveled with her anyway, since they had 24/7 access to her through texting and social media.  She is learning to create boundaries with technology so that her family doesn’t have unlimited access to her, but it’s not easy.

As difficult as family expectations are, the harder traps to spot are the ones that we make blindly because “everyone does it.”  I know of a few people who knew when they were walking down the aisle that they were marrying the wrong person, but the guests were there, the presents were bought, and they were already almost 30, so it was time to settle down.  I know others who had kids soon after marriage even though their relationship was shaky, because they didn’t want to be “old” when they had kids; they are now divorced.  I also know others who had 3 kids because “3 is the new 2 and everyone is doing it,” even though it nearly put them over the edge in terms of emotional and financial strain.  But at least they looked impressive on Facebook.  I spoke with a woman recently who wanted to marry her boyfriend but was afraid to insist on it because it seemed too needy, and besides, plenty of people live together.  I spoke with a client with over $1,000 per month in car payments, who turned down a dream job because it paid $20,000 less. I pointed out that her new cars were costing her her dream.  And I spoke with another person recently who hated her job, but felt that she had to stay in it to pay for her eventual mortgage and her eventual life with her boyfriend who didn’t make much money.  I reminded her that she wasn’t trapped yet, but soon enough she would be if she didn’t slow down and really think through each choice and its ramifications.

As you find your voice and claim your world stage, watch out for the traps that appear, both to please family and to go along with the crowd.  Watch out for the part of you that tends to ignore what you love, even if it’s different than everyone else.  In our crowd, it seems that everyone I know loves coffee and yoga and Beyonce.  Not me– I love seltzer and hiking and Bach.  Most people love skiing and white river rafting.  I’d rather read a book or get a massage. The more we take the time to get to know ourselves, the less likely we are to sign up for someone else’s life instead of our own.

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Remember to Stretch

I am currently taking an online fitness class called the Entrepreneur Fitness Academy, which is reminding us of the importance not only of healthy eating and exercise, but also regular water intake, getting enough sleep, and making sure we stretch. Of all the suggestions, the one I tend to forget is daily stretching. And yet in many ways it’s the most important. So many of us are hunched over our computers day after day, that it’s a wonder we don’t all develop a hump back. I remember seeing an old Japanese woman once, when I was living in Japan, who was so bent over from picking rice for years, that she could no longer stand up straight. I never forgot that. The backpacks my kids carry to school are so heavy, that they are 20% of their body weight and so I have had to resort to bribing my kids.  If they get the weight under 10%, they get money.  So far, both have benefited from the bribery program, although it’s hard to maintain it, when more and more is being sent home, in addition to heavy laptops.  And they are not even in high school yet.  What are we supposed to do to protect our postures?

I have a friend named Annie, who is a fascia expert.  She told me that fascia is like the net that holds everything in our bodies together. But if we don’t exercise or stretch, our fascia can become tight. If we overtrain the same thing can happen. Aging naturally makes our fascia less free. So it’s really important that we take care of our fascia, through regularly stretching and foam rolling. After realizing that I needed to add “dealing with my fascia” to my self-care list, I bought a squishy foam roller and some little balls of different sizes on Amazon and started working with them. I have been using my foam roller to work out kinks in my upper back, and now I understand the idea that yoga devotees already know:  if you become unstuck in your body, you start to become unstuck in the rest of your life. Flexibility in your body is the key to an open spirt and a full-hearted life. So often we tense our bodies in response to stress or a difficult person, but in closing ourselves off from bad things, we close ourselves off from the good as well.  Brene Brown talks about this concept in her books on shame resiliency.  We tend to numb ourselves to bad feelings to protect ourselves from the difficult things in life.  But in the end, we also numb ourselves to joy.  To live fully, we need to embrace all of it, the good and the bad. Stretching helps us to connect with the unyielding parts of ourselves, be forgiving of our imperfections, and release and let go.

In a larger metaphorical sense, we need to not only stretch our bodies, but we need to stretch our minds, our emotions and our spirits.  So often, adults get fixed into one narrow ideology, whether politically or religiously.  We surround ourselves with people who share our world view and forget that there are millions of people out there who don’t believe in our religion, understand our culture, or embrace our politics.  There are books that we love that others don’t get and that’s okay too.  The minute we need to have everyone around support our world view, we’re in trouble.  I started listening to Dave Ramsey a few years ago for that reason.  Dave is a born-again Christian financial guru from the south who loves guns and pick up trucks.  And he is very conservative.  We have almost nothing in common and some of he people who call into his show are uneducated and say things like “me and the wife are wanting an RV so we can hunt more.” I don’t know people like this, which is why I listen and learn.  I never want to believe that my world view or my politics or my culture is the only way.  I want to stretch my beliefs so I can always remain open to the world.

As you seek your world stage, remember the importance of stretching, in all ways.  As important as it is to stretch our bodies, it’s equally important to stretch our minds and spirits.  The world needs more people whose minds are flexible and hearts are open.  In the end, we need to be like a bamboo tree that can bend so that when a storm comes, we don’t break.

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A bamboo grove that I photographed in Kyoto, Japan.

 

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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Be Last

We have this idea as a society, reinforced by our current American president, that the world can be broken down into winners and losers. If you win, you are worthy, and if you lose, you are unworthy.  So many of us have this concept engrained in our psyches, that we are afraid to take risks.  If we are known for being good at something, whether a career or a hobby, we continue to do that field or task, because we are assured of a successful outcome.  So the surgeon who is a great cook knows how she will be in the operating room and the kitchen, and the yoga teacher who is great at photography, knows he can succeed on the mat and with his camera.  But what happens if the surgeon want to learn photography or the yoga teacher has always wanted to cook?  How many of us are willing every day and every year to be a beginner in some aspect of our lives?  In a world of winners and losers, it’s a very scary proposition.

As a mother, I’m aware that in this generation, kids are encouraged to “specialize” in a given sport at a very young age, by age 8 or 9, even though it’s not in the interest of their bodies or their long term sports “career.”  Injuries and burn-out are increasingly common as kids play the same sport year round and over use the same muscles.  One of our neighbors in fact had two surgeries before she was 16, due to playing year-round soccer on multiple teams.  When my son was younger, I was surprised to find that there was no such thing as a beginner baseball team for 3rd graders since kids need to start in first grade.  Since he was a beginner he was grouped with a bunch of 6 year-olds.  (The good news is that the little boys all looked up to him since he was taller, but still.) The same goes for tennis and soccer and lacrosse.  If you’re a beginner at 10, it’s too late.  And if you’re a beginner, you’re going to be worse than everyone else, and you might– gasp– lose, which in our society would make you a loser and no one wants that.  So we adults tend to steer our young kids toward what they will succeed in, as opposed to letting them try things they might not be good at, whether initially or whether ever.

My son, who is 6th grade, tried lacrosse last year for the first time and hated it.  As he said, “Who thought of the idea of all those boys running around with sticks?  They just hit each other when the coach isn’t looking!”  He and my 8th grade daughter tried musical theater this year and both loved it, which didn’t surprise me, since I’m from a music and theatre background.  He tried piano lessons but likes voice better. She tried piano lessons and likes cello better.  But as they make their way through exploring what they like and don’t like, what inspires me most is when they try things that they are not initially good at. My son this spring has been on track for the first time and since he is still small and is competing against older kids, he is not very fast yet.  In fact, at the recent meet, he came in last.  But what touched me was how he handled the defeat.  He finished the race and held his head up high, and when one of his friends, who won the race, lapped him, the friend reached out to pat my son on the back.  It was such a lovely gesture.  I reminded my son that it’s not winning that teaches us anything; it’s losing.  It’s knowing how to be graceful in defeat and to be proud of your efforts.  You also can’t appreciate winning unless you’ve lost, just as you can’t appreciate success without experiencing failure because they are two sides of a coin.  I reminded him that unless we are trying new things and putting ourselves in a position in which we might lose or fail, then we are not really living.  We don’t want to get stuck in the same familiar roles that everyone expects, because in the end it becomes a trap.

For me, as my kids know, even though I was strong in the performing arts, I was not a great athlete, and I still remember the only two goals I ever scored in soccer.  I also remember equally missing an important penalty kick and how supportive my team mates were.  For every lead I got in a play, I most remember playing the part of a tree in a community theatre production of “The Wizard of Oz.”  The year before I had actually played Dorothy in the same show, but with our small community theatre, and with just 6th-8th graders.  This time around was a more professional show with mostly adult actors, and the best part I could get was as a tree.  It was very humbling and a great experience, because I learned that there are no small parts, just small actors, which you never want to be.  I passed on that wisdom to my son this past winter, when he was cast in a small comedic singing part, in which he had play four separate characters with different accents.  He wasn’t the lead, but many people commented that he stole the show; he was funny and charming on stage.  I reminded him of that when he left the field after his recent track defeat. For every win, there is a loss and both are important.

As you think about what your world stage is, remember to try new things and allow yourself to fail, to come in last, to burn the new dish, to create bad art, to just not be very good, because then you realize how freeing it is not to have to perform to others’ expectations of how you should be.  This week, let yourself be last in some way.  You may find, after a lifetime of striving to be first, that it’s very freeing indeed.

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Bring the World to You

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

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

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

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

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

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Arles, France

All the Same

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

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

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

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

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

 

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My son in Japan in 2014.

 

 

You Are Not Broken

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

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

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

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

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Do What Matters (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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