Risky Business

There are times when life demands an outstanding performance from you in a leading role.  When you fall in love, go for your degree at midlife, deliver the presentation of your career at an annual meeting, or decide to blog for 31 days, you risk revealing yourself to others in an intimidatingly honest way.
Circumstances may not conspire to catapult you into the lime light every day.  But they may do so often enough to encourage you to consider leaping to the next level of your personal and professional evolution.  
They might also threaten you into playing it safe.  They trick you into believing there is safety in hiding, security in the status quo.  Not being seen, heard, or assumed spectacular in any way may have its appeal.  No expectations. No accountability.  No chance of public humiliation.  
No problem, except that it keeps you small.  And playing small has its price.  Like the price of nice, one day you may no longer be able to pay it.
You know there are seeds of brilliance within you.  You also have an innate understanding of the conditions required to bring them to fruition.  The question is, do you create these conditions in your life on a regular basis? 
One of the benefits of playing a bigger game is acknowledging your larger identity.  Recognizing yourself as a swan instead of a duckling or member of the Duck Dynasty presents you with an entirely different agenda.  
Even if you are an artist working among accountants, you can contribute to that culture in a creative way.  If you dare to bare instead of blend, you might inspire others or, at the very least, become the stuff of urban legends.
The world doesn’t need more carbon copies. The world craves originals.  
For example, students used to come to my exercise studio not because a celebrity or master trainer was leading the class.  They came because I’d entertain them with insights from the edge, ask them if they’d like to wear sequins or fringe in their first exercise video, and inquire about their kids or grandkids, all while politely requesting they remain in the plank position for another thirty seconds. 
They knew they’d have a better chance of being themselves with me than at their jobs or in any number of other situations they might find themselves in during the day.  They understood when they were dressed to sweat the distinctions between doctor and dog walker dissolved.  Everyone was equally impressive.  Especially if they wore sequins and fringe.
It’s a paradox that one of our deepest desires is to be known and yet we go to extreme lengths to keep our true selves hidden not only from each other but ourselves.  
It’s risky business, this hiding your light under a bushel, no?  Blogging, tweeting, pinning, or posting updates about every event in your life is not required.  There is such a thing as too much information.

But there’s also this great conversation starter that goes like this, “Really?  Tell me more.”

For 30 days you’ve allowed me to tell you more.  Now it’s your turn.  I’d be honored if you’d tell me more.  
Share if you dare.

Mission Possible


As we approach the 31 day mark of this blogging blitz, I thought I’d recall another time when I agreed to a mission I thought might be impossible.

 ·       The Time: July and August 2005.  
·         The Place: Dallas, Texas
·         The Mission Should We Choose to Accept It:Deliver 13 workshops in 6 weeks for  Dallas Area Rapid Transit employees who may or may not be receptive to our message
·         Bonus Challenge:  Turn in final manuscript for Body Confidence from the Inside Out during same time period

It was anyone’s guess whether the mission would be accomplished or I would self-destruct in 6 weeks.

Fortunately, I had my trusty business partner Tom by my side to drive us to the gigs, schlep our stuff back and forth, keep our wits about us, and remind me of why we would willingly choose a career that involved standing up in front of strangers in an attempt to convince them we knew something they didn’t.

As I looked back at some of the things I wrote during that time, I realized these are the war stories, the legends that live on from the Chippewa on down, the true grit, the mythic journey, or the character building moments that make these missions worth risking life and limb.  

I’ll share with you something I wrote from that summer that holds true today.

For the second time this summer we’ve turned the equivalent of the Titanic around in time to prevent the whole ship from sinking. I’m not boasting when I tell you this. I’m thrilled to be conveying this to you as I rearrange the deck chairs instead of bobbing around in the water waiting for a life boat. 

I’ve spent plenty of time treading water. Whether I’ve gone overboard, been sentenced to walk the plank, or simply jumped in because I thought the water was fine, I have been “all wet” more than a time or two.  Luckily, I have managed to swim to shore and find a dry towel. 
At last I’m starting to trust the process.  At last I understand I’m making more mistakes because I’m taking more risks.  At last I consider becoming a better swimmer a side benefit of all this splashing about.


Still it surprises me how often I have to take a dive.  That’s why seeing the signs, responding to them, and actually averting a crisis is worth celebrating.


I can hope for miracles.  But the real miracle is that I act on my own behalf and change my attitude, change the conditions of my situation, or renegotiate my agreements.   

Averaging two workshops a week for the past month, I’ve heard myself say certain things enough times now that I finally get them.  We left our workshop on Wednesday elated that we had earned high fives and hugs instead of rotten tomatoes or worse, apathy.  As we were contemplating this reversal of fortune Tom said, “What if they weren’t different?  What if we were different?” 

It was true. This group was especially open to learning and eager to participate.  But we were different too.

Sometime over the weekend I stopped taking it all so personally and stopped pining for my quiet casita in the mountains.  I realized I have no control over whether the people I speak to like me, like the material, like themselves, like their jobs, like their lives, etc.  I have no control over the heat, the traffic, or whether the Rough Riders (the local minor league baseball team) win.


I can only love what I do and love the people in the room.  I can believe in myself and believe in them.  We can all have some fun and extend that energy to others on our path.  That’s really the only way we make our mission possible.
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Weapons of Mass Distraction

There’s no doubt we live in amazing times.  The power we have at our fingertips, literally through cell phones, computers, and any number of electronic devices is mind blowing.

We also live in incredibly noisy, busy, speedy, confusing, and above all, distracting times.  I could blame my lack of ability to walk into another room without any recollection of why I did so on any number of midlife maladies. But it could also have something to do with the number of  things that beep, vibrate, whistle, or flash at me before I get  where I’m going  that cause me to I lose my way.

Admittedly,  I may have a short little span of attention. But it does seem as if these weapons of mass distraction that were conceived to bring about law and order in our lives, create chaos in mine.

Finding them is the first challenge.  Discovering they are out juice when I need them is another. And dealing with the outrage I incur when I fail to respond immediately to others provides even more grounds for disgruntlement.

I’m not knocking technology.  I’m just as excited as the next person to learn about the latest and greatest gadgets and get my hands on them if it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg or take more time to master than I may have left to live.

My issue is when all this technology competes for my attention to the point where I’m unable to focus on anything for more than a minute before being interrupted.   I suspect it was the makers of ADD meds that came up with the idea to run messages and pop up characters along the bottom of the tv screen alerting viewers to what’s coming up in two minutes. Like the suspense is going to kill us?

What happened to being here now and fully enjoying the moment?  Just because I can multitask does not mean I want to do so when I’m watching tv, or reading a blog (so I’m not going to link to anything in this particular piece that might tempt you to leave), or eating a thoughtfully prepared meal.

One of the best presents we can give another person is our presence.  I understand it’s hard to sit quietly or wait patiently when our phone is within reach and ready to entertain.  But ideas need breathing space.  Innovation requires incubation.  If I can’t have a time out during some part of my day to think about my behavior, I go a bit batty. 

My goal is not to stop using the incredible tools at my fingertips but to create more than I consume.  In the past 28 days I’ve learned just how challenging that is.  I’ve also learned how rewarding it can be to contribute almost as much as I consume.

It turns out the answer to many of my problems has literally been at my fingertips.   By combining the technology on the one hand with writing and creating on the other, I might be able to convert my weapons of mass distraction to weapons of mass creation.

What about you? What answers do you hold in your hands?

Decisions, Decisions

Since it was way too cold for any of us to go to school today, I used the morning to do some journal writing.  In theory my 500 words were done by 9am, but those words to lead me to these that I can actually publish. 

In the TED talk with the Susan Cain, the author of Quiet, she described her experience of being on the speaking circuit to promote her book as the Year of Speaking Dangerously.  This morning I was thinking this is the Year of Writing Dangerously & Prolifically for me. 

Writing a lot is dangerous because sooner or later I’m going to write something that will rock my world or yours, and then we might just have to act on it.  Writing both prolifically and dangerously means I feel the fear and write it anyway.

When I used to teach journal writing classes I’d always tell students who were afraid to write too much or go too deeply to trust themselves.  We all have a built in protection mechanism or what I call the denial defense. We just won’t go there if we’re not ready.  As it turns out, we’re usually more ready than we’re willing to admit.

Take this morning, for instance.  I was all ready to rant about hurt feelings and suddenly I realized how I was (and usually am) as much to blame as anyone else.  As you know, I have a very vivid imagination and although this usually works in my favor, it can also lead to my undoing.  I started to think about how lucky I was to even be in the situation to begin with, let alone expect things to unfold exactly as I planned.

I used to have a friend who, whenever I tended to be perplexed, would say, “It’s a good problem to have.”  I can’t say this reminder really helped at the time because even though it might have been a good problem to have or a decision between two equally good choices as opposed to a very difficult one between lesser evils, quick and decisive choices are not my strong suit.  I tend to think there is a right choice.  I’m convinced it is the opposite of whichever one I eventually make.

But lately I’ve decided there is just too much beyond my control to constantly judge the rightness of any given decision.  The best decision I can make is the one I can most easily execute in good faith given the available information without waffling or creating a lot of drama.  I made at least three not so great decisions last week and got to apologize for or deal with the consequences of them.  I made a few outstanding ones as well.

The best one I’ve made so far this year is to write 500 words a day for 31 days.  I had no idea how many other daily decisions that one decision would impact but it’s set the standard for the rest of the year.  I’ve yet to decide how I’ll proceed after Friday – Day 31! – because there many things I need to learn about blogging that I don’t have a lot of time to learn while creating content every spare moment.  I thought I’d ask you since some decisions are best left to the tribe.

How often would you like to read this blog?  Daily is doable if the content is more like 100 words or less.  Three times a week is an option as well as just weekdays or weekends or any combination thereof.  Decisions, decisions.

In this case, my friend was right.  It’s a good decision to get to make.  Weigh in with your thoughts below.

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Many years ago I read a book by Susan Jeffers called, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.  It was during that time when I was in the thick of my self-help seminars and was reading anything and everything that promised to give me courage, confidence, and charisma.

If we are to believe the headlines, the news, or the security at the airports, we should be terrified at all times and have no reason to relax into the temporary truce with the okayness of the present moment.  After all, anything can happen at any moment.  And unfortunately, unspeakable and inexplicable things do. 

But these are not the things I’m encouraging you to face.  The kinds of fears I’m suggesting we all face are the ones that hold us back from doing the very things we must do to grow into the vision of ourselves we hold dear. 

We all know what we’d do if we could quit our day jobs and pursue our passion.  But publicly pursuing it and putting ourselves on the line can be so terrifying that we keep that day job until it sucks the life out of us or we can comfortably retire.

No one can fault us for making a living.  But we may have a hard time living with ourselves if we never attempt to pursue our passion in some small way.  Maybe we sing in the church choir or at karaoke bars with our friends instead of trying out for some larger than life venue? Or maybe we start that restaurant with some pals or start that novel at night while keeping our day job?

Years ago I had an epiphany while I attending a workshop based on Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artists Way.”  It went something like this.  There is no “someday” when I finally make it that I’ll get to stop trying so hard and the creative path will be easy.  Life is an endurance event.  It ain’t over, ’til it’s over.  Consequently, I’ve adopted the tortoise as my totem.  And a quirky sense of humor as my super power.

The first truth about fear Susan Jeffers stated in her book was, “The fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow.”  Sure, we might get better at dealing with certain situations, especially if we find ourselves in them enough times, but as long as we’re dealing with the unknown, there are bound to be butterflies.  No one is exempt.  The good news is those butterflies can be trained to fly in formation.

Today I came across what may be the most inspiring TED talk to date.  In this talk by Joe Kowan, he addresses how he overcomes stage fright. It should be required watching/listening for Public Speaking classes or anyone who is ever asked to address an audience.  The thing I love about this guy is he is so real and willing to be vulnerable and express what we all feel.  Clearly he’s nervous as he tells us, but that only makes it better.

Most of the speakers at the TED talks are smart, poised, polished, and articulate.  I’ve done my share of presenting and I can tell you, I would be terrified to speak not only in front of the crowd but to an infinite internet audience with unlimited access.  Still, many of the presenters appear to be unaware of that pressure and are passionately focused on their message. 

Maybe if I only had 18 minutes to tell the world what I cared about the most, I’d be succinct, articulate, funny and well-rehearsed. But I’m guessing I’d be scared out of my wits and possibly pass out.  Even so, I’d surely feel the fear and do it anyway if it was my one and only chance to speak what’s in my heart.  I’m guessing you would, too.

Fortunately for most of us, we get an audience of family, friends, coworkers, and maybe a few followers as our captive audience for a few moments each day.  They forgive us for all kinds of foul ups, or in my case typos, posts that were accidentally sent out before finished, spelling and grammar gaffes, and using “affect” when I mean “effect”.   

I get to do it over daily and I’m still far from being fearless about hitting the publish button.  But I do it anyway.  (Because miracle of all miracles, I can go back and correct my mistakes on the blog before too many people catch them.  My followers, bless you, get to see it all.)

Share if you dare in the comments below, what gets you shaking in your boots but you’re committed to doing anyway?

On Y Va … Let’s Go!


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“It’s when you’re safe at home that you wish you were having an adventure.   
When you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.”
-Thornton Wilder

Ah yes.  An adventure always sounds best when we’re bored, blue, or beginning a new year with old friends who have heard us talk about going on safari, learning to tango, moving to Las Vegas, or opening our own café ever since we were kids.

Adventures require a combination of imagination, information, and inspiration.  Seldom do we set out on an epic adventure without something or someone setting our soul on fire.

Of course, mini-adventures occur daily.  It’s just that we may think of them as “plans gone awry” or “stress fests” instead of opening up to the opportunity they may present.  Consequently, we may try to avoid “adventures” all together.

Adventures demand more than our average attention to detail, time, place, and purpose.  Mindfulness is mandatory.

Once we leave our comfort zone and enter the “adventure zone” there are an infinite number of things to keep track of.  Things like, “Where did I park my car?”,  “Who came with me?”, “Where am I?”, and “How much is this going to cost?” can squelch the joy right out of an adventure if we are not prepared.

And yet adventures are what keep us alive.  They keep us hungry for an existence that extends beyond our age, income, and gender.  They give us something to look forward to for two weeks out of the year or any time in between, if we’re lucky.

I remember when my sister used to live in Southern California.  I was living in Texas and would head west every chance I got.  Once there my life seemed to transform from this rather bland work-a-day routine into an exciting wonderland of sights, sounds, tastes, and tactile experiences. 

Suddenly everything was new – surfers, sand, palm trees, pink houses with purple shutters next to yellow houses with green doors, tofu and green smoothies were all part of Planet California. My enthusiasm must have been contagious since all kinds of characters tended to show up and “friend” me.

It seemed so different from my life in Grapevine that I didn’t want to miss out on any of it. I’d promise myself when I’d return to Texas that I’d seek out the thrills there as well.  Every day would be an adventure! 

That promise usually lasted as long as the plane ride home.  As soon as I’d step onto familiar turf, life lost its luster. The same thing tends to happen with self-improvement seminars.

I suppose that’s what prompted the big move to The Land of Enchantment.  That, or the fact that I was thirty, single, fearless, and had yet to embark on a series of self-improvement seminars.   I left a steady job and a social support system in search of a life that required full engagement and participation.

What I didn’t know when I opened myself up to full throttle living was I also opened myself up to a host of  accompanying experiences that I had no idea were part of the package.  If I had, I might have reconsidered the whole thing.

Years later I’ve learned that every day is an opportunity to reinvent some part of my life.  I can live large in small areas of my life.  I don’t have to leave home or remodel it to do so.  Although remodeling helps.

This year my big adventure has been to write 500 words a day for 31 days.  Ironically, doing this has the same impact on me as the palm trees, pink houses, and rollerblading on the beach did years ago.  And, the best part is, you are now part of the adventure as well.

On y va!*

*On y va  is one of my favorite French phrases or one of the few I remember from my time studying in Québec. It means “let’s go!” but sounds way more enticing, n’est-ce pas? When my nieces were little I’d always say it to them when we were off on a grand adventure just as we are now.

Your Life Is Not An Apology


My friend Joan lived in Tokyo for a time and told me the Japanese had a saying.  “The nail that sticks out gets hammered.”  Growing up in a small farming community in the Midwest I got the message early on that it was better to blend than burn brightly and independently. 
If you were too pretty, too rich, too smart, too happy, too loud, too wild, or just too much you were going to stick out and get hammered.  Definitely a different tribe than the one I blogged about who would remind you that you were all that.

That advice seemed to serve me until I moved to Texas.  Everything about Texas was big, beautiful, rich, loud, untamed, and excessive.  Real Texans exuded a sense of entitlement.  Their motto seemed to be “it’s easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.”  Stake your claim and quibble over the particulars in court.

No apologies necessary.

Although I could never quite call Texas my home, I learned a lot of lessons living there.  Many of these revolved around thinking big, asking big, dreaming big, playing big.  I was encouraged to toot my own horn, grow into my own particular brand of beauty, and earn abundantly.

When I returned to the Midwest, the concept of becoming “too big for my britches” was once again called in for questioning. After attempting to wear Texas size britches, it was challenging to shrink back into those tight fitting unassuming britches. There had to be a middle ground.

  
If figured if I wrote about it, I might begin to make sense of it.  So I cracked open my trusty journal and listed everything I felt compelled to apologize for. 

What followed was a tirade of apologies for everything from conspicuous consumption to global warming (or cooling, if you currently live in Iowa) to my inability to stand up for myself, reduce my personal portion of the national debt, or attract of member of the opposite sex under eighty and over eight.   You’ll be pleased to know, I’ve since figured a few of these things out.

As I wrote my way through my anger and frustration I finally declared, “My life is not an apology!”.  The weight of this declaration stopped me in my writing tracks.

For far too long I had been carrying around an enormous amount of guilt about being too much of this and not enough of that.  I had assumed responsibility for things that had nothing to do with me and willingly taken the blame for a series of events that were well beyond my control.

Through it all I had exercised my right to remain silent.  From the quirky to quintessential, the time had come to craft my own Bill of Rights. 

I have the right to bare arms – if I have buff biceps, otherwise a sleeveless shirt seems shameful once you reach a certain age, feed my dog table scraps, sleep in on Sundays, take in a matinee in the middle of the week,  listen to self-help tapes while driving my car, recite poetry underneath a full moon, and live in a way that honors my soul.  I have a right to take up space, soak in the silence, and speak my truth, even if my voice shakes.

And so do you.  

In fact, in times of darkness, fear, and uncertainty, your light is the best gift you can offer the world.  It’s not a question of “who are you?” to do this or be that, but “who are you not to be who or what you are meant to be” especially when you’re the only one truly suited for the job?

Your life is not an apology.  Your life is your message.  
What are you broadcasting?