THE POWER OF DECISION

A guest post, gratefully reprinted with permission 
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Atom Factory

September 30, 2013​

Today I sat down and looked at my surroundings. Marble floors, clear glass offices, and sleek, modern couches made the room. Echoing off the giant, thin tank of exotic fish, and record plaques hanging from the walls, was not the typical work-day hum. Instead, loud music. Pop, rap, rock, claps, hits, yells – that is the work day hum. And above it all, the distinct voice of a man to whom it all belongs, doing his version of the perfect song to potential clients. To my right sits Troy Carter– manager of Lady Gaga, and John Legend, just to name a few. Considered one of the most powerful and influential figures in music, on Earth, today.

I had, in this moment, a powerful reflection on myself. I fully grasped the power that making a choice can have.

​When I was 16, I told everyone who would listen that I was to be in music. I would never do something I didn’t love, I would never settle. I would be surrounded by powerful people, famous people, tastemakers, leaders, and I would become one of them. Not because of a bank, or a law degree, or a college degree, but because of art. Most people thought I was crazy, and I didn’t care.

​I’m 20, I left two universities against the advice of most, and never settled. This is intentionality. This is the power of a decision.

I didn’t go from a junior in high school with absolute certainty to a college dropout working under one of the most powerful men in music by chance. Or luck. It was all because of my choice to do so. My decision. My absolute certainty. And most of all, massive action.

Massive action being this: instead of disliking college because I couldn’t study what I wanted, I applied to 5 more, was accepted to all of them, moved states and schools. Massive action is having the self-awareness to realize that it’s not the school that’s going to get me where I want – it’s me. To know I could drop out of school, and through hundreds of calls, emails, texts, and asking, find internships.

Massive action is being 20, a self-proclaimed homebody, who once told his mom he’d never move away from his childhood house, and moving 3,000 miles to Los Angeles. Massive action is what separates people who want things, and people who get them. People who dream, and people who do.

​I am in a unique position, but I am not totally unique in most aspects. I have the same exact fears my peers have. I am told it’s courageous to leave school and “roll the dice” to move across the country in pursuit of a dream, but I am no more courageous than others. I know the fallacy in thinking that successful people – or the 1% who live out their fantasies – are there because they are smarter, more talented, or lucky. It is completely false. A giant lie you are told, and one that most people believe when they get older.

​I am fearful of many things, yet what separates me is this: I am FAR more fearful of what my life WOULD be if I lived it passively. I am so scared of what the supposed “right path” has to offer. I am so scared of doing something I don’t like, working because I need the money, and just ‘existing’ rather than living. When I lay in bed, so far away from home, sometimes very lonely and scared – I think of what I would be evolving into if I was still in a dorm room, paying $50,000 for a degree, with no feeling of power over my own destiny. That’s enough fear right there to extinguish every want to return to “normal.”

I choose to completely erase comfort. Being uncomfortable, yet knowing the power I have over my own destiny is my new comfort. That is truly striving, and not living passively. Having absolute faith in myself, in hard work. That is trusting myself; not my teachers, coaches, counselors, schools, but myself.

When you realize the biggest secret of all, you are free. And this is it: You really can do what you want with your life. It’s not luck, it’s intention. It’s not random, it’s choice. It’s not genius, it’s self-awareness, honesty, and never settling. It’s realizing that there are people out there that could open any door you’ve ever imagined, and all you have to do is call.

The craziest thing of all, is that most of these supposedly unreachable people are in the phonebook. Their emails are on a website. Everyone wants to be something, and everyone feels they are different, yet VERY few people have the courage to pick up the phone and make it happen.

Very few people understand the power they have in every moment of their life. The power to choose where you’ll be tomorrow.

Tomorrow I’ll be going again to sit and learn from one of my idols. All because I chose to do so.

EW

Postscript – March 17, 2015:  In October, 2013 (one month after writing this post), Evan and fellow New England-to-LA-transplant John That, released their first single as the band, Academy. Their debut EP titled ‘Moving Methods” was released on June 24th, 2014 and was immediately touted one of the best projects of Summer 2014. In December of 2014 Academy was nominated and voted as one of the top 5 ‘Top Artist To Watch in 2015’ and won the fan voting for ‘Most Underrated Album of 2014’ by Good Music All Day.

A Letter from My Future Self: Be Brave. Dance. Be You.

coffee-mugs-birthday 2Last March on the occasion of a friend’s 49th birthday, 49 women were invited to gather in a beautifully restored Victorian cottage and spa by the sea for a day of reflection, celebration, talks, and overall inspiration.  It was a super-chick collider, indeed, and a fortuitous event, as it happened, that I met 3 women who would become close friends, and many more who would somehow in the future collaborate, connect and create with me.

By the time the day wound down, and we took a break for an amazing spread of homemade goodies we had all brought to share, I was nearly overwhelmed with the intuitive power and energy only women can bring to a room.

At the close of the gathering, a writing coach took the lead, handing each of us two sheets of loose leaf paper. As we took pencils in hand, she read a list of 100 words aloud. We were to write down the ones that spoke most deeply to us, without thinking about why.  Mine were:

LOVELY. SENSUOUS. CELEBRATE. WHOLE. SUCCEED. UNIVERSE. COMMIT. BE. STRIVE. OPEN. ALLOW. ROCK. SUNSHINE. BRAVE. BODY. BOUNDARY. LOVER. LAUGHTER. ASSERT. GROWTH. LIVE. CONTENT. FULL. DANCE. STRENGTH.

She then asked us to quickly circle the 10 words that held the most power for us. I chose:

LOVELY. SENSUOUS. CELEBRATE. WHOLE. SUCCEED. UNIVERSE. COMMIT. BE. STRIVE. OPEN. ALLOW. ROCK. SUNSHINE. BRAVE. BODY. BOUNDARY. LOVER. LAUGHTER. ASSERT. GROWTH. LIVE. CONTENT. FULL. DANCE. STRENGTH.

A calm settled over the room as we collectively sank into ourselves; taking in the words and feeling the simple power of what they implied.

Finally, she said, “Now, I want you to write a love letter to yourself – from your future self. Tell you whatever you think she needs to hear.”

We wrote in silence for about 10 minutes.  For me, this kind of writing is pretty natural. I journal every day, and writing in the moment comes pretty easily; but I could tell this simple act was having a deep effect on some women in the room.  A few tears were shed. We all felt the moment of connecting with our future selves, and back to here and now.

After a bit, we handed our letters and word lists in to our host, who said, “you’ll be getting these back someday, just trust the process.”

And that was it.  We said our farewells, and I drove home in a cocoon of energy, sisterly connection, and ideas.  Months passed and I forgot completely about my letter to myself.  Until yesterday – nearly a year later, when a large brown envelope addressed to me, in my own handwriting, appeared at the door.

Inside – my letter, with a lovely note from our birthday friend: “My plan was to wait a year to send these back,” she said. “I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.”  I opened the page, dated March 15, 2014

Dear Deb,

It has been one of the loveliest days you’ve spent in months. In the company of amazing women celebrating how and who and why we all want to succeed. We are all striving to be ourselves. To be a rock. To rock. to find bravery. To be brave. To see and be and feel growth. To feel full. To dance. Enjoy. Be full – be fun- be joyful. It’s all about strength. 

Be strong in all you desire. In all you dream of. Do not let anyone else’s weakness fill you with doubts or fear or to make you smaller than you are. You are here. Now. 

Be lovely

Succeed

Strive

Rock

Be brave

Grow

Get full

Dance

Be Strong

Be YOU

XXX

What if you were to write a love letter to yourself today from your future self?  What do you need to hear?  What words of gentle loving kindness can you impart?  What words will fill you with hope, with joy, with power, and with encouragement?

Last April, The Living Room presented “Wisdom To My Younger Self,” a series featuring 5 people giving their younger selves some tried and tested wisdom from the future.  Check out the talks here:

Kristen Girourd – “Sucess by Design – The Importance of Vision”

Carolyn Dalgliesh – “Embracing Chaos”

Dennis Bucco – “Make the Decision to Make Your Own Mistakes”

Deb Walsh – “Don’t Believe Every Story you Tell Yourself”

Betsy Fenik – “The Power of Glinda”

As always, love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  Until then, sending much love, and dream big. Every horizon invites you to find a new beginning.horizon-hiker-chick 2

Experiments in Truth: The Salon – On Asking, Reframing, and Imagining New Stories for Ourselves

stay-true-to-yourself-the-living-roomLast Sunday, 10 women gathered at TLR headquarters to talk about “Experiments in Truth.” It was TLR’s third Salon, and it felt like we were in a nest – a deep blue room filled with sparkling lights and libations and a fabulously cool and generous group!

The Salon was inspired by a quote from Gandhi, and it captures an idea I love of “living at curiosity” – to be willing to test drive new roads and try on new ways of thinking. And we did!

My hope with this Salon was to encourage all to:

  • Reframe what we hold to be truth
  • Have a different and better conversation with yourself
  • Read new signals – uncover new truths
  • Experiment more
  • Share great company

Here’s a brief recap, a few highlights and a couple of takeaways.

Prior to Sunday, I sent everyone a brief essay on mindsets. We looked at living “at cause” and living “at effect” and how (depending on the mindset you default to) mindsets can inform and impact your sense of adventure, control, and curiosity. (hint: you want to be “at cause.”)

We led off with a classic psych puzzle called the “9 Dots.” (Go on, give it a whirl).

Below is an arrangement of nine dots.
You are to connect up all the dots by making four straight lines without lifting your pencil and without retracing along any line.

9 dot puzzle

Did you get it?  Only one of us did! There is a solution, but likely not what you expected. The idea was to challenge assumptions and help us expand beyond our habitual ways of seeing and thinking.  (Message me if you want the solution!) It was a great way to shake up our brains and get on to Meanings: Experiments and Truth.

How do we decide what’s “true?” Do we open the doors to experimentation enough in life?

We used writing prompts and story editing exercises to shift how we tell ourselves “truths,” reflecting on the core stories we use to describe who we are and how we experience the world.

Then we conducted a mini “truth” audit, using a graphic  “Wheel of Life” containing 8 aspects of life such as career, relationships, money.  We scored each area then talked about what new “truths” or feelings and needs could be more fully expressed in any area.

We’ve all gotten so connected 24/7 that it seems most of us hardly stop at all to go deep and ask ourselves the most important and personal questions.  It’s like we’re all online, but lonelier than ever. Sending out signals, but only hearing noise.

card-deckFor all this, we turned to (and all fell in love with) a fantastic tool created by executive coach Maria DeCarvalho – two card decks of “feelings” and “needs” words.

What is calling you forward? What has your attention and intrigue? What is your heart and soul asking you to follow?

We looked at Desire lines: Curiosities, and Intrigue – a dive into the people, places, styles, and experiences we were being drawn toward; asking ‘how might we pay closer attention to those faint signals trying to grab our attention?’ Are these signals an indication of possible new experiments to undertake? As life coach Martha Beck says,

Any little desire, so long as you truly feel it, will get you started on the path toward your destiny.

Next, we examined Finding our Vein of Gold. What are the “typical” truths we default to when we refer to ourselves? Those “Yeah, I’m always doing (fill in the blank); and “I’m never (fill in the blank).

We tell a lot of stories about ourselves because that’s “just” what we’ve always done, not because it is good for us or empowers us.

wabi-sabi-bowl-with-goldenWe looked at finding gold (learning) in stories of difficulty. We talked a bit about the Japanese concept of wabi sabi – of beauty in imperfection. And in finding a vein of gold in the stories that felt broken.

And finally, we did a powerful story sharing exercise suggested by Maria in which we spent a moment in silence recalling a time from the past week that was somehow emblematic of what our lives felt like ‘right now.’ With card decks in hand, we split into groups of three; shared the stories, and reflected back to one another how that story might be interpreted and reframed. When we regrouped as one, people were blown away by what new words (new truths) had been given to them – and how powerfully their stories had shifted. As Maria teaches:

Your feelings are indicators of what’s working and what’s not working. Your needs tell you what is happening or not happening.

The evening wrapped up with a guided meditation to help everyone visualize “future you” who has already achieved any new truths or goals discovered during the Salon.

salon-popcornAnd then it was a wrap, and we were off into the snowy night – hearts and minds full of new ideas, new conversations, and new friends.

I’ll be announcing the next Salon series early next week!  Until then, happy weekend!

As always, love to hear from you in the comments.  

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10 Years Beyond Leukemia: Betsy Fenik On Gratitude and Amazement

Last April, photographer Betsy Fenik graced our stage at Living Room Stories v4: Wisdom To My Younger Self. On Monday of last week (Groundhog Day, no less!), Betsy marked the 10 year anniversary of her bone marrow transplant, and shared this reflection with me:

Ten years  beyond leukemia and a bone marrow transplant I look back at the past decade with amazement and gratitude. The act of surviving seemed to be a huge accomplishment and the attainment of a goal, but now I see that it was only the beginning of the journey. Last year I spoke about “things I would tell my younger self” and those things have never seemed truer. Recognizing and claiming my power and strength has led me to a life that I am really LIVING. I am thankful and excited to see what the future holds.

Watch Betsy’s incredible and inspiring story below, and be sure to leave a word or two in the comments below. I am so very grateful that Betsy came into my life as a dear friend, trusted walking companion, and chronicler of life and laughter. XO

Crossing The Threshold to 2015: Five Questions From Parker Palmer

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Photo by Narayan Mahon

I adore Parker Palmer - part sage, part teacher, part poet, all wisdom. Palmer is a  world-renowned writer, speaker and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. Parker holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, as well as eleven honorary doctorates, two Distinguished Achievement Awards from the National Educational Press Association, and an Award of Excellence from the Associated Church Press. In 2010, Palmer was given the William Rainey Harper Award whose previous recipients include Margaret Mead, Elie Wiesel, and Paolo Freire. In 2011, he was named an Utne Reader Visionary, one of “25 people who are changing your world.”

The founder of The Center for Courage and Renewal in Seattle, Palmer’s books have long graced my bookshelves and provided deep guidance for me and many thousands of other devoted fans and followers.

In hindsight, I think I can honestly say that Palmer’s work and wisdom inspired at least a piece of The Living Room’s founding mission – that is – to bring people together in analog time, in close community, to support and learn from one another through stories, conversation, and deep listening. Throughout his teachings, Parker draws from the Quaker tradition of “Circles of Trust,” a practice encompassing deep listening, open-ended asking, and reverence for silence as individuals embark on their unique journeys toward personal meaning.  Of these circles – which remind me so much of TLR’s intimate Salons and Living Room Stories – he reflects,

“The only guidance we can get on the inner journey comes through relationships in which others can help us discern our leadings.”

What’s not to love there?  So when I recently came upon an interview between Palmer and Krista Tippett, host of the Peabody award-winning public radio conversation “On Being,” I dropped everything to listen in on their chat. First, Palmer cites a poem by Ann Hillman:

We look with uncertainty

by Anne Hillman

We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.

And from that reading, (and eschewing traditional “resolutions”) Palmer offers us 5 questions to ask ourselves as we consider how we want to grow “crossing the threshold” to 2015:

• How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness?
• What is my next challenge in daring to be human?
• How can I open myself to the beauty of nature and human nature?
• Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
• What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?

How would you answer these?   I asked my own New Year’s questions here, in “14 Days to Grateful” and I love Palmer’s similar pursuit of emotional transformation – vs. simply devising goals around material gain.  I’m particularly intrigued by #4 – who or what do I need to learn or love next, so I’ll be writing away on these in tomorrow’s journal pages, and until next time, would love to hear what you think in the comments.

To dive deeper, read Palmer’s work here.  Explore “On Being” here. And learn more about Daring Greatly here.