A little retreat from the heat

 

Some like it hot. I do not.

Or at least, not anymore. When I was a kid, swimming was my passion. Those hot, muggy New Jersey summer days often meant time splashing around at the beach or in the pool. Alas, my thermostat reset after I moved to the Northwest, and I no longer tolerate super hot and humid weather. I wilt at 82 and retreat inside, to hibernate and read.

With heat stress in mind, I’ll share just one short idea about storytelling, then invite you to kick back with your favorite reading, including three recent blog posts you might have missed.

Short tip: How to make your story a little richer

I just taught a class on Creating Your Signature Story for a group of professionals within the wonderful King County Library System–where I’m a big fan, hoping I’ll someday qualify for a “frequent borrower” award.

Working with the class participants, I was reminded of how everyone has a story, and how easy it is to start sharing it when we know that someone else is listening.

However, in today’s busy workplaces, we’re taught to be concise, and that can often lead to a way of speaking that’s abstract and detached. We preface an anecdote by saying “the customer needed information.”

By adding just a few interesting details, a brief story will become a little longer but a lot more memorable.

Engaging people’s interest is more time-efficient than boring your listeners with business-speak.

One way to come up with these details is to activate your imagination and remember the scene where the story took place. (You can also do this when talking about the future, by standing in that future and describing what you see.)

Observe through your senses.

If you’re describing an interaction with a customer (the library calls them patrons), invite us to see the world with you. Let’s stand together in that crowded library. What does your patron look like when he (or she) first enters the front doors of the library? What does he look at? What’s her expression?

When your patron approaches you for information, what does she sound like? Is he stammering? Struggling to ask a question? Sweating? Speaking, slowly, quickly, or in broken English?

As you try and listen to him, what other sounds do you hear in the room? Loud voices or the tires of a book cart?

Is the room dark and back-lit by a vivid sun? Or is it bright?

Even a few specific sensory details, chosen to reinforce the point you’re making, can transform your anecdote and make it vivid and memorable. If your story needs to be short, you may only have time to add one or two details. But they can make the difference between just “talking about”  an incident and engaging people’s interest and curiosity.

Now for those recent posts…

How do you balance your head and your heart when you’re making a decision? I wrote about what I went through before deciding to foster an abandoned dog. (For last week’s readers: Riley’s vet check showed nothing major wrong (good), while indicating a host of old dog ailments as well as some neurological problems (oh dear).

When your mind is buzzing with unwanted, and sometimes unkind thoughts, what do you do? I shared three words that helped save me and turned around a situation. Lots of readers offered ideas about how they tame their wild minds. I’d love to hear more of your ideas!

Stories matter, and in today’s world we need to hear the stories of people at the margins (frequently referred to as “them.”) The best way to do that is in an open circle, where everyone is invited to have a voice. I shared a trailer from Hannah Gadsby’s much-talked-about “Nanette” in which she ends her evening of stand-up comedy with a stirring message, “I want my story to be heard.”

What stories are moving you? If you don’t feel like sharing your own, just grab a book and read. Especially when it’s hot.

Three words that can change your life (they’re not what you think)

 

 

If I asked you for the three most powerful words you’d use to change a situation, what would you offer? Maybe:

  • I love you.
  • I forgive you.
  • I trust you.
  • I am OK.
  • I am worthy.

Yep. These are magic words that change lives. I want to offer you three more

Just stop it.

Imagine a time when your mind was wracked with a grievance, you were feeling bitter, resentful or besieged, and your mind was racing overtime trying to rationalize what just happened or plot your vengeance.

Or, think of a time when you felt like you were out of control and you wanted someone to change (think family, close friend or spouse, for starters) and they wouldn’t, no matter what you did or said.

Situations like these trigger my got-to-be-in-control impulse and send my brain into overdrive. I rationalize. I judge. I think about getting even.

While this is going on, I also try to think my way into a better place. I try to practice compassion and try to see the situation in a new light. I know the power of forgiveness–which, trust me, is hard work!

But often I just end up spinning in my own thoughts. You know, hamster-in-mind syndrome.

An urgent situation

On the eve of my mother’s memorial service, old fault lines in family relationships surfaced. I felt pierced and offended.

I pulled out everything I knew might help:

  • Have compassion for myself.
  • Have compassion for the other person.
  • Breathe, in a deep, relaxing way.
  • Listen to my body, and notice where the hurt lives.
  • Vent constructively to a safe friend.
  • Dance my heart out at a Zumba class.

All of this helped, a little. Still, as we approached the hour of Mom’s memorial, I knew I had to do something different. So, in the nick of time, I tried these words, directing them strongly at my brain:

Just stop it.

“I know you have a lot of good ideas, and insights. I know you are struggling between compassion and judgment, and I’m sure you want to forgive yourself and the other person. However, we are out of time and you need to stop thinking about this–effective IMMEDIATELY. You’re on a track going nowhere. And you’re the only one who can stop it.

Delete file NOW. 

Fortunately, I was taking a walk with my compassionate husband. I greatly recommend walking or moving when you use this technique. Walking or exercising naturally help soften the grip of your thoughts, plus they can give you a time frame for action. I told myself:

“At the end of this walk, I want things to be different.”

Normally, I don’t believe in will-power, or mind over matter, but the stakes were really high,

Adding a prayer

I also used prayer. I don’t know what your relationship with prayer is, but sometimes I need help dealing with stuff that seems beyond my control, where the only thing I can really change is me.

Finding my prayer brings me to humility, where I don’t have to be the strongest person on the block, or even capable of changing myself. Prayer brings me back into myself.

Without going religious on you, I’m all for praying to whatever gives you strength, as long as prayer reminds you of the good person you really are, and does not judge or do harm to others. Really, why not?

The good news is that those three words WORKED.

My mind calmed down, I went into the memorial, and then, as I heard healing words spoken about my mother, something deeper in me shifted and I knew that the change I had wanted had stuck.

We can’t control others. We can work on ourselves. Make your mind your friend.

Other applications

The applications for these words are many. You can use them to give instruction to your inner critic. Or, when doubt really builds up. Or, when your mind is in a tizz after listening to yet another terrible spate of news. Action in the future may be needed. But first, keep your mind from spinning.

For those of us who are strong thinkers, sometimes we just need to stop the action. I don’t have to always figure out the situation, rationalize or work with it.

I just need to pull the plug and reboot my brain.

Speak these three words to yourself in a pinch. Use them like a life preserver, with compassion and necessary severity, even as you find your own way of forgiving and letting go.

Just stop it.

 

 

The Secret Key to IGNITING Performance

 

 

 

Picture this: a lively audience of 500 hooting and hollering. A group of twelve competitively selected speakers, all with a lot of gumption and varying degrees of speaking experience. The challenge: to present an idea, message or story in five minutes, make it entertaining and keep it short. 5 minutes. 20 timed slides. Then you’re out.

Last week, I had my five minutes of performing fame:  How I Dumped Denial: 60 is NOT the new 40. I had a blast!!!

Always on the lookout for what makes a performance or event great, I made some observations about why the Ignite model works so well and offer them to you along with one secret key.

Why it works

Ignite Seattle is run by a staff of volunteers, who work together as an energized, well-organized team. Special bonus: they appear to like each other!

After hosting 36 events, the team has their procedures down–although at Ignite Seattle #36 they weren’t afraid to innovate or stir things up a bit. This Ignite included a make-your-own art section of the lobby as well as a play-with-a-costume photo booth.

The staff took care of us speakers, helping us to relax and prepare. Whereas some event organizers might say, “You’re selected/good luck,” Ignite offered us two advance opportunities for workshopping/practicing our talks–along with FREE DINNER and wine! Free food and great coaching is a winning combo! We were on an accelerated timeline to prepare our talks, and at the rehearsals, I watched as topics transformed, including my own. I can’t tell you how useful it is to try out material on a real audience rather than that not-always-agreeable face in the mirror.

The organizers take care of their audiences as well. They know their typical audience demographics and interests, and they take time to welcome everybody and then set up expectations. Ignite is not the MOTH (that quasi-professional story-event out of New York City, where people ultra fine-tune their talks). Nah, we were regular folks with something to share, and our Master of Ceremonies invited the audience to really support us.

They did that in spades. I’ve never experienced a more positive audience. I ended my talk with a little audience participation exercise; they complied with gusto–without missing a beat!

Now for the Secret Ingredient: Make it fun!

The audience was primed for fun–you felt it in the air. They entered the theatre after socializing and making art, and their mood was upbeat. The organizers were playful as well. They handed out a little box of dates to everyone so we could all break a Ramadan fast with one of the speakers; we closed with a bit of improvisational comedy.

One of the secrets to having fun as a speaker is to practice a lot. I did. Not just endlessly repeating a script, but walking my talk, miming my talk, finding ways to mix it up until the essence of what I wanted to say settled into my bones.

I can focus more on fun when I don’t have to worry about my words.

In the theatre, I had one job: to enjoy the audience. I knew if I had fun, the audience would have fun. That worked!

FUN

Feeling

Unleashed, and

Natural

 

I coach presenters, and I’m going to underscore this secret: whether your topic is serious or light–if you are enjoying yourself, that spirit will radiate and help people connect with you.

And when audience members are having fun, they just might remember what you said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s your legacy (story)?

 

I’ve spent the weekend writing about legacy stories, a special part of the world of storytelling, in which you look back at your past, while still moving ahead.

Often, a legacy story is one that you can pass down to another generation of people who care about you. But not necessarily. You might want to create one that’s for your eyes only, a way to acknowledge choices you made and from which you find extra meaning.

You may be thinking, “But I’m too young for a legacy!” which is another way to say, “I’m hoping to be around for a while yet.”

Taking a look at the paths your footsteps have followed and the patterns they have made along the way might help you make better decisions TODAY about how you want to live going forward.

And there may be people in your life–even a lot of them–who would appreciate knowing more about you. How I wish I could read the words of my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, etc. who passed without telling me much about their lives.

I’m still kicking myself for not asking more questions of them when they were around.

Still, you don’t have to share anything and your story might end up being for your eyes only.

A few reasons for creating a legacy story:

  1. Working on your legacy story can help you find more peace about your life.
  2. It might change how you see your life today.
  3. You may gain ideas about how you want to live in the time ahead.
  4. People who care about you will be very grateful.
  5. You can sell the screen rights for millions of dollars.  (Might be a little exaggerated…but it’s not too hard to make a video).

Your story doesn’t have to be monumental

People may shy away from thinking about a legacy story because it sounds so grandiose. But it doesn’t have to be! I’m into simple and small these days (in a world that’s anything but), and you can make your story as small and abridged as you like.

For now, forget about creating the big-deal-definitive-study of your life. (Your compelling memoir can come later…)

Think of your legacy story more like a curated show about your life rather than the big retrospective.

You display a few of your interesting pictures (scenes of your life), but you don’t have to display the full collection.

I would have been happy with any show about my Grandfather.

A close friend has been working on her “legend” story–a kind of legacy–and I’m privileged to be able to read it. She explored her past for key themes, events, and people, weaving them into a rich tapestry of metaphors, using the archetype of The Hero’s Journey as background to her work. Her legend opens up new creative possibilities for what she may do over her next thirty years.

(Factoid: did you know that legend and legacy share the same Indio-European root, “leg,” meaning “to collect, gather,” related to “to speak” and “to gather words, to pick out words.”)

How you can start

Here’s one way NOT to start: don’t ask, “What’s my legacy story?”  The question is too big and too vague.

Instead, see if you can remember memories of specific incidents and people who have moved you. Your heart is a better story-teller than your head working alone. You want to engage your feelings and senses rather than your editorial brain–the one that likes to polish and puff up a “good story” about your life.

While you may have a sleek version of a story you use for job interviews (or if someone actually wants to listen to you for more than five minutes at a networking event), you don’t need to add shine to your legacy.

Your life, as you have lived it, is plenty interesting without extra gloss. In fact, part of what makes your legacy story interesting is finding out where you have a few warts hidden, and how you may have screwed up, fallen (metaphorically), skinned your knee, and recovered.

My friend and colleague Juliet Bruce has helped many people from different walks of life find their stories using the Hero’s Journey framework. She suggests the following:

“Ask a person not to remember, not to talk in generalities, but to ask story questions about their lives. What was your wedding day like, tell me about your wedding day? Very specific scenes in their lives. What music played around the birth of your child? Get people into their senses, their sense memories and whole beautiful stories of decades emerge.”

Juliet invites people to use the Hero’s Journey as a powerful, archetypal framework through which to look at their legacies.

“Using The Hero’s Journey paradigm people find that their lives were not a waste, in fact, they were very beautiful lives no matter how ordinary they were. They made choices that were the best choices they could make in the moment. They endured, they carried on, and they made it to this age.

And now, faced with the frailties of the human body and sometimes the mind, [particularly if they are older]  they still have great wisdom and a sense of continuity to share with younger people.”

Your legacy story can reveal what is fundamental and good about you, and what you did right while allowing plenty of space for the flawed parts as well.

You did enough

As someone with a noisy inner critic who sits on my shoulder like a monkey throwing off banana peels and wise-ass comments, like, “Who do you think you are?” and “You haven’t done enough,” the idea of acknowledging both the good and the difficult parts is daunting.

I gained hope watching the closing scene in the film Schindler’s List. Otto Schindler, after saving the lives of so many Jews who worked in his factory during the Holocaust, crumples before his beneficiaries and wails that he didn’t do enough.

At least my feelings of “I didn’t do enough” puts me in good company.

Your legacy story is a way that you can claim that you did do enough.

If you want to explore this more, I have questions you can ask, as well as a cool exercise for legacy-searching called “The Wise Counselor Exercise.” They’re in a little ebook I just wrote called  “Looking Back, Moving Forward: a Guide to Crafting Your Legacy Story.” Drop me a note if you’d like to receive a beta copy.

For now, just remember: your story does matter–and there’s someone who’s longing to hear more about it…

And that might even be you!

Here’s to your unique, waiting-to-be-told legacy story,

What about your work do you love, love, love…

It’s been a hard week. I lost a bid to do work I was perfect for. Ouch! It’s hard to step back and take a rejection objectively.

A good friend reminded me that losing a proposal bid is rarely personal–but more often about politics and preferences. I later found out that I hadn’t really lost–the organization just decided to do the work internally. But I only learned this after spending a day scraping myself off the floor.

Telling me not to take things personally is like telling a Springer Spaniel not to chase a squirrel. Good advice, but…

On my little spiral down into questioning everything, I began to wonder why I do my work. Fortunately, that night I had an online meeting with a group of three other women, super-talented artist/entrepreneurs. When it was my turn to share, the last thing I wanted to do was talk about my work. Viewing my body language on the computer screen, I saw someone who looked cramped and collapsed, like a moth trying to squeeze her way back into a cocoon.

My voice sounded like I had been swatted. But as I talked about why I thought I would have been so good for the project, I said with some animation, “What I love, love, love about my work is watching people tell their stories in a circle and come alive.”

Bingo. Something happened. I started to come alive. Pepped up. Gestured. Started to fly again.

One of my wise colleagues picked up on this and noticed that my expression, “What I love, love, love…” had helped turn things around.

She suggested an exercise that I pass on to you.

Love, love, love: an exercise

There are days, like the one I just experienced, when asking yourself what you like to do or even love to do doesn’t cut it.

It’s so easy to sound reasonable (yawn.)

But when you ask yourself what you love, love, love to do, you aren’t asking for reasonableness. You’re asking for passion, energy, and sparkle. You’re asking about work that is so irrefutably yours that you would do it without being paid–although hopefully you’ll be paid a lot because you’re so good at it.

This is GREAT practice for writing about yourself or creating an “About” page for your website (see below).

What about your work do you love, love, love?

(I did the exercise thinking about work but you could do it about other areas of your life as well.)

Write it out. If you are unsure about what you’re writing, speak the words out loud and check out the energy. Can you hear excitement?

Gone was the jargon designed to look good. Gone were the words like efficiency, effectiveness, value-added, strategic, or results-oriented. What came to me instead were real examples of working at my best and helping others.

From my list:

  • I love, love, love guiding a group to tell stories and then watching them be moved by each other.
  • I love, love, love helping someone develop a story that leaves her or him feeling proud and competent.
  • I love, love, love helping a team get out of its own way.
  • I love, love, love performing a story and hearing from audience members about how they were moved.
  • I love, love, love watching board members tell stories about why they’re committed to their organization.
  • I love, love, love project-planning on a big, clean whiteboard.
  • I love, love, love supporting someone to take a risk to speak up.
  • I love, love, love writing posts, and seeing the chimp from Mailchimp give me the high five that lets me know the post is on the way to you.

My list goes on, but I’ll spare you.

In describing my work, if  I’m tempted to use a word like empowerment, I think about a specific example and remember the look in someone’s eyes. Thinking about the story always grounds my words.

If you have your own website with an “About” page, this exercise will take you into the heart of what you do and invigorate your copy. Spare yourself the weighty, well-written, important-sounding words I used for too many years. They keep people from feeling your special greatness.

Once you’ve tapped into the energy of love, love, love, you can edit your copy accordingly. You don’t have to include those words to convey the freshness and passion you’ve discovered. People will feel you more.

And remember what they love, love, love about you.

What to say when you don’t want to say anything

 

I woke up this morning thinking about what to write and…and my brain was empty.

What do you say when your brain has gone blank?

This is what introverts face all the time (self-included)…when we have to say to people that we don’t have anything to say (or talk about not wanting to talk.)

This is also an issue when my husband comes home and wants to greet me and I’m in the middle of writing a sentence that will fly away forever if I even murmur a word…and he say’s “Hi, Honey…”

(We’ve developed a code.)

To help us introverts and others, I’m designing a line of T-shirts you can wear to avoid this problem. (You can send me your order…we don’t even need to talk.)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any suggestions for the line? You can post them below…quietly.

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