Thoughts & Observations

The Impact of Should

We often think that berating ourselves with long lists of “shoulds” and “should nots” or wracking ourselves with guilt will push us to become better, to get more done.

But think about the times when you have felt the most empowered, joyful, and productive…

During those times was the voice in your head telling you how horrible you were, how despite your efforts you still weren’t doing as much as you should?

Probably not.

During those times, you probably let those voices die down a bit – you stopped comparing yourself to lists of shoulds long enough to let yourself shine.


Thoughts & Observations

Marking It and Vulnerability

In the world of dance, there are two types of practice that are often applied in rehearsal: “marking” a piece and doing it “full out.”

“Marking” refers to moving about the rehearsal space, often doing approximations of the steps and arm movements, so that you can get a sense of where you are supposed to be and keep your memory of the choreography fresh without becoming too exhausted.

Doing something “full out” refers to doing all of the steps as they should be done – and as you would likely do them in performance.

Marking is substantially easier than doing something full out – and it serves its purpose of conserving your energy if you have a long day of rehearsal ahead.

But lots of dancers end up marking as much as they can – believing that they are getting away with it until a teacher or rehearsal director yells at them for not dancing full out.

And the challenge with marking is that it can become a habit. It can become so comfortable that when you are eventually supposed to do something full out, you hang back, often subconsciously still marking it a bit.

Most of us don’t need a teacher to tell us when we’re not doing it full out. We know in our gut.

There is – maybe often subtle at times – a distinct difference between the twinge you feel in your stomach when you know you are giving less than what you are capable of offering, and the twinge you feel when you’re making making yourself vulnerable by putting everything you’ve got out there.

Mark it when you have to, but go for the twinge of full out vulnerability whenever you can.


Thoughts & Observations

Simple Rules of Social Karma

Some observations of the simple rules of social karma:

Judgment begets  judgment.

Cheerleading begets cheerleading.

If you ever wonder why you feel judged and alone, it’s likely that you spend a lot of time passing judgement.

If you ever wonder why you don’t have more cheerleaders, it’s likely because you aren’t cheering on others enough (or in some cases because you are with people who are only capable of playing the role of judge).

What you give is usually what you get back.


Thoughts & Observations

What is an “Expert” Anyway?

When you picture an expert, what do you see? Do you see Einstein? Do you see a Ph.D. who has been studying the same subject for 20 years? Do you see a scientist in a lab coat? Do you seen an author promoting her fifth book? Do you see the entrepreneur who just sold her company for millions of dollars?

Here’s what Merriam Webster says an expert is:

Expert: having or showing special skill or knowledge because of what you have been taught or what you have experienced.

It doesn’t mention a Ph.D. requirement. It doesn’t mention that you must refrain from using that word until you are a published author.

By that definition, we are all experts on something.

We all meet people who call themselves experts but who clearly aren’t, so we shy away from using that word, fearing that someone will call us out as an impostor as well. But if you speak from experience, if you share what you have learned with authenticity, if you are clear about what you know and what you don’t, then the word impostor won’t apply to you.

We also hesitate because we know that there are other people out there who have more expertise then we do. And that’s fine. There is always someone who is more expert than you – but that’s why most of the time you’ll call yourself an expert, and not the expert. But you’re still an expert.

Thoughts & Observations

The Challenge of “Expert”

Can you, without hesitation, fill in the blanks in the following statements?

Hello, my name is _________________. I am an expert in __________________ because ________________. 

It turns out that a significant number of people, especially women, have a difficult time filling in those blanks as I discovered recently at one of the Op-Ed Project’s outstanding seminars where working through this question is a key initial exercise.

Many of us balk at the term “expert.” We leave out key details in our “because” explanations and we under estimate our level of experience.

We’ve been socialized in many ways to always adopt a stance of humility, even when that humility leads to a limitation of our power to help others.

We do so much to avoid being a braggart that we forget that what we know – what we have become experts on – has the potential to change perspective, or policy, or even lives.

Of course you don’t need to walk into a room and proclaim to everyone what school you went to and how many books you’ve written. But when you apply those same rules of social grace across the board – without regard for when the rule hurts and when it helps – you are likely minimizing yourself in a way that minimizes all of us.

Thoughts & Observations

Benefits of Experience

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the importance of experience lately, largely driven by my own explorations of what I most want in life (which is primarily centered around experiences, not things).

My friend Ruthie has been exploring this as well, and as I read her recent blog post about gift giving, it occurred to me that there are many deep reasons behind why we find experience so magical.

An experience on its own certainly has magic to it – listening to a beautiful piece of music or eating an amazing piece of chocolate, even if there is no one else around, can transport you and move you.

But often experience brings with it the opportunity to connect with others. You meet people who are taking that cooking class or attending that meditation retreat with you and you connect, in part because you already have one thing in common. And as Ruthie points out, this experience can then beget more experiences – spending more time with the people that you’ve met, eating dinner together, taking another class.

Out of that one initial experience you get the benefits of both the experience itself and the benefits of human connection.

In addition, each experience provides the opportunity to fuel your curiosity, and lead to you seeking more experiences, starting the whole cycle over again.

The benefits of experience are exponential.



Thoughts & Observations

Maximum Effort

At the beginning of a talk, Seth Godin often asks the audience to do something very simple:

“Please raise your hands,” he says.

Everyone dutifully raises their hands.

Then he says: “Raise your hands higher.”

And everyone responds by reaching their hands a bit higher.

He then points out that no one gave the task their maximum effort on their first try – everyone raised their hands a bit higher when he asked – and the audience, laughing at themselves a bit, slowly lowers their hands having been caught doing something they’ve never noticed before.

Seth says that we are constantly trained to hold back and not give our maximum effort at first.

And I think that much of our reason for holding back is a fundamental self-protection mechanism.

If we don’t give our maximum effort, then we have an excuse – we can blame our failure on the fact that we didn’t give it our all (implying that it’s not a matter of whether we have it or not, but whether or not we chose to give it).

If we don’t give our maximum effort, then we may also think we have a reserve of effort that we can tap back into if more is needed. We get scared about putting all of our effort out there at once because if it doesn’t work, then what will we do? There won’t be anything left.

The problem is that you can’t bank effort. You can’t store it away like doomsday preppers store canned goods and beef jerky. At least not for long periods of time. You can pace yourself (the way that a marathon runner might) to make sure that you don’t burn out before you’re done, but that’s different than giving maximum effort. The person who wins a marathon likely still gave their maximum effort even if they weren’t sprinting the whole time.

If you don’t give your maximum effort on a particular task, that effort won’t be waiting there for you to use on the next one.

And when we don’t push ourselves to put in the most effort we can, we sell ourselves short. We come to believe that we are only capable of raising our hands to that first height, and we don’t give ourselves the chance to see how far we can really go.


Thoughts & Observations

Page as Playground

I often carry blank sheets of printer paper around with me.

I have a backup supply of unlined notebooks.

To me, a blank page is the mind’s playground.

A place where you can test ideas, bring your thoughts to life, and make the connections that might be too abstract to work out only in your head.

You can do all of that, and if you don’t like where it takes you, you can pull out another blank sheet, and begin again.

Thoughts & Observations

Work is the Transference of Energy

The word “work” has built quite a nasty little reputation for itself over the years.

Kids complain about doing homework. Adults complain about going to work. When we say that we have things to work on, it implies a difficult slog, something that we probably don’t want to do.

But when we strip away the negative connotations that we’ve added to it, the word “work,” in its pure form, simply means the transference of energy.

We transfer energy from ourselves to something else, in the form of our time or our brain power or our emotional investment.

So instead of asking ourselves “what do I want to work on this year?”, perhaps we should be asking: “where do I want to put my energy?”

Thoughts & Observations

Caring More About the Couch

There’s a scene in American Beauty when Kevin Spacey, in his role as Lester, on-screen husband to Annette Benning’s character, Carolyn, starts to lean into her on their couch.

They are laughing a bit about how things used to be. The scene is getting intimate.

And then, out of the corner of her eye, Carolyn sees the bottle of beer in Lester’s hand tipping towards the $4,000 Italian-silk upholstered sofa they are sitting on.

Then it happens. The words “Lester, you’re going to spill beer on the couch,” slip out of her mouth and the spell is broken.

The moment is over.

Some of us seem to start out life with an extra keen sense of when the proverbial beer is about to spill on the couch, and some of us seem to develop that sense as we age, as we acquire more expensive things, as we get tired and build up anger, or frustration, or resentment.

And although many people may be able to identify with Carolyn’s character as they watch that scene, I bet that almost no one desires to be her.

Most people don’t want to hear themselves saying words like that, but those words can start to come out as automatically as a cab driver honking the horn the second the light turns green.

The only way to stop it is to start to interrupt the habit. Break the pattern, even just once. Catch yourself before the words come out. Take a deep breath. Let it go.

And maybe even let the beer spill every once in a while.