These people deserve the credit for my TEDx Talk

No one does anything alone or in a vacuum.

There’s no such thing as DIY. Even something you think you “did” yourself has been helped and shaped by forces seen and unseen for decades, if not longer.

I wanted to acknowledge the people who made my TEDx Talk better:

  • Angeline May and the whole TEDx West Chester Team

  • My mom, of course. Her journey of awakening (that I chose to go on with her through her diagnosis and death from ovarian cancer) irrevocably altered the course of my life

  • Leah Ollman for every little thing, including listening to the talk at least a bazillion times

  • My TEDx coach, Ryan Hildebrandt at Viral Message Lab

  • Primoz Bozic, my business coach, for suggesting I reach out to Ryan when I got the invite to speak

  • ALL the friends and acquaintances who agreed to be interviewed on loss and grief as I put together the script for my talk

  • All the friends who set up events that gave me the opportunity to practice my talk, helping me bridge the gap from relying on my script to a fully memorized performance. Big shout out to Nercy Sullivan and her team at Alchemy Space in NYC who threw the first such event at her beautiful hair salon in NYC. Her “yes” gave me the courage to continue asking for help with practicing my talk

  • Alex Kipp of Muse Public Speaking for the hours of rehearsals and laser-focused work on my performance

  • Nicki Richards for the invaluable vocal coaching and crucial tip about getting the songs into the right key

  • Amy Wolter for a new and different kind of performance coaching this time ‘round

  • My life coach, JP Morgan for the reminder that I don’t care about polished… I care about moving people

  • Dr. John Sharp for early advice on the TED process and everything other kind of life advice

  • Katie Anderson of MEND Tailoring for the style

  • Rob Mounsey for helping me make Bright Nowhere (aka The Death Album) the incredible piece of life-changing, culture-shifting, award-winning music that it is and will be and for making me a better musician

  • Carol Annibale for keeping me and my team organized and for planning all the events and travel

There’s no way I could’ve created a talk this good and this powerful on my own. No way. Never ever.

I didn’t do any of it alone. Thank goodness! I am so grateful for all of these human beings.

Am I willing to torpedo my TEDx talk?

Today, during my weekly call with my life coach (yes, I am a life coach that has a life coach) we talked about what I want to create with my TEDx talk that is happening this Thursday night, November 8, 2018.

Here’s a bit of what we talked about and what we created in our conversation … 

What is possible if I completely open my heart and give my TEDx Talk from my most vulnerable, raw place?

If I were to completely open my heart and be as vulnerable as possible, here is everything I fear.

I’m afraid I’ll …

  • completely lose my way in the talk

  • get so overwhelmed by the memories and emotions and sadness of caring for my dying mother that I can’t go on with the talk

  • not be able to sing

  • my singing voice will be off-pitch and sound horrible

  • run out of time (TED only gives you 18 minutes maximum to give a talk)

  • etc

At this point in my preparation process, my talk is polished and well-rehearsed (to the extreme). I’ve given it to 15+ groups of people as of today. I’ve rented rehearsal spaces to work on it and even had a friend get me into her school auditorium to give me the chance to practice on a big stage (beyond the time I get during our dress rehearsals).

But polished and well-rehearsed is not what connects to people’s hearts. Polished and well-rehearsed does not change lives. It is impressive. But I don’t give a shit about impressive. I give a shit about liberating everyone around loss and death. 

Am I willing to lean into my emotion so much that I risk the whole thing crashing and burning? Torpedoing the whole thing because I am so in touch with the emotions and feelings of that 4 year journey with my Mom from diagnosis to death?

I am.

A parallel universe in which I got everything right?

When we’re centered there is no such thing as “doing it wrong.” It could be anything in our life: guitar playing, songwriting, washing the dishes, writing, working, exercising, eating, etc.

When we aren’t centered, when we are coming from fear, worry, comparison, being too far behind, not being good enough, not being farther along, when the voice in our head is beating us up about every single thing, then everything in our lives feels like a mistake.

Here is why that un-centered voice (the ego, the “I”) is full of BS: it looks at every single thing in our life and says that it should be (or should’ve been) different or better than it is (or was).

This is a total scam. It’s also a no-win situation.

The inner voice is insatiable. It’ll never stop criticizing you.

There is simply no way to be better or different in a way that will satisfy the ego.

As the Zen teacher Cheri Huber likes to say, there simply is no parallel universe in which you did / do everything perfectly and everything turned / turns out exactly as the inner voice wanted / wants it to.

There just isn’t. There is no amount of doing that will satisfy the voice in your head. Ever. Never has been and never will be. Its whole existence is based on getting you to do, do, do so that you are constantly distracted and thus not able to see its lies and delusions. It wants to keep you suffering and doing and striving and failing and achieving but yet not quite measuring up enough and scared and comparing and wanting and exhausted (do I need to go on?)…

When we notice this voice and begin to wonder why it’s so mean to us, we can sometimes catch a glimpse of what’s really here, what’s really true.

What’s really here and true is that Life is.

You didn’t do it wrong. Ever. Not before and not now and you won’t in the future.

There are no mistakes.

The possibility of astonishment

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities … offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope,” — Thomas Merton

I’ve written in the last few days about how we like to think we control everything.

Our ego, the self-identified “I”, the I at the center of our universe, is under the illusion that it can influence everything around us. That by doing more, better, faster we’d be more and better and have already arrived there. And ego wants it exactly as it wants it. It likes and dislikes all day long.

When we step outside of this incessant, nagging voice in our head for even a brief moment, we see that there is something else available. That something else is peace, possibility, joy, delight, surprise.

When we can get away from the voice of the ego for even a bit, and we are open to the astonishing world we inhabit, we realize that Life serves up wonders and amazements that the ego could never dream up.

Your (my) little terrified, square, nagging, angry, bullying little ego would never dream up how incredibly wondrous this world is — how almost everything I do today is a miracle.

On mundane morning example of the amazingness of every minute of my day: that I can press a button and my glossly black french roast coffee beans (that came from Africa originally, but were transported to and roasted in New York) are perfectly ground and pressed and hot water (that is clean and heated to the perfect temperature) is passed through said grounds. Then a delightfully smokey brown liquid drips into a beautiful clay cup I have placed under the spout. All this happens in under a minute. And whenever I feel like it.

It is simply astonishing when I get out of my tiny little world, when chose to ignore the nagging likes and dislikes of the ego that drone on in my head.

It is possible to be astonished every single minute of the day by how much LIfe wants to and does offer us, if we’d only let it.

The 1 second commitment

When we make a commitment to practicing something, anything — say playing guitar for an hour a day, meditating for two minutes in the morning, turning our phone off at night — that practice is not actually about playing guitar, about meditating, or about time away from the phone.

It’s really about training the muscle that says no to the voice in your head that wants to talk you out of doing that thing you committed to doing.

We want to get to a point that no matter how we feel (I’m not getting anywhere, I’m miserable, I’m too exhausted, I’m hungry, I’ll do it tomorrow) and no what what the voice in our head is saying, we simply keep our commitment.

Most of the world thinks they get credit for reading about how to keep a commitment or listening to a podcast about how to keep a commitment, or, if they are feeling a little bit more energized, that they get credit for “trying” to keep their commitment.

These things don’t count, I am sorry to say. I wish they did.

Keeping a commitment to yourself is a form of training. As the Zen coach Cheri Huber says, “We are training to be the person we have always wanted to be, the person we can trust with our life.”

Keep your commitment to yourself as if your life depends on it. Because it does.

If you have to scale the commitment back, do that. Don’t skip the practice all together. If your commitment is to play guitar one hour a day and you just don’t have time and the voice in your head is saying all sorts of things to you about what is more important, then play for one focused minute. If you can’t do that, just simply pick up the guitar and hold it for 10 seconds or 10 slow breaths.

I know that sounds absurd.

But only the person who has not yet had the courage to keep even 30 seconds of her commitment would laugh at such an idea.

You with a big asterisk

We all like to think we have control over our lives. 

In life, if we are moderately privileged persons, it probably feels like things have gone our way, either now or in the past. We might have lots of evidence to prove that this is true.

Because we’ve worked hard, focused, applied ourselves, taken a lot of actions, we are able to control our destiny.

Our ego (or the “I” or the conditioned self) loves to pipe up and say — Yes! I did all of this. It was me. All me.

Ego has a whole story that goes like this: This is about me. I’m in control. I make things happen.

There is of course a way in which this is true.

But underpinning this illusion or belief is the reality that this is not how life works.

How do we know this or get a sense of this?

Think of something in your life that didn’t go your way. Maybe you failed in a big way, or something bad happened to you that was not your fault (you got cancer, you got into an accident, you made a bad decision at a time when you were — in retrospect — under enormous stress or being an unkind, unawake person.)

Were these things “your” fault? 
(Okay, maybe you can say the last one — making a bad decision — was your fault… but is it really if you made that decision as an alcoholic, as a rage-a-holic, as a stress-a-holic, etc?)

The point is: Getting cancer wasn’t your fault. Getting into an accident might not have been your fault. Or maybe it was. Ego wants to blame you for everything. It has you feeling bad for being sick, shaming you and making you feel like you are a burden on your loved ones. It has you being at fault for pretty much everything.

This is when we start to see through the illusion that we control our lives.

What I notice is that ego loves to take credit for when things go my way AND it loves to beat me up with blame and negativity when things don’t go my way. There’s nothing but ego, either way. There’s no room or space. It wants to control everything. 

What’s the way out?

Begin to take yourself out of the center of your life.

Begin to dis-identify with ego and that voice in your head that wants to both get credit for everything you do that’s good and wants to beat you up for everything in your life that is bad.

If things are going well in your life — if you’ve taken actions and worked hard and are having some success — learn to just marvel at that and be grateful. Say wow! Say look at that! Say I’m so appreciative of this happening in my life. I’m so grateful.

Yes it might feel like you “did” it, like you “created” that success.

 It also could just be a big fat stroke of luck. Either way, you’ll never know. 

Choose whatever interpretation gives you the power to be kind to yourself and gives you more energy to practice and do more of what you want to do. (Remember: what you do is what you get.) But don’t fully buy into the illusion that you (your ego) did it. Your ego certainly did not do it. It will take the credit after the thing is done, but wasn’t it the same part of you that was complaining and throwing obstacles in your way the whole time you were working on the thing, trying to distract you and derail you.

Go ahead and believe that you create the success if that gives you power to keep taking action but put a big asterisks beside the word “you.”

You were helped by so many other forces in the universe — seen and unseen. I am sure you can think of some of them. Maybe you had loving parents who at a young age instilled a sense of safety and security and confidence in you. Not everyone in the world has that, god knows. So you were helped by that conditioning when you were younger whether you chose to acknowledge it now, 40 years later, or not. It played a part. And there are a million, a billion other little things in the world that contributed to your success.

Life is.
Learn to marvel at the successes and moments of good fortune in an awestruck and grateful way not in an ego reinforcing kind of way.

The Throw-Yourself-Off-The-Cliff mentality and leveling up

I have a mindset that I call “throw yourself off the cliff.”

When a scary but great opportunity arises, don’t overthink it. Just say yes to it, even if it is a stretch for you skill-wise, ability-wise, everything-wise.

If you weigh your options, taking precious stock of where you are and whether you can do it, you’ll not only waste time and energy, you’ll also most likely talk yourself out of it. You’ll get scared and say no.

Don’t do this.

Instead, just throw yourself off the cliff. Say yes. And figure out how to do the thing you fear.

The origin story of this phrase and way of being for me is this: I’m a bit scared of heights if I let myself be. But it was a deep, hot Wyoming summer and I had just hiked to a mountain lake and there was an enormous boulder on the shore that all the locals like to jump off of.

It’s definitely something I want to do too. It looks fun and I know hitting the cold mountain water is going to feel amazing. But I’m nervous and terrified. I watch my friend stand there, then take a running start and leap off the edge of the boulder. I count one second, two seconds and then hear a splash from down below and a second later he lets a thrilling “Yahoo!” as he pops up from underwater. He shouts encouragements and all the other glorious things humans shout in when we’ve hit a cold body of water from above.

I know I have to do it but I am petrified. I’m not doing and not doing and not doing it until I flip a switch in my mind and run toward the looming edge, thinking “fuck it” in my mind.

And yes, the fall through the air and the shockingly cold splash was 1000% worth it. But I had to throw myself off. If I stood around waiting any longer it wasn’t going to happen.

In your work or your career, when you throw yourself off the cliff, you’ll be in free fall but that fall is exactly what will force you into action. Your self-respect and and pride kicks in. You start taking the actions you need to take so as not to make a complete mess of the situation, so as not to hit the ground.

Saying yes to the TEDx talk was like this for me. I felt scared to do it, unsure of if I could even pull it off in the short amount of time I had to put it together. But as I was having these doubts and fears, I forced my mouth to shape the word “yes.” I’d thrown myself off enough cliffs by this point in my life that I knew it was the right thing to do. I had not clue HOW but I knew I could. The how would come later, as I was flying through the air.

What cliff do you want to throw yourself off of?