The final prompt for Quest 2016 is offered by Srinivas Rao:
“What will you do in 2016 to assure you and your best work are unmistakable?”
Mask down. Bear up.
Srinivas Rao is the host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative podcast where he has conducted over 500 interviews with thought leaders and people from all walks of life. This has given him an incredibly distinctive view into branding, storytelling, and marketing. He’s also written multiple books including the WSJ Best Seller The Art of Being Unmistakable (2013); created, planned, and executed a 60-person conference called The Instigator Experience; and recently signed an offer with Penguin Portfolio to write 2 books. Somewhere along the way his compass led him in the direction of an economics degree from UC-Berkeley and an MBA from Pepperdine University. Extracting unmistakable stories out of people is his superpower. And in his spare time he’s usually chasing waves.
I have always been a rule follower. Are you one , too?
Here’s a partial list of rules I’ve quietly and consistently placed on myself:
No junk food during the day (only while watching television, in the dark, when no one is watching (except your husband, lucky him)
No deep-fried foods eaten or ordered in public
No loaded baked potatoes – just plain, no butter with salt and pepper
No mayo on turkey sandwiches (“she likes her bird dry” a former boyfriend once remarked drolly to a deli clerk off some upstate New York parkway)
No farting in public (or in front of anyone for that matter)
No talking (writing) about private, ugly things that would embarrass or draw attention to or cause pain (shame) to someone I love. Or to the town I live in. Or to people who have suffered enough and do not deserve to have scabs re-opened.
Nice box I’ve built, huh?
Very predictable. Very controlled. Very safe.
So here comes our second-to-last Quest 2016 prompt – tromping down the lane carried in its pretty basket and gifted to us by visionary Jen Louden (whom I adore):
“What is the story you most desire to bring to life in 2016? Duh. The one in the “Do Not Open until Mother’s Day 2016” box.
“What is the story your just-right clients most desire to bring to life in 2016?” Their own story (the one they hide from, shutter away, pretend isn’t there)
Where do your stories OVERLAP? In that magic space where darkness meets light
And bears dance.
This afternoon, on an intuitive leap, in the midst of writing this reflection, I went into my daughter Katie’s room, and asked if I could please have her stuffed bear.
“I guess so,” she says, accompanied by her my-parents are so-weird teen look.
In 1996, this Bear entered my life – “adopted” from the Blue Lantern Inn at Dana Point Harbor, CA. My first husband Jay & I stayed there on a second honeymoon of sorts. It was spring and such a sweet beginning time for us – before kids, and just after my leap from corporate america to the land of sole proprietorship (owning my own wedding consulting business). Possibilities were endless and hope was as high as the moon.
There on the king-size bed, in the pretty suite overlooking the bluffs and the Pacific ocean, was this same stuffed bear. First he was there, sitting all prim upon the shams, and then , after housekeeping’s turn-down service, he was caught mid-cartwheel on the pillow. Obviously, this bear was a mischievous one, one who liked to romp and play when no one was watching. I adored him! And needed to have him.
So I purchased him at check-out (I didn’t buy “the new one, just-like-this one”bear, the desk clerk tried to sell me from the Inn gift shop, but the one who played and danced in our beautiful room with the view)
For the rest of the trip, I held onto this Bear and looked down at him closely for many, many precipitous miles, heading south to San Diego along the western-most rim of California on Route 1 (yes, I was on the side closest to the cliffs.) In years to come, this same Bear would accompany me to our hospital’s labor & delivery room (twice) and be cuddled every now and then by both my children.
Guess it only makes sense for this same Bear to re-join me now – 20-years later – at the start of this grand adventure – a kind of falling into the beginning of this StoryBox – with you.
[By the way – I’m calling him Dancing Bear now. I think it suits him.]
Jen Louden helped launch the self-care movement with her first book The Woman’s Comfort Book (HarperOne 2005). She’s the author of 7 additional books on well-being and whole living, including her most recent book, A Year of Daily Joy (National Geographic 2014). She believes self-love + world-love = wholeness for all.
The summer I was 17, I wandered on to the campus of a prestigious women’s college in Western Massachusetts. [I ended up graduating from this same school, but that is another story]
I fell in love with this campus, the idyllic beauty of it: its castle-like buildings with towers and leaded glass; its Upper Lake rushing into more sedate Lower Lake; the stone bridge in the woods near the horse stables; the college’s formal gardens pooled at the bottom of a long stretch of wooden stairs; its Victorian greenhouse of whitened-glass, iron, and meringue-like tops ; its chapel bell mellow and slow in its chiming, marking each quarter hour, as though time itself stretched longer there; leaves stirring high above in hundred-year old trees, a place quiet yet not, a sacred beauty in which to learn.
Beyond its beauty, though, the school was steeped in tradition. I loved that in every dorm there was a grand piano (even though I didn’t play), and that there could be such a day as Mountain Day. [A gift, bestowed on students by the college president, on one day in October – a postcard-perfect one – heralded by the constant ringing of the chapel bell in the early morning hours. There would be no classes that day because New England’s foliage was just too beautiful to stay inside. Many students would travel by van to nearby Mount Holyoke, the college’s namesake, to climb to its peak and savor the view across the valley]
So what does all this reminiscing have to do with Quest 2016? and the prompt gifted to us by SCOTT BARRY KAUFMANwho is the scientific director of the Imagination Institute.
Prompt: “What recurring daydream for 2016 inspires you to do business as unusual like never before?”
Well, my recurring daydream is tied to Mount Holyoke and one of its traditions: M&Cs (or Milk & Crackers). Basically, every night – at around 9 or 9:30 pm – everyone would stop studying and walk downstairs – even in pajamas (when I was there they were Lanz nightgowns) – to the dorm kitchen for M&Cs (we always hoped for cookies or graham crackers with peanut butter). You would get your snack and either head back up to your room, or you could sit and laugh with friends, or talk about a paper you were struggling with, or listen to someone trying out their Russian or Japanese language skills. The tradition fostered community, helped reduce isolation.
My daydream. over the last year or so, has been to create a 1-hour, weekly M&C’s inspired event. I have dreamed of hosting it in the Naperville Women’s Club because every time I drive by its building, it makes my heart happy and reminds me of my alma mater (and oh, I love its purple door). I’m not a member there, nor do I feel a great desire to be right now, but I long for the companionship of women friends, who are also busy with their full lives, have limited time, and maybe just long for a quick moment to connect, take a breath, and then get back to it, same as I do. I envision the event as an easy-as-warm-flannel kind , one that demands nothing of you, but that you show up as yourself and be as present or as day-dreamy as you like.
Founded in 1897, the Naperville Woman’s Club (NWC) is one of the longest-standing organizations in Naperville. The club represents six generations of women whose goal was and is to enrich their community, form friendships, and engage in lifelong learning.
Scott Barry Kaufman is scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he investigates the measurement and development of intelligence, imagination, and creativity.
I survived breast cancer. My first marriage did not.
No one talks about that.
How when cancer comes, your life suddenly snaps into sharp relief, and what you thought you could do if you just tried hard enough, for just a little while longer, until the kids get through high school, you can’t. With cancer, you find yourself dropped into an ocean, choppy with waves, no land in sight, and all you can do is grasp for things solid, those things that are dependable, trustworthy. You hold onto them, literally, for your dear life.
Everything else – all clever artifice – must fall away – as though turning to ash, impossible to be held, a powder blown into wind and gone.
* * *
My daughter Katie is in Disney World this week, on a school field trip with her sophomore Marketing class. Katie has been so excited in the weeks leading up to this excursion. She is a Disney lover for sure, she has been to the Florida theme park twice in her life – first as an almost 4-year old donning her sparkle princess gowns, traipsing park-to-park-to-park in pink Mouse ears. The second and last time was in January 2007, after my first 9 months of breast cancer treatment – two surgeries, 6 weeks of daily radiation and then a series of monthly shots of a some super-expensive drug that sent my body cruelly and immediately into menopause.
That Disney vacation was like a “Make-A-Wish” trip, something happy to share with the kids, on the brink of our marriage’s terminal diagnosis. For I already knew inside my heart, before uttering a word to anyone else, my husband included, that our marriage was over.
That was to be our final journey together as a family, to play in that magical place we always found the most joy in, the most love. In fact, my first husband and I honeymooned there, spending our first night upgraded to the Vice Presidential suite of the Grand Floridian hotel. [But, you know, you can’t tell people this story anymore. After divorce (and a beautiful & healthy remarriage) you’re not supposed to speak with sweet remembrance about another relationship’s beginning (even one of nearly 15 years resulting in 2 children who fill your heart everyday with more love than you can bear). It feels socially inappropriate to speak of the happy parts, the love-filled, hopeful parts, the “once was” parts – when a county court has deemed the marriage dissolved (and more than that, you were the one who filed the petition to end it, to sentence it to its long and painful evisceration of a death.]
Both of us were actors.
I, his Cinderella, he, my Prince Charming. The year of our engagement, we were actually cast in a play of this fairy tale. We took to the stage – waltzing together at the Ball – creating this beautiful illusion for an audience of children who believed so strongly that we were really these characters. Maybe we did, too.
This man I loved (and still love) breathed life into me, into the stories I was writing and imagining. On our first date, he set them up there for me to see – there on some grand movie screen in his beautiful mind, casting the roles, telling me how the costuming would be, the colors, the music. Together we were a whirlwind of creativity and magic and storytelling and the art of imagination.
At our story’s beginning, we were these things. We were hopeful and in love.
Two days ago, I texted my 15-year old daughter when she first arrived at the Magic Kingdom, her first day at the park:
“Disney has a special place in the story of your life. Your dad and I were always happiest there. Grateful we could share that joy with you.”
Later, I received the following texts back from her.
“Tonight was a lot harder than I thought” “What do you mean?” “Just thinking about how our family used to be” “I know” “Made me sad” “It makes me sad still too”
“Yea it was just a little hard watching the fireworks because that’s the part I remember the most with you guys” I know.
It was just really hard to think about how happy we were and now it’s so different. It is hard. You wish it could be back that way, I know. It was just something that hit me while seeing happy families at the park.
And sometimes feeling everything is a blessing but also a curse because feeling everything messes with your head a lot. I love you. And I am glad you feel everything – even if it is difficult. Thanks mom.
Oh, and I love you too.
A reflection written (hesitantly) after yesterday’s visit to the Loyola Cancer Center for my annual mammogram, which was clear. My husband Mike drove me there, and waited with me, because he knows how scared I am, even when I try not to show it. I am still scared. I think I always will be scared. For when that cancer diagnosis happened, my whole world changed, as did the world of my children. As did the world of my first husband, whom I loved (and whom loved me as best he could, with what he had to give, having lost his mother to ovarian cancer less than a year before meeting me.) Seriously, the two of us had no business getting married. We were young, and hopeful, and believed in the fairy tale so much. I will never regret the choice to marry him, foolish as it may look now. I regret nothing. Even sharing this story with you today, as hard as it was for me to hit the Publish button now.
Sometimes you love so deeply, and trust so deeply, and believe so deeply that you cannot see what lies ahead, so overwhelmed with the beauty that is a love story’s beginning, and that is a good thing, a simple mercy.