What Doctors Can Learn From Artists and Entrepreneurs

Since leaving medicine, I’ve been an entrepreneur and an independent artist. They are similar pursuits, and both have taught me about the experience of living in creative rather than reactive mode. In the moment you can claim your role in creating the experience you are having right now - as reflected to you by the external circumstances you find yourself in - you begin to take a creative stance. You begin to see yourself differently within the grand puzzle of your world. No longer can you point your finger and your attention outward at “them”, but now you must see the source within you that holds your power to create, choose, and act.

Every artist and every entrepreneur has had to touch this inner place in order to bring a never-before-seen vision into material reality. Whether you name it “imagination” or “vision” or “desire”, every human being has an inner source of creativity. Some of us have placed this in a box in the basement of our consciousness. Maybe we have given up on ever being able to use it in this lifetime. But as long as you are alive, you have this source within you, waiting for you to open the space for it to breathe.

Here are four creative mindsets you have within you, waiting to be awakened and remembered.

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Living With A Perfectionist In Your House

I am a recovering perfectionist. I’ve been practicing various antidotes to perfectionism quite consciously for about three years now. That makes me – the real me, the innocently imperfect me – about three years old. I’m walking, I’m talking, I’m eating with my plastic miniature utensils, insisting that I’m a big girl now. But the real big girl in the house – the house of my mind, my body, and my soul – is Miss Perfectionist. She is the one who grew up inside my house, the house of me. She became the big one without my knowing it. She got all the praise, all the money, all the polite smiling conversations at cocktail parties, all the “wow”s and “ooh”s and “aah”s, all the framed diplomas and plaques on the wall. She was surrounded by people she kept at an arm’s length distance, so they wouldn’t touch anything close to her.

She thought she liked it that way. She thought she preferred it that way, because her attention could be focused on making her hair perfect, her face perfect, her nails perfect, her shoes perfect, her outfits perfect, anything that would attract the attention of perfection praisers, which seemed to be everywhere.

Miss Perfectionist was so busy doing the things she defined as perfection – which always involved something other than the way things were – that she ignored the real me, who by the way, happened to own the house the whole time.

Haunted House

As I write this, I’m fresh from peeling away another layer of awareness of how Miss Perfectionist still lurks, like a creepy roommate, in the house of me. I’m also more aware of the real me, that three-year-old who has just gotten her legs, who has registered  the definite feeling of walking, moving one foot in front of another, exploring this amazing thing called existence.

And I’m not willing to ignore that three-year-old, at this magical time of her life. I’m not willing to yell at her, throw her out on the porch in her nightgown, telling her she is wrong and worthless as she is. I’m not willing to have her mentored by Miss Perfectionist.

You see, Miss Perfectionist is not very supportive in moments that require vulnerability, moments that require the raw courage to step into unknown, unfelt territory. Miss Perfectionist, in fact, hates those kinds of moments. Miss Perfectionist much prefers the mind’s activity of projecting into the future, comparing the present moment to the imagined future, and listing how it doesn’t measure up: "It’s not good enough, it’s not important enough, it’s not professional enough". The list is usually much longer than three items. The list of “not”s can take over an entire conversation, an entire house, an entire life.

I see today that Miss Perfectionist is simply afraid. She is frozen with fear that someone might actually see the whole house she lives in. That there are little tiny children in there, still crawling around, learning to walk, falling down all the time in the process. That would be so humiliating to Miss Perfectionist! And she doesn’t believe she can survive that humiliation.

I see her – I see me. I see the real me beginning to live life, in the tender state of being three, being open to all possibilities and ripe with the potential of one whole life, surrendered to the present moment.

I see me, and I choose to be gentle with me. I choose to take the small steps of a three-year-old, knowing with total confidence that these steps are the only ones I – the real me - can take right now. And it’s enough.

Miss Perfectionist can have her own room in this house, but she does not own it. We are living here together, and there is space for both of us to exist in harmony. For now.

Photo credit: http://doubtfulnews.com/2012/10/buying-a-haunted-house-there-may-be-logical-reasons-why-thats-not-a-good-idea/

Leaning in…to what?

woman leaning illustration There's going to be some talk about leaning in. I’d like to speak about “leaning in” from the perspective of a woman who learned the men’s rules and did pretty well for awhile. I picked up all the cues about how I was supposed to behave, what I was supposed to do to play the game, how I could win. I earned a seat at the boardroom table, surrounded by men. I am grateful for the doors that were opened for me, when I behaved a lot like a successful man.

I rode the bus for a few rounds before I got off and started the process of sitting in front of the blank page, making up my own game, creating my own rules, and teaching myself a whole new way of "leaning in".

When we talk about “leaning in”, we have to talk about what that really means for individuals. To me, “leaning in” is about going toward the places that scare you. The real question is, “What scares you?” Most of us are living in remote places that are carefully designed to be far out of reach from what really scares us. We have concocted our plans based on meticulous avoidance of everything that really scares us.

We believe that this construction project actually spares us the feeling of being scared, but it follows us. It never leaves us. It camps out in dark corners inside us. We dart, we duck, we hide, we layer on coats of paint and makeup and accessories and postures that we think – hope – will cover it up. But it plagues us.

We seek relief, but we also secretly believe we’ll never find it. We think this is as good as it gets, so we keep pointing in the same direction.

So what are we leaning into?

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Are we leaning into the things we think will make our fears go away? Will “ambition” lead us to a place where we will finally be safe? Will “success” in the workplace, attaining a title of power, actually make us feel empowered? Will “winning” at the men’s game finally make us feel like we’ve won our battle with fear?

Maybe.

But until we do the work of facing what really scares us, looking at it, pointing toward it, touching it, getting close to it, we won’t know. We will only be leaning toward some collective crusade that starts from outer appearances and tries to solve those problems cosmetically.

We won’t be looking inside ourselves to ask, “Where do I need to lean in?” Is it really ambition to step up in the workplace? Maybe. But it could be just as ambitious for me to do exactly the thing I think I cannot do – which may be giving up “ambition” of a certain kind, and going toward a whole different flavor of success, which looks a lot like failure to some people.

Ambition might look like a lot of different things, but we can’t know just by looking. We need to feel our own experience in order to know.

To me, leaning in feels like courage. Leaning in feels like facing the thing that you’ve avoided for so long. Leaning in feels like following the path of courage no matter what it may look like on the outside, no matter what rules need to be followed or broken. Leaning in feels like building strength that does not come from what other people say, or what titles I am granted. Leaning in is really leaning inward, to fill up the well of knowing without needing systems to change, or other people to change. Leaning in is true power.

But please don’t take my word for it. Lean in for yourself and find out.

Image credits: Woman - http://illustrationsource.com. Man - http://liberadio.com

The many ways to say, "You CAN do it!" - reprint from Truth Love Beauty

Today I'm reprinting a blog post I wrote over a year ago, on my Truth Love Beauty blog. It resonates with me right now, which is comforting. The truth has a way of standing the test of time. It also reminds me of a topic I have not talked about on this blog - the observations and lessons I learned from teaching violin to more than 30 toddlers in the Silicon Valley for five and a half years. These descriptions bring me back to a time that was filled with joys and challenges, and ultimately catalyzed a whole new way of being and learning for me. Here it is:

Does all the woo-woo, positive psychology, self-help talk make you feel a little queasy or, at best, skeptical? Does an email with the subject line, “You can do it!”, make you want to “Report spam” faster than you can hit “Delete”?

When I worked with parents and their children in a coaching/teaching environment, I learned that there are many ways we adults try to encourage our kids. We all have a default style of communication that is a product of the various influences in our lives – our own parents, our many teachers, our older siblings, our bosses, our mentors, or even a conglomeration of all the ways we DON’T want to be like any of those people. What I’ve learned about effective coaching I first saw by watching children who were actually allowed to learn. It’s simple: all a kid wants is to know what it feels like to try, and to know that they’ll be OK if they fail. If you give them those two things, they’ll try over and over again with great enthusiasm, and pretty soon (or maybe a lot later) they will succeed.

The second half of this – letting them know they are OK even if they fail while trying – is tricky. I saw so many adults sit beside their child and just watch, hands folded across their chest, while their child tried, making no attempt to help, and remaining motionless in response to anything the child did. Sure, they were “there”, but I would sometimes wonder if they were actually in the same room as we were. I’ve also seen the other end of the spectrum, where a parent would literally lunge forward and want to take over, rather than allow their child to try something that they might not “get” on the first attempt. They preferred not to witness a failure than to allow the child to try.

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I never figured out a way to coach parents to see their own tendencies in these situations. First of all, I was too busy trying to do my job coaching, witnessing, and encouraging the child. Second of all, I was frozen in astonishment at some of the parents’ behavior, not knowing how to address these things in the time allotted, or in front of the child.

These are, of course, excuses. The truth is I did not know how to hold the space for adults to really open up to what was going on. In some ways, it takes more skill and more patience to get an adult to open up than it does for a child. Despite a great deal of one-on-one time and attention for each student-parent dyad, I did not create a structure that allowed me to address holistically all the influences that are at play in a child’s learning. I had annual “review” meetings with parents, but these were perceived as “performance” reviews for the parents, where they would wait expectantly to receive some sign of approval or validation from me. Only rarely did anyone feel safe enough during these meetings to actually share their fears, their inadequacies, or their deepest questions about the purpose of their enrollment. It was mostly a veiled love fest, a hopeful yet sometimes tentative confirmation of everyone’s desire to continue with the relationship as it was. There were always a few cases where I wanted to discuss some of my real concerns about the appropriateness of continuing as the teacher for a particular child. Somehow, it never felt safe for me to voice my truth in these meetings. I would agonize over these for many days and sleepless nights leading up to the meetings, and would search for the right words, which rarely came to me at the right time. Why was it that I had never created that kind of relationship in which the truth could be told without blame or judgment? Why did I not have those skills?

By the time I started waking up to these truths, and learning how to hold this kind of space, I also saw that it was beyond the scope of my work to heal entire families, especially under the auspices of producing a children’s violin performing group. Some might say that I gave up. Maybe. But what I know now is that nothing changes until you accept things as they are. And, healing happens one person at a time, starting with myself.

My discovery of the healing capacity of the mind and the body came not from my medical school education ten years ago, but from a more recent search for my own inner peace and joy, which was catalyzed by my physical body sending me signals of debilitating pain. Something was not working in my lifestyle, and I could have chosen to ignore it and power through, or remain curious enough to explore it. I chose the latter. It opened me to a path of mental clarity and inquiry that I know will continue as long as there are thoughts running through my head. I did not take pills. I did not see a doctor or therapist. I slowed down. I rested. I created space in my life to ask the questions I was genuinely curious about. I tried new things. Simultaneously I recommitted to my yoga practice that had been abandoned during the same period of time that my body developed its pain. The combination of mind and body training, which focuses on gentle, consistent work on flexibility, balance, and strength, is what awakens me every day to the calm energy of joy I have within me. I love this kind of training because it is training for life. Not just “modern” life, or American life, or life as a woman, but being fully alive as a human being on this earth.

Now just because I’ve gone through this amazing shift doesn’t mean I’m going to wave a flag at my clients and say, “You can do it!” and expect everyone to leap into their own states of bliss. I saw the many ways that parents say this to their kids.

The same words – “You can do it!” – might come out of one parent’s mouth, with a crisp, angular tone of voice suggesting something like, “You BETTER be able to do it, or I’ll look like an idiot for spending all this money on lessons and believing you could do this!”

Or another parent’s “You can do it!” might be said without much conviction and with more pleading, meaning something like, “I know you don’t want to do this, but would you PLEASE do it for me?? Just this once?? I’ll buy you anything you want after this if you just do it for me….please???”

Yet another parent’s “You can do it!”, voiced with some disbelief and shock, might be taken to mean, “Don’t make me look bad, because I know I spent all week sitting there practicing with you every day, and you could do it at home! Now DO it!”

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The meaning behind the words changes when it is said from a place of genuine love and compassion, without attachment to outcomes. “You can do it” can also mean something like, “I am not you. But I’ve been exactly where you are, not knowing whether or not I can, not being able to see how I will ever get there, feeling the fear of pain, of humiliation, of not being enough. And having faced all of that and moved through it, I know you can do it. I’m saying it not as a command, not as a way to alleviate my own stress, not to make this all about you, so that I can transfer the blame if it doesn’t work out. I’m saying it so that you hear my belief in your spirit, in your ability to find it in yourself to do whatever it is you need to do, to take whatever time you need to, and to be wherever you are right now. I’ll be right here to witness you – to celebrate with you, and to catch you when you fall – as you learn to trust yourself.”

Said from a calm core of peace, love, and patience, there is no greater elixir when we are feeling afraid.

[Originally published on my Truth Love Beauty blog here.]

My Read On What Tiger Mother Amy Chua Learned From Her Tiger Cub -- SPOILER ALERT!

Are you wondering what Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", is all about? Me too...so I actually read it.

SPOILER ALERT: I actually talk about parts of the book that are NOT MENTIONED in any of the myriad "book reviews" published in major news outlets, such as the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, the BBC, and others. And this video is more than five minutes long. But since so few reviewers have actually demonstrated that they have read the whole book rather than a conveniently spliced excerpt, I felt compelled to record these impressions. This is MY read on the story.

Creating Your Vision for 2011

What's your theme for the new year?

I've never been a New Year's Resolution person, but every year on December 31, I take time to reflect on the previous year and write down what I remember. I focus on things like what I learned, how I grew, and the events that were most meaningful for me.

This past year was a particularly abundant year of growth and change for me. Last December 31, I finally felt clear and took the step of writing a letter to the thirty families in my violin school, announcing to them that within two weeks, the school would come to an end. While I had no idea what would unfold as a result of that action, I was absolutely clear about my intention of letting go in order to move into the next phase of my life and accept whatever it would bring me.

It was an act of trust. My self-proclaimed commitment, or theme, for 2010, was to live from my Core of Peace. To experience life, perhaps for the first time, from a new, unfamiliar place called Peace.

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This year, as the end of 2010 approaches, I face another opportunity to grow in my trust. I realized, slowly over the past several months, that it was time to face letting go again. This time it was letting go of a lease that no longer makes sense for the business and life I am creating. It took me an entire year of holding on, experimenting and playing, believing that I would "make it work", and avoiding the dread of everything I was making it mean to let go.

And now I am in a place of clarity again. The feeling in my body is freedom, expansiveness, lightness. The energy in my body is purposeful and focused. And from this place, I am taking the actions - those mundane steps that my mind had made to be so unpleasant through its thoughts  - that are necessary to create the physical space that is reflected in my mind and body.

After months of dragging, feeling heavy, dreading what I had to do, I have spent the past two days steadily working my way through those previously dreaded actions.

And you know what? They are not so dreadful after all!

In fact, when approached with clear energy and a feeling of purpose, they have no negative or positive charge whatsoever. They are just items that get done. And what remains is the pure joy of SPACE.

Letting go of material items has always been a challenge for me. It's beyond my current comfort zone. It doesn't energize me to clean or organize or think about the arrangement of physical items. But in the past year, life has handed me these opportunities to exercise that muscle, little by little. And to experience the reward of the empty space left behind...a reward I had never truly experienced before, because I was simply too afraid to allow it.

So as the current year comes to a close, and I watch items move out of my life and into the hands of those who joyfully accept them and need them in theirs, I am able to create a vision for my new year.

In 2011, my theme is Creativity and Expression. I took some time to create the following vision board for Who I Am and How I Feel While I Express My Creativity in 2011.

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While I was previously skeptical of the vision board process, I now cherish the opportunity to take in these images and read the affirmations each time I turn on my computer. I recognize the value of small, frequent doses of inspiration as I create my life one step at a time.

So, do you have a theme for 2011? Are you curious what would happen if you created one?

Here are some great resources for creating your own vision board, not just for the new year, but any time you're in the mood for taking a look at a new horizon.

Christine Kane's blog post on How To Make A Vision Board>>

Oprah.com's Dream Board tool (you must create an Oprah.com account to access the tool)>>

And here's my video blog from my office on the day my clarity came through>>