Send-off party to welcome mat

by Nancy Colasurdo on June 3, 2013

Last year a friend gave me Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment. In the world of me, a person typically not all that interested in reading about marketing, the subtitle – The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions – was the big selling point. I’m not a fan of ‘brand’ speak, so this wording had huge appeal for me.

The book was easy to read and informative, but I didn’t put it to use in 2012 because I was emotionally weary from all kinds of things going on in my life. Now, a year later and in a time of big transition, the book recently called to me from my shelves – Hello, Nancy. It’s time for me. I’ve got what you need, baby.

Indeed it did. Immediately.

This quote from John Maynard Keynes tops the Introduction:

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

Ah, yes.

Old ideas, you say? In the last week alone, I have vented, lamented and all but held a funeral for journalism as I knew it. In conversation, in An Open Letter to Arianna Huffington, in social media posts about the Chicago Sun-Times (now unemployed) photography staff. That doesn’t count frustration and annoyance expressed for months in various forums.

Clearly I’m in the process of escaping old ideas. Because that’s what they are. That model is giving way to another. And oh, how tightly I’ve been holding on.

I have no regrets about the eulogies. Something I loved that much deserved one or two of those. But what a jolt to open Kawasaki’s book and read words uttered by a British economist before I was even born.

It made me recognize what was/is actually going on with me. How do I not consistently marvel that it’s simple to tell a coaching client in a time of transition that she has to let go of old ways of thinking in order to let in the new, yet not see that very same thing in myself until it’s well under way? At least I’m on to it now.

Perhaps I should have recognized the signs sooner because the truth is, while I’ve been burying an old way of thinking, I’ve also been in the process of building something new. The stale is giving way to fresh. I’m kind of like a vehicle about to go into drive mode, but one that needed to go in reverse just a little first in order to right my course.

Hence the appeal of Kawasaki’s Enchantment, which is helping me think about my idea in terms of story, positioning and labels. It’s getting me excited and propelling me forward. As did today’s Seth Godin blog post titled The free-rider benefit:

“ … [O]nce you can get your head (and your heart) around the idea that ideas that spread, win, there are significant opportunities in a digital world where it’s easier than ever to help people go for a free ride.”

Yes, Nancy. Mourn the death. Then see what is before you. See what can be born. The very technology that spelled the demise of one way of doing things has opened up a plethora of opportunities to do it new and better. If the mission is to have something to say, express it in a way that compels people to read it and also makes them want to come back for more, isn’t it the most glorious challenge to use what other minds have created to disseminate it?

I’m not sure I wanted to embrace that challenge until this day. At least not in a way where I fully understood the nature of the task. I’m no dinosaur. While admittedly slow to embrace change, I partake in social media, I’ve had a blog for years, I own an iPhone and an iPad. I enjoy so much of it.

I’m not going to beat myself up over having a hard time accepting that seasoned journalists all over the land are being offered gigs for the sole reward of a byline. That still feels like someone should be saying “April fool” after it.

The reality, though, is they’re not kidding. So while I’m building my new venture I will continue to read Enchantment and whatever else helps me understand this landscape better.

But wait, no …Kawasaki writes, “I am going to show you how to change the world, not understand it.”

OK, then. You’ve got yourself a deal.

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An Open Letter to Arianna Huffington

by Nancy Colasurdo on May 31, 2013

Dear Ms. Huffington:

The other day I was trying to locate something among newspaper clips of my work and I found an article that begins like this:

“In a land where perpetually blue skies and impeccable beaches serve as the backdrop for the highest mountain peak in the Carribean, Bill and Xiomara McDonnell found something even more beautiful – the art of giving.”

That was the lead that landed me my first front-page story as a journalist. It was July 14, 1989 and I was 28 years old. I had the honor of chronicling the experience of a couple who had discovered bliss by distributing over 200 baseball gloves to children in the Dominican Republic (they had been using their bare hands or sometimes milk cartons to catch a baseball).

Sentimental, perhaps, but this find from my past is what came to mind when I saw your most recent venture — The Huffington Post’s first-ever women’s conference, “The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power.” Of course I love the idea. Much of my media career was focused on advocating for girls and women. I like how we’re evolving as a gender and that conferences like this exist.

But this one, I’m sorry to say, is tainted for me. And I won’t for a minute pretend I’m objective on this topic. I love journalism. I am crazy about journalism, warts and all. But when I read that you are leading a discussion about the ‘third leg’ of a stool with the first two legs being ‘money’ and ‘power’ my mind instantly reverts to how you amassed so much of yours – by not paying people for content they provide and hence disempowering not just them but all the other real, seasoned journalists who honed a craft that you’ve been instrumental in devaluing.

Do you know the ripple effects of this model? Do you know the major media outlets that now earnestly expect people to write for the sheer joy of being published or – as one of the best reporters I know was recently told – for the privilege of a byline? Are you kidding me? We’re not actors, financial planners, or entrepreneurs looking for “exposure” on your site to help our money-making venture thrive. We’re providing a real service we’ve been trained in and we’re good at it.

And here’s the rub. When I’m not wearing my writing hat, I’m coaching and very often I’m coaching aspiring writers. I love that I can help guide them in creating a portfolio because there are so many ways to get their writing out there. This is where the glory and possibility of the Internet come in handy. This is where it feels like their options are endless. There are plenty of places for them to target for their specific interests/niches.

But what happens after they finetune the portfolio? The writing samples are supposed to lead to something. What am I pointing them to? Do paid writing jobs exist for them?

Your HuffPo business model is brilliant. Unquestionably. That’s why others have been jumping on it. But, in light of what you’re supposed to stand for, is it ethical?

“Right now, the two metrics of success that drive the American workplace are money and power, but by themselves, they make a two-legged stool — fine for balancing on for a short time, but after a while, you’re headed for a fall,” you write. “And guided by this limited definition of success, more and more ‘successful’ people are falling. So what we need is a more humane and sustainable definition of success that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder, empathy, and the ability to give back. But how do we recalibrate our current benchmarks of success?”

I wholeheartedly agree. As is obvious from the 1989 article I wrote above, I’ve been thinking this way for a long time. Empathy. Giving back. It seeps into everything I do. I have no coaching clients who only strive for money and power because otherwise they wouldn’t be my clients. It wouldn’t be a fit.

It’s vital that I add something here. I am not writing this from the standpoint of a victim. I have a good life. I work hard. My creativity is unleashed daily. I live on my terms. I believe we create our lives. That means I have brought myself to this point for a reason. I’m 51 years old and I have evolved with the times and enjoy technology. Feeling the squeeze of my beloved profession’s slow demise disappoints me so, but it also challenges me to my core. I got this far because of a fire in my belly that even people who have loved me for a long time don’t quite get and that flame isn’t going out any time soon.

But that doesn’t make your well-intended conference any less tainted in my eyes.

What we need in the world is more appreciation for each other’s gifts – be they parenting, quilt making, house keeping, gardening, running a Fortune 500 company, fixing a leaky faucet or making a persuasive argument via essay. That is empowering. That facilitates cash flow. That stimulates an economy. That creates harmony and joy and enlivens people.

The third leg is appreciation, Ms. Huffington.

Thanks for listening.
Sincerely,

Nancy Colasurdo

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In Defense of Cancer (in Plays)

by Nancy Colasurdo on May 25, 2013

(Nancy’s Note: Happy to give some space in this blog to a guest columnist and writer I greatly respect.)

By Charles Evered

Could there be a more absurd situation in life than sitting across from a friend at a coffee shop and finding oneself defending the very disease that has killed your father, your mother, your two brothers, your mentor, your dearest friend from graduate school — not to mention many other acquaintances, pets, people whom I admire greatly from a distance, and the disease that — if you were to see it through the eyes of a genetics expert or insurance actuary, would probably be deemed the most likely cause of your own death?

And yet, there I found myself, between sips of a grande mocha advocating diligently on its behalf, lobbying for the continued relevance of that age old chestnut — the seemingly out of vogue “cancer play.”

“Find another disease,” my friend pleaded. “Anything but cancer.”

So, as I looked off into the far distance, considering the groundbreaking possibilities of the first rickets or scurvy play, it became clear to me that if social security were the third rail of American politics, so it seems that cancer may be the third rail of American theatrics. It’s just not prudent to go there if you can help it. And if you do, you better somehow deconstruct it, be ironic, clinical, distant, cold or write through a prism of bemused “graduate school like” detachment if you want the play to be taken seriously.

The problem in my case however, was twofold: 1) I had written a play called Class, about the relationship between a jaded acting teacher and his mysterious new student — that isn’t really a “cancer play” at all. It’s a play about how two very different people find a commonality and change each other’s lives forever. At best, cancer makes a glancing but still potent cameo. And 2) while I’d like to think I can write outside of my own experience, and have, I don’t quite understand why I should have to insert another disease in the story in order to protect myself from what others feel is a subject begging for a critical drubbing or no longer worthy of theatrical dramatization. After all, by writing the play, I have done what everyone always tells writers to do: “Write what you know.” In this case, something I know too well — and way more than I would have liked thank you very much. It’s also something that way too many people still know — and are waging an expensive and very courageous battle against on a daily basis.

Still, within the context of the play, and in real life, the disease, represents the most frightening thing of all: chaos — utter “unpredictable unpredictability” that, at any moment, can take everything away. No matter how rich, successful, careful, vegan, famous or happy you are, it is still the Russian roulette of diseases, and while we can certainly do all we can to prevent it — and fight it, and while science is making real strides in managing and even eradicating it, (Go Angelina!) — the bottom line is — it still remains that “invisible bus” that we can’t see coming around the corner. And so, in a rather perverse and sinister way, it remains a great “leveler,” as the same disease that killed a youngish billionaire like Steve Jobs, can kill the poorest among us. It just doesn’t care.

In Class, I deal with some of those themes — taking care even, to address those very issues head on.

In previous productions of the play, it’s been both heartening and surreal to have people who are fighting cancer — and many who have conquered it — come up to me afterwards and “thank” me for representing their disease in a way that to them, feels refreshingly honest. They even seem strangely appreciative that the subject is brought up at all, without ironic distance, not in the context of a movie of the week, and no longer consigned to the theatrical ghetto of the dreaded “issue” play.

I would of course like nothing more than for the subject to become entirely irrelevant, and I hope someday it is. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a hundred years from now, audiences watched plays that mentioned cancer and regarded it with a curious detachment, as they might today when watching a play about an eradicated Victorian era disease? I would love nothing more. Until that time however, I’m afraid I’m still obligated to write what I know — while at the same time, hoping never to get to know it any better than I already have.

Charles Evered’s play CLASS is now playing at the Penguin Repertory Theater in Stony Point, New York until June 9. It was published by Broadway Play Publishing, Inc. For information: www.penquinrep.org. For more information about Mr. Evered: www.CharlesEvered.com.

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The Return of Lipstick

by Nancy Colasurdo on May 24, 2013

I went to get my eyebrows threaded the other day and it jarred a memory that made me smile. A few summers ago over an outdoor dinner next to the Hudson River, I was flirtatiously trying to convince a man I had the hots for that I wasn’t high maintenance.

“Uh, Nance, you go into the city to have your eyebrows done by a woman you found in Vogue,” he deadpanned. “The jig is up.”

God, I loved that rapport. The memory feels soothing, pleasant even. No residual sadness. No macabre. Clearly I’m coming out the other side of loss.

I know this because I can talk in retrospect now. Over a year after his death, I can admit unequivocally that for roughly half of 2012 I didn’t wear an ounce of makeup. My favorite sweatpants, the ones I won’t be seen in outside of my apartment, are worn thin. The drawstring long gone, they now droop so low on my hips that I look like I listen to hip hop. (I’m so not cool enough for that, as is evidenced by the fact that I use the word ‘cool’).

Something in me feels so strongly about writing this down and sharing it with the masses. Probably because I took readers along on the grief journey when it was fresh and raw (thank you for listening). And then later, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, I offered thoughts on How We Can Be of Comfort to the Grieving based on what I had learned.

The past month or so I’ve begun to feel like Nancy again. There is something about being in a fog of sustained, high-functioning vulnerability that makes you realize this — at every point in time someone in your life is going through something of emotional significance. So, bottom line, we should be much more patient and understanding of people a great deal more of the time.

One of the things I remember so well about the last year is a select few friends on Facebook whose lives were on an amazing upswing. They were in their own fog, the kind that comes with newfound love or blissfully growing their family. The contrast to how I was feeling was so stark that I saw their stories as a little lifeline. Regular updates on how the romance was progressing or what a miracle the new child was.

Real life is all of it, side by side, isn’t it? The person desperately trying to get pregnant mustering the strength to be happy for her friend who is expecting. The woman in the throes of divorce sharing in her brother’s joy at his wedding. The laid off high-fiving the recently promoted. The person in loss cracking a smile at the person in love.

It’s not easy. It’s just the way it is. Sometimes we are going through the motions in our lives. If we’ve cultivated quality relationships, those around us learn how to respect and back off sometimes, nurture and prod other times, as we find our way back.

I can feel my own shift now. The need to indulge sadness with certain songs has dissipated, thoughts of the person who has passed on don’t sting, and lipstick has been making a more regular appearance in the daily routine. But unquestionably there is something more significantly different about me now – a palpable depth, an almost fierce empathy, broadened faith, and heightened urgency to live well. There is also a knowledge of what can be, from profound connection to crushing blow.

Aside from working through loss, last year also brought Sandy, the storm that showed us who was boss (Hint: Not us). Control? Har-dee-har-har. Everything else seems pretty laid back after you see your town under water and your state battered and collectively praying for lights and heat.

Right now, in my tiny pocket of the world, I am going through a major life transition and you know what? I am more comfortable taking risks, focusing on what I want to do instead of what I ‘should’ do and relaxing into what my gut is telling me. Getting knocked around a little has made me more sure-footed. The inevitable anxiety is there, too, but the bouts are brief, overridden by a “what do I have to lose?” mindset and at times even a bit of an eye roll.

I can do this life thing. I can. Full out.

The other day I went to the Macy’s cosmetics counter because I’d run out of foundation. I tried a new powdered one the salesperson recommended and wound up buying it. It feels nice. And it’s easier to apply than the liquid one I had before. Sweet.

High maintenance is back, maybe taken down a fraction of a notch.

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Our Evolving Beauty

by Nancy Colasurdo on May 16, 2013

What makes us women? What makes us beautiful?

There is a scene in the movie Funny Girl where Fanny Brice, played by Barbra Streisand, marvels at her infant daughter and exclaims to her close friend, “She’s pretty, isn’t she?” We know what that means coming from Fanny, known for her voice and her comic timing but not her looks. She is enthralled with the fact that her child is good-looking and wonders why her handsome husband would ever give her a second look.

Sigh.

I daresay there is little we can do about the concept of what’s beautiful in our culture. The aesthetically beautiful seem so much more valued than the spiritually beautiful. Sometimes a spiritual radiance will turn our heads as we walk down the street, but of course more often it’s the conventional definition of beauty that makes our neck swivel for a better look.

As each day goes by and another story or poster or social media image appears on our radar, it challenges our sensibilities. Then comes the barrage of opinions, not necessarily informed ones, and they range from frighteningly shallow to ardently moving.

The Dove advertising campaign where we see how women perceive themselves and how others perceive them was illuminating. We think everyone is focused on that flaw that so stands out to us when we look in the mirror. The truth is, they’re not. They see us more in a big picture way. How heartening.

But wait, don’t get too caught up in your elation. The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch wants to make sure you know that your elephant butt is not getting in his company’s clothes any time soon. And by elephant butt I mean above a size 10. You aren’t cool. They have an image to uphold, after all. Size matters and don’t you forget it.

This ain’t the Renaissance, zaftig ladies. Where once we were lush and juicy, now we’re portrayed as unable to control ourselves.

My teen-aged self thought she was fat. I look at pictures now and realize she wasn’t. This mentality, excruciatingly and repeatedly chronicled in my earliest diaries, continued on through decades. If only. When I am thinner. Blah, blah, blah. What a waste of emotional energy.

I recently shared a vintage newspaper advertisement someone posted on Facebook (see insert). On the left was an angular woman with small breasts and hips and on the right was a much curvier woman. Both have hands on hips. The curvier woman is smiling and the other isn’t. The copy on top reads: How Do You Look in Your Bathing Suit? As it turns out, the ad is for something called “ironized yeast” that promises to add 10 to 25 pounds. The kicker is the tagline – “Gives thousands natural sex-appealing curves.”

Unquestionably most of us, on first glance, think this ad is for weight loss. That is how conditioned we are now. I’m not going to get into the whole “when women were women” thing, as that only serves as a putdown to my thinner sisters. But what could really work on me if I let it is this idea that we’ve been led down a path to believe we are more or less worthy depending on how well we line up with the accepted image of the era we happen to be born into.

There is something about being in my 50s, let’s call it a maturity, that keeps me from dwelling on such things. Why expend energy on what other people think? I’ve probably already lopped a year off my life if I combine all the past hand-wringing I did on this. Are you with me?

Maybe this gets to the root of why I think Angelina Jolie’s recent announcement about her double mastectomy is so remarkable. Putting aside all the important conversations it prompted about what any of us would do in that situation, I think at its base the decision was about maturity. The role of mother put before being the object of fantasy. Children before fans/glory. Better odds at life before marketability. Self-worth based on a higher consciousness of what ‘self’ means. Living and the rest be damned.

Our bodies are to be treasured, aren’t they? What that means to Jolie may not mean what it does to you or me or anyone else, but that is what’s underneath it all. It is the impressive woman who can shun the construct and seize her power. And that goes from surface to way deep inside.

Let’s take this down to a more surface, non life-and-death level.

I’ve lamented a bit recently on Facebook that with the ripple effects of knee injury has come a need to wear shoes I consider ‘granny.’ I’ve asked friends to indulge in my ‘first-world’ problem, to let me vent that spending considerable money on ugly shoes is difficult when with that same cash I could be buying pretty flat sandals that look more like foot jewelry adorning my well-pedicured feet. Shoes that make me feel more womanly.

I know there are more important things. I know I need to get over it. I even know that if the goal is looking my best that will be better achieved by taking care of my knees and joints and the rest of my body. I will stand taller, feel grander, exude better energy.

What makes us women? Scrutinizing our body parts? Torturing ourselves?

What makes us beautiful? The fashion? Or the person wearing it?

We decide.

We. Decide.

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An eye on love

by Nancy Colasurdo on May 5, 2013

I’m ever the observer. It’s disconcerting to some, but it makes me a sharper coach and keeps my writing honest. I’m wondering, though, if underlying it all is a craving to be seen.

What prompted this thinking is my reaction to a couple of movies — one old (A Room with a View), one new (Love Is All You Need) – viewed on the same day.

As I watched Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm connect in Susanne Bier’s Love Is All You Need set mostly in lush Italy, I felt my observer slip away. My reaction to the film’s intimacy was coming from the woman in me, the vulnerable, loving, sexual person who is heavily drawn to the idea of being seen by a soulful, vibrant man. The professional, the life coach, even the writer melted away in the lemon grove on the big screen before me.

I think my default perspective is the observer. If I go to an art museum or movie or stroll along the waterfront or through a neighborhood, I take in my surroundings with care. I go to a ‘place.’ Often I derive meaning from something I see or hear, but sometimes, sometimes, it penetrates and it’s not just about the observer anymore.

Here we had a story told through film that struck me as showing an example of what authentic women want – to be loved for what we radiate. Emphasis here is on authentic. Not those materialistic, gold-digging nut jobs overwhelmingly representing my gender in TV and movie roles.

This was a woman with a bald head brought on by chemotherapy staring down the end of her marriage while simultaneously making an effort to stay upbeat for her daughter’s wedding. She didn’t meet the type A, closed, handsome man played by Brosnan and latch on or affect some kind of girlie pose to impress him. She was herself – direct, kind, curious. That’s what turned his head.

And you know what turned my head? The grand gesture. Fiction, I know, but dammit, they exist. You wouldn’t know it by my recent dating life, but they do. I am so primed for some grand gestures. Step up, declare your feelings, go after what captivates you, take the risk that it isn’t mutual. Isn’t that a heady kind of scary?

After seeing the matinee at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, I returned home to get some work done (the beauty of self-employment). I had a voice mail waiting from my mother, a.k.a. my unofficial TV Guide. “Nan, you’re probably out doing something but if you happen to be home at 6 o’clock you should watch A Room with a View on TMC. You’ll like it.”

I got some writing done and then took her advice. Mom was right. I enjoyed it immensely. Another guy with a grand gesture. Another woman not settling for a ‘fine’ life but a passionate one.

Again, fiction. But it keeps alive a belief in possibility. I don’t tend to get jaded about romantic love, but I do go through phases where I give it little thought. A double shot of grand gesture in one day felt like a sweet reminder of that dimension where we often (happily) lose ourselves and let in what can only make us richer.

I have thought lately that one of the main things that turned my life around in the last decade was this thought derived from the St. Francis of Assisi prayer: focus on understanding as opposed to being understood. Life got markedly better when that made its way into my brain. Or maybe it’s more like into my heart. It opens up everything in such a soulful way.

However, it feels like what I’m saying here, in this pocket of thought, is how delicious the idea of being understood is. At least by a loving partner.

Don’t you know when you’re in the presence of a couple where the parties really see each other? It’s almost readily apparent. They’re lit from within, whether they’ve been together for months or for decades. They don’t tolerate each other like, dare I say, most couples. There’s something more symbiotic between them. A knowing. An appreciation.

When my observer catches that kind of rapport it’s like a trigger and a little voice inside me says ‘yes.’ I file it away, but also carry it like a precious memento.

How unexpected that all of this pour out of me this weekend. This is why I am grateful for art.

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Way to represent, Rosie

by Nancy Colasurdo on May 3, 2013

GAME PLAN:

I’ve never watched the Kentucky Derby. Never paid much attention to it, really.

But it’s a safe bet I’ll be watching this one because I’ll be cheering on jockey Rosie Napravnik.

It makes me feel a little predictable, rooting for someone mostly based on gender and, well, the fact that she is a fellow Jersey Girl. But I can’t help myself. This stuff lights me up.

Photo by Tsutomu Takasu

Sometimes when I look back on about 15 years of covering mostly women’s sports earlier in my career, I wonder if I wasn’t partly drawn to people doing something I was never comfortable even trying. I was lucky to get a ‘C’ in gym class. So completely uncomfortable in my own skin.

Then, there I was, day after day on fields and in arenas watching female athletes run, jump, pass, block, spin, shoot, bat, field. It never got old. I never looked at it as an opportunity to be inspired every day, but in retrospect I’m sure that was a big part of the allure. Those young women were teaching me about sweat and competition and trying harder next time.

Since my job was to chronicle their experiences, the more I let in, the better. The deeper I felt the disappointment or the elation, the better the story would be. People wanted me covering their events because they knew I got something that went beneath the score and stats. I picked up the undercurrent, the joy of the player coming back from injury, not just the fact of it.

And covering female athletes almost always had the feeling of underdog. The fields were often not as nicely groomed as the ones the boys played on. The funding was less. The attention they received frequently paled in comparison to their brothers in the same school. They didn’t whine; they played. And back then, their brothers were starting to see that, hey, my sister puts in just as many hours as I do. The boys were starting to get it.

It was an exciting stretch to be writing about pivotal times for girls, filling their scrapbooks with clippings (yes, paper ones) and even occasionally speaking at their banquets. They were so grateful.

These days I pay little attention to sports, but 60 Minutes just did a piece on Napravnik and I liked how she came across – direct, confident, smart. Those qualities are not hard to find in Jersey women – damn right – and as I watched I felt represented. Yeah, Rosie. Let’s see what ya got, baby.

When she was relating to Bob Simon some of the finer points of communicating with horses and she said they responded to a “smooching” sound to burst forward, he asked her to make the sound.

“I’m not going to make that noise on 60 Minutes,” Napravnik said.

Translation, Bob: Yeah, right, with all that I’ve got to prove and with all I’ve accomplished so far to earn respect, I’m going to dish up a clip that can be spliced and diced into some sicko sexual montage on the Internet. Didn’t I mention I’m from Jersey, Bob? I’m wise to that. But nice try.

Not to make Simon sound depraved. It was done in fun. And to his credit the moment really captured Napravnik’s personality. She’s getting in there again. Storied Churchill Downs awaits. Last year she won the Kentucky Oaks on a horse named ‘Believe You Can.’ Could a life coach even make that up?

This reminds me of turning on the Masters for the first time in 1997 just to see what this sensation Tiger Woods was going to do. He cruised at Augusta and made history. It also brings to mind the few NBA games I saw last year because a little thing called Linsanity was happening courtesy of Jeremy Lin.

Every so often it’s nice to see someone ‘different’ emerge on the scene and take a sport by storm. You know there are already girls who want to be Rosie Napravnik. She’s taken them closer to believing it’s possible.

Heck, a bunch of us adults are paying big attention, not because we want to be jockeys but because we want to be something that we’ve been told we can’t or shouldn’t be. These people who just shrug off the naysayers and keep going, who get injured and heal and get back out there, we happily go on a little ride with them. Even it only comes in the form of screaming at the TV and raising our arms in the air.

Victory is sweet.

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Ah, utopia

by Nancy Colasurdo on May 1, 2013

GAME PLAN:

I’ve got it all figured out. Don’t you?

My bank account is overflowing. My body is never creaky. Not a speck of dust in my home. I floss daily. And oh, the sex. My happiness arches like a rainbow over my perfect, polished life.

Take your problems walking. None to be found on this side of the grass, where it’s a glistening emerald green 24-7.

I can hardly continue this with a straight face. But I do have a larger point.

Photo courtesy of www.freeimages.co.uk

Am I the only one who gets the feeling there are way more people living on the financial and/or emotional edge than we even imagine? I’m one who generally assumes people are doing great when I’m thinking collectively, but the more one-on-one conversations I have with people lately the more I realize it just isn’t true. At least not as consistently as I thought (or hoped). Utopia, not so much.

This is not about generating a downer conversation. It’s an observation about the front so many of us feel we have to put up. There are an awful lot of entrepreneurs in my acquaintance and while many are thriving in terms of pursuing their passion and enjoying making their own schedules, it doesn’t mean they’re not also experiencing great bouts of anxiety. In addition, those who are in jobs that bring them no satisfaction outside of a check often reach a breaking point and wind up wondering if this is all there is.

We’re all trying to make it work, people. And what works for you isn’t necessarily going to work for me or the guy next door. While I embrace the exhilaration of figuring out my next thing, there’s no way for that to happen without also embracing the uncertainty of it all. I have been a resource for many and I continue to seek out resources for myself. Being on both sides of that has been, and continues to be, pivotal for my growth.

For example, yesterday I had a conversation with a writer and bestselling author who was kind enough to give me his time. I figure the more I learn about the current media landscape, the more my world opens up. I came away from that chat with two very solid ideas for moving forward in my freelance writing. On the flip side, I have a call scheduled for later in the week with an aspiring writer who’s unsure of her next steps and would like my thoughts.

I don’t mean to make this all about writing. That’s my world. But I do have this sense that so many people think I have it all figured out and I, in turn, think another whole group of people has it all figured out. But you know what? Nobody does. How’s that for the ultimate clarification? Nobody freakin’ does.

And, incidentally, if you hire a life coach who pretends she does, run for the hills before you sign that contract. That’s a big, fat red flag that you’re signing on with a smiley face instead of a human who is trained to help you take your life to another level but acknowledges that sometimes you’ll struggle and that her cookie cutter tests/exercises/rah-rahs don’t work for everyone.

Man, this feels good.

This is such a different world than the one I prepared to work and live in when I was in school in the 80s. I couldn’t have known what was around the bend and I mostly feel dazzled by social awareness, technological advances beyond my comprehension, and the challenges brought by world events in the last decade. Keeping up is kind of heady for a 51-year-old.

I suppose it’s my big picture optimism that propels me in ways others tell me they admire. I don’t know how else to be. I’ve learned that if someone walks away from me feeling inspired it’s because I gave them genuine Nancy. The fake stuff doesn’t cut it.  Maybe that should be my tagline.

I love the life I have created for myself. That is true. I know what my priorities are. But people close to me know I often torture myself when making choices within those priorities. I question. I wonder.

And yet, I rarely waver on my big picture. I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. My gifts are being tapped. My purpose is clear. My passion for helping others see theirs is strong.

Living meaningfully. That much I’ve got figured out.

The rest I’ll relish, anxiety and all.

 

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Acceptance and body issues

by Nancy Colasurdo on April 25, 2013

“I want my body back.”

I’ve heard myself say this a number of times in the last few months. Sometimes in anguished frustration under my breath. Sometimes while sharing with family and friends. Sometimes in wonderment. Sometimes in prayer. 

The statement can mean so many things. Given the Dove video that’s been circulating, the one about how we see ourselves vs. how someone else sees us, my declaration could easily be taken for an expression about my exterior self. You know, fat, wrinkles, outsized features.

But it’s not.

If being in my 50s has given me anything, it’s peace around that stuff. Literally every night when I lay my head on the pillow I express thanks for my body and its ability to function, to get me places, to bring me pleasure. I am what I am. I like to exercise my body, dress it well, pamper it.

So when I say I want my body back, it’s more a longing to understand why I have felt markedly slower and wearier in the last year. My obsession lies in freedom of movement and lifestyle, not the new line that’s appeared on my face.

About a year ago I had surgery for a meniscus tear on my left knee and this is partly about that, but really it’s more about a series of ripple effects around that. The surgeon wouldn’t do the surgery unless my high blood pressure came down, but up until the pre-op exam I didn’t know I had a problem with hypertension. No idea or inkling whatsoever. I took the prescribed meds to get me through the surgery, but shortly thereafter had troubling side effects, so my doctor prescribed another. I was convinced I didn’t really need them long-term, so acquiesced with the understanding he’d wean me off them later.

When I didn’t feel like the doctor heard me – and while in the midst of healing and diligent attention to my physical therapy — I changed general practitioners because I wanted one less inclined to pull out the prescription pad. The latest drug was making me feel sluggish and my legs would swell easily after exercise. I began thinking it would be better to live with the risks of high blood pressure.

I ordered a hot-selling book on the topic and it got lost in the mail or stolen. I took it as a sign not to read it. I stopped eating my beloved olives (salt!) and began ingesting more kale than any human needs. I already eat lots of salads, not much processed food and I’m mindful of whole grains and protein. I started taking vitamins. At the instruction of my new doctor I was taking my blood pressure every other day (at the CVS next to my gym) and recording it. That proved maddening – the fluctuations, the questioning of whether I should take it before or after workout or wait five minutes, bla, bla, bla.

By September the frequent swelling became too much and so my doctor heard me out again, looked at my ledger of BP reads from weeks of recording, and she prescribed a very small dose of a diuretic to replace the other meds. This came with the instruction to come in for a blood test soon afterward to check my electrolytes.

Well, I procrastinated a few weeks on that and the next thing I knew we had Super Storm Sandy. My doctor’s office and lab are located near the World Trade Center. With the PATH trains from Hoboken out of service for nearly two months, getting to Manhattan was a production. Bye, bye blood test. At least for a while. When we flipped the calendar to 2013, I was well into my new meds but still frustrated by stiffness in my legs and overall fatigue I didn’t have prior to all this beginning the year before.

On a particularly aggravating day I picked up the phone and made an appointment for a checkup. My intent was to tell, not ask, my doctor to wean me off all meds. The next available appointment was three weeks away. The day came last week and as I took the 10-minute ride into the city, strolled past the Freedom Tower and sat in an examining room waiting for my doctor, something shifted.

I thought about how maybe it wasn’t the best time to play with blood pressure meds when I was at a trying time in my freelance business. And maybe I was lucky to have found a not-so-invasive treatment for it. Because, truly, if it’s a concern that my blood pressure will go up at a challenging time in my life, doesn’t that actually mean I have high blood pressure?

Yikes. I had reached acceptance. By the time the doctor came in my purpose for being there had done a 180. I explained all of the above and she listened.

“Well, we have found the sweet spot,” she said. “And keep in mind I don’t like prescribing meds. I don’t do it lightly.”

I recalled that was one of the main reasons I had chosen her just months before. She ordered a blood test on the spot to check my electrolytes. The next day the lab emailed the results with her note. All good, except perhaps I was a bit dehydrated when I took the test?

Hmmmm. I Googled dehydration symptoms and among them I found “muscle weakness” and “fatigue.” Good God, is it that easy? I have not been drinking a lot of water, ironically because the pills I’m taking would have me in the bathroom much more frequently. Duh. Do I just need to drink more water? I went out and bought one of those plastic tumblers with a straw, clear with a green band. I dutifully fill it up and drink all day long.

We’ll see how it goes.

Through all of this, I have been ever aware of how the smallest to the greatest blips in our health can throw us off course or set us back. It has made me a better person, coach, and writer because I’m more inclined to actually hear what a person is saying with regards to how they feel and how it relates to their goals and their willingness to engage life on a given day.

But there’s more.

When the doctor’s assistant came in last week to set me up in the examining room, I got on the scale and I noticed her startled look. I met her eyes and said, “I don’t look like I weigh that, right?” She shook her head, clearly still stunned. “No, not at all.” I lifted the tunic I was wearing, pointed to my stomach and said, “I don’t pretend to have six-pack abs. I’m soft in the middle. But according to your chart I’m obese and that’s just absurd.”

She nodded, but then clearly still thinking about it, said, “Do you work out? Could it be muscle?” I laughed. “I typically work out four days a week, so yes, that’s possible.”

I could have never had that conversation in such a relaxed way in my 20s, 30s or even 40s. This is new. Bless the 50s.

My olives are back in moderation. Now if only I could get past my denial that pretty shoes may be a thing of the past. I love my pretty shoes.

One thing at a time.

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Traveling to a Place of Expansiveness

by Nancy Colasurdo on April 21, 2013

GAME PLAN:

There are books I read and there are books I devour. And sometimes I am so called to read a certain something that I break my steadfast rule of not finishing the book I’ve already started to dive in to the new one.

Enter Learning to Breathe by photojournalist Alison Wright. It’s not every day I read a book with a foreword by the Dalai Lama and it’s definitely not every day I am riveted to a café chair, my bed, another café seat and then my couch because I don’t want to put it down.

I found the overarching reason I was supposed to read this book at this particular time in my life in the afterword:

“The pain I have faced has helped me relate to the hardships of others,” Wright writes. “I realize now it’s not about chasing the story. It’s about being part of the story.”

We’ll return to the pain and this message. But let me back up a little.

Yesterday I attended an event called the New York Travel Festival at Bohemian National Hall and, while trekking from Hoboken to the Upper East Side for a 9 a.m. talk isn’t my ideal way to start a Saturday (or any day, for that matter), I felt compelled to go. A Facebook friend had posted the gathering just a few days before and it immediately grabbed my attention. I’m not sure why as I’m not a travel writer nor much of a reader of travel writing, but I think it had something to do with having just written about the three goals I’m currently focused on, one of them being “Travel more.”

First I took in a talk by Andrew Evans, Digital Nomad for NationalGeographic.com. It was supposed to be about why bucket lists “suck” and while he did touch on that, he had decided to switch it up to ‘travel and terror’ given the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Equipped with accompanying images, he blended the two topics meaningfully.

I loved his story of being on a commercial flight that had to make an emergency landing in Memphis. As people grumbled instead of being grateful to be alive and then grumbled some more when they headed for room service in the Holiday Inn lodging the airline had provided them, Evans and another guy set out for some barbecue in a joint where they watched the Auburn game. Since it was a 24-hour delay, the next day Evans decided to take in a place he’d never had a desire to see – Graceland. He had no particular interest in Elvis and so Graceland would not have been on his bucket list had he created one, but he enjoyed the visit and became fascinated with the iconic performer.

Be open to what presents itself. Got it.

Evans (a.k.a. Where’s Andrew?) then showed a shot of a beautiful home with lovely landscaped grounds and told us it was Joseph Stalin’s vacation home – used four times. Because, he continued, what do dictators want to curb most when growing and retaining their power over citizens? Education and travel. Those things that most open us up to other cultures, other possibilities. And the dictators themselves don’t move around much, as was clearly the case with Osama bin Laden.

If Evans got me thinking about expansiveness, then Alison Wright came on stage next and emblazoned the concept on my brain. It was like he had made me look up and she was sky writing it with an exclamation point on the end. Your thinking needs to be more expansive, Nancy. Expand your idea of what your gifts can do, Nancy.

Wright is so beyond what we think of as a photojournalist. What she’s willing to do to make searing, storied photographs … well, it’s nothing short of courageous. At first, though, all I saw was a woman about my age (as it turns out, she’s six days older than me) showing her audience dazzling photographs and talking about how she got into her profession.

But even calling it a profession in her case seems off. It’s a calling, a way of life that sets her on fire as she roams countries, sometimes showing up with nothing but her camera bag and one clean shirt, to document lives. When Wright got to the story of being in a severe bus accident in Laos and having a broken back, tailbone and pelvis, damage to her organs including collapsed lungs, and glass and metal embedded up and down her arm, I kept looking to see if there were any signs of this on her now. I saw none.

Doctors, one after another, were astounded she survived. Her journey from the remote area where the accident occurred to her home in San Francisco and all she endured in between is poured out in the book I simply had to purchase after her talk. She includes flashbacks in it, delightful stories of places and people and even meeting the Dalai Lama in 1987 before most knew who he was (he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989).

Woven through is Wright’s meditation practice and her spiritual approach to all she does. It was pivotal for her recovery that she change doctors at one point, preferring to hear what she could do moving forward, not what she couldn’t. When she explained that she was determined to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, she was looking for support instead of discouragement. And, make no mistake about it, she did achieve that goal.

When I introduced myself to Wright after her talk I thanked her for being inspiring. In the inscription she wrote in my book, she called me a kindred spirit. And while it was lovely in the moment, I thought of how she is unfazed by worms in her body and I’m a shrieking fool if a spider skitters across my window sill. But then later, I felt a connection to her on a deeper level when I read a specific part of her book. She recounts having met Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk, in France in 1999; she was there to attend the retreat and photograph him. She writes:

“He explained that with air, water, and even love, we are different from one moment to the next. To have children or produce a book is output. You are giving something of yourself to be absorbed by others. You don’t have to die to be reborn. You can offer yourself to others through your insight, and your care. You can offer your heart. ‘And in that way you will live on and be remembered,’ he told me.”

I understand an independent woman living on her terms, passionately chronicling her life as legacy. I do.

We are indeed part of the story.

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