I believe in magic

There is tremendous power in telling the truth of our own experience.

When we witness the courageous acts of others – people doing things that we long to do but think we are too afraid to do – something changes within us. We begin to believe that it’s possible for us too. The shift is so dramatic and clear, it’s like magic. And this is the beginning of our process of coming alive.

I am now in the final week of a juicy four weeks “off” from the normal activities of my work as Founder of The Music Within Us. The last time I took this many weeks of time entirely for myself was probably the summer between high school and college, when I studied French at the Universite de Paris Sorbonne. Since then, I have been on a constant path of doing, taking great care to stay “busy” and have something reassuring to say when people asked me or anyone in my family how I’m doing. You see, I have been assimilated into the materialistic culture that has become America. I have learned the rules of that so-called game of rising to the top of the heap, and reaching The Promised Land of status and being perceived as “best”.

But I’ve also been listening constantly to the inner voice of my true self. This self has spoken to me in many ways, and I have found the courage at various points in my life to give outer expression to the whispers of that inner voice. I wasn’t brave enough in college to admit that I did not want to go to medical school. So I powered through it, and got in. But sitting in a lecture hall with one hundred thirty other students who had gotten there because of their penchant for taking multiple choice tests and writing essays about “wanting to help other people” did not feel like a place I wanted to call home. But I continued to power through.

It was not until my third year of medical school, in January 2000, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that it hit me. I was on my Vascular Surgery rotation, which was great fun as a student (I got to touch the aorta!). But I also watched the residents who were a few years above me in their training, some married, others with children, still powering through. They would show up to work, themselves so ill that they had to step out of the operating room to throw up in the scrub sink or lay down on a spare gurney. This was shameful, because it was a Vascular Surgeon’s job to “suck it up” and power through any situation. They had their hands on the aorta, so it was easy to feel like God.

I looked around at the people working with me, and the jobs they were trying to do, and I felt both respect and the distinct knowing that I did not want to go through life in that state of constantly “powering through”. I felt ashamed for feeling this way, because I was supposed to admire these surgeons, who were the “top of the heap” in the hospital. I had been systematically trained to know the hierarchy of coolness in medicine, which had an inverse relationship to the number of residency slots offered for trainees each year. Subspecialty surgeons were highest (therefore with the scarcest number of slots), then general surgeons, then procedure-based specialties like cardiology or interventional radiology, then the medicine subspecialties, and somewhere down the list were the general internal medicine people. All the rest of the specialties need not even be mentioned.

I remember calling my brother, who is a practicing ophthalmologist now and was at the time doing his fellowship in cornea surgery, and saying, “You know what? I don’t HAVE to do a residency!” I used a tone of voice that made it sound like I had just discovered a new gene mutation that would unlock the mystery of an incurable disease. This was the magnitude of asserting something so contrary to what was accepted as a given in medical school. After graduation, “everyone” does a residency. Just choose from the list of two dozen specialties, then search the country for the training programs available, and apply. Just power through it.

So when my brother – who had powered through each of his stages of education and career climbing with the self-assurance of someone for whom failure was not an option – said to me, “You’re right! You DON’T have to do a residency. And you shouldn’t, if you don’t want to,” you can imagine my relief. It was so liberating to receive permission to go against the grain, and acknowledge the longings of my inner truth.

It was the first step in a cascade of events that took me into a fast-paced career in the world of private equity and finance. Again, I found myself in an industry with a “sexy” appeal when mentioned at cocktail parties. It was cool to be a “VC”, and I rode the wave for several years, learning so much about people and the world that I would have never encountered in a medical residency. I had a salary, a bonus, and eventually even a small sliver of the “carry”, the “carried interest” of the partners’ profits in the investment fund. When it seemed like my position there was finally secure, I glided along with the inertia of feeling like “it was time” to buy a house. During the first week of owning my house, I remember lying in my bed, hearing the rain start to fall, and then seeing water come through the canister lights in the ceiling. I had to leave on a business trip the next morning, and I sat on the floor with a small plastic wastebasket catching the steadily dripping water, silently wondering how I had gotten myself into this situation.

But I powered through. I had the security of a paycheck, and the status of being a business leader in the community. How could I walk away from that? I’d be CRAZY to want anything more out of life. Right?

It’s hard to say what causes us to finally decide. Sometimes we can recall the “epiphany” or moment when everything became clear. But I know that every decision that seems like it’s made in an instant is really the accumulation of many smaller moments of recognition and reflection over time.

My decision to leave that world of finance and security, to follow my own voice and see where it would take me, began five years ago with the “crazy” choice to quit my job, leave my partners behind, put my house up for sale, and move to California to start The Music Within Us. I was following two of the earliest dreams I remember having as a four-year-old child: having my own violin school (like Mrs. Haag, my teacher), and living in California (it always just seemed to call to me). I knew very deep in my soul that I was doing the right thing for myself, despite all the cautions, warnings, and altnernatives offered by those who cared the most about me. But I powered through all of these fears. I didn’t ignore them. I was actually quite aware of all the concerns that were being voiced. But somehow I knew there was power in following the voice of enthusiasm inside me.

Five years later, I’ve achieved so many things that I was too timid to imagine when I first moved out here. In the beginning, I was happy just to have any students at all. I’ve learned so much – sometimes the hard way, through missteps and stumbling, and sometimes the pleasantly surprising way, by things turning out better than I could have planned them to be. All of this is part of being alive. The hard part is being open to both. But once you really open wide, and welcome all of it in, the experience of every twist and turn becomes such a gift. It’s like magic.

It took me most of the first half of this year to summon the courage to take an entire month “off” from my normal activities of running The Music Within Us program. Yes, it did take courage for me to face my own truth – that I needed some actual time and space in which to examine my current reality, and listen to my inner voice again.

I traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to participate in a workshop called “Real Speaking“, led by Gail Larsen. Six strangers from three different states gathered for three days of intensive work on telling our own authentic truth in order to become more powerful speakers. What I experienced there in my own being, and what I witnessed in others, broke me open in a way that has propelled me toward a new trajectory of my life’s journey.

Here are some magical things I learned about myself in this past month:

  • I love the spirit of Santa Fe, New Mexico. There is something very special about it, and I always feel completely different when I am there. The sky seems bigger, and the people I’ve encountered are somehow more open and friendly than anywhere I’ve been in the U.S.
  • I need to care deeply for my body and allow it to move and stretch every single day. And when I say “need”, I mean it’s a necessary component of every day for me to function now. Our modern lives of spending hours in front of the computer, or in cars, or sitting in general, do not nourish the body in the way it asks of us. Even going to the gym – with its focus on “clocking the time” and going through mechanical motions that will either raise our heart rate or repetitively train muscle groups – does not reach the deep core of our being which longs all at once to be open and stable, flexible and strong. I now commit to doing daily yoga, and being more conscious of my body position at all times.
  • I enrolled in Esther Gokhale’s “8 Steps To a Pain-Free Back” posture class in Palo Alto. It brought together all of my years of “doing” yoga, my introduction to the core muscles through Pilates, and my recent interest in really understanding the muscles I need to develop in order to support a healthier body. I have new ways of sitting, standing, lying down, walking, and strengthening the necessary muscles to support these habits.
  • In becoming more acutely aware of my posture, and all the musculature that supports healthy posture, I have opened the door to a fuller experience of my true self. I have become aware of how the driver’s seat of my car promotes an unhealthy position that I must consciously alter. In building the strength of my deep abdominal (or “core”) muscles, I sit taller, and I feel supported in a way that has allowed my shoulders and hips to release years of deeply held tension.
  • I have the skills of powering through. I spent years practicing and developing these to a very high level. I achieved many things that were valued and recognized by our society as “success”. But now I know a deeper sense of accomplishment, and that is through the freedom of living your own truth. This is much harder to do than any of the things I have done so far. And that is why I must do it. It requires all of the skills of powering through, only this time applied to the internal process of listening to my quiet inner voice. It takes discipline and determination to follow a guide that only you yourself can hear. But I believe now that this path IS the path of true creativity, true freedom, and true happiness. It is nothing short of magic to be in the presence of someone who is on this path for real.
  • On the days I was not traveling, I did not crave or need caffeine at all, and I experienced no withdrawal effects. This is like a miracle to me! I believe it has to do with my deep dedication to moving my body in healthy ways, and being conscious of my posture in everyday activities, leading to better breathing and more vitality at every waking moment, as well as more restorative sleep.
  • When I witnessed the courageous acts of the six important strangers gathered for Real Speaking in Santa Fe, I felt something within me come alive. I felt empowered to try things I had never tried before. I told stories that have long been held close, but that I discovered had meaning for others when I shared them. It was a feeling that can only be described as magical and energizing in a way that now I know I have been waiting for. I now choose to risk greater significance in the world by sharing more of my truth – more of the music within me – with the world.
  • In a beautifully synchronous way, I had the opportunity to host author Pamela Slim‘s inaugural workshop entitled, “Escape from Cubicle Nation“, in my studio space on June 25. Over thirty Bay Area “corporate prisoners” gathered in order to receive Pam’s insights and guidance on how to begin living their own entrepreneurial dreams. Pam asked me if I’d be willing to tell my story to the group, as an example of someone who “did it”. My heart leaped at the chance, and the timing could not have been more perfect. I made several new friends, and was so inspired by the courage of this group of people striving for their own definition of a life well-lived.
  • My entire schedule will be revamped starting in the fall, and the focus will be on LIFELONG LEARNING for everyone I do business with. I am a beacon of hope, by believing in each and every person’s capacity to change and to grow as we find and share the music within us.

So what role will “powering through” continue to have in my life as I go forward? What I know for sure is that those instincts are baked into my being, so I’m not afraid that I’ll “forget” how to do it. But what I’m excited about doing is the process of reinvention, and I know I will need all the skills of discipline and dedication that have defined my life so far. I’ll just be applying it to the creative process of authoring my own steps in life, and bringing greater inspiration to those I have the opportunity to touch.

Happy July, everyone!


6 Responses to I believe in magic

  1. Eugene Chan says:

    Hard to say this without sounding like a dweeb, but listening to you tell your story at Pam’s workshop was the highlight for me. Inspiring.

  2. Tom Rainey says:

    Wow – the written version of your story is as eloquent and inspiring as your talk at Pam’s workshop. I’m still in awe of the gift of acceptance that your brother gave you. It is my great hope that my children will grow to be similarly supportive of each other. Thank you for sharing. I hope you continue writing and sharing.

  3. Holly Hopper says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! There is nothing more inspirational and motivating to me then to hear the true and sincere stories from others who have “made” it. Others who have broken away from the norms of our society and are now living their lives on their own terms, and thriving! I will get there one day as well, but the process is daunting. It’s stories like these that pick me up and help me to continue “powering through” on my own journey, no matter what stage of that process I may be in right now. Thanks again!

  4. JeannetteLS says:

    What a wonderful story. I was just telling someone how I felt that the land around Santa Fe was alive, and last week began painting from photos I took there ten years ago. Shutting up and simply listening for that voice inside that is our true voice, the music of our souls is very, very simple and not at all easy. Thank you for sharing that particular part of your journey. Lifelong Learning should be a matter of course, like breathing for us all. Alas, in this country, often it isn’t. I look forward to reading more of your life. You write compellingly and your five-year accomplishment? A gift to many, I am sure. Best to you in this marvelous life.

  5. Michael Lin says:

    Amazing story. It gives us hope. And yeah, posture is severely underrated.

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