We Can Choose How Our Stories Define Us

She could easily have given up all of her power, her love, her compassion. As a matter of fact, she tried to when she was 25. As she woke in the hospital after a suicide attempt, her dad (she was finally adopted by a loving family), who was not a particularly affectionate person, but who demonstrated love in other ways, was there, patting her hand. The look on his face said it all: He was disappointed, hurt, heartbroken at Ashley's choice to leave him and this world.

You Never Know Which of Your Stories Will Inspire You

When Gail shared the story of her mother’s advocacy work for victims of domestic violence with Rebecca, they agreed immediately that their business had to have another side to it, a side that would benefit that same population of their community.

If You're Not Present, You're Risking More Than You Think

The 3 Band-Aid Story as a Reminder to Be Present

I was in my early 20's when I noticed this pattern. If I look down at my hands and find three or more minor injuries requiring BAND-AIDs, I know I’m not paying attention to myself or my surroundings, I know I’m not being fully present. Two band-aids are a small hint, but if I get to three, I require serious reflection. When I see three, I know I'm in trouble, and that my brain is not in fully-functional, problem-solving mode.

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Seeing multiple injuries on my hands is one hint to myself to take a long walk, a long drive, or simply find space to clear my head. Whatever I do to find clarity and presence to center myself, I do it with intention. That means I make sure I can’t get notifications for my phone - if I’m even carrying it - and that I let my family know my plan so I don’t get interrupted. 

Years ago my best friend called me, full of frustration and anxiety between back-to-back work trips. She traveled a lot at that point in her career, and as she arrived home at her apartment, she called me to catch up.

"I left my sunglasses in the rental car,
my phone charger in the hotel room, and
my book in the seat back pocket on the plane.”

She was a little angry with herself, definitely resigned to that aggravated energy she was carrying, and sad. I told her to sit down.

"I have a million things to do before I leave again in two days!”

I  said: “Stop what you’re doing. Sit. Down. Now.”

I heard her heavy sigh as she slid down onto the floor, legs outstretched, purse thrown onto the chair beside her.

"Remember when I told you about the three BAND-AIDs on my hands?”

"No. *sigh*  Seriously, Sarah, I have too much to do to just sit here.”

"Trust me. Stay where you are. When I have three BAND-AIDs on my hands I know I'm not present. Those bandages are my hint to stop, take a breath, and re-center myself."

"Ok. So what? Do you have three bandages on your hands?”

“No, I don't. But you do.

“Losing your sunglasses, phone charger, and book are very small hints for something that could be much, much worse. They are your three bandages, your warning that something much worse can happen if you don't take some time to breathe and re-center yourself.

"Now. When we hang up, you are going to slowly get up off the floor, put on good walking shoes, and go for a long walk around your neighborhood. You are going to walk for a minimum of 30 minutes, looking at details of plants, houses, and people. You are going to lose yourself, and clear your head of your "to do" list, and focus on things outside your own brain. And when you get back to your apartment, you’re going to call me and we'll talk through your list.”

About an hour later she called me back, a substantially improved tone to her voice. She was back to her old self, confident and calm. We chatted away while she started laundry, cleaned up dishes in the sink, and started a grocery and errand, and MUST DO work list.

And the next time I saw a couple of small injuries on my fingers, I called her to share my frustration, and to remind her that I have to stop myself, too, sometimes.

How many times have you been rushing through things and either messing them up and having to re-do them, or actually injuring yourself - even if it’s just a paper cut? What does it take for you to realize you’re spinning your wheels?

My friend Curt Mercadante has written a few things that have changed the way I look at how I spend my days.

I was working for a local government agency when I read his post asserting that 70% of our days are filled with bullshit… it only took me about 30 seconds to decide his assessment was pretty accurate. And then he mentioned something in a post about scheduling specific amounts of time for specific projects, knowing that if you schedule an hour to complete a project, it’ll take an hour to complete that project.

And then there was this post: Doing more work isn’t the same as being productive.

The next time you start to see yourself spinning wheels, having to do things more than once, and seeing band-aids on your hands, consider whether everything you’re spending time and energy - and stress - on, is more work, or is productive time spent.

Here’s your challenge for this week: Figure out what your three BAND-AIDs are.

Are they small physical injuries on your hands? Are they lost items like keys, sunglasses, or wallet?

The next time you notice a few things out of step, stop what you are doing and breathe for a minute. Take inventory of the last few days to see if maybe you're missing something - like being present. Walk, bike, do something creative (if this is tricky for you, I often recommend using those coloring books with patterns you can get at the local art store, along with a pack of colored pencils); do something that clears your head. It must take some time, a minimum of 30 minutes, to be intentional about finding your balance again.

And while you’re thinking about what your three band-aids are and what they represent, consider the consequences of not being present when you're driving, spending time with your children or aging parents, cooking with heat & sharp objects. In my experience, if I don't pay attention to those bandages, I'm risking serious damage.

Being Born to do Something Doesn't Mean it's Easy

The Story of Your Passion is Also a Story of Overcoming Fear

He was six when he heard Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill*, got those telltale chills up his spine, and knew he was born to play guitar and sing. He was nine when that passion was tested, and it took him five years to recover.

Sometimes our passion for something must be tested so we know, absolutely, that this is exactly what we want. When Duke Robillard stood on a stage to sing for the first time in front of a large audience, the spotlight on him, his nine-year-old confidence and character were simply not prepared for what he saw. His mother told him later - he doesn't remember this at all - that he sang, yes, and was crying at the same time.

I can imagine that little boy in his bowtie and fancy, Sunday shoes standing there, terrified and yet completely committed to doing what he set out to do. It took him a long time to recover from that stage fright. Duke wouldn't sing for an audience again for five years, and even as a professional musician with Roomful of Blues, he fought the urge to walk away from the stage, full of anxiety and fear.

But when you know innately what you were born to do, at no matter what age you figure it out, you're tested over and over again. And every time you stand up to that fear, every time you make the choice to put yourself back on that path, you not only strengthen your commitment to your life's work, you give the gift of what you were born to do to the people around you.

Thank goodness Duke got past that stage fright to create and perform incredible music for the past 50+ years. Here's one of my favorites from Roomful of Blues' first album:

Duke and I met in 1997, though my husband introduced me to his music a couple of years before that. A friend gave us tickets to see him as a wedding gift; it was a small venue in Washington DC. Bob and I were standing right up front near the stage for Duke's set, and I was completely sold on this guy's talent. As we waited for the next act to come on stage, I went to grab us a couple of drinks. On my way back, I saw Duke's bass player, Marty Ballou, standing near the stage and introduced myself. We hit it off; not only was I seriously impressed with the incredible soul with which he played the bass (he made a 3/4 bass look small), he is also a warm, affectionate, and kind person. (He was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2015.)

The next band got started, and we were getting squished by the audience. We decided to head to the back of the bar, and maybe leave since we had come to see Duke, and not the other guy on the stage. As I led the way through the crowd, I could see Marty waving at me - he was a head taller than anyone else in the room. He gave me a big hug, and I introduced him to Bob. We met Duke a few minutes later, and couldn't believe how down to Earth he was. Marty and I exchanged numbers, and every time the band would be within a couple of hours' drive of Washington DC, Marty would call me and ask how many he should put on the guest list. We followed them around the region for two years, and then moved to Montana. I kept in touch with Marty, and once in a while I'd email Duke just to check in.

To this day I cannot believe our luck in connecting with these musicians. (Duke was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2014.)

Naturally, we refer to a variety of music throughout our conversation on this podcast. This first reference was part of a story when my sister and I saw him in Baltimore. I introduced the two of them and my sister said: "Huh. You're not ugly at all! Actually, you're very handsome!"

I couldn't breathe for a moment, and knew I had turned beet red. That's when my sister looked at me and realized what she had said. Completely embarrassed and trying to recover, she said: "Sarah made me a mix CD and your song, I May Be Ugly But I Sure Know How to Cook was my favorite song on the mix... so, um, that's why I said that..."

Thank goodness he's such a good sport, charming, and has a sense of humor. We all burst out laughing as he walked away to start his set. Did I mention I just love this guy?

From Duke's recent album, a refreshing collection of swing music with some of my favorite female vocalists, here's Squeeze Me with Madeleine Peyroux:

And just to show off a bit, here's Duke in a jam session with the amazing Stevie Ray Vaughan:

In the podcast, I mention Ed Sheeran's version of the song The Parting Glass, and here's the one I listen to:

And, just for kicks, here's the other version I mention in the podcast, by the Wailin' Jennys:

I hope you enjoy this episode, and that you do some of your own digging into this extraordinary musician's work. Of course, I highly recommend his most recent album, Duke and His Dames of Rhythm.

If this podcast speaks to you, please leave a comment and let's start a conversation about the challenges we face, even when we absolutely have no doubt that we're doing what we were born to do.

*Blueberry Hill was recorded by Glenn Miller's big band. Jack Rabid, an infamous NYC drummer and punk rock DJ, recently told us the story that Fats Domino was inspired by Glenn Miller's version of the tune. It's likely that Glenn Miller was inspired by Gene Autry's version in the movie The Singing Hill. So there you have it - the beat goes on... so to speak. 

Use Humor to Engage and Connect

Storytelling is Best with an Element of Humor

Ron Feingold, like other brilliant and well-know, but not necessarily famous comedians, has worked for nearly 30 years to make people laugh, to entertain them, and to connect with them for the brief time he has on stage for each show.

Every story he shares has some element of humor in it, though sometimes it's subtle. What I love about his style is that he's doing his own thing. He's not trying to be like anyone else. He's also combining comedy with his love for music, something unique and very entertaining.

There are pivotal moments in our lives that we recognize immediately, and that we know within seconds that they have changed us and how we see the world - and ourselves. But most of our pivotal moments aren't that obvious. Most of them are hidden in our brains until an experience that may feel similar happens to wake the memory and bring it to the conscious mind. I love discovering those moments with people, uncovering them and making necessary adjustments in order to take responsibility for our current actions and decisions.

The first pivotal moment Ron shared in this episode was one he didn't necessarily know would change his world, but after processing it for a few weeks and months, he was able to identify it as a turning point.

That first story might just take you back to a similar experience, one where a virtual stranger offered time, patience, kindness and wisdom at exactly the moment you needed those things. I know it brought back a couple of memories for me. Your lesson may be different; my lesson was simply a reminder to be as present and engaged as I can when I see someone who needs that same time, patience, and kindness. A moment of kindness like that can truly be the difference between life and death.

I'll be curious to hear your thoughts about this conversation, please let me know if you have a memory pop into your head that is similar, and maybe the lesson you can take from it now, possibly decades later.


Ron Feingold is a comedian and musician, and always has an entrepreneurial idea in his head. You can find more information about him, and even book him for your next event by visiting his website. My favorite thing he does is "The Power of the Smile", exactly the inspirational performance that any organization will appreciate at a conference or training.

You can also connect with him on LinkedIn, and please take a few minutes to enjoy this: