Sarah Elkins

Episode 78: When You're on the Inside Looking Out

Stories That Remind Us It's All About Perspective

Jordan Gross was one of those kids in school who always seemed to have it together. He was an athlete, an academic achiever, played an instrument, and was a boy people wanted to be around. He had plenty of friends, and though he knew he was fortunate in his upbringing and genetics, he always had a feeling there was something else that he was missing.

He stayed the course in terms of what was expected of him as he finished high school and moved through college. He even got a great corporate job right our of college and was doing exactly what his family and friends saw for his future. And then he woke up. At 24, he realized he wasn’t living his life - he was living someone’s expectations of his life.

Our conversation reminded me of an earlier episode with Christine Homolko, from the opposite perspective. Christine thought she never really fit in, was always an outsider, and Jordan always fit in, but felt like an outsider. There’s a reality here many of us seem to forget, and it’s not just that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. The reality is that none of us really “fit in”, we all have our internal stories limiting and motivating us, and we are all on our own journey. The only difference, really, is the company we keep along that journey.

Connect with Jordan on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter, visit his website, and take a look at his book, Getting Comfy.

Our Culture, and How It Colors Our Communication

Using Stories to Uncover Our Deeper Connections


We know innately that when we find things in common with each other, we forge deeper connections, but how do we do that with intention and true curiosity? And how do we make this the first part of communication, the priority, so our discussions don’t immediately devolve into defensiveness and hostility?

Zach and I believe that if we understand our own perspectives, where they come from, what we’re reading to bring us to certain conclusions, and why we trust the resources we trust, we could make a start toward better understanding and appreciation for others’ perspectives.

One key to starting those conversations is simply finding common ground, and that can be found in culture. During our conversation in this podcast, we discuss a less traditional definition of culture; lifestyle culture. Are you a dog person? A cat person? Are you part of the mountain biking culture? Each of us can live in many different lifestyle cultures, which makes it much easier to find common ground.

Zach Messler knows a lot about communication strategy, and he uses own cultural commonalities to strengthen his work.

Connect with Zach on LinkedIn, and be sure to check out his website to learn more about how he can help you develop your messages, your content, to be clear and compelling!

From Zach’s website:

I help entrepreneurs know what to say and how to say it so they make a bigger impact on the world…and their wallets.

So, yeah. I’m on a mission to help entrepreneurs find relevance…and revenue.

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.

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: