This evening I attended a performance of An Evening of Storytelling with Garrison Keillor. I was so moved by his masterful weave of the yarn. He makes his stories come alive by arresting our interest – giving more detail than one would think necessary, yet it is the details that electrify the tales. “We are more alike than we think…and certainly more than we try not to be.”
Before a word was even spoken, upon entering the stage, he hummed a note and beaconed us to follow. He then led us in a rendition of My Country ‘tis of Thee, followed by a number of other equally familiar songs. He spoke of important moments in life that he wanted to write down. Moments that, as they were happening, he knew were of significance and that he would want to remember and understand.
Mr. Keillor connected with us by sharing his life experiences, proving that we all relate with our own intimate stories that are just as private as the ones he so boldly shared with us. He talked of sin, death, love, and sex. Intimate confessions of the frailty of human beings. He empowered us. He inspired unity, proving that strangers can come into a dark room together and sing songs that everyone knows the words to.
The storyteller brought it all back in the end, after two and a half hours without a break in the meaningful, poignant, and hilariously exaggerated tangents that all somehow made sense. He arrived back to the notion that though we are divided, especially in today’s political climate, it is all only an illusion. We all have these incredibly human experiences that we all share.
The evening ended with a humming of My Country ‘tis of Thee. It had come full circle. We had arrived safely back down to the ground after the incredible journey. Garrison Keillor is an empowered communicator, because he empowers his listeners.
Fostering Meaningful Connections
Scientists estimate that it took 17 million of years for the Grand Canyon to become the wonder that we know it as today. 17 million years! Can you imagine that?! It took 17 million years for this “Wonder of the World” to be endowed with the title “Grand.” Such a large number is, for me, inspiring, because it allows me to go much easier on myself when I don’t right away get the “grand” outcomes that I’m looking for. How can I expect to do anything “grand” without putting in “grand” time? I’m encouraged too, by seeing the pain that the canyon experienced over the years by the constant erosion caused by the Colorado River. If not for the persistent flow of activity by the River, the Canyon not only would no be Grand, but it also would not exist.
All of this tells me that Grand things take Grand time, and that if we persist it promises to be painful, as pieces of us that no longer serve us are taken away during the flow of the process. This letting go can be difficult; it’s far easier in the short-term to keep things as they are, but life constantly reminds us that in order to have what we have never had we must do what we have never done, which requires a sacrifice, a giving up of what no longer serves us.
For the Grand Canyon, this giving up is of rock and sediment; for you and me, maybe it’s old thought patterns. Maybe it’s old habits that are keeping us down; or well-meaning friends, family, or colleagues that are discouraging us from growing, keeping us from operating on a higher level. Maybe it’s an old dream, or maybe it’s our current job that’s holding us back. The feeling of comfort, security, and stability is perhaps the greatest poison for innovation; for the comfortable person has no reason to seek anything more, to seek anything greater for his or her life. Leaving the security of the known for the unknown is simultaneously the scariest notion and the beginning of a fantastic adventure story. No story worth hearing ever began with “Once upon a time the world was safe, and nothing terrible happened…the end.” If that’s your story, and you’re happy with it, good for you. As for me, and as for those who are no longer content with being “good” but rather wish to become Grand, we’re hungry for something more. We’re not comfortable being comfortable anymore. And to leave that comfort requires giving up what no longer serves us. We’re operating from a different level now.
The good news is that we don’t have to go it alone. The Grand Canyon would not exist if not for the relationship that it fostered with the Colorado River 17 million years ago. This tells us that our own greatness will not exist without building important and meaningful relationships.
My mentor, John Maxwell, says that as leaders we should seek not to be a reservoir, but rather a river, allowing the benefits of our accumulated knowledge, skills, and experience, to flow through us, rather than stay with us. I like this metaphor because it encourages us to build relationships much like the Colorado River. If we show people the way to greatness, they will want to follow us. But first it requires a connection.
Seeing Masters of their craft at work is always an inspiration. They provide us with encouragement to seek new opportunities in our own field, and to never settle for "good enough" for too long when "better," "best," and "Great" are just around the corner, over the horizon, and on the next mountain.
I have had the privilege of seeing The Amazing Jonathan work his craft a number of times, and it is always a Joy. This past weekend at Foxwoods was no different. His opening act was a comedian who decided when he was 12 years old that he wanted to pursue comedy, after sitting in the audience of one of The Amazing Jonathan's performances. Beyond deciding, he took ACTION. He sought the guidance of mentors, worthy guides who could show him the way. The most important mentor has been and continues to be the same comedian who inspired him to pursue that path all those years ago. May we all continue to be inspired by such Masters.
Christmas with family is always magical, but this year proved even more magical than expected. Late in the evening, as most of the family had already gone home, I lingered at my brother Steven’s home, enjoying some extra company. My nephew Jesse came into the living room where Steven and I were talking and brought with him a toy he had found in his Advent calendar. It was the notorious cup and ball on string. Notorious, because of the inevitable frustration everyone gets when they can’t get the ball into the cup. He played with it for a few moments then handed it to me to try. It’s been a long time since I’ve even picked up such toys, because of the frivolity of the activity, and the inevitable frustration it entices. But in the spirit of Christmas and togetherness, I humored the moment and gave it a try. After several attempts I admitted to everyone, “I’ve never successfully done this before.” And lo! Just as I spoke those words, the ball fell squarely into the cup! I couldn’t believe it! I had never done that before!
Jesse then took back the toy to try himself, but to no success. That is, until he got the idea that the magic words are: “I’ve never successfully done this before.” And magically, just as he said those words, the ball again fell squarely into the cup!
Excitedly, Jesse handed the toy off to his mother, Dana. She tried for a few moments without luck, and without trying the magic words. Jesse told her that she had to say the magic words for it to work, but his mother didn’t want to say them because as she explained, she had successfully done it before. I suggested that she revise the words to say: “I haven’t successfully done this in a while.” Sure enough, when she facetiously said those words the ball fell squarely into the cup! The four of us could not believe the amazing luck!
It was lastly my brother’s turn to try his hand at it, but without saying the magic words. Perhaps he, like many, didn’t see the connection between the words and the results. But after hitting himself in the head with the ball a few times he too relented and said those magic words: “I’ve never successfully done this before.” The four of us agreed that it was a Christmas Miracle when the ball fell squarely into his cup too.
This once-in-a-lifetime, you-had-to-be-there moment was a beautiful bonding experience for us, and it got me to thinking about its greater meaning. I had long given up toying with such an activity, deeming it frivolous simply because I was incapable of doing it, because I lacked the skill. And because I lacked the skill I labeled it senseless child’s play, something below myself. Yet, there the four of us sat in awe as we each, one at a time, succeeded at what was once deemed silly and impossible. It got me to wondering what else have I given up on and deemed silly and below my station, simply because I lacked the discipline and patience to give it an honest effort. Surely, mastering the cup and ball on string is of little consequence, but it serves as a healthy reminder that “whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” Today I suggest that if you find yourself struggling with a small matter, just give it a little more time, and maybe even try some Magic Words.
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During my recent trip to Wisconsin I stayed in a cabin by a lake. On the morning of the last day of the trip I decided to jump into the water for a swim. There was a floating dock in the lake and I desired to swim to it. But I hesitated. I was alone, and thought that if something should happen to me, such as an unexpected medical emergency, that I'd drown and no one would know it until staff noticed that I hadn't checked out yet, and all my things were still locked inside the cabin, my rental car was still parked outside, and that I was no where to be found but for my t-shirt and flip-flops on the shore of the lake. A dead body is bad for business, so I opted to content myself with sitting on the shore. It was there that the lake taught me a lesson.
I have become much more adventurous as of late, though at the same time I have also become more cautious. A younger me would have swum out to the floating dock had I desired to do so, yet my younger self would not have had such a desire. To be sure, my caution is not out of fear, as evidenced by the fact that just the other day I jumped out of an airplane. Rather it is a matter of preparation. If someone was with me at the lake I would have surely made the swim to the floating dock. What i lacked was the safety of another person. Just as when I jumped out of the airplane. I did not jump out of the plane alone. Rather, I jumped with the security of a person who had made that same jump thousands of times before. It was in this notion that the lake held its lesson for me.
Having recently graduated from college, I am currently in a period of transition. This is a time of serious reflection as I consider how best to use my newly gained skills in tandem with my natural talents and passions. Informed by the impending reality of student loan payments, I have been leaning on the side of responsible practicality in terms of a career move, but the lake has another idea.
What is it that I want to do, but am instead sitting on the shore of? What would I do if had a worthy guide who had gone before me in the direction of my dreams?
I have answered this question for myself, and in so doing have been assigned the homework of finding that guide. There is much work to be done, and I look forward to it with anticipation and excitement. My hope for you is that if you have found yourself for too long on the shore of your dreams that you will consider the Wisdom of The Lake.