Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

My WERA Story

This week WERA-LP 96.7 FM “Radio Arlington” is celebrating both its second anniversary and its first fund drive. Both are pretty big milestones for a brave little enterprise that combines a lot of moving parts with not a lot of guarantees.

First, the pitch: please support Arlington’s only community radio station. You can do it right here, right now, and then you can read on in peace, secure in the knowledge that you’ve made an important contribution to the health and wellbeing of a wonderful community asset. Thank you. 

And now we’ll return to our regularly scheduled broadcast…

Before there was the radio show, there was the blog. Every week, twice a week, for two full years, I chronicled the path from where I was to…wherever it was I was going.  I wrote:

Lynn seasideI dodged cancer, wrote the last tuition check, mourned friends gone too soon and decided the universe was trying to tell me something. Life is short, it seemed to be saying. Don’t waste the free pass.

So I left the job I had held for a dozen years at an organization I’d loved for nearly 30. So did my husband. We stepped out into the unknown together – and here we are, figuring it out. My plan is to get a plan.

It’s like being the twenty-somethings our sons actually are.

So I’m listening to the universe, trying to learn the lessons it has to offer. Some of the lessons are awesomely big, some are tenderly small.

Every minor tragedy, victory or inane moment of my sons’ youth (and, admittedly, young adulthood to-date and likely well into our mutual decrepitude) has or will potentially be fodder for what I call a “Life Lesson.” I trust they’ve grown accustomed to my pronouncements in this regard. Here, I’m trying to collect the ones I’ve been learning – memorializing them for myself and anyone else who will listen.

Who am I to give life lessons? Just a girl grown up, with grey hair and laugh-lines to show for it. Daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother; hard-working, mission-driven former executive;  unrepentant volunteer; middling cook; reliable ear to the universe and others.

Life Lesson #1: The unexamined life isn’t worth living — and the best things in life are shared.   ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ

In the course of blogging, I chronicled my deepening relationship with Arlington Independent Media, WERA and community radio, not really knowing where it would take me, but enjoying the journey.

The adventure began at the Central Library, in the Fall of 2014. I attended the Leadership Arlington Homecoming “LEAD Talks” — like TED Talks, but way less intimidating. A lovely talk on the Five Precepts of Service stood out as both instructive and inspiring. I decided I wanted to give such a talk.

A year later, back at the Library, I fulfilled my promise to myself — with a talk about curiosity that proved far more fateful than I could ever have imagined. At the end of the event, Arlington Independent Media’s director of community programs Jackie Steven shared exciting news: a new low-power FM community radio station was launching soon  in Arlington. She urged us to visit and learn more.

I took my curiosity to AIM to check out the new station.

I was clearly the newbie in the room.

These guys were serious. They’d been DJs in college. They had recording equipment in their basements, maybe even their living rooms. They had opinions about FCC rulings, recent and historic.

They had their prepared program proposals at the ready.

And, yet, they were so gracious. They were delighted to have new people show up, thrilled to share what they knew, eager to encourage interest and involvement. I give them real props for this mark of true enthusiasts, that newcomers were welcomed and embraced, rather than regarded as just more competition to be crushed.

I never really thought about radio before, but now I’m checking my calendar to book basic studio training, and supplemental audio editing skills after that. It’s fun to be contemplating yet another learning curve on the winding river of this new life.

Life Lesson #28: You never know where life will take you – especially if you let it.

I began to experiment with audio blogs. I took classes. And then it happened…

boothI tested the mics and set the levels. I prepped the auxiliary track. I cued us up. I managed friendly banter with B., and a not-too-shabby segue to my clip. And it all worked. And it was all fun.  And I thought: wow.

I pulled the headphones off to friendly applause, flushed with the realization that I can do this. That this hypothetical can become actual in a not so unthinkable way. That even if the station doesn’t pick up my show, I can make a credible podcast, anyway.

That I can see myself doing this.

Days later, I got the call: my proposal to do a show about curiosity had been accepted. When did I want to start broadcasting? “Don’t let me think about it too long,” I told the caller, “I’ll start in May.”  That was just six weeks away. I had no programs. I was barely trained. But I hustled and the big day quickly came: ingestion.

I just ingested my first episode.

That doesn’t mean that I have swallowed the flash drive I was carrying in my sweaty palm, although it feels a little that way. It means I just took the irrevocable step of uploading for broadcast the .WAV file that is my first radio show.

It’s gone, or up, or in, or some place that shows go before they are on the air.  That happens on Wednesday, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, at WERA-LP 96.7 FM. oh my!

It’s a B+ effort – good, not great; plenty of room for improvement, but credible for a first try. I could recite you all the places that could use more clean-up, that aren’t exactly as I’d like them.  But that would be true if I’d spent another 1,000,000,000 hours on it…and life is short.  I could recite all those places, but I’ve chosen to learn their lessons and move on. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Too much time on this would take the joy out of it — and what’s the point of that?!

Walking to the studio this afternoon I realized the lesson felt familiar, a little like the pottery class I took some years ago. I learned then that there comes a time with every pot when you just have to stop.  More messing with it won’t improve it; it will only collapse the whole thing in on itself. What was once a charmingly slightly off-kilter bowl will suddenly be a sullen lump of mud if over-worked.

The show began to feel like that. Improvements weren’t; tinkering risked clunkers. It was time to stop.

And — to go. Forward. On to the next show, to the new lessons, to a better version of good.

Life Lesson #41: The perfect is the enemy of the good.

And so the show was birthed. With it came accounts at Mixcloud, SoundCloudFacebook, Twitter and eventually iTunes. I’ve grown competent with field mics, mixing clips, and booking talent; with Canva, Spinitron, and even GarageBand. On the first anniversary of what I’ve come to consider my “curiosity adventure” I celebrated:

So, I feel pretty confident the universe has spoken. fullsizeoutput_301

One guest wrote to me after our interview that he though I had found my calling. A cousin described my picture in the WETA segment as radiant. Another guest, early on, said simply: “Look at you: you gotta!”

True enough: I gotta. I wake each day with conceptual threads weaving in my head. I keep long lists of conversations I still want to have. My email is a mess of leads and shows in various stages of incubation. My shelves are a tumble of related reading. My Christmas list? Probably Pro Tools apps and some decent headphones.

What a difference a year makes. What a difference a leap makes. What a difference.

In my most recent show, I paid tribute to analogies, a “Choose to be Curious” staple. At the close of each show, I ask my guests to make an analogy to curiosity with whatever word we pull from my jar. Here’s today’s: Community radio is like curiosity because it allows us to unearth treasures hidden in our midst…it encourages us to listen to new voices…and it provides a vehicle for discovery and adventure.

If you didn’t donate before, can I persuade you to do so now?

And, because I lack all restraint (see “unrepentant volunteer” above), in addition to the premiums offered by WERA in the fund drive, I’ve added an incentive of my own: If you donate $250 or more to WERA’s fund drive, I’ll take you and five of your friends for an Arlington #CuriosityWalk — a never-before-performed feat of ambulatory delight! My goal is to give away three of these. Think I can do it? Me, too.

Thank you!

avatar fund drive 5

Advertisements
Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

The Strange Pull of What You Really Love, or: Wait, What?

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.” ~Rumi

Choose to be Curious is a show all about curiosity. We talk about research and theory, but mostly it is conversations about how curiosity shows up in work and life. This week’s conversation was all about the intersection of those two and discerning the “strange pull” of what we really love.

Listen to Choose to be Curious #38: Finding One’s Calling with Mohamed Ali

My conversation with Moe — meandering as it was, gentle, thoughtful, not racing to any conclusions or hard stops — reminded me of the discussion that unfolded with Revs. Carolyn Richar and Junsen Nettles in an earlier program about curiosity, spirituality and faith. “It is,” said Junsen Nettles, “about the journey.”

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 11: “It’s About the Journey”

All of which kept drawing me back to a new favorite book entitled, Wait, What? by James E. Ryan, current dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and soon to be president at University of Virginia. Built on his 2016 commencement speech, the slim little volume elaborates just enough on what he calls the “five essential questions of life.” Honestly, the speech isn’t much of a speech – short, not entirely polished, unassuming in an oddly reassuring way. But it’s message is a zinger. It gleams. Mesmerizing in all the best ways. It’s the kind of distillation I’d love to make just once in my life. My hat is off to Mr. Ryan.

Wait,Lest I keep you in suspense any longer, here are the five questions:

  1. Wait, what?
  2. I wonder…
  3. Couldn’t we at least…?
  4. How can I help?
  5. What truly matters?

and a bonus question, from a poem by Richard Carver, And did you get what you wanted from life, even so?

Sit with those a moment and feel their heft.

Deceptively simple, not even all questions. Pithy. They are an embodied choice to be curious – a choice to bring energy and optimism and a commitment to good to each moment. I find them profoundly empowering. They anchor curiosity in a value even greater than itself, one bound up in a desire to understand, contribute, leave the world a better place. They are a call to action, a summons to the journey that is a life well-led.

I would like to live in a world where to call people “incurious”is the worst that can be said of them.

I would like to live in a world where to call people “incurious” is the worst that can be said of them. Not only because I think it is a damning statement on its own merits, but because right now we have so many other much more dreadful behaviors to eradicate and I’d like them all gone — gone, with just “incurious” left to be addressed.

Ryan’s “big five” are an antidote to the incurious. Go through life asking yourself those questions in moments large and small and see what that does to your mindset. This is the stuff of radical transformation. All we need do is ask…

To use another favorite curiosity frame: How might we approach each situation allowing ourselves to be surprised, with active inquiry, open to options, asking rather than presuming, anchored in what really matters, finding satisfaction in the journey, even so?

 

Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

Curiosity Across Political Distance

I’ve been trying to channel Walt Whitman’s wisdom, “Be curious, not judgmental,” but I confess I’m not always successful.

And, drawing on an old aphorism I used in my previous career — that if one person is asking, five more are wondering, I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation with someone who is genuinely trying to be curious across current political divides, both ideological and geographic. photo - Snyder Studio Shot

Enter Stacy Snyder, Arlington potter and founder of Together Virginia, a PAC devoted to  fostering conversations between Virginians with a particular focus on rural voters. Their goal is to encourage trust and understanding.

Which seemed like a grand place to start a conversation about curiosity and listening well…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #29: Curiosity Across Political Distance. 

Curiosity Journal, Life Lessons, Making a List, UnComfort Zone

Curiosity & the Fluid Career

surf2Yes, that’s me. On a surf board. In Hawaii. Admittedly, ten years ago. I thought it was a good image for a conversation about fluid careers and catching the curiosity wave…

I was delighted to be invited back by Dana Theus and Mary Brodie at InPower Women for another conversation about curiosity – this time in the context of the fluid career. When they invited me on the show, I think they expected to explore my own fluid career – which is a fine tale, but I offered something both personal and more universal. Let’s talk, I suggested, about “choosing to be curious about futures one might not yet have contemplated, about being intentionally open to the unknown, asking more questions about what emerges, and doing some rapid prototyping to see what might work, using that information to build and (re)shape that emerging future.” 

I hope you’ll listen to the whole show (30 minutes), but here’s some of what we covered and what has worked for me:

Following threads and finding fellow travelers. One of the biggest and happiest surprises for me has been the discovery of rich new networks and communities of people to whom I’ve become attached as I’ve chosen to be curious and entered into many entirely new realms of activity and interests.

0.8 Prototyping. Borrowing from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, I’ve learned to try new concepts out before they are fully cooked (even before they are at “1.0” stages of readiness [hence: “0.8”]), and letting things fail, be messy, listening to and learning from others — and then trying again, with all those lessons in mind.

My simple rules: Drawing on the work of Donald Sull & Kathleen Eisenhardt, I like to think about the simple, most foundational guidelines that govern how/what I do:

  1. Choose to be curious.
  2. Change my point of view to see something new.
  3. Ask myself “how might I….?”
  4. Go toward the fear. (Fear, broadly defined, as the things to which I feel resistant)
  5. Iterate, reflect, repeat.

Curiosity Walks: I made this thing up, the “curiosity walk” — a mix of mindfulness and scavenger hunt. It’s a way to be more intentional and attentive going about a place, whether as a tourist or in our workplace. What can I see or learn by being just a little more curious about wherever I am? What’s actually going on? How do I feel about it – specificallyHow might it be different?

Aldous Huxley: Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you. — This reminds me to stay fully present with whatever is going on. What I choose to do with what happens will shape the lessons I learn, the patterns I discern, the habits I form, the possibilities I believe open before me.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Isn’t there something that interests you, even just a little?  A reminder that we needn’t be “passionate” about everything we pursue and that, sometimes, the best discoveries come from following a loose thread that interests us just a little, just enough that we choose to be curious…and see where it takes us.

Listen to InPower Women Coffee Break: Curiosity and the Fluid Career

Back Story, Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

201

201 is an HTTP status code indicating a new resource was successfully created in response to the request

201, in binary (11001001), is the title of an episode in Star Trek: The Next Generation

Upon upload, I received a cheerful message from WordPress that my most recent blog entry was the 200th post on Listening to the Universe. That (1) came as something of a surprise and (2) makes this #201.

Upon reflection, I thought: right!  I’ve been at this almost exactly two years, and with two posts a week, every week, mostly reliably for those two years, well, here I am: 201.

And upon further reflection, I realized it was time to listen to the universe anew. Which in my case has meant deciding to hit the pause button on Listening to the Universe.

listening earsI put my listening ears on this week, both fabricated and figurative. As a Roving Reader at a local elementary school, I donned tiger-striped ears and read the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, first American woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S. to first graders; a charming confection about a child “zooming” with his mother in her wheelchair to Montessori preschoolers; and a story of Ella Fitzgerald’s youth that taught me a thing or two and kept the 4th and 5th grade band members on the stage in rapt attention despite the lunchtime din coming through the curtains behind them.  My fuzzy headband was meant to model good listening, but the kids didn’t need reminding.

I came home and put my listening ears on again, sans fur. I heard the deafening yawn of my own disinterest and knew, in my bones, it was time to acknowledge that my energy and focus are elsewhere. That this blog, in this form, was right for that time. That I’ve said what I found I needed to say, for now, here.

That it’s time to listen, deeply, to the voice that calls me in a new direction.

I invite you to join me on that journey. Much of it won’t seem very different from a lot of what you’ve seen here: in Choose to be Curious I share episodes of my radio program and plan for periodic and more in-depth writing on curiosity.  There are a few old Listening to the Universe nuggets you might recognize there already: the talk that got me started; reflections on the magical mix of curiosity and walking [this one too]; the roots of what I hope will be a robust body of work on leading with curiosity, and various interviews. It’s been fun to revisit them of late.

I began with this….

Then today, two days after my birthday, I find myself on a liquid diet, preparing for tomorrow’s colonoscopy. It’s a routine procedure and, other than a previous cancer diagnosis, I have no particular reason to be worried about it. But it is still a reminder that there are no guarantees. That life is short. So you should just do things and stop worrying about whether it’s good enough already.

Today I am reminded that my best decisions in recent months have all been about things that pushed me outside my comfort zone. That the universe offers up opportunities complete with encouraging messages more often than we realize — if we will only listen.

So here I am, taking a deep breath amid all my unvarnished work-in-progress dust, and plunging forward before I can second guess myself again. Spinning this out there among all the other stardust. Trying to listen when the universe talks. Trying to learn as I go.

The learning? I’ve certainly deepened my appreciation for the discipline of writing. I have a new reverence for the awesome accountability of wholly self-imposed deadlines and the power of operating outside my comfort zone.  I have a newfound and profound admiration for the the many, unexpected and unsettling places teachers lurk and of the innumerable lessons yet to come. It feels like two years well spent.

Please consider signing on to receive the Choose to be Curious blog posts, as you have received these. It’s been wonderful knowing you are out there, along on this journey in some form or another. Thank you for being a listening ear as I’ve tried to listen to the universe — and to myself. I am delighted to have found wisdom in both.

I hope you’ll join me next time. Until then — choose to be curious!

 

Life Lessons

Mosaic as Metaphor

I like the meditative quality of mosaic work. I can sink entirely into the task, focused only on the chips of glass and ceramic in front of me, attentive to color and shape and nothing else. Can feel the quiet, the only sounds the occasional crack of the nippers at their work and my breath, soft and even.

But there’s more to it than that. Something about putting pieces together again, assembling a coherent work, maybe even something pleasing, from jagged shards. Order from disorder, beauty from brokenness.

I think it appeals to me, especially right now, because it reminds me to be hopeful, that we can (re)assemble, even from what seems irredeemably shattered. We can pull the pieces together, play with the harsh contrasts, appreciate the colors and sharp edges. We can make something of it. Even still.

Life is a work in progress.

Life Lessons

Knowing They’re There

img_1333I heard them before I saw them, heard them almost the whole time I was there, the cacophony reaching over the trees, across the marsh, elbowing against the wind.

Only a small flock of the snow geese floated in Gordon’s Pond where I was walking, but hundreds (thousands?) flew overhead, making their way to somewhere just west of me.

I was a little disappointed. I wanted to see their glistening white plumage with its striking black underside. But I knew they were there, took pleasure in hearing them until the wind and the surf and the distance between us finally erased their clamor but not their imprint.

~ ~ ~

prideHe gazed at the flags with a kind of longing. “Look at them….” he murmured in amazement. The bright rainbow stripes wrapped around young shoulders, heads of multi-hued hair above them, warm laughter bouncing across the grass. He’d never been so close to such a public display of pride.

“Let’s go talk to them,” I suggested, “maybe get a picture.”

A grin cracked open his practiced, hardened face, all white teeth, vulnerability and validation. I can still feel the glow coming off him, days later. He had found his people.

~ ~ ~

with-my-friendsWalking back, we guessed at the impact, wondered at our place in history.

At nineteen, he hadn’t needed his parents’ permission to come to the march. New to the States, they had been worried and feared for his safety. But he came anyway, wanting–needing, really–to be there, to feel seen and heard.

“What do you want to tell your parents when you get home?” I asked.

“I want them to know how much support we have,” he said. “Not just from Latinos, but everyone. So much support...

He lapsed into quiet as the insight sank in.

~ ~ ~

Post Script 1/29/2017: I drafted this post before the insanity of the last 48 hours had begun to unfold. Lacking anecdote but not appreciation, I’ll add national park rangers, scientists and lawyers to my list. For all of those who are staying up nights, finding ways to use the justice system and knowledge and wisdom and common sense to combat what Trump hath wrought: thank you. It is not just good to know you are there, it is important you are there.