The 12 days of Story [for the Unexpected Life]

Joyous holidays, dear friends!

 

On this day designed for surprises, a few realities have come into sharp focus: 1) How God caught the world off guard, showing up in skin with the voice of a baby; 2) How every angel trying to give someone a heads-up about God’s coming initially freaked the person out; and 3) How unexpected my life has been.

 

I recently heard someone say there are no good surprises after you’re a kid. Once you age out of the joy of the unknown, you’re simply left with the feeling of being out of control.

 

It’s my 5th Christmas as an entrepreneur, and not a day goes by without reminders of what I cannot control. So…I am praying for greater joy in the surprises.

 

I love how Abraham Joshua Heschel summed himself up: “I have one talent, and that is the capacity to be tremendously surprised, surprised at life, at ideas. This is to me the supreme Hasidic imperative: Don’t be old. Don’t be stale.”

 

As we celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas, I can’t resist reflecting on my Unexpected Life for the next 12 days and invite you to do the same. Let’s end the year bemused and amazed that our own stories can still surprise us…in the best of ways.

 

And to begin…here’s A Christmas Blessing by John O’Donohue…and a reminder that we too have angels, coming not to freak us out but to invite us to courage.

 

“May the Angels in their beauty bless you.
May they turn toward you streams of blessing.
May the Angel of Awakening stir your heart
To come alive to the eternal within you,
To all the invitations that quietly surround you.
May the Angel of Healing turn your wounds
Into sources of refreshment.
May the Angel of the Imagination enable you
To stand on the true thresholds,
At ease with your ambivalence
And drawn in new direction
Through the glow of your contradictions.
May the Angel of Compassion open your eyes
To the unseen suffering around you.
May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places
Where your life is domesticated and safe,
Take you to the territories of true otherness
Where all that is awkward in you
Can fall into its own rhythm.
May the Angel of Eros introduce you
To the beauty of your senses
To celebrate your inheritance
As a temple of the holy spirit.
May the Angel of Justice disturb you
To take the side of the poor and the wronged.
May the Angel of Encouragement confirm you
In worth and self-respect,
That you may live with the dignity
That presides in your soul.
May the Angel of Death arrive only
When your life is complete
And you have brought every given gift
To the threshold where its infinity can shine.
May all the Angels be your sheltering
and joyful guardians.”

 

May you be surprised by joy in your Unexpected Life,

Tam

“Don’t eat alone.” And other sage advice humpback whales gave me.

At a critical point in life I got schooled by some humpback whales. To this day I’m still learning to take their advice.

 

It was a July day four years ago when I found myself dashing to the side of a boat, slip-sliding and fumbling for my phone. Awe had seemed to seize my muscles. Words wouldn’t form but our boat was awash with ooohs and awwws.

 

While boating along the Kenai Peninsula we had happened upon a group of humpback whales bubble net feeding. These humpbacks were in a circle jumping, splashing, looking like they were playing a children’s game. I was witnessing divine magic.

 

Yet, this wasn’t play. It was a survival skill…and a raucous feast. This practice of bubble net feeding is apparently a learned skill, not a natural habit. They come together to blow bumbles to trap schools of fish. (Here’s a fabulous short video explaining how it works.)

 

The popular theory is that they decided to not eat alone after being hunted to almost extinction. By coming together and creating this net of bumbles they increase their odds of all eating.

 

As I mentioned, I witnessed this four years ago.  At the beginning of that summer I had shoved my belongings in storage to see if I could design a non-traditional career for a season. I had headed off to Cuba to chase a story and explore independent filmmaking. I also led a service trip to Haiti and then set off to Alaska to lead another one.

 

I had no idea what I was in for. When I filled that storage unit on that Memorial Day weekend I thought I’d retrieve my belongings by Labor Day and have a traditional career sorted out again.

 

Four years later, a traditional career seems like a distant memory. To be quite candid, my career was never traditional in the type of work, but I did have a salary and benefits. What I had back then was a sense of job security, financial security, and frankly false security.

 

Swimming in these “non-traditional career” waters has been challenging—ok, heart-pounding scary at times. More than once I have felt on the brink of extinction…out on my own as a humpback whale trying to live off of minnows.

 

The gig economy can be so isolating. The entrepreneurial world can seem like shark infested waters. Going solo can feel like being hunted.

 

But when I’ve remembered “not to eat alone” I have been able to do what I couldn’t on my own. During this time I have had the opportunity to work on multiple continents, meet remarkable people, tell some incredible stories and co-found two companies.

 

When I have circled up with others, I have been energized, nourished and at times it has felt like divine magic.

 

The phrase that keeps coming back to me is this:

 

Community creates capacity.

 

I can’t help writing about this again and again because it feels like my survival depends on it. And while I gain energy with people and love to collaborate, I still try “to eat alone” way too much these days. Without the structure of an office and the rhythm of a team, I can forget the power of community.

 

So I’m learning to ask myself: What’s one thing I can do to create community today?

 

Today, it’s writing this blog and asking YOU what you do to not eat alone? How are you creating community?

 

Do tell.

 

And feel free to share any advice you’ve gotten from humpback whales or other creatures.

Day 27 of 40 Days of Story: Who’s your Sherpa? And why do great stories—including yours—need them?

Many years ago I fell in love with a Sherpa. Well, it was the idea of a Sherpa.

 

I was building out a leadership structure for a large group of volunteers. I searched for an inspiring vision for the leaders of my leaders.

 

The term coach felt overplayed. But when the metaphor of Sherpa came to mind it was magic! There’s the technical term for Sherpa that means “a member of a Tibetan people living on the high southern slopes of the Himalayas in eastern Nepal and known for providing support for foreign trekkers and mountain climbers[1]. But here’s the idea of Sherpa that entranced me: a skilled guide who has been where you long to go. It’s someone who has knowledge, resources and commitment to take you there.

 

However, a Sherpa doesn’t carry you or make the decision for you go further or quit.

 

The concept of Sherpa galvanized my leaders of leaders. And when I’ve paused to realize my own need for a Sherpa it has served me well. And when I haven’t, well there’s been some unnecessary suffering in my life.

 

Exhibit A: Four years ago I shoved my belongings in storage and headed to Cuba to chase a story. I became taken with Cubans’ creativity and grit. I couldn’t shake this sense I needed to do a film. But I had never independently directed a documentary.

 

I was torn. I had this desire—and drive—but was daunted by the process.

 

As my drive and then desire were on the brink of diminishing I went on search for my Sherpas. I connected with several accomplished filmmakers. They gave me practical advice…and told me the path would be very tough. I was so grateful for everyone’s helpful advice, but there was one internationally acclaimed filmmaker’s words that cut me to the core. She told me about the one film she never finished. In the midst of all her award-winning films, that story still haunts her.

 

I knew I couldn’t quit. I did an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to return to Cuba for a month. I researched, threw parties on rooftops to meet great Cubans, found my Director of Photography. And yet…I realized I was only getting started.

 

I teamed up with a couple of friends to lead cultural-exchange trips to Cuba to fund the filming. It was such an invigorating experience to invite friends from the US to meet amazing new friends in Cuba. Yet, it eventually became clear this approach wasn’t sustainable for the long-haul.

 

If I didn’t get more resources and take a different approach this would be that unfinished project that would haunt me.

 

As I was wrestling with having made such progress—and others investing in me—and yet feeling stuck, a brilliant entrepreneur friend contacted me. We ended up co-founding a media company and he had a great sense that the project should become a series rallying a community, building an asset and not having just a one and done documentary. We got to Sherpa each other—he guided me in business and I got to guide him in storytelling.

 

If I hadn’t had my Sheraps on the journey I know Startup Cuba would have never existed.

 

So, who are your guides in this season? Perhaps a better starting question is: Where do you need guides?

 

I most need a guide when I am stuck. I know I’m stuck when my desire and drive are diminishing to accomplish an important goal.

 

Then I must ask, is there someone who has accomplished this goal I can ask for help? Who has the needed knowledge and resources and who has–or can be invited to have–a vested interest in me achieving it?

 

Now that we’re half-way through 2019, it’s a great time to assess your need for a Sherpa.

 

I’d love to hear about your search for a Sherpa and when one has served you well.

 

Do tell.

 

And I promise to let you know when I fall in love with a Sherpa!

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Sherpa

 

Day 26 of 40 Days of Story: What’s the Soundtrack of Your Story Right Now?

I’m curious what your go-to-on-repeat-can’t-get-out-of-your-head song is today.

 

Mine? Come Along by Cosmo Sheldrake.

 

It’s quirky and merry and I fell head over heels with it on the first play.

 

It’s a young relationship. It’s only been a week since I first heard it. I was on a road-trip with some new friends. We had the top down on my little bug driving at the beach and decided to take turns being DJ. It was a blast to get to know these new friends through their music choices.

Music holds so much power.

 

Among its many powers, I believe it can be a potent guide in our story. That’s why I try to pause every couple of months and ask myself, “What’s the soundtrack of my story right now?” Sometimes I think of song to match my sense of where my story is but other times I simply pay attention to what song I’m most drawn to at the moment.

 

Today Come Along entices me to take beautiful and bold risks—risks to keep building my startup, keep showing up to relationships, keep throwing my lot in with whole-hearted living and hope in the infinite generosity of God.

 

“There’s no such thing as time to kill
Nor time to throw away
So, once for the bright sky, twice for the pig sty
Thrice for another day

Come, come, come, come, come along now
Run away from the hum-drum
We’ll go to a place that is safe from
Greed, anger and boredom

We’ll dance and sing ’til sundown
And feast with abandon
We’ll sleep when the morning comes
And we’ll rise by the sound of the birdsongs.”

 

So, what’s the soundtrack of your story right now? I’d love to hear and why?

 

 

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