Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday Mistakes and Mastery

Sometimes December can feel like running a three ring circus as the stage lights slowly dim.  Five different things are going on at the same time, right as the theatre is about to go dark--there is a frenzy combined with exhaustion that is unique to this time of year.

This year I happen to be feeling it more than usual.  Work is drawing my time away from house and home.  The children are in three different schools.  The rain has finally returned, adding more mess and more chaos, and even more desire to snuggle down into bed or fill up a hot bath.

And after ten good years, our snow globe yard decoration 

has lost its steam.

Oh dear.

I feel like that myself a couple of times a day this month, and yet I am happy.

Two weeks ago I had the chance to chaperone my middle daughter's Brownie troop at the Girlscout Nutcracker workshop and performance down in San Jose.  And if I'm being honest, I did not start off the day with the best attitude.  First of all, the event took all day--all of a pre-Christmas, weekend day in December.  So there was that.  And then there was the fact that I was dubious about the performance I was going to have to sit through.  I was thinking--if I have to sit still on a pre-Christmas Sunday in December, I want to see the "real" Nutcracker, the one in San Francisco.  And then there were the logistics of ushering nearly twenty little ones for the day: lunches, bathroom trips, lost coats, you've been there.  So I was feeling a little grinchy.

But here's what happened.  As part of the workshop, we got a back stage tour of the San Jose Dance Theatre's Nutcracker performance, the longest running community based Nutcracker performance in the Bay Area.  We looked so closely at the staging you could see the brush strokes of the volunteers brushes.  We watched some of the performers, none professional dancers, practice on barre before the performance.  We listened to presentation by Girlscouts who gave us tastes of real sugar plums.  And we met the handful of moms dressed in black who maintain the army of costumes that a Nutcracker performance requires.  This year, they actually sew one of the dancers into her costume before she goes on stage, and then cut her out of it when it is time to go home for the night.  
And then there was the performance.  

Some dewdrops danced out of step.  The Russian dancers nearly dropped one of their leaping scene mates.  My daughter complained that when Drosselmeyer had his magical flying scene she could see the ropes.  Clara, though, had a brilliant night, as did her young prince.  And the two principals who had been hired to dance the pad de deux at the end of the ballet, they were magical, dancing their parts with the precise mastery that only emerges from long, hard serious training.

By the end, I was in tears, because I got something important for the first time.  The Nutcracker Ballet was written in 1892 by Tchaikovsky as the Christmas recital piece for the Imperial Ballet School of St. Petersburg.  It was intended to be a performance that included a range of dancers and dancing ability.  In the community performance by the San Jose Dance Theatre I experienced the Nutcracker, for the first time, in the way I imagined it was intended--as a performance for an entire community.  I saw how inclusive it was, and how the arc of the ballet led up to the final pas de deux.  I saw, really for the first time, that the Sugar Plum Fairy is Clara's guide to the dancing life, and that Clara's wintery dream is about growing up.  I always knew this about the ballet, but I really felt it in this one.  What I didn't know, what I had never felt before, was the wholeness of it--how fitting the mis-steps of the beginners are in this Christmas performance, and how important it is to the story to have all of it together.

So as we plow into the last week before Christmas, into the final week of the circus and the dimming light, this is what I am holding in my heart--the blessing of wholeness, the chance for even one second to hold the mistakes and the mastery in one hand, the frenzy and the rest, the dark and the light.  I saw it, right there, for a magical moment in the San Jose Dance Theatre's Nutcracker.    

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Holiday Leap

Friends, meet Sharon Wong.  She attended our November 2nd Event and took a leap.  At the event that day she decided to launch the Palo Alto chapter of The Shoebox Project, a charitable initiative that packages holiday gifts for women in transitional shelters.  

Here's the leap that she posted at the event!

Since that day a burst of grassroots goodwill has been spreading in our community as more and more people participate.  Groups of friends are hosting shoebox parties, businesses are offering donations, shelters are reaching out and asking to connect with this kind of support for their clients.  Kirsten, Brette and I will be hosting a party of our own on Wednesday December 10th at the University Club in Palo Alto if you want to stop by.

I had the chance to talk with Sharon about taking her leap.  In the interview below she shares some of what she's learned so far.  

My favorite Sharon-quote:  "I saw the cause was bigger than my fear of failure." 

Sharon, in a really short time you've successfully launched the Palo Alto chapter of The Shoebox Project.  What was it about the Playing Big event that got you into action? Why did you choose this idea?
I attended the Playing Big talk not knowing what to expect.  I went mostly to support my friend Kirsten Romer, who co-organized the event. However Tara Mohr's opening words, "You are all brilliant women playing small" inspired me to take on something new.  We all have fantastic ideas and dreams in our head that we don't make a priority, so it's great to get motivated.  I'm originally from Ottawa Canada, and duing my visit last year, I recalled seeing a picture of a car trunk full of shoeboxes filled with basic neccessities being sent to a women's shelter.  I  thought this would be a meaningful cause to bring to my community because it was a simple, hands-on way to make a difference and brighten the day of women needing encouragement and support.  I like that all ages can participate and that it can be done with a group of friends or by yourself at home, on your own time. 

What were the first three steps that you took and how did it feel taking them?

My first step was to start telling others about the project.  At this point I had decided to do it, but I knew if I told others, I couldn't back out of it the next day.  
Based on people's responses, my second step was to ask them if they wanted to get involved in the project, because I knew I would need support and couldn't do everything on my own.
My third step was to set deadlines for myself, so the project would stay in motion and be completed with an end date.  I realized I had to start immediately to have enough boxes for D
ecember 25th.
What has been the biggest surprise for you in taking on this project?
My biggest concern was that this project was dependent on others' participation during a busy time of the year.  However, the generosity of others has exceeded my expectations.  I received two boxes the next morning after I sent out my initial request.  Some of the boxes I've received really show how much people care.  Many strangers have emailed me asking how they can do more.  Businesses have generously donated. It's wonderful to see the different ways people are willing to help others in need. 

From the outside, the kinds of actions you've been taking look a lot like what I would consider Playing Big. Do you think this is your version of Playing Big? If so, what does it feel like to be Playing Big?
This was my first time leading a charity project so I wanted to start with an attainable goal.  As my project grew, I grew braver with it. When a second shelter reached out to me with a shoebox request, I saw the cause was bigger than my fear of failure, so I said yes, not quite knowing how we would achieve it. I'm thrilled that people from across the US are now asking me how to start a Shoebox Project in their region.  When you're doing something out of your previous realm of possibility and comfort zone, that to me is the essence of Playing Big.  I've realized that Playing Big is a state of mind.  You can apply the attitude to your daily activities.

What are you learning from your experience with the Shoebox Project? How does this shape your hopes and dreams for the future?
I've realized you don't need to overthink a unique, complex innovation to attain change for yourself or others, you just need to take that first leap. If you fall, just take another leap.  Once you have a meaningful goal, it's not about you and your inner critic anymore and you become braver and stronger when faced with obstacles. I like Tara Mohr's quote, "Be more loyal to your dreams than your fears."

Sharon would love to hear from you.  She can be reached at @thesharonwong on Twitter, or if you see her around Palo Alto, stop and say hi!