art, community, compassion, experience, social media, technology, theatre, Washington

This just in: Dear Evan Hansen – theater review

Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage
Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage

As someone who’s used social media for everything from meeting new friends to learning to generating career opportunities to dating, I’ve been thinking a lot about the underside of social media. What if it doesn’t help us connect? What if people don’t like our posts or accept our invitations or offer support when we so clearly needed it? What if we do that hideous comparison game of viewing our own real lives with all their difficulties side-by-side with the perfect lives that people espouse to live via their shiny screens? If we already have anxiety, and who among us doesn’t?, interacting on social media is nearly as frightening as the real world. It’s yet another avenue for rejection and disconnection.

These are the kinds of questions and scenarios that Dear Evan Hansen raises in its gorgeous premiere production at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. The odd and awkward actions online and off that are showcased made me laugh, cry, and contemplate just how hard it is to wrestle through our digital world and navigate its border with the physical world.

There were so many times that my heart just hurt for Evan Hansen, a sweet and shy teenager who’s just trying to get by without having a breakdown. He doesn’t have a lot of friends—he never has—and his family life is less than ideal. He always feels separate and apart from the world around him. He’s someone with a good heart who just can’t connect with people, sometimes rubbing them the wrong way with his awkwardness. He reminded me of a man I used to know, a man I wish I still knew, who also suffers from the same social anxieties and misfortunes with people. I sent that man a virtual hug during the show, not online but in my heart, and I hope wherever he is that he felt it.

Unlike most musicals, Dear Evan Hansen‘s songs aren’t commercial breaks. They move the story along with power, grace, and humor in just the right amount at just the right time. Ben Platt’s voice and demeanor exudes charm and heartbreak, grace and raw honesty. I wanted to run up on stage numerous times, give him a hug, and tell him that it’s all going to be okay. Because that’s really all he needs to know—that someone’s going to stand by him, listen to him, and care about him, especially when he feels uncomfortable and frustrated. He needs to know that someone’s going to be patient with him when he can’t be patient with himself. Isn’t that what we all need and want? Isn’t that the real definition of love? Tom Stoppard said, “It’s no trick loving somebody at their best. Love is loving them at their worst.” I agree.

After seeing Dear Evan Hansen, I didn’t have the best weekend. I’ve got a few personal situations I’m juggling that feel sad and confusing. To be honest, I’m at a little bit of a loss of what to do, say, or feel. My heart and mind feel jumbled and tired. All I could think to do to feel better was smile more, reach out more, and feel more. The instinct might be to shrink away from discomfort, but thanks to Dear Evan Hansen, I leaned into my weekend. The results were mixed, but feeling all of it actually felt better.

And that’s the power of theater. It reminds us that we aren’t alone in our experiences. So much of what we think, feel, see, and bear is shared across space and time by so many others. At its core, Dear Evan Hansen is about friendship and our need to feel cared for and accepted, flaws and all. See it. You’ll walk away a better, kinder person for carrying this story with you online and off.

Dear Evan Hansen will be at Arena Stage until August 23rd. And I’m sure it will have a very long life in many cities across the country soon.

creativity, experience, fate, frustration, future

This just in: Place your bet on the Universe

Image from "Life in The Universe" documentary
Image from “Life in The Universe” documentary

“In the fight between you and the universe, back the universe.” ~Frank Zappa

Have you ever just wanted to understand why something has happened, why life has unfolded in this particular way that doesn’t match the vision we have for ourselves and our futures? I spend a lot of time thinking about this idea, and when something doesn’t go my way I often go through the classic stages of grief. Because let’s face it, having life not pan out as we hoped, in big and small ways, is a kind of loss or at least a recalibration of expectations. And it feels awful.

No matter what I’m facing, the idea I come back to is the one Frank Zappa references in this quote. I’ve got grand ideas about how life should go, and they rarely, if ever, happen. But here’s what I know to be true—never, not even once, have I looked back on any time in my life and said, “If life had gone the way I wanted it to go, I’d be so much better off now.”

The Universe always gets it right, and I’m so grateful for that. It’s so much wiser, more experienced, and generous to us than we are to ourselves. That knowledge temporarily stops the whirring in my mind. It stops the incessant analyzing, bargaining, and blaming that I usually direct inward in a moment of disappointment. It helps me smile, pick up, and go on. Double down on the Universe—it’s there to support you.

action, adventure, change, experience

This just in: Treasure the setbacks

Love the setbacks
Love the setbacks

I hate setbacks. They are a drag with a capital D. They’re also a natural, albeit nasty, part of life. Anyone who tries to create something or change something experiences them. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Come close and listen. Those setbacks are jewels. They are roadblocks in the best sense of the word. They make sure you don’t go down paths that aren’t meant for you and that you stay focused on the people who are meant to be in your life. Not everything, nor everyone, is your work to do.

So take the roadblocks as they come. Take a deep breath and look around for the clear way forward. It may be a different road than you envisioned but that’s the nature of adventure. It’s never how you imagine it to be. Relish the surprises and take them in stride. They’re there for a reason, and someday that reason will be clear. Trust.

career, experience, job

This just in: If resumes and experience were leading factors, Barack Obama would have never been President

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

I firmly believe that curious, passionate, and determined people can learn anything to do any job. Character is much more important than resume bullets. This idea is rare in the job search and hiring processes, and I think that’s a shame.

A friend of mine who is abundantly talented told me the other day that she was worried that she wasn’t qualified for jobs that really interested her. To bolster her confidence, I said this: if corporate recruiters were in charge of placing the next President the same way that they place people in other jobs, Barack Obama would have never made it onto the short list much less gotten the job. In 2008, if we compared his resume and experience side-by-side with Hilary Clinton and John McCain, he wouldn’t have made it through the phone screen with HR. He made it to the highest office on grit, passion, intellect, and charisma. He rose by lifting all of us and inspiring us during a dark and frightening time. He was a junior senator who hadn’t even served a full term in the U.S. Senate, and that was his first federal office. He made it on character, not by his resume.

Politics aside, if Barack Obama can get into office and figure out how to do the job of President of the United State of America in the midst of the worst recession in our history (to name just one of his many incredible challenges), we can figure out how to do any job. Stop second-guessing your talents and abilities. Don’t take yourself out of the running by not applying to jobs that really interest you. Throw your hat in the ring, explain your passion and commitment to getting the job done, and go for it! It worked for Barack Obama during the highest of stakes. It can work for us, too.

career, experience, work, writer, writing

Inspired: Writers are explorers

From Pinterest
From Pinterest

While I was in business school at Darden, I had an interview with an executive who took one look at my resume and said, “You’re an explorer.” He didn’t mean this as a compliment, but looking back I certainly see it as one. An explorer, a modern female Indiana Jones, is all I ever really wanted to be and now as a writer, I certainly, unabashedly, am. My only job as a writer is to see and hear things as clearly as I can, to uncover what lies hidden, to ask the hard questions of myself and others, to try on different lives in an effort to understand someone else’s reality. The best way to live in the world is not to fight our nature, but to embrace it with both arms.

dreams, experience, failure, fear

Inspired: A life of “oh well”s is a better than a life of “what if”s

From Pinterest

Part of the puzzle of pursuing a path that is meaningful to us involves learning to weather the tough times. I’ve had my fair share and I’m sure have many, many storms waiting for me around the bend. These few things help me to keep going when the going gets rough:

    • I look for the good. Every situation, no matter how difficult, has something good about it. A friend rises up to help in a way I never expected. I gain more compassion for other people who go through tough times. There’s always some light in the darkness.
    • I make sure I learn what go me into the tough situation and what will get me out. As long as I learn something to help me avoid making the same mistake again, I think of it as a win.
    • I stop. When I face a challenge, I step back and ask myself if I really carry enough about the end goal to keep going. This reflection helps me to understand my priorities.
    • I let myself feel really bad. Buddhism teaches us that the only way to move through adversity is to feel the full range of emotions it brings – anger, fear, sadness, disappointment, rage, etc. We have to give ourselves room to feel anything and everything that arises. Only after I’m truly done with those emotions do I pick up and try again. Don’t put a timeline on that process. Sometimes I bounce back almost immediately and sometimes it takes much longer than I’d like it to take. Emotions are like that. They can’t be forced to do anything. They just are. We have a right to all of our feelings and it’s healthy to exercise them.

Failure and disappointment are a part of every life. I don’t know a single person alive who’s ever gotten every single thing they ever wanted. When I fail or when I’m disappointed, I eventually remind myself that this means I tried to reach for something that meant a lot to me. I tried and in the process, I lived. When I look back, I’d rather have a life filled with “oh well” rather than a life filled with “what if”. 

adventure, creativity, experience

Inspired: Life in Beta

From Pinterest
From Pinterest

Aren’t we all in beta? Living, experimenting, evaluating, adjusting. We’re testing new ideas, new ways of being, doing, and seeing. My friend Amanda recently introduced to her friend Marsha, whose Twitter bio wittily reads “still in beta”. For me, that’s the only way to live. Let’s go have an adventure!

art, books, experience, yoga

Beautiful: We Have to Close Our Eyes to Really See

The Little Prince
The Little Prince

“Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from The Little Prince

“70% of our perception of the outside world comes through the eyes,” said my yoga teacher, Julia. I didn’t realize it was that disproportionate. The eyes are so powerful, so sophisticated that they overpower our other senses if we let them. Close the eyes, and we can hear, feel, smell, and taste with greater intensity. The information from these 4 senses is just as important as our sense of sight. Our combined senses lead us into our emotional intelligence. We need this give-and-take between our internal and external experiences. Together, they create the whole picture of our existence and help us to “see” clearly.

For a few minutes every day, I close my eyes during my waking hours and tap in. I scan my body for signs of change. I feel the ebb and flow of my breath. One of my favorite meditations is a sensory exploration. I imagine a place I’ve been or a place I’d like to go and I rotate through all of the senses to create a complete picture. What does the beach look like? How does it sound? What scents does it have? How does it taste? What does it feel like? And finally, how does it make me feel? This only takes a couple of minutes, and when I finally do open my eyes again, I find that a little piece of the beach is still with me. I carry right there, in my heart, and also in my nose, on my skin, in my mind’s eyes and ears, and even on my tongue.

From there, my experience of the world around me is richer because of what I’ve been able to imagine. Now I see not only what’s right in front of me, but also what’s possible which is almost always invisible to the eyes alone.

courage, experience, gratitude, story, strengths

Beautiful: I’m Glad I Lost Everything – 4 Years After My Apartment Building Fire

Use the fire of your living

“What matters most is how you walk through the fire.” – Charles Bukowski

4 years ago today, my apartment building caught fire and I lost almost everything I owned. I got out of the building just in time. A few moments later and I might not be here writing this post to you today. On that day if someone told me I’d be grateful for that fire, I probably would have punched them in the nose. Now I know better.

I’m more grateful than ever for that experience. Through that healing process, I found out what I’m made of, and I found out what so many other people are made of, too. I emerged from the other side of that grief a far better person than I was before. It was difficult, and many times it was awful and painful. A big part of me wanted to give up on remaking my life. A small part of me refused to give in. I listened to that small voice. I fed it, and eventually it grew loud enough to drown out the doubt. And if knowledge is power then I’m more powerful now than I ever dreamed I could be.

It doesn’t matter what challenges we face. What matters is how bravely we face them. It doesn’t matter how much nor how little we have, but how much we do with anything we have.