art, creativity, film, movie

Inspired: Life and career lessons from the movie Chef

A scene from Chef
A scene from Chef

Last week I watched the movie Chef. It’s about a restaurant chef who achieved a certain level of success, settled into the mediocrity of popular food, experienced an ugly and public fall from grace, and then dismantled everything in order to rediscover his passion for his craft. There are many lessons embedded in the movie that got my wheels turning:

  • To launch an arrow, it must first be drawn back. We can choose to make setbacks the guts of a new foundation.
  • To succeed, our work has to be rooted in love. There is no luster without light, and love is the light.
  • If we are drones, in work and in life, then a serious shake-up is required. This won’t be comfortable but it’s necessary.
  • If we say we will never do something, rest assured that is exactly the thing we eventually must do.

Our failures are the basis of some of our very best work if we allow them to be. With a steady mind and a wild spirit, anything is possible.

art, dreams, film, movie

Inspired: Robin Williams, you were one of the great ones

“You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!” ~ Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society

I saw Dead Poets Society in the theaters when it first opened. I went with both of my parents, a rare family outing in my house. Robin Williams won my heart that night. That story and his performance changed me from the inside out, forever. He struck a chord within me that made me a dreamer, and has kept me dreaming every day since. He inspired me to go home that night and write a poem entitled “Carpe Diem” as a way to encourage my 13-year-old self to keep striving and reaching for exactly the life I want even though my future at that point didn’t seem very bright to me. He showed me that I have a voice, a point-of-view, a verse to contribute that matters. And that realization is no small gift.

It was with a heavy heart and tear-filled eyes that I heard about his passing yesterday, another brilliant artist taken down by his own demons. I hope from the other side he can now see just how much light he brought to so many of us who needed his humor during our own dark times. Rest in peace.

creativity, film, movie, music

Inspired: Are You 20 Feet from Stardom?

20 Feet From Stardom
20 Feet From Stardom

If you haven’t seen the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom about the history of backup singers, you must. Their stories of passion, music, persistence, and dedication will make you cry, laugh, and reflect on your own life and talents. Here’s the best thing I learned from it: you must shine your own light on your talent. You can’t wait for nor expect someone else to do it.

comedy, creativity, film, health, movie

Inspired: Bill Murray and Comedy Changed How I See Mental Illness

Bill Murray in What About Bob?
Bill Murray in What About Bob?

This is the power of comedy: it opens up our minds by first making us laugh and then making us think long and hard about the truth underneath that laughter. Over the weekend, I made some additional edits to my play, Sing After Storms. There’s only one pop culture reference in the play and it refers to Bill Murray’s performance in the film What About Bob?. While we often think of What About Bob? as a comedy, and it certainly is, that movie had a different long-term effect on me that only rose into my consciousness as I was writing Sing After Storms. Clinical OCD (Bob’s illness) is a debilitating, terrifying condition. It keeps people confined and isolated by an intense fear of death. It deeply affected how I think about mental illness and it’s impact on an individual’s potential in a way that a dramatic film wouldn’t have done. If we can make people laugh, we can also move them to action. It’s a lesson I’m trying to bring into my writing and it’s perhaps the toughest artistic challenge I have today. Comedy isn’t easy but I’ve seen that its rewards are so rich.

art, commitment, creativity, determination, film, Second Step

Inspired: The Long Road Toward The Wolf of Wall Street

Leo laughing in the face of adversity, on-screen and off
Leo laughing in the face of adversity, on-screen and off

I thought Leonardo DiCaprio had some sort of magic Hollywood wand that makes everything he touches turn to gold. I was completely wrong. Even with his passion and commitment, it took Leo 7 years to get The Wolf of Wall Street made. Like Matthew McConaughey and Dallas Buyers Club (who incidentally is also in The Wolf of Wall Street), Leo refused to give up on the film and chipped away at Hollywood until he lined up the right partners and the right funding. In our own creative pursuits, we sometimes struggle to get something to go in the direction we want it to take. We grease the skids of our own imaginations over and over again without much movement. It’s often akin to getting a car parked on ice to move. Don’t let the hard work and slow progress deter you. Keep at it knowing you’re in good company. Eventually, the ice relents (or melts) and we’re on our way.

art, change, courage, film, inspiration, movie, work

Inspired: The Un-branding of Matthew McConaughey Built Dallas Buyers Club

An unglamorous Matthew McConaughey in The Dallas Buyers Club
An unglamorous Matthew McConaughey in The Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey was on CBS Sunday Morning to talk about his un-branding. In a world where branding in all its many forms seem inescapable, it was refreshing to hear someone talk about chucking it all out the window and what’s come of his efforts. Known as a guy’s guy / romantic lead, McConaughey is nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Dallas Buyers Club in which he plays a homophobic rodeo cowboy who is diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. He meets, befriends, and starts an illegal business with a transsexual who also has HIV. In Texas. Based on a true story. What?!

While Dallas Buyers Club is now a contender for several Oscars, for a long time it seemed destined to never see the light of day. 137 potential producers turned it down over several years before it found the funding, and the week before shooting was set to begin, they still didn’t have all the money they needed. They pushed on anyway. They just wouldn’t give up.

McConaughey was committed to the making of this film and the remaking of his own career in the process. For two years he turned down everything that fit the image that made him famous because he wanted to send a clear and persistent message that he would only take challenging roles that scared him. He wanted a complete career shake-up. While that was a personal choice, he certainly didn’t want to be largely unemployed for two years. Yet, that’s what it took. Two years of no work to prove that he was serious about taking his career in a new direction.

When I first heard this I thought, “Big deal. He’s probably got so much money that if he never works again he and his family will be just fine. Was he really taking such a big risk?”

And then I thought about what a shark tank the world of work can be, to say nothing of the world of work in Hollywood. He could have kept right on doing what worked, what he was good at, and raking in the money in the process. No one would have batted an eye at that and he would have gotten plenty of pats on the back for a job well done. Instead, he risked failing in a big way and throwing away an image and a career that have served him well that couldn’t have been recovered. They just didn’t feel good to him anymore, so he tossed them in favor of the unknown, something that made him feel alive again. Dallas Buyers Club is the result of that work. Was it worth it? All signs point to yes.

art, creativity, film, movie, war

Inspired: How the Monuments Men Saved Italy’s Artistic Heritage

The cast of The Monument Men
The cast of The Monument Men

While generals were in war rooms plotting and re-plotting ways to defeat Hitler and the Nazi forces, a small band of brothers thought of art. Specifically, they thought of Italian art. Next month, the movie The Monuments Men and its star-studded cast will pay tribute to these soldiers who thought of art in a time of war. During World War II, Italy was at risk for being pillaged and pummeled beyond hope. Supported by President Roosevelt, the Monuments Men made it their business and risked their lives to make sure that didn’t happen. Today, Italians and tourists alike can delight in the glory of Italian art because of these brave soldiers.

Smithsonian Magazine did a marvelous and in-depth article on the Monuments Men in their January issue. You can view that article online by clicking here. It is an emotional, riveting read. It made me want to run out and buy my tickets to the movie right now. We owe so much to these men who had the foresight and courage to save priceless and inspiring treasures for future generations.

Trailer for The Monuments Men:

business, film, marketing, media

Beautiful: Giving Without Asking For Anything In Return. Now That’s Advertising.

Have you seen “Giving”, a short 3-minute film created by TrueMove, a Thai mobile telecommunications company? It tells the story of two families – one facing extreme hardship and the other in a position to help. It showcases the beauty of giving without expecting anything in return. I saw it during a digital storytelling session at Advertising Week. This might just be the best 3 minutes of your day. And who knows – maybe it will inspire you to take action in your own community.

education, film, teaching, television

Beautiful: Finally a Reality Show that Celebrates Real Heroes – Teachers

_MG_0785bOn Friday night, I caught the airing of Teach, the new documentary by Davis Guggenheim. It gave me chills, in a very good way. As someone who was saved, literally, by my education, I know that it is a gift that can turn a life around, that can take someone in an entirely new direction beyond their wildest dreams.

Bravo to CBS for putting such an incredible piece of filmmaking on prime time TV. Kate O’Hare of did a wonderful write up of the show:

“The actions of teachers unions – whether protecting bad teachers, protesting against politicians (or marching for them), and promoting education “reforms” that often seem more about social issues than the three Rs — often capture the interest of the media, overshadowing the day-to-day work of teachers trying to do the best job they can.

In 2010, filmmaker Davis Guggenheim directed and co-wrote“Waiting for Superman,” a documentary that took a frank look at the failures of the American educational system as it showed parents trying to get their children in charter schools.

Much of the media attention for the film focused on a segment that showed how teachers unions fiercely protect political alliances and policies and teachers’ job security, often at the expense of needed financial overhauls.

In a two-hour special called “Teach,”airing Friday, Sept. 6, on CBS, Guggenheim puts the focus back on exceptional teachers, following four public-school instructors through the 2012-2013 school year.

The special also kicks off an 18-month campaign by production company Participant Media, in partnership with, to urge students and recent graduates to go into teaching.

“I believe teachers are heroes and have the ability to make an incredible impact in the long-term future of our kids,” says Guggenheim in a statement. “The airing of ‘Teach’ on CBS is another milestone in Participant’s long-term commitment to raise the visibility of the teaching profession and support efforts to recruit the next generation of great educators.”

•The teachers profiled are: Matt Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher at McGlone Elementary School in Denver; Shelby Harris, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade math at Kuna Middle School in Kuna, Idaho; 10th-grade AP world-history teacher Joel Laguna at Garfield High in Los Angeles; and Lindsay Chinn, a ninth-grade algebra teacher at MLK Early College, Denver.

•All the educators featured strive for excellence, using conventional and unconventional methods.
Follow Zap2it on Twitter and Zap2it on Facebook for the latest news and buzz”
dreams, film, SXSW

Leap: My Favorite SXSW 2012 Moment

From Pinterest member

“Dream as big as you can.” ~ Ben Henretig

I attended my favorite panel at SXSW by accident. A lovely woman attended the yoga class I was teaching. When I told her that I teach through Compass Yoga, my nonprofit, she told me that I should go to the panel down the hall entitled Mother Goose Got Punk’d: Next Gen Storytelling. The panel consisted of photographers and filmmakers who dedicate their careers to telling the stories of mission-driven people and organizations. They offered practical advice, inspiration, and encouragement on how to drive home a message to support a cause.

After the session, the panelists headed to a lounge nearby for a meetup. I usually don’t talk to people after panels. I get shy and rarely feel comfortable rushing the table once the mike goes out. However, I loved this topic so much and wanted to meet the panelists to tell them about Compass. At the meetup, I spoke with Ben Henretig, Creative Director of Micro-documentaries, a company dedicated to helping nonprofits create short-form videos to illustrate their work.

I told Ben about Compass and found out that he is also a yoga and meditation teacher, has been to India to study, and really believe in the practice. “You have a system that heals people and this is the right time for it. Dream bigger and bigger and bigger and don’t give up.” I walked away from our brief conversation feeling both inspired and with a small inkling that this conversation served a very specific – to let me know that this is the right path, that there is no turning back, and that this cause is needed in the world. My favorite SXSW 2012 moment.