What listening to dozens of writers has taught me about life

What listening to authors has taught me about life

I have always LOVED listening to writers. If you ask me to go to an event where an author is speaking, I’ll probably say yes.

I saw Elizabeth Gilbert in the basement of a Barnes & Noble right after Eat, Pray, Love came out – and right before she became uber-famous. Half her family was sitting in the basement of that bookstore AND Richard from Texas was there. They both signed my copy. (Which, sadly, was lost somewhere in all my moves.)

Jacquelyn Mitchard came to my dorm in college and told us that she writes ideas for her books on post-it notes and tosses them into a plastic container in her closet. When the container is full, she knows it’s time to start writing.

Ann Patchett outlines her entire book and then sits down to write it in single draft. Of course it’s edited, but she knows EXACTLY what is going to happen in the whole book when she sits down to write.

Brené Brown got stuck while writing one of her books and invited a bunch of friends to a working weekend on the beach where she told them her stories and they helped her finish the book.

Colson Whitehead, Chris Van Allsburg, Nicole Krauss, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan…they all have a different story.

You know what I learned from listening to all these amazing writers?

THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO WRITE A BOOK.

There is only figuring out the way that is going to work for you.

This is true for everything in life. Yes, you can listen to mentors and get advice from people that have gone before you. But then you have to turn inward, listen to yourself, to your true inner voice, and decide what’s going to work FOR YOU.

You get to decide the right way to do your career, to parent, eat, and take care of yourself. You get to decide the right way to do LIFE.

There are many great paths. You get to choose the ones that are right for you.

 

If you know something needs to change in the way you work and live and want guidance figuring out the right way for YOU to do life, schedule a free coaching consultation with me now. We’ll get underneath what’s holding you back and figure out if coaching is the right solution for you.

A Letter To My Fear

Minneapolis sunrise

This past June was a month of uncertainty for me. I had internally decided to leave my job and become an entrepreneur, but I hadn’t actually pulled the trigger. About 90% of the time I was excited for the possibilities. The other 10% of the time I felt like someone had wrapped a corset around my lungs and pulled the strings tight. I questioned the sanity of my decision to leave my safe, steady job and pursue a path that could lead to failure. After all, I hadn’t actually quit my job. I could still change my mind.

But in my heart I knew that I couldn’t change my mind. I was already on this path. I was moving ahead and fear was just going to be part of the journey.

I remembered reading a letter that Elizabeth Gilbert had written to her fear in Big Magic and I decided to do the same. I had no intention of sharing this publicly, but a colleague suggested that it might help others to manage their fear.

It’s taken me five months to get the courage to share the letter. I feel vulnerable just typing this introduction. But I also believe that vulnerability is the key to growth, so here it is:

Heather – You are becoming the person that you want to be. Stepping fully into yourself. Expressing what you have to offer to the world. You are taking the time to design life on your own terms and release the expectations you have created for yourself or others have impressed upon you over many years. Heather, you are creativity, and when you reach into that creativity and act from your heart without ego, your light is unstoppable.

 And, Heather, you know that stepping into the light can be scary. Light exposes flaws, makes it harder to hide when things go poorly, all eyes on you. But remember when this fear washes over you and you feel vulnerable to the eyes of the world – a life in the light is also warm. It is open, illuminating, and free. It embraces your beauty and also your imperfections knowing that’s what makes you real. You’ve known for a long time that perfection is unattainable – it’s now time to act on that knowledge.

But the most important thing to remember, Heather, is that a life in the light isn’t about you at all. It is the light you give to others that matters. And only by stepping into the light and bathing yourself in its radiance do you have light to give to others. Overflowing radiance. What might be possible with overflowing radiance?

So when the fear creeps in and sucks the breath from your lungs and the energy from your heart, take a deep breath and turn towards the light, towards the possibilities, inward to your creativity and outward in overflowing radiance.

I’ve read this letter countless times since I wrote it in June. Whenever I feel the fear edge in, this letter gives me the pep talk I need to move forward with confidence. The fear doesn’t disappear entirely – and I wouldn’t want it to. A little fear gives me a sense of urgency and pushes me forward – into the light, into my creativity, and outward in overflowing radiance.

 

Heather Whelpley is a coach and speaker that works with women to master doubt and imposter syndrome and own their brilliance. Learn more about her coaching services here.

Belonging to the World

There are times when I feel like I belong nowhere, like I’ll never fit in. And then there are times when I feel like I belong everywhere all at once. When I sense the pulsing thread of humanity connecting me to every person on Earth. Those moments when I know our commonality is more powerful than any difference between us.

An experience from my recent trip to Europe epitomizes this feeling.

While in Bled, Slovenia I went on a tour through the Julian Alps. Our group of 17 consisted of families from Australia and Malta, couples from Malaysia and Britain, female friends from Singapore, our Slovenian guides, and me. We piled into two vans for a full day of hiking, waterfalls, and white-water rafting.

In hour eleven of our twelve-hour tour we shared a round of beer and loaded the vans onto a car train to return to our starting point in Bled.

I was in a van with the family from Malta (two college-aged daughters and their parents) and the couple from Malaysia. While our van chugged along the railroad tracks through the mountains, I started to ask questions about Malta, a place I knew nothing about. Soon one of the daughters was singing an old Maltese folk song about a pastry. It was recommended that I eat this pastry if I visit Malta, but I was warned to be careful how I asked for it because the word for the pastry also meant a certain body part it resembled.

We had a few laughs over that one. And that’s when the riddles, jokes, and one-minute mysteries started.

A few didn’t quite cross the language barrier.

“What has ears, but can’t hear?” one of the girls from Malta asked.

I paused. Nothing came to mind. “I give up. What is it?”

“A pot!”

No hint of recognition from me or the Malaysian couple. “Huh?”

Lesson learned – the Maltese word for the handles on a pot also means “ears.”

But most of them translated impeccably well. I had even told some to my students in the US when I taught environmental education years ago.

“What goes around the world but stays in a corner?” – A postage stamp!

“What has a head and a tail, but no body?” – A coin!

“You’re lost in the woods and you come upon a cabin with a candle, dry wood for a fire, and a kerosene lamp. You only have one match. What do you light first?” – The match!

The Maltese family and I also shared “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Whoops” with the Malaysian couple. Who knew this silly game was played the same way in two countries 5,000 miles apart that spoke different languages?

There was so much laughter. It was the laughter of children playing child’s games even though there were no kids in the van. It was the joy of people from different corners of the globe recognizing similarity in each other. The freedom of being fully present, enjoying the company of strangers that felt like friends for a moment.

Two nights later I was sitting in a café in the small capital city of Ljubljana chatting with a couple from Texas while my waiter brought me his favorite Slovenian craft beers. The family from Malta happened to walk by and stopped to say hello. I stood up and gave each of them a hug. In that moment I felt like I could belong anywhere.

And so, in those times when I feel like the odd person out, like I’m weird and different and don’t fit in, or when it feels like division has more power than unity, I remind myself of the riddles in the back of the van. Of the collective belonging felt through laughter shared equally across continents, the simplicity of human connection, and the strength in our commonality.

 

NOTE: This blog post was equally inspired by my experiences in Slovenia and Brené Brown’s new book on true belonging, Braving the Wilderness and, in particular, the Maya Angelou quote she shared: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all.”

 

Heather Whelpley is a coach and speaker that works with women to master doubt and imposter syndrome and own their brilliance. Learn more about her coaching services here.

Life Lessons From a Taxi Driver

International portraits

I emerged from the airport terminal into brisk February air and accelerated my pace towards the open trunk of a minivan in the taxi queue. “Taxi?” the exceptionally tall driver asked rhetorically as I approached the van.

“Yes” I confirmed, lifting my suitcase into the trunk.

I climbed through the side door of the minivan and placed my backpack on the floor between the cargo seats. I sunk into the chair and took a deep breath to release the hurried pace of the airport. The soft scent of mint in the van seeped into my senses and triggered memories of a long-past trip to Morocco.

“Where to?”

“I live off 94 and Hennepin/Lyndale exit.” The door slid closed beside me and we pulled away from the airport. I instinctively reached for my phone. “How was your flight?” the driver asked as I texted my Mom to let her know I was back in Minnesota.

“Easy. We even landed early! There were 10 minutes of bad turbulence – one jolt was so bad that everyone gasped – but other than that everything was good.”

I opened Facebook and started to scroll. “Where did you go?” I looked up from the phone, fighting between the urge to be polite and the desire to stay in my own little world. Politeness won.  I turned off the screen and set the phone in my lap.

“I was in Florida visiting my parents. It was really nice – good weather, relaxing. It was great to get some sunshine and warm air! Although it feels pretty good here tonight. I’m hoping that the really cold weather is done for the winter.” My words echoed the common desire of every Minnesotan for an early spring.

I took a closer look at the man driving me home. Most of the taxi drivers I’d encountered in Minnesota were from Somalia or Ethiopia, but it was clear he wasn’t from eastern Africa. His perfect English was accented, so I knew he had started his life elsewhere. Intrigue over this man’s story quickly prevailed over the pull of my Facebook page. “Where are you from originally?

“Turkey.” His tone was warm and invited further conversation.

“I’ve never been, but I would love to visit Turkey! Where in Turkey are you from?” The country was near the top of my travel list.

“A small town near the coast 200 miles from Istanbul. We own a big house there and used to raise Arabian horses.” I had a vision of this broad man riding an equally broad horse in the Turkish countryside with a large white Mediterranean-style mansion in the background. My curiosity was piqued.

“What made you move to Minnesota?”

We veered right onto 35W and headed north towards downtown Minneapolis. “My brother is a doctor at the University of Minnesota and we came here 11 years ago for our kid’s education.”

Quite a selfless act to move to the other side of the world for your children’s education. I wondered what other sacrifices he had made.

“My oldest son is a professor at the University of Arizona,” he continued with pride in his voice. “My daughter is also in college and my youngest son studies soft computer engineering at the University of Minnesota.”

I noted his first mistake with English since starting the conversation. “Software engineering! That’s a great field.”

“Yes. My wife and I will be going back to Turkey when he is finished with school.” His resolution was clear.

“Do you like it here?” The Minneapolis skyline came into view through the windshield.

“Oh’ yes,” he assured me. “Minneapolis is a beautiful city. Clean and very friendly people.”

“Good. I’m glad that people have been nice to you.” I was relieved to hear his experience in my home state had been positive.

“Oh’ yes,” he repeated. “Beautiful people here.”

“Sometimes I think Minnesotans can be hard to get to know.”

“Well, all people are just people. They become your friends; your family.” His words lodged squarely in my heart. Goosebumps spread down my arms.

“I think you’re right. All people are just people. No matter where you are in the world.”

Our conversation turned mundane as we drove the last mile to my condo. I asked his favorite Turkish food. He responded that it was kebab and lamented the fact that there wasn’t anywhere in the Twin Cities to buy good kebab.

He stopped in front of my condo and took my suitcase from the trunk. We exchanged the suitcase for taxi payment. The tip I included didn’t come close to covering the worth of the ride.

The taxi driver and I were as different as you might imagine. Gender, age, nationality, profession, and probably a thousand other factors separated us. We may have been one Turk and one American, but, as he said, all people are just people. Connected by the simple state of being human.

 

Heather Whelpley is a coach working with people that want to have a meaningful career and live up to their own potential, but feel stuck in their job. See her home page to learn more. She is also the host of Destination Soul Shine, a community dedicated to nourishing your soul and making your spirit shine. Like Destination Soul Shine on Facebook or follow us on Instagram @destinationsoulshine for resources to inspire you to live a meaningful, healthy, creative life.