Changing Your Life’s Work

In today’s continuously transforming world, where you see yesterday’s plans and assumptions suddenly upended, people’s jobs and life’s work suddenly whisked away, we can all be challenged to question our assumptions and re-think our plans, our choices and our careers. Sometimes that confrontation is thrust at you and sometimes it simply grows out of that age-old question—“Is that all there is?”

I’ve asked myself that question and made a major change in my own life now. And I’m writing this blog to explore why and to hope that in this exploration I can help those who also question what’s next or who are compelled to answer that question.

I’ve asked myself “is that all there is?” nine times before this and each time I changed the course of my career and developed a new one. The standards were always about values—about what needed to be done in the world next, about what kind of social change should we be effecting. And after I determined that no one else was doing it, I’d turn my efforts into making that happen., I had great good luck in actually following my passions and doing it—nine times!  Going from musician to dancer to college prof at Radcliffe to television’s PBS teaching the arts to cultural reporting on Boston TV’s nightly news to my own TV talk show to creating the field of jury consulting and communicating at Harvard’s Law school, lecturing and authoring books, consulting on major cases, reaching millions as a contributor on national TV to business communication guru, author, lecturer, coach again —– until now.

Although I still do the consulting, lecturing and coaching, I’ve added number 10. This one’s not about changing the world anymore. It’s back to my roots as a performer and artist. Narrowing the focus. Going inside and in a very close, personal way, reaching out to a few people at a time as an actor, saying and showing what I think and feel through the words of others.  What a new voyage of discovery!! Not only of myself but of others who wanted to touch the world, to learn what they had to say and how they chose to say it. And you know what? I’m really doing it! I’m actually starring in a new play in New York in June, doing a performed reading of another and I’ve just done a short film up at Yale!

Why do this? Why the great effort to forge yourself into yet another framework? To learn and become something you haven’t been before? And at this time of my life when it might be time to consider a little coasting?

Because I’m here ! And alive! Looking to taste what I haven’t yet tried—to find out how this person-with what’s she’s learned and lived through — will process yet another aspect of our universe. And as for the courage to change? To try something new? The passion carries me right through the doubts and fears. “Let’s find out! Try it! If it doesn’t work, nothing terrible has happened. And if it does, what new seas shall you now sail on? What other Sonya Hamlin will you find there?”

So look to your passions. To what you always wanted to do or what you’ve discovered that you might like to try. Dare. Turn a deaf ear to the judgmental “What?”s you will hear. Find out who else is inside. Whom have you been carrying around all these years?  Grow forward. Don’t retreat or fold. Squeeze new adventures out of your time here…

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Lena Horne- What Else Did She Do?

As if gorgeous was not enough, Lena was such a fabulous song stylist. To see her was to go on a voyage – she could take any audience and transport them into her private thoughts, her moods, her pleasures, her blues.

But beyond her great gifts she was a fighter with the power to endure. In order to get heard by a larger audience than the Harlem nightclubs where she began, she had to endure all those Jim Crow years of black discrimination when Hollywood only showed her in isolated moments on screen – a spotlighted performer in limbo – never as a character in any story.

She developed a tremendous following in her great nightclub career. I remember the fantastic experience of Lena at the Copacabana as she reined in her audience, looked them in the eye and made them know—this is the essence of woman!

But she also took on the IRS when they refused to allow her to deduct her performance gowns as a business expense, saying she could wear them at any time. After much wrangling they compromised by agreeing to let her deduct only those gowns in which she could not sit down! So — she stood through all her performances…

A great talent and a strong, gutsy woman whose need to sing made her able to withstand shameful prejudice.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/arts/music/10horne.html

The Secret of Getting People to Listen

Everything about communicating with each other has changed since technology has taken over what used to be a live person-to-person activity. Now that we “talk” electronically, the skills of personal communication – of talking face-to-face and making other people listen – is quietly dying. So what’s wrong with that?  We’re all quite pleased with the new ability to get our messages across fast and easy, with us in total control and no waiting.

But here’s the problem and the fact.  In order to finally make any sale, get any job, convince any boss about your new idea or make your mark and create your own brand — you must still, finally, do that in person. And that means not just being eloquent and interesting but making others listen…

Uh oh. Who’s willing to sit still and listen while you just talk, these days? That’s seen as a retro, boring, time-wasting format. We’re the Google generation- we get information instantly, on our own. No waiting! Plus–since the number oone motivation for anything we do is self-interest–how will you handle the inevitable roadblock anyone puts up when you ask for attention–“Why should I listen to this? What’s in it for me?

Major challenges. So what’s the secret to getting and keeping any listener-audience of one or many today. Know your audience! Start with that “Me First” factor. Otherwise you’ll never be able to get past that inevitable roadblock they put up – their  “Why should I listen to this? What’s in it for me?” attitude,  and you’ll lose them at the start.

Here’s how you do this:  The number one human motivation for doing anything has always been, and still is, self-interest. That means we all have a “Me First” factor. To satisfy that, you must focus on your audience’s main concerns – what are their needs, fears, goals—before you satisfy your own.

Great. How do you get this info about an audience you haven’t seen or don’t know? By asking about them or by simply putting yourself in their shoes as you focus on the following:

Who’s your audience (of one or many)? What do he/she/ they care most about right now? How much do they already know about your subject? How and why can your pitch or presentation actually help, interest or intrigue them? How can you best show and tell that?  Plus one more: What do they expect you to say – something you want to avoid at all costs or you’ll lose them.

Just think about today’s issues. You know them. And focus on our common fears. Those answers will come clear to you pretty quickly. Then get more specific for each group as you think about their special issues and problems.

Answering those questions — hitting your audience’s buttons and connecting what you want with what they care about– becomes the basis for how you organize your presentation. Their concerns become your opening- the lasso you throw out to catch them and hang on to them as you develop your theme and explain what you want to tell them.

So, the secret to making anyone listen is – reach out to them with what they care about, first. Then include yourself and what you want.