How Easily We Forget

Well, the International Women’s Day was recently celebrated  amid  some press and fanfare and I sat there remembering the first ever Women’s Day declared in the U.S. in the 70’s — what the world was like then for women, how we felt and what’s come out of those fervent days..

There I was, in Boston, being the first woman to host her own talk show without the help of a male host, tackling the tough subjects of the day, and there were many —the women’s movement, the Vietnam War, Nixon and Watergate, the new consciousness-raising movements for both men and women. The Sonya Hamlin Show presented the first-ever birth of a child with natural childbirth on TV. We tackled the issues of homosexuality with gay men and women who dared, for the first time, to come forth and speak their names. We dealt with the school desegregation of Boston – a very bitter struggle – by my hosting members of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizen’s Council to show Boston whom they were really dealing with. I interviewed all the leaders of the new young women’s movement, promoted their books, even launched every aspect of Ms magazine for a week on our air before it ever came out for the public on newsstands. And my station, WBZ, supported us and didn’t lay a hand on our programming. Truly groundbreaking broadcasting.

And then came the announcement of the first ever U.S. Women’s Day.

It meant “Stand Up and Be Counted”.  March down the streets of downtown, link arms, sing Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman, Hear me Roar”. It meant being open  and visible to each other as a group — not just as individual letter-writers to the editor or phone campaigns or passing petitions around.  What a feeling!

Our personal passions were suddenly multiplied and shared with so many others – we were live and visible. It was a little intimidating but so exhilarating. And so new… But then, as we marched, I saw and heard a bunch of hard-hat workers hanging out of an unfinished building, cracking the usual cracks, whistling  the usual whistles, telling us to go home and get in the kitchen, in the bed etc. and I was reminded again of the uphill climb before us.

What’s sad to me today is that the newest generation of women have no idea what that fight was like. They never think about how come they now have so many opportunities that didn’t exist for us, the first wave of women trying to enter the big world as equal participants. They have no idea how it felt to be the first women into the various jobs that seems commonplace. We needed to fight so hard to even get heard or taken seriously, to even be allowed to apply for and enter the new possibilities we were making happen. I remember having experts on my show talking about new work modes to accommodate women, like flex-time and shared jobs and the four- day work week –all now quite commonplace. We were ridiculed, especially by the established workplace.

So as I read about plans for the newest International Women’s Day I reflected on how social change happens—how hard it is, how exposed the early proponents are—and how quickly that painful struggle gets absorbed into the mainstream and never even thought of—the changes simply becoming part of what’s expected.

Wouldn’t really knowing the history of the women’s movement strengthen today’s young women? Not just to surprise them but also to deepen their understanding of what issues they still face and inspire them that it’s possible to make social change. And to discover the joy of finding each other and join again in pursuing common goals.

The Challenge of Growing Up

So you think teenagers are so different now from when you and I were there? Sure, the tech revolution has added some bizarre twists but I recently had occasion to revisit the teenage revolt with a friend who’s having the usual heartburn trying to set the usual rules and explain the usual issues to her daughter.

As I watched I thought about the intrinsic rebellion built into that adolescent period from time immemorial Why was it ever thus? Well, here’s what I think.

Adolescents have this monumental task of needing to flex and test their own muscles to see if they’ll be strong enough to take the next step—to  move into the tough and complex world they see— to take their own place in it, handle the blows and challenges, become self- determining and emerge as adults. Needs lotsa muscle and  confidence- building to confront that. Where’s the best and safest gym to try out those counter-punches? With the folks that until yesterday seemed like their bulwark and safety net. But to start this workout, teens must first reject what they’ve always relied on. So that’s the beginning of the battle from the teen’s side.

But what about the poor beleaguered parents? They’re being tested too. Their power is also being challenged. Instead of making fists, as the kids need to do, parents’ challenge is to open that tight hand on the reins and begin to let go. How terrifying! This change of roles can also say  “am I losing my power over my kid? Maybe even in my world?”.So here’s the standoff and the source of the battle.

The teens need to reject, rebel, dare to be rude and obnoxious, break the rules and make their own decisions — all in an effort to test if they can be strong enough to do that and survive.

And the parents? They’re hanging on for dear life not just to the past and the roles of wise advisor, teacher and rule-maker, but they’re also being pushed into taking the next step in their own development. They need to let go and find their strength and reassurance in other ways, and a new role in relation to their kids.

But there’s one more thing. Teens recognize that the unmitigated love and care they got at home will not continue in that big world they’re entering. So they need to break that dependence on the parents, to snap that comfortable bond, in order to find out if they can live without that too. Thus they need to make themselves so obnoxious that their parents will reject them at the same time that they’re doing the rejection. To make the next step of “Go- get out of here already!” come from the parents, making it easier for teenagers to leave.

What do you think?

What’s with Making New Year’s Resolutions?

Just as sure as that ball drops at midnight on December 31st, we all feel, come January 1, that we need to find something about ourselves we have to fix or change.

Why? Think about it. What a tough way to start the New Year—to scrutinize where we’ve failed, how we haven’t measured up. Makes us start what should be the bright and promising adventure of a New Year by shining an internal spotlight on what we didn’t do; that who we are or how we’ve behaved or how we compare with others or our own ideals is not just not good enough.

Why do we burden our outlook on the New Year that way? Instead of looking at the calendar with all those nice empty pages with anticipation —wondering what will fill them, what new discoveries we’ll make, what will surprise us, how we can rise to a new challenge— we hang the albatross of a test around our necks. And a test that most people notoriously fail at. The media fills that first week with “How to keep your New Year’s Resolution”, underlining that we’re expected to fail.  What a great way to sail into the future. Not only knowing what’s wrong with us and where we need to improve but knowing that we’ve tried and failed before and probably will again…

How about giving ourselves a break? How about adding up last year with its disappointments and its shortcomings and saying “Phew! Glad that’s over with. Let’s see what a New Year will bring.” And believing that whatever comes, we can handle it. That there will be opportunities to rise to new occasions. That what we learned last year will help us make better moves this year and that we even have it within us to change what we think we would want to.

Discovery and Excitement in a New Career

So you dream and … you dare. You dare to drop what you know, what you’ve always done, what your secure niche feels like – and you strike out into unknown territory. Into your next field of dreams. For me- acting.

Even more than fear, I was swamped with the idea of chutzpah—the “What do you think you’re doing? Who are you to enter this deep, professionally-trained world- with all  its experienced, well-accepted players? “ But the energy behind the curiosity, the drive behind the dream, pushed me, headlong, to defy logic and take the leap—guts aflutter.

The first audition? Secretly roaring with laughter at myself, I notice that others seems to take me seriously… They don’t know! And I go on… They seemed to like what I’m doing!

And so I begin to act- to audition- to learn- to stick my neck out. To memorize! Is the old brain gonna let me do this- easily – like when I was a kid?  I do various smallish parts and then I get cast in a play. A play I have to carry- as the star ! A play that in so many ways reflects my own life. And raises some of the questions all of us ask ourselves as we get older… And I discover what an honor it is to bring some answers to others. To add my insights into this common experience of “Is that all there is? What have I missed? What else is out there for me to taste, to test, to explore?”

The play is so good that it starts winning at festivals. And I get to explore how many ways the words carry me—how differently I do it each time. And I think back to all my interviewing years on my talk show when I naïvely asked great actors “Don’t you get tired of doing the play over and over?” Now I know. Never! It’s all about the adventure. The daily doing – of passionately investing in becoming another soul– breeds discovery. And I revel in and reflect on it, each time.

Thanks for having the guts, Sonya. For daring the leap, for listening to the burning curiosity, and for not being afraid to reach and grow—even this late in your life…  To all of you— go. Do. Try. It’s waiting for you- another place to grow and discover and find new fulfillment. Don’t miss it!

A come-uppance

There I was, facing a really busy October – traveling for seminars and keynote speeches,  performing in a play, a birthday coming up. All my plans made and intact. Running my life as usual — or so I thought..

Shows you what I know. On the day I was to leave for my acting in MA and my traveling to Canada for the seminar, I ended up in a surgeon’s office with an emergency operation scheduled for a birthday present! What? Whaddya mean? What about all my plans? People are depending on me! I promised!

What a come-uppance. There I was, assuming that all I ever need to do was say yes or no to what came along and start making plans. And it really did work that way. That was my life. Why would I ever stop to realize that this process I so took for granted was pretty remarkable? After all,  I did my daily TV talk show live for 11 years and never missed a show! I turned up and turned out for everything I set my mind to.  I was in charge, right?

Well, I became acquainted with some forces that put me in my place  in the humble corner pretty fast. My body had such different plans.  Not only introducing me to its own forces like pain but also with immovable schedules that overruled mine…

Oh, and the operation? Painful as hell. Much slower recovery than I expected (I’ve always been a very fast healer but this one had a mind of it’s own..) But I’m well on my way to mending and moving on. Even going to act in a play in NY on the 12th and 14th of Nov. and looking forward to the family descending for Thanksgiving.

But still – I did have to cancel the keynoter and the seminar and the play and all the promises I’d made and that still has me in a state of shock. I was stopped dead in my tracks. And it made me think.

Have you ever thought about all we take for granted as we proceed through life’s dizzying pace? What we count on? What we never consider? Wow-  I won’t forget this one for a while, I hope,  but I am afraid that as soon as I’m all well, I’ll probably go back to forgetting this life-lesson, too. And most of all—not stopping and noticing and being grateful for all the good luck I’ve had. And knowing that I’m not nearly in charge as I thought I was…

The Stumbles in Changing Careers

Well, I’ve been so busy with my new career – acting – that I keep being surprised that my old career—lecturing and consulting as a communication specialist and jury consultant – still keeps calling.

Suddenly I have a whole raft of speaking engagements coming up—talking to the East Coast’s  appellate and federal judges and lawyers, to executives at the National League of Cities conference, and to other conferences in  Miami and California  as well as also consulting on cases with one of my long-time clients.

And here I thought that was all over because I’m acting now!

I’m actually preparing to do the play I did Off Broadway in New York again  at  Shakespeare & Co.’s Studio Festival here in Lenox, MA on Labor Day. This is where they try out plays for next year’s season (!!) and you can imagine how that’s really occupying my mind.

Problem is—I am of two minds.  I had to read 700 pages of depositions to prepare for my consulting work next week while I am re-studying and memorizing my script again to be book-free for the play’s performance. And these two minds don’t sit lightly in my head.

My consulting mind is outer-directed – looking, thinking, analyzing facts as presented by an expert witness. How can I help make him clearer, more credible, more persuasive? To make his points more swiftly to a jury that doesn’t listen anymore since email and texting? To keep within the parameters of trial law and also make him not be so defensive, so obstructive, so self-aggrandizing? So I’m all involved in analyzing why he does what he does and finding ways to reach into that place and turn him in a new direction with new understanding – something I’ve done many times before, an always demanding, consuming process.

Yet my other mind – the acting one, the use-your-heart-and-soul one – is inner directed. Totally involved in my becoming another character. In my being what I want my witness to be – credible, clear, persuasive- reaching out to my audience to make them experience and identify with the woman I’m playing. To understand her, agonize with her, feel her almost be her. This work  is so internal and self-focused while the other is so other- directed, so intent on understanding someone else and affecting his behavior—making him help his jury-audience not only get his message (which is quite technical and complex) but also like and respect him.

So—career transitions are not easy. The paths are diverse and crowded with demands and issues and striving and yes, concern about how well can I do the new while I sink back down into the comfort of the old one I know. But life is full of challenges and how lucky I am to be able to choose mine and to make the uphill climb a willing one, not one that was just thrust upon me. I’m so grateful and aware of that.

When City-ites go to the Country

Ah, the summer. The time when people think about some kind of vacation. getaway, weekend trip.  I’ve gone from city to country for the summer and have been reflecting on what happens to us city-dwellers when we’re surrounded by trees, not skyscrapers.

First- the shock of silence. Where can city-dwellers experience silence? Our lives are so intense, so filled with rush and roar and irrelevant sounds that intrude on most everything we do. But here the focus is on what different sounds wind and birds and water make. Natural sounds. Not shrill, staccato, grating, banging, clanging, generic noise. The silence makes you notice and breathe and finally turn inward, to listen to your own thoughts.

Then—space. Look at the horizon! When do we city-ites ever get a chance to see or even remember that? How that long look at the foreverness of the earth changes your perspective on what you, and life, are really all about.

And – time. The pace of how you function changes so radically. How easy it is to get from place to place here. And how much slower everyone operates. Time enough to chat with the clerk at the supermarket. To consider when and how you have your meals.  Time enough to read, to talk, to look, to think – even to change plans and zig when you thought you would zag.

But most of all- experiencing the different attitude of people towards each other. You secretly think “how nice the service people are – they ask and discuss, even smile…”  There is a recognition and acceptance of the fact that we’re all in this together- that we each need a little room and a little neighborly nod and some decency as we ply our time on this earth together.

Sure, we city-dwellers need to live where we do, to strive and grow and explore what we can accomplish. To enjoy and admire what people can create, even as it costs us personally. But there’s nothing like getting back to nature to find out what else really counts and what we’re missing