Monthly Archives: September 2013

Winning Number ‘Mates: Thoughts from Oprah’s Lifeclass with Brene Brown

In life there are playmates, cast mates and soulmates. Which are you?

Last month I was at the taping of Oprah’s Lifeclass with Brené Brown (that aired last night), and Brené said something that struck me. Now, I’ve been studying with her for over a year. I took her class in Summer 2012 as a grad student, which is when I was first introduced to her and her research. Then I enrolled in her training to be a certified facilitator of her work, and am currently completing that process. I’ve had 4 direct and deep passes with her work in less than a year. And last month, I heard something new. Well, not “new” exactly, but poignant.

Brené said that if you have one (ONE!) such person in your life with whom you can share, connect, fall, laugh, love…be yourself – you are truly blessed. Two or three? You’ve won the lottery.

This got me thinking about the people in my life, and about how I show up in other people’s lives. I can say that as I’ve gotten older my circle has shrunk, and that’s good. But I’m definitely a lottery winner, based on the criteria. For me, those winning numbers aren’t any of the three ‘mates’ I’ve described above, though. I know we toss around the word “soulmate” and use it to define that one person with whom we connect so deeply it’s at our core. I think the ‘winning number people’ are more than that – and I think they grew, over time, through a constant dance of trust and vulnerability. Let me first describe what each category means:

Playmates:  (no, not the bunny kind) these are the people with whom you can always have a laugh or a good time. They’re great sandbox friends, because you know they will laugh if it gets messy, and dig into the sand without a care right alongside you. They dangle from the jungle gym bars and they dance barefoot in the grass. They know how to play, and they play well with you. In life, we all need playmates. As children, that’s mostly what we have, and moms refer to them as “play dates” for a reason. As adults, we tend to have less playmates and more cast mates.

Cast mates: these are the people who work and live alongside you, playing their “role” in your life’s play, and you in theirs. There may be connection, there may be shared interests, and there may be many reasons that their roles cross with yours. They walk alongside you in the theatre of life, for a reason, a season, or a lifetime – as the old saying goes. They’re important, because without them your play wouldn’t be nearly as effective, rich or illustrious. Which brings us to the soulmates.

Soulmates give our life meaning. They are the cast mates and playmates who embody a deeper level of connection with us. Typically, we use the word “soulmate” to describe a partner or spouse. Someone with whom we’ve connected so deeply, so intrinsically, that it can feel like two halves of one whole reuniting. People now say “soul sister” or “soul twin” to describe someone with whom they feel this connection who isn’t a spouse or partner. In my opinion, a soulmate can also be a friend or a family member. So, I’m tweaking the colloquial definition just slightly. In truth, a soulmate is someone who always has your back, and you theirs. It’s a person you’ve connected with on a deep invisible level, someone who is more than a friend or partner. Which brings me to the lottery friends Brené was talking about. I think this goes beyond “soulmate,” and I don’t think we have a word for it, yet.

My winning numbers are the people in my life that I can turn to, at any time, and know they’re safe. They’re safe for me to be silly with, for me to be serious with and for me to be vulnerable with. The winning numbers people are those with whom I have built a tangible, profound relationship over time. These are the people I can fight with, and know it’s not the end. They are the people I cannot hear from for weeks, or months, and know nothing has changed between us. These are the people who can hear my story – who have earned the right to hear my story – and who can hold space for me regardless of what I’m saying, without judgment. And these winning lottery numbers are the individuals who also know I will do the exact same for them. This is more than a soulmate, because it’s about more than shared connection.  It’s about action, which is why I don’t necessarily agree with the lottery metaphor.

Lottery implies chance. And while there was luck (fate?) involved in my meeting these people the rest was not up to chance. It was choice. I chose, repeatedly, to take a risk with these individuals, and open myself up – be vulnerable. At first it would have been small things, then steadily growing bigger. And with each risk, when I was met with understanding and love (aka: empathy), the relationship grew. It wasn’t perfect (there is no such thing). There were fights and it was messy, and not every risk was met with open arms, from them or me. But it was steady, deliberate, and thoughtful. And they did the same with me.

With these folks, the actions we take in our relationship are congruent with the value we together hold of our relationship. There is no word for these individuals yet, because they can be anyone: partner, friend, parent, sibling, etc.

So – I’m back to the question: Which are you? And who are your various ‘mates?

To offer a new perspective and phrase, Oprah had two of her “daughters” in the audience from South Africa. She told the story of how when she asked them if they had made any new friends at school yet, they replied with, “we have people we smile with.” I think this is a great example of knowing (at such a young age!) the importance of building relationships and giving them time to grow and become what they will. Some will stop at play, others will fill a role in your life and others still will connect deeply with your soul. And then there are those that transcend all three and become something even more. They add meaning to our lives, but more importantly they help remind us of our own meaning in life. What a gift!

Personal Barometers

I have a personal barometer. What is a personal barometer? Well, for me it’s a gauge against which I measure my thoughts, actions and decisions. It protects me from stepping outside of my authentic self and acting against my core values. Some people call it a litmus test, others use the word “filter,” but I like barometer, because of its definition.


What I like are the active aspects of the definition: determining, indicating, assisting. And it’s an instrument – a tool you can use. It’s applicable. So, a barometer is a tool that can assist you in identifying something you need to know and therefore help you make a more informed decision. I love it!

Now, why do we need them? Well, like all things, “need” is relative. In this case, however, I think it’s a really good idea, and I would encourage everyone to sort out what their barometer is and how to go about using it regularly. (Practice, as they say, makes perfect – or, progress. I like that better. ☺) So, how do you develop your own barometer? Well, let me share with you how I discovered mine.

Almost two years ago I was invited to interview for an international Fellowship. It was an open invitation, but my mentor, who served on the Board, and who I admire and respect immensely, suggested it to me directly. I researched the Fellowship itself and found that it aligned with my values, so I felt good about it. More importantly, however, it had a name. It was a name that I recognized from my childhood science and social studies classes, and I liked that. I submitted an application and was granted an interview. I then had to come up with an idea that would meet their criteria for the Fellowship grant (red flag #1: come up with something to meet someone else’s needs, not my own).

I started talking with a few colleagues about things that I found interesting that I would be “willing” (red flag #2: willing, not excited) to do for a year, in order to become a member of this prestigious society and receive the grant funds. In truth, it was more about the name than the money. Once a “_____ Fellow,” always a “_____ Fellow.” I could use it for life, like “Academy Award Winner.” I was somewhat smitten. I came up with a few good ideas, and I went to my interview. I discussed them and received positive feedback, but something felt wrong inside.

I tried to identify why I felt deflated, and then it hit me: I was doing it for the accolades (the name, the resume listing, the title). I knew I wasn’t passionate about the project I suggested and that someone who was passionate about theirs deserved the opportunity to receive the grant and join this group of individuals who truly wanted to live out the message of the Founder. So, I emailed my mentor and explained to him that I had applied for the wrong reasons and that I was withdrawing my name from consideration. As I wrote the email I discovered my barometer and I’ve used it ever since: if I am doing something for title, money, recognition or other ego-based intention, I need to stop what I’m doing immediately, and re-assess.

It’s for that reason that I suggest we each learn to discover our own personal barometers. Mine will not be yours, just as yours will not be mine. You have your own stories and your own values – the question to ask yourself is this: What do I believe in and hold most dear? Then: How do I measure that in my decisions and actions, in order to stay aligned with who I am? I think you may be surprised at how much easier life becomes when you develop and use your personal barometers. It makes everything flow with more grace and ease, because you’ll be living more from your authentic self, your values and your heart.

What and If

Two (somewhat) harmless words on their own, yet when combined “what” and “if” carry the entire power of the Universe in 6 letters that can be simultaneously destructive and/or creative.

Here’s the difference:

“What if” is attached to the most creative and infinite power of all: imagination. As a tool for exploration and innovation, these two little words open up endless possibilities. Dreams become realities.

However, “what if” when used in hindsight becomes the harbinger of shame, blame and despair. The ‘shoulda-coulda-woulda’ of that which was not done or seen. The hallmark of regret and the key that unlocks the abode of fear within the mind.

Six letters, two words…powerful beyond measure, and what separates how they are used, is you.

Turning the wheels

I was driving home from an appointment today, and a little nugget of wisdom bopped me on the head as I waited for my turn to turn left.

Don’t turn your wheels.

This was something my dad taught me when I was learning to drive.  “Don’t anticipate the turn, Martina. Don’t turn your wheels.”


“Because someone could come along behind you and bump you. And if they did, rather than going straight forward, your car would turn directly into oncoming traffic.”


I have always remembered that, and I never turn my wheels until I am actually making the turn, but today I realized his advice extended beyond just driving and might make sense if I applied it elsewhere in life.

Knowing where you want to go, planning your route, and progressing along the path you’ve laid out is how we all get through life. It’s when we turn our wheels before we can actually move, that we get in trouble. Why? Because life happens. Things happen, and if your wheels are turned in anticipation, it’s harder to make adjustments if something unexpected happens.

It’s like the old adage of putting the cart before the horse. You may eventually get there, but it will be a more challenging and difficult process. And in the case of being propelled unwillingly into oncoming traffic, it’s downright dangerous!

So, the next time you’re anticipating a turn, a change, a decision in your life, keep your wheels straight, and turn them when the opportunity arises to actually make the turn. Then do so with commitment. Because just like driving, if you change your mind in the middle of the turn (or constantly look back at where you were), you’re more likely to hurt others and yourself.

Happy driving! (literally and figuratively)