Are You Wasting Your Time?

Checking off items from your to-do checklist can feel rewarding and satisfying, especially on those days where you can knock out several items at once. At least for me, I regularly create a long list of all the things I have pending. I get a sick pleasure of crossing each item off the list to mark its completion. It makes me feel “productive.” For years I tried writing a book by adding “write” as a task on that laundry list of miscellaneous things I had to do. But I rarely got to it, and when I did, I wouldn’t have enough time to get my writing-brain working. There was always too much to do. 

When I realized this would never work, I separated a few hours one day a week to focus only on my writing. That helped a lot. But I knew that if I wanted to finish my book, I needed more than one writing day. I rearranged my schedule to block out large chunks of time almost every day to write and leaving only one admin day a week to get everything else done. 

That was an anxiety-provoking process. I confess I’ve never felt so unproductive as I did at the end of some of my writing days. After sitting in front of my computer for hours I could have written one page or one paragraph or struggled with one sentence the whole time. By the end of the day, I usually felt no closer to finishing my book than I did when I started. That was frustrating. The weeks turned into months, and friends and family would ask “When are you going to finish your book?”

 “I’m working on it!” I’d respond.

“But what’s your deadline?” they’d ask. 

“I’m not sure,” I’d reply half-heartedly wondering if I’d ever finish or if I was doing any of this correctly.  

I spent a year working on my book, not knowing how much longer it would take, if it would be any good, or if anyone would want to read it. Some days it felt like I was wasting my time. But I kept plugging at it week after week, settling for only getting my task-crossing dopamine rush on Tuesdays.

And then the other day I watched the documentary, The Dawn Wall. It shares the story of Tommy Caldwell’s journey to becoming the best mountain climber in the world. At some point Tommy decided he wanted to do something that had never been done before—to climb the Dawn Wall on the El Capitan mountain. It was one specific section of the mountain that seemed impossible because of all its blank spaces. There didn’t seem to be anything that a climber could grip their hands and feet onto for the climb.  But Tommy wanted to find a way. He spent a year hanging off the side of El Cap attempting to identify enough cracks and crimps to delineate a route up the wall.

Let me repeat that: Tommy spent a year hanging off the side of El Cap attempting to identify enough cracks and crimps to delineate a route up the wall. Can you imagine spending an entire year hanging off the side of a wall with a rope, just looking and touching the surfaces of the rock? I know I can’t. Eventually Tommy created a route he thought might be possible. Kevin Jorgensen joined Tommy’s passion project, and they spent the next six years attempting that route. Six more years! 

Kevin admitted that he could never tell if they were wasting their time or doing something grand. He lived with that uncertainty for six years, but kept going back to that mountain hoping to accomplish their goal.  During those years with thousands of failed attempts, the only indicator of their progress was that they were still there to see another day. When they weren’t on the wall, they were back at home training for the climb. 

In 2015, Tommy and Kevin were the first people ever to free climb the Dawn Wall, making history and an incredible story for a documentary. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must watch (https://www.netflix.com/title/81004270)

Their story inspired me to continue doing the work that matters to me, regardless of how long I take to accomplish my goals. 

Lyn Manuel Miranda is another example of someone whose work took years to complete. Lyn Manuel spent a year writing one song in Hamilton. One year for one song. It then took him five more years to write the play. I wonder if he could tell whether he was wasting his time or doing something grand. Regardless, he kept at it. He took his time and trusted the process. He continued doing the work that mattered to him. And he came up with Hamilton, one of the most brilliant Broadway musicals of all time.

These are just two examples of people who focused on one thing. They committed years of their life on their work despite no guarantees of greatness. Yet in both cases what they produced was extraordinary. 

It got me thinking of being “productive.” We live in a fast-paced busy society, juggling a thousand responsibilities and commitments. Over time, it’s easy to develop that habit of always being on the go. And we buy into this notion that the more we do, the more productive we are. But we fail to recognize that some projects have their process. They take time and require patience. They need room for error and correction. The only way to complete these projects is if we’re willing to delay gratification; even during those moments when we can’t tell if we’re wasting our time!

A Moment of Clarity

Even if you don’t feel like you are being productive today, you could be we producing something great for tomorrow. Keep working on your greatness!

Pick Your Pitch

My eight-year-old Justin, plays in a baseball league. He has a practically perfect, beautiful swing—a swing that when executed properly could rip a home run. And yet he often fails to make contact with the ball. It used to be because he wasn’t keeping his eye on the ball. Eventually he realized that he couldn’t swing and pray that the ball the pitcher threw would magically meet the barrel of his bat. He had to focus on where the ball was and adjust upward or downward. He was the one responsible for making contact and increasing his chances to get on base. 

Then something interesting happened. He’d swing at everything, no matter where it went. The problem with that is that some pitches are bad pitches. 

One evening after a game, Justin walked toward the car with his head down because he’d struck out. His dad patted his son’s head. “You have to pick your pitch, son.”  

He explained that part of the process of keeping your eye on the ball is knowing when to adjust and when not to swing. “I know you’re excited to make contact with the ball. But if it’s a bad pitch, you waste a swing and increase your chances of striking out when you could have waited for a better pitch.” 

At the very next game, Justin hit two doubles and a triple. He’d applied the lessons his father had taught him and was reaping the results. Unfortunately, our six-year-old did not have the same luck. He is on the same team as his brother. He stepped up to the plate and when the ball came flying toward him, he held his swing. At the next pitch, he swung and missed. Strike. Then he held his swing again. After a few pitches, the coach told him, “Ryan, this is your fifth swing. You HAVE to swing, no matter what.” Ryan swung and fowled off, but he didn’t understand that he’d met his pitch count according to the rules of the league and could no longer wait for a good pitch. On the next throw, he held his swing and was called “Out!”

He cried his way to the dugout. “I did what dad told me to do.” He said, tears streaming down his eyes. Although he was following the right principle, he didn’t understand that the principle has its limits. There are only so many times you can wait for the right pitch before you have to swing even if its not the perfect pitch. 

That fine line is just as difficult to master in our businesses as it is in baseball. 

Sometimes we think our product, offering, or service is so good we can sit and wait for the customers to find us. But customers and clients don’t magically appear on our doorstep. Having a good product or service isn’t enough.  Being good at what we do isn’t enough. We have to adjust our sales pitches and our marketing efforts to speak the same language as our potential customers. We have to focus on their wants, needs and struggles instead of thinking our work or talent speaks for itself. That’s how we keep our eye on the ball in business. It requires a deep understanding of our business, our clients, and the outcomes we’re looking for. 

As for picking our pitches, we are often so hungry that we say “yes” to every business opportunity and every client we come in contact with, even if they’re not a good fit. We eat the marshmallow. (If you don’t know what that means, click here).  We overlook that we are not engaging with the ideal customers or that our clients are underpaying for our services because we desperately want the sale. This can create a vicious cycle in our businesses where we’re working too much for too little. A dangerous business model that ultimately results in unhappy customers and frustrated business owners. What’s worse is that if you kept your eye on the ball and were patient, the right pitch could increase your chances of hitting a home run. But there are moments when we have to swing. When the bills are due, or we have to prove ourselves, or we need exposure, sometimes we have to go for it even if it’s not the perfect opportunity. 

Like most things, the answer is in the middle. Keeping our eye on the ball and knowing when to hit versus when to hold is an art, not a science.  You will strike out from time to time. You will swing when you shouldn’t and you will hold when you could’ve swung. And sometimes you’ll lose sight of the ball. But no matter how often you strike out, the only way you’ll improve is if you keep showing up to the game and stepping up to the plate. The more you do, the better you’ll get at picking your pitch. 

A Moment of Clarity

When thinking about your business, always keep these two simple rules from baseball in mind:

Keep your eye on the ball. 

Pick your pitch. 

Before you delete another email, Read This!

Email inboxes have become another annoying source of clutter in our lives, requiring management and strategic planning to tackle them. Although removing the noise from our inboxes stops the mental overwhelm, I’ve discovered there are some emails you should never DELETE.

I recently attended the funeral of a ninety-four-year-old woman. I didn’t know her personally but she was my friend, David Altshuler’s mother. David’s son, Ellery, was the first speaker to deliver the eulogy. He seemed like a nice, educated and articulate young man.  

I thought it was quirky that Ellery referred to his grandmother by her actual name, Thelma. People don’t normally call their grandmothers by their first name. But after a few sentences escaped his lips, I knew there was nothing ordinary about this grandmother.

I quickly discovered that Thelma was an excellent writer with high standards and that she was always available to help Ellery with his school papers. She was a highly educated and successful woman. I expected to hear all about her accolades and accomplishments, which I gathered were significant.

But Ellery’s speech went in a different direction.

He took us all on a journey of Thelma’s life by reading emails she wrote to him dating back to 2004. Every email on its own might have seemed unremarkable and insignificant, but coupled with Ellery’s commentary and the context he provided, each one brought the audience closer to his grandmother. This was Ellery’s way of showing us who Thelma really was.

Ellery mentioned how he and Thelma enjoyed literary realism. He referenced a few books and noted how those authors reminded you of the profundity found in everyday life. He did an outstanding job at displaying the depth of his relationship with his grandmother by allowing us to peek into their ordinary, yet hilarious, string of email exchanges.  

Instead of hearing about her awards and recognition, we learned about her constant battle with her printer and its toner, her obsession with compression socks and free parking, and her keen ability to complete the New York Times crossword puzzles.

Suddenly I felt so connected to this woman I didn’t know.  Her brilliance, her zest for life, and her love of literature, music, art, and humanity mesmerized me. Her independence and character inspired me. And the special relationship she formed with a boy sixty-nine years younger than her left me in awe.  She was more than his grandmother; she was his best friend.

By the time Ellery finished reading their email exchanges, Thelma had become my friend, too. She was exactly the kind of old lady I aspire to be.

At the end of Ellery’s speech, he spoke about how much he would miss Thelma. His head dropped a little lower and his shoulders slumped a little more. “I had Thelma in my life for my first twenty-five years, but I’ll live the rest of my life without her.”

He’s wrong about that.

Connections like the one Ellery and Thelma had are not lost or broken by death or distance. She influenced his life in a way that will manifest itself in every aspect of Ellery’s life until he dies. Plus, Ellery has something precious; He has the gift of his grandma’s written words.

Thelma’s emails were just like the postcards my dad sent me. She established a form of communication with her grandson and then communicated with him consistently. Through her emails, she stayed present in Ellery’s life no matter where he lived or what stage of life he was in. Some of my favorite emails involved questions Thelma asked Ellery regarding sports.

“She asked me about sports even though she didn’t care about them,” Ellery noted, “just to meet me where I was at.”  

Unknowingly, Thelma took part in the postcard promise.  And because Ellery never deleted those emails, his inbox became a box of postcards.  Even though she is no longer physically present, Thelma will always be with Ellery even when she’s not.

I met Ellery after the service and told him how moved I was by his eulogy. I also shared with him my personal experience with my dad’s postcards and how even now, three years after he passed, I can pick a postcard from the bunch and his words are still relevant and meaningful.

“Thank you so much for telling me that,” he said. “I didn’t delete my grandmother’s emails out of laziness and now it feels like a streak of genius. Even though I’m sad that she died, I feel so connected to her.”

I can’t emphasize it enough. Write to your loved ones! Whether it’s postcards, letters, emails, or post-it notes, written words are powerful, even when they appear insignificant at the moment.

That evening I returned home from the funeral and this is how the conversation with my husband went.

Orlando: How was the funeral?

Me: It was amazing! I am so inspired.

Orlando: You realize this is not how this conversation should go right?

Me: What do you mean?

Orlando: Caro, funerals aren’t amazing. They’re sad.  You’re insane.

Me: Well, you haven’t been to Thelma’s funeral!

A Moment of Clarity

The next time you’re sorting through your inbox and removing all the clutter, make sure you stop before deleting emails from the people you love. Create a folder for them; Archive them; But don’t delete them. It may seem like you’re being lazy now…but one day it might just be a streak of genius.

One Thing You Have to do to be Successful

I took my middle son, Justin, to a chess tournament recently. We sat in the waiting room until they posted the pairings on the wall. When we looked up his name, instead of showing an opponent, the line read: Justin Rodriguez – see Director. 

We rushed over to the Director’s table and asked what was wrong. 

“Oh, Justin gets an automatic win for this round,” she said with a smile. 

“Why?” Justin asked. 

“Because we have an odd number of players and you were the oddball in the pairing. There is another child registered to play, but he hasn’t arrived yet, so you get the point. You got lucky, buddy. Now sit tight until the next round.”

As we walked back to the waiting room, Justin’s shoulders slumped and his eyes looked at the floor. 

“What’s wrong, Justy?” I raised his chin to look into his eyes. 

“That’s not a real win, mom.” he pouted. “I want to play. I want to earn my point, not just get one for no reason.”

There is no better feeling than that of real accomplishment- being able to connect your reward to your hard work. 

The same goes for the public. No one wants to hear a story of victory because the main character got lucky. We want conflict and transformation; a hero’s journey. Otherwise, it’s not as attractive. 

Have you ever been talking about someone who landed a big client, whose social media post went viral, or who was discovered in some random way, and then the other person says,  “Well, she got lucky because…” 

It reduces merit the person may have had. 

And yet secretly, we all hope for a lucky break once in a while. A bit of luck could make life a lot easier. And even though we are quick to discredit someone for having it, a part of us whispers, “I wish that were me.”

I sat down next to my son, “You know why you got that win, Justin?” 

“No,” his eyes narrowed at me.

“Because you showed up.” 

He looked at me confused. 

“Half the battle is just showing up, son. Yes, luck was on your side in the pairings, but what’s important is that you came prepared, on time, and ready to play. The other kid didn‘t. That‘s how life works. Remember, you still have four games to play, so you still have a lot of work to do. Enjoy this small victory and use the extra time to prepare for the next game.”

This is an important lesson for all of us. 

I attended a Mary Kay party once and the woman hosting it talked to her guests about the business, the products, and the lifestyle. One attendee commented to the saleswoman, “I’ve known many people who have gotten into the multi-level marketing world, and most of them have failed. Why do you think this happens?” 

“Most of them stop showing up,” she said. “This line of work takes time, effort, and persistence and most people don’t feel like showing up over and over again.” 

The same goes for writers, athletes, entrepreneurs, and anyone else.  Be consistent with your efforts. Stay in the game.  Show up over and over and over again. That may mean having the discipline to write, train, work, or network even when you don‘t feel like it. Or it may mean putting your work out into the world even when you’re afraid of failure. 

If the Universe happens to throw you a bone, enjoy it. It doesn’t make your success any less meaningful. After all, by showing up you put yourself in a position for luck to find you. 

A Moment of Clarity

The one thing you have to do to be successful in life and business is to keep showing up. 

Show up so much that luck knows where to find you. 

The Middle Years

Our family celebrated my husband’s grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary. Their daughters honored them with a ceremony and reception, surrounded by all of their family and friends, to fulfill their dream of getting married by the church. After sixty-five years of civil union, our grandparents stood at the altar choosing to love each other and take care of each other once again. 

Witnessing a happy old couple holding hands, giving each other a tender kiss or renewing their vows after many years of marriage is inspiring. A sign of lives well lived and two people who, together, have made it to the top of the mountain—encouraging those that follow behind them that they too can enjoy a long-lasting, meaningful relationship. 

A new marriage is also emotive. It’s beautiful to see two people who found each other and committed to building their life together. As we celebrate their nuptials, we hope that they will become the happy old couple at the top of the mountain.

These are the picture-perfect moments; the Hallmark cards of life, representing all that is good and beautiful. 

But what must the newly married do to become the happy old couple? They must endure the middle years!

As we admire old couples or encourage young ones, we gloss over the middle years—the period of raising children, pursuing careers, and trying to make ends meet while saving for retirement. Couples struggle with finding their way as a unit while preserving their identity as an individual. We grow tired of each other or our marriages become stale, giving rise to disillusion or infidelity. We get wrapped up in commitments, financial pressures, and demands of daily life. Our dreams and goals often get set aside to push our children‘s futures forward. 

It’s such a chaotic time that eventually it blends together in our memories. It‘s easy during this time for couples to stop looking at each other lovingly, holding hands or giving each other tender kisses. Getting lost in the middle years makes it difficult for the marriage to survive, not to mention that illness or death can strip couples from enjoying their relationship into old age. Like everything in life, it takes a certain level of luck and a lot of good choices during those middle years to reach the top of the marital mountain. 

That is why celebrating a 65th wedding anniversary is so meaningful. The old couple survived the middle years and lived to tell the tale. 

I once wrote an open letter to a newly married couple sharing five principles to help them along their journey. What I was offering them were the tools to overcome the challenges of the middle years. They are simple suggestions but that doesn‘t mean they‘re easy. If you are a newly married couple or wrapped up in the in-between, I encourage you to read that post by clicking here. 

With only twelve years under our belts, my husband and I are in the midst of the middle years, working together to climb our mountain. In the past I’ve written about choices we’ve made as a couple and rough patches we’ve encountered in our marriage. We’ve navigated through changes in our career and employment, the illness and death of a parent, and many other struggles that we’ve confronted along the way. But we’ve done our part to enjoy the journey, sort though the mess, and never stop holding hands. So far, our imperfectly perfect marriage is going strong. 

True commitment, good choices, and a little luck can produce magnificent results in marriage and in life. 

Watching the joy in our grandparents’ faces as they shared their special day with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren was priceless. A true success story, worthy of emulating.  As my husband, three kids and I stood by our grandparents’ side, I prayed that that would be us one day. 

A Moment of Clarity

No matter how special it is to witness a new couple tie the knot or an old couple renew their vows, never forget success happens in the middle years. 

Pistachios Taste Like Success

We were on our way to the movie theatre and I’d packed a bag of pistachios to avoid buying popcorn. We were already munching on them during the drive. My husband maneuvered the steering wheel with his knees to crack open the shell and pop a pistachio in his mouth.

“Ever notice the pistachios with their shell on taste better than those with their shell off?” He asked.

“Totally!” I agreed.

“These nuts are delicious!” Ryan screamed from the back row.

“I don’t know what it is about them,” Orlando said as he grabbed another one from the bag. “Maybe the shell keeps the pistachios fresher.”

“I like these better, too,” I said struggling to crack the nut open. “And I bet the ready to eat bags are more expensive!”

“You should ask Google if this has been studied,”  Orlando suggested. I ran a quick search on my iPhone.

Turns out pistachio bags that come already shelled are neither less fresh nor less expensive than their labor-intensive counterpart. Yet, it didn’t look like we were off-base. I read aloud, “One consumer noted, ‘Each nut I split with my bare hands yields not only a tasty treat but also a sense of thrift and virtue.’”

“Oh, and check this out,” I continued reading, “Studies show that those who endure the finger-irritating, nut-opening process, end up eating 50% less than those in the shelled-nut group, thereby consuming half the calories. Yet they reported feeling equally satisfied with the lesser amount.”

“They’re yummier and less fattening!” I joked. 

“For a long time I’ve suspected the reason stone crabs and king crabs are so delicious is because it takes so much effort to get a little piece of meat.” Orlando noted. 

“The best peanuts are the ones from baseball games and those come in their shell also,” I added.

Our observations stirred up an interesting conversation with our kids about delayed gratification and how important it is to work for what you want. When things come too easy, you don’t appreciate them as much. That’s why people don’t read books they receive as gifts and the reason 70% of lottery winners end up in bankruptcy.

But any time you have to use your time, energy, and/or money to achieve a goal, it becomes more valuable. Investing in something with your own money makes it more likely you‘ll take it seriously. Saving for months to buy something you’ve had your eye on causes you to be more grateful when you get it.

Orlando looked over his shoulder to the kids, “There’s something to be said about working for things.”

Justin chimed in,  “Pistachios taste like success.”

We laughed at his clever analogy.

“Yes! Pistachios do taste like success,” I gave Justin a high-five.

He added, “Because you work so hard to crack them open that by the time they‘re in your mouth, they taste even better.”

“Exactly,” Orlando grinned proudly.

So the next time you feel you’re stuck in the trenches trying to get ahead or it’s taking too long for you to achieve your goals, just remember you’re cracking the pistachio open. Yes, it’ll hurt your fingers. Yes, there will be shells that are closed so tight you can’t break them open. But when you land that deal; when you lose the weight; when you pay off that debt; when you write the book; when you reach your goal… that’s when you know you’ve cracked the shell. Rewards are greater when you earn them.

A Moment of Clarity

Put the effort in. Work for it. Endure the process. Nothing will taste better than sweet success.

The Choice of Success

Ten years ago I was pregnant and working as an attorney for the Public Defender’s office. I was in a trial the morning of my son’s due date, not knowing then that that was my last day there. The plan was to take maternity leave & return to work afterward, but everything changed the moment I held my baby in my arms. 

I never went back. 

One morning I received a call from a friend of mine while I was at my son’s school. 

“Where are you?” my friend asked. 

“At an Easter egg hunt,” I replied. 

She sighed, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” 

My friend was working long hours and hated being away from her kids. She thought I was lucky that I got to stay home. We do that a lot. We see someone else’s life and think they are “lucky” because they have something we wish we had. What we don’t do is analyze the choices they made to be where they are. 

In my case, for example, my friend didn’t realize that we took a major financial hit at the same time as I decided not to go back to work. The 2008 market crashed; My husband was a young associate in a law firm and wasn’t generating substantial income; We accrued credit card debt just to cover our bills; We’d bought our townhouse the month we married, intending to only live there for a couple of years—but my at-home status meant we’d squeeze our family of five into that starter home long after we outgrew it. Meanwhile, our dual-income friends purchased bigger and nicer houses, but their mortgages prohibited them from losing an income earner in the household.  

 The choice to stay home came with sacrifice—and creativity. 

When my son was 6 months old, I was ready to make money, but I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. I didn’t want a nine-to-five arrangement. I picked up bookkeeping work which allowed me to work from home and at nights. 

Click here to listen to the Podcast Interview

“Bookkeeping?” People would question, “Aren’t you a lawyer? Why would you study all those years and pay all those student loans not to practice law?” 

My response was always the same. “I became a lawyer to have choices. This is the choice I’m making right now so I could be home with my child.” 

Eventually, my husband started his own criminal defense law firm and crushed it; We got out of debt; I resumed practicing law on my own terms; I became a businesswoman; And now I’ve started all over again building a professional speaking & writing career. 

We centered every decision we made on one main thing—flexibility.

As a result, I’ve been able to spend countless precious moments with my kids, my spouse, my family and my friends. And I got to be with my dad until he died. 

Have I been lucky? Yes. But I’ve actively taken part in creating my luck—I never left it to chance. We put all of our focus on creating the life that worked for our family—struggles and all. 

They say it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. But what is success? Is it money, fame, a big house, or a fancy car?  Is it staying home with your kids or reaching the peak of your career? Is it traveling the world or camping in your backyard? Is it creating businesses or enjoying hobbies? 

The answer is—that depends on you. Only you know what your definition is of success and it could differ from everyone else’s. The problem we have is that we often measure our own success against someone else’s yardstick. When we make professional, financial, and emotional choices that are not congruent with our definition of success, it can confuse us and make us think others are luckier than we are. 

This week we celebrated my son’s 10th birthday. My husband had to be in Court in Orange County on Wednesday morning, so we made it a mini-vacation and took the boys to Universal Studios to visit the Harry Potter world. As we wandered the park on a Wednesday, enjoying time with our family, I couldn’t help but look back at where we started 10 years ago, and reflect on how far we’ve come. 

I stepped onto the Hulk Roller Coaster with Orly who had just reached the height requirement for the ride.We sat side by side in the first row, and I held Orly’s hand tight while he giggled with excitement. As the ride launched toward the sky, I closed my eyes and smiled… Yes! This is my definition of success. 

A Moment of Clarity

Life is about choices.

You have the power to make the choices that will make YOU feel successful 10 years from today. 

Choose carefully. 

There Are No Wasted Auditions … Part 3

“Successful people are willing to do things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do.” Joachim de Posada

Are You Devoted?

We’d gotten what we wanted. Orlando had promised Orly that Pippin’s director would recommend him for a role one day, and the day had come. Orly had learned that when you show up prepared and focused, there are no wasted auditions. I felt like he was being rewarded … not only for a strong audition … but for the grace and good will he’d shown when his younger brother got the role instead.

But now we had a new conflict. The developmental workshop rehearsals were scheduled from Saturday to Wednesday with the final reading on Thursday.  We’d booked our pre-planned trip to New York City on that Wednesday.

Ideally, we’d reschedule the trip for another time so Orly could participate in the reading, but it wasn’t that easy.

The flights and tickets to the event we were attending were non-refundable. The hotel would cancel our reservation but charge a one-night penalty.   And then the real deal breaker … Hamilton. The tickets had cost us a fortune and were also non-refundable.  I thought of reselling them, but we learned a very expensive lesson when it comes to purchasing theatre tickets.

At the time of purchase, we selected the Will-Call option, which means they’d be at the box office of the theater. But guess what? We had to show our driver’s license to pick up the tickets. They will only release them to the purchaser. Buyer Beware! If you are purchasing tickets in a different state, choose the option to print your tickets at home or have them mailed to you.  You need to be in physical possession of them in order to sell or transfer them.  This tip will save you big time if you ever have to change your plans like we did. We stood to lose thousands of dollars if we cancelled the trip.

“Why don’t you email the director? Maybe the workshop dates can be moved around by a few days,” I suggested to Orlando.

“Are you crazy?” He shook his head no. “They’re not going to change the dates of the workshop for us!”

“We don’t lose anything by asking,” I insisted.

“This is pointless, but fine,” Orlando appeased me.

A few days later, the director responded that the dates were set in stone because they were flying in the director and composer from New York City. How ironic.

We told the kids about the trip and the conflict. You can imagine their disappointment.

“Do I have to do the workshop?” Orly asked.

“It depends on how committed you are to your acting,” I replied.

“But I don’t even know what a reading is. What if we give up going to New York and the reading isn’t any fun? What if I don’t like it?”

This was a tough decision for a kid. Heck, it was a tough decision for us. But life is about choices.  The right answer doesn’t come in a gift box with a bow wrapped around it.

“I’m sure you prefer to go to New York than do the workshop. That sounds like a lot more fun than the reading. But opportunities like this don’t come around often and you never know if you’ll have another chance like it. You’re going to be working with a director from Broadway and an up and coming composer from NYC! You don’t know what this workshop can mean for you in the future. Maybe nothing at all. But what if it’s the beginning of other possibilities?  That’s the thing, you just never know.  This is a defining moment in your life. What are you willing to sacrifice for your dreams?”

Orly looked down at the floor, “Okay, I’ll stay for the workshop.”

I thought about my dad and how proud he’d be if he were alive to witness this moment. He wrote a book called, “Don’t Eat The Marshmallow…Yet!” It explains that the secret to success is the ability to delay gratification, meaning that you are willing to resist the temptation for an immediate reward to wait for a later reward. Orly didn’t eat the marshmallow. I knew right then that no matter what he does in the future, he will be successful.

The decision was made. We emailed the director and confirmed that Orly would participate in the workshop.

After much consideration, we tried to minimize our losses and salvage our trip. I’d fly to New York with the boys on Wednesday morning as planned. Orlando would stay behind with Orly and meet us in New York. They could jump on the 5am flight on Friday morning and still make it to our scheduled event and Hamilton. It seemed like a good plan … until we arrived at Orly’s first rehearsal.

We dropped off the younger boys at their friend’s house so we could stay with Orly. We were all a little nervous. We arrived early and peeked through the glass window of the classroom. Students stood in rows with music stands in front of them, facing a man playing the piano. They all sang in unison. It felt grand.

The director spotted us and opened the door.

“Listen up everyone. I want you to say hi to Orly. He’ll be playing the role of Kurt.”

“Hi Orly!”  The students greeted him cheerfully.

“Welcome,” the pianist, Mark Sonnenblick, waved us in.

We walked in quietly and grabbed some seats in the back. The UM director walked over with a young woman, while the students resumed their rehearsal. “Orly, this is Maggie,” he whispered. “She’s directing this musical.”

“Hi Maggie,” Orly said.  Maggie was friendly. She handed him some music sheets and talked to him for a little bit. The UM director kneeled in front of us to tell us what was going on. “Turns out Act one, which is the Act we’re working on during this workshop, revolves mainly around Kurt,” he said with a smile. “Your son is going to have three major solos.” Orly’s mouth dropped. My heart stopped.

Orlando saw my face and knew what I was thinking. He put his arm around me and whispered, “There’s no point in you being in another city when your heart will be here. Don’t worry about the money.”

I almost cried. There was no way I could get on a plane to New York and miss seeing my son perform three solos. That night I cancelled our three remaining reservations and booked us on the Friday morning flight with Orlando and Orly. It was the best decision I could’ve made.

The next five days were a whirlwind. Orly worked harder than he’s ever worked in his life. Mark, Maggie, and the students were incredibly kind and patient with him. They spent hours upon hours rehearsing. During Orly’s free time, he worked with his vocal teacher.

Because this was a workshop, the script changed constantly and Orly had to adapt to new lines and new scenes. He was resilient and rolled with the punches.

By the night of the reading, Orly wasn’t the same kid that walked into rehearsal the first day. He’d poured his heart and soul into this performance, and had grown as a singer and actor.  He’d bonded with the students, the director, and the composer. And he was a part of something that was beautiful. Mark’s work is magnificent. His musical belongs on Broadway. The day it gets there, Orly will have been a part of its inception.

There was a dramatic scene toward the end of the play when Orly stood singing his solo in front of the audience and the rest of the Cast rose from their seats to join him in song. Goosebumps filled my arms and tears streamed down my face from how lucky I felt to be in that room, witnessing that moment. This experience was more special than any of us could’ve ever imagined.

A Moment of Clarity

We learned some pretty expensive lessons from this experience like to always buy refundable airfare and the tip about ticket delivery.  But we also learned that experiences are worth more than money; that opportunities must be seized when they appear; and that you are rewarded when you delay gratification.

The next morning at the crack of dawn we boarded the flight to New York City. Orly buckled in and leaned over to look at us, “Thanks for pushing me to do the workshop. I wouldn’t have traded one minute of it for New York.”

I laughed, “Well, you’re a pretty lucky kid considering you’re getting to do both!”

He leaned back on his chair and with a big smile on his face said, “Yep. We need to get to know that place, since I’m going to live there when I grow up!”

There Are No Wasted Auditions (Part 2)

Sometimes big disappointments prepare you for bigger opportunities.

How can you protect your kids from having their self-esteem crushed but also prepare them for real life? How do you teach them to work hard, chase their dreams, and take leaps of faith, and at the same time explain to them that working hard doesn’t always pay off, that dreams are sometimes just fantasies, and that the net doesn’t always catch you when you jump?

How do you prepare them to plow forward, when you struggle with this paradox in your own life?

We faced this dilemma when our son poured his heart and soul into getting a role for a play, Pippin, and his younger brother who didn’t work as hard—and isn’t passionate about acting—got the part instead. (Click here to read last week’s post)

We’d been afraid that this might hurt their relationship, but Orly showed incredible grace and maturity when he was able to separate being happy for his brother from being sad for himself.

Orly continued acting and auditioned for a role in Winnie the Pooh at another local children’s theatre, landing the character, “Peter The Rabbit.”

Winnie The Pooh’s opening night coincided with Orly’s birthday. He received a gift like no other, when four 21-year-olds from the Pippin cast, showed up to watch Orly perform. We’d gotten to know these students from the UM Theatre School since we spent a lot of time waiting around for Justin during rehearsals. I’m sure they had much better things to do on a Friday night than attend a kids’ show, but theater people are special.

This goes to show that you can build relationships even when you’re on the side-lines. You never know what those relationships will mean in your life. We’d connected with these young adults in a magical way—and we knew someway, somehow, we’d meet again.

Our son’s wounds scabbed, and our family bond grew stronger. It was a time of learning and healing.

One Saturday morning, Orlando sat in the terrace browsing through his phone as he enjoyed his morning coffee and weekend mini-cigar. I swung in my hanging chair, writing on my laptop.

“Check this out, Caro.” He interrupted me. He’d seen a cool event happening in New York that the kids would love, and immediately looked up flights.

“Tickets to New York are super cheap.” He also found discounted prices and availability in a great hotel in the heart of Midtown.

It was a great deal. “Let’s do it, babe.” I agreed.

“You know what would make this trip perfect?”

Uh oh, I thought, knowing my husband.

“If we took the kids to see Hamilton.”

“Are you nuts?” I yelled. “Hamilton tickets are way too expensive. Forget it.”

“But we’ve saved so much money on everything else,” Orlando pleaded. “Experiences like this one is what we work so hard for. Our sons love Hamilton right now. We don’t know how long that’ll last. Besides, I’d love to do something special for them after the whole Pippin thing. Let’s make this an amazing experience. It’ll be our Christmas present to our family. ”

This conversation pretty much sums up our marriage:

I’m conservative and calculated.

He’s impulsive and spontaneous.

I think about it.

He acts on it.

We find a way to meet in the middle.

After an hour debating the pros and cons, I begrudgingly agreed to buy the Hamilton tickets.

Goodbye cheap trip to NYC.

Nonetheless, we couldn’t wait to surprise our kids on Christmas.

But on December 14th, an email arrived that would change everything:

I was given your contact information from the director of Pippin…

We are doing a developmental reading of a new musical called Devotion…

There is a part in the musical for a 10-year-old boy…

The workshop/reading will take place from January 20th through January 25th…

If you’re interested in your son being considered…

There is nothing better than kids who trust their parents. I adamantly dislike pre-teen shows and kid super hero movies that make the parents look like morons. I’ve never understood why these companies would program children to distrust their parents. That programming encourages children to turn to their peers and social media for guidance when they need it, and that can steer young people in the wrong direction.

We strive to avoid this. We’re honest and open with our kids when they ask us questions (regardless of how uncomfortable the answers are), we follow through on our word, and we don’t make promises we can’t keep. It’s why I was nervous when my husband promised my son that the director would call him one day for another role. But Orlando was confident. “The director said she looked forward to working with Orly in the future. Something has to come up one day where she recommends him for a role.”

He was right.

He called the director who emailed us. “Thank you for your email. Orly would love to be considered for this role. Please let us know when the audition is,” Orlando said.

“Oh, there isn’t an audition.” The director replied. “If Pippin’s director thinks he’s perfect for this role, that’s all we need to know.”

“Wow, okay.” Orlando replied surprised. “What’s the play about?”

“It’s actually a workshop/reading. We’ve received a grant to feature our theater students in a new musical, Devotion, by musical composer and lyricist, Mark Sonnenblick and Broadway director, Maggie Burrows. The play has one child role.”

OH MY GOD!

We couldn’t wait to share this news with our son. As soon as we got home, we sat Orly down on the sofa. His brothers gathered around being nosy.

“Orly, you remember how sad you were that you didn’t get the part of Pippin?” His dad asked.

“Of course I do.” Orly smirked.

“Well, guess what? We just received an email from UM. They’re bringing in a composer and director from New York to do a workshop of a new musical. They need a 10-year-old boy for one of the roles. Would you like to audition?”

“Yea, sure.” Orly said but his half-hearted response showed he wasn’t confident about getting the part.

“Well, you can’t audition.”

“Why not?” His face turned serious.

“Because you already got the role!”

“What?”Orly’s eyes lit up.

“Remember when we told you there are no wasted auditions? Well, it turns out your Pippin audition was really an audition for Devotion. They saw your talent and your behavior, and now they don’t need to look for someone else to fill that role. They want you.”

Orly jumped off the couch and ran around the house. Justin ran behind him, hugging him and screaming.  “Dad, you promised she’d remember me, and she did! I can’t believe it.” Orly hugged his dad.

It was a golden moment in parenting world. A moment that we hoped would yield our kids’ trust in the future.But it was also a life lesson for all of us.

A Moment of Clarity

We audition for roles, interview for jobs, submit articles for publications, and invest our resources hoping for that opportunity which is right in front of us. It’s devastating to be rejected. It feels like we’re not good enough or smart enough or connected enough. But the work is never wasted. The investment of time, energy, and honing your skills is not lost—unless you quit.

If you stay on course, other opportunities will appear. All that work and effort will suddenly be worth it. You’ll realize you’d been in training for something bigger; you just didn’t know it at the time.

For a moment, everything was right in our world.


And then, I opened my calendar to pencil in the dates of the workshop.

“Orlando, can I talk to you for a minute in private?” We walked into our bedroom and closed the door.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“The reading is on January 25th. Our flight to New York leaves on the 24th and it’s non-refundable. What do we do now?”

God sure has a sense of humor.

Do we lose thousands of dollars and cancel the surprise trip we planned for our children with so much love? Or do we decline the opportunity our son was given in furtherance of his dream of becoming an actor?

What would you do?

Stay tuned for the final post on this story next week, and find out how we handled this conflict.

There Are No Wasted Auditions (Part One)

The hardest thing for a parent to do is watch their kid fail. But without failure, there is no true success.

“Audition Opportunity!” read the subject line of the email. My nine-year-old, Orly, is passionate about acting. He wants to be on Broadway one day. He’s auditioned for several roles in different theaters, which landed me on multiple mailing lists.

“Looking for three to four young actors, any age but under 4 feet tall, to play the role of Theo in our upcoming Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Pippin” University of Miami’s Ring Theater was hosting the audition. Theo was the only child part in the play, meaning the young actor would be performing alongside University of Miami’s junior and senior theater students. They were looking for three or four actors so that the children could alternate in between performances.

Knowing my son would kill to audition for this, I forwarded the message to my husband. Not two minutes later, the phone rang.

“Did you see the email?” I asked, forgetting to say “Hello.”

“He’s going to love this,” Orlando replied. “What a great opportunity.”

“What about the height restriction?” I asked. “Orly might be right on the cusp of four feet.”

“Yes, I think he’s right around that height.” Orlando agreed. “You know who else might be perfect for this audition?”

“Who?”

“Justin.”

Justin was our adorable six-year-old who has an incredible ability to memorize lines, but his personality is very different than his brother’s.

“Do you think Justin would want to do something like this?”  I asked.

“Let’s ask him. They’re looking for three to four actors for the same role. Both brothers could be Theo. How cool would that be?”

“That would be awesome,” I agreed.

We brought up the audition at dinner. Orly’s eyes lit up immediately. “I want to audition!”

Justin was less enthused. “Justy, tell us. Do you want to audition for Theo?” I stroked his cheek.

“I don’t know,” he said nonchalantly. “I guess.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, buddy. But we think it would be a great experience for you and imagine how cool it would be if both you and your brother got to be in the same play.” Orlando said.

“Okay, I’ll do it.” He said casually.

After dinner, Orlando played some of the Pippin songs so the boys could become familiar with the play. Orly began rehearsing right away. For the next few days, I’d hear Orly singing alone in his bedroom and in the shower. He was always practicing. He’d auditioned for roles before but had never taken them quite as seriously as this one.

We’d been trying to instill the importance of preparation in him, and it seemed to have all “clicked.”

He’d get frustrated with his brother who was not as committed. “Justin, you have to be prepared for this audition,” he’d scold him as if he were an adult. “If you’re not willing to work for this, you’re not going to get the part.”

Justin was unfazed.

On the day of the audition, we sat the boys down. “Okay guys, today’s the big day. Remember that several things can happen: 1. Both of you get the part, 2. Neither of you get the part, or 3. Only one of you gets the part. Regardless of what happens, remember that you are brothers. If one of you gets to be Theo and the other doesn’t, be thrilled for your brother; brothers back up and support each other. Understood?”

They nodded their heads and off they went with their dad.

Upon their return, I got the details. Orly had a great audition. Even the director commented on how well he did. Justin, on the other hand, was all over the place. He sang well but was fooling around and being silly. Orlando and Orly were not happy about his behavior.

Every day for the next few days, Orly asked, “Have you heard from UM?”

“Nothing yet.” We continued to prepare both of them for the possibilities we had discussed earlier.

Then I got the call from Orlando. “Are you sitting down?” His voice sounded surprised.

Could they have both gotten the part? Is it good news or bad news?

 “What is it?” I asked.

“Justin got the role of Theo.” Yes! They both got the part. “So they both got in?” I confirmed.

“No, Caro. Orly didn’t get in.”

What?

I never considered that Justin would get the role over his older brother.

“But didn’t you said he was fooling around during the audition?” I asked.

“He was!” Orlando exclaimed. “She liked Justin’s innocence and angelic face. Apparently, not being polished worked to his advantage. The director loved Orly, but he was too tall for the Theo she envisioned.”

“Orly is going to be devastated,” I said softly.

We’d been telling our son to work hard and be prepared and that would get him to where he wanted to be. But his little brother was getting the role even though he barely worked for it. As much as we loved Justin, we felt disappointed. It didn’t seem fair or right. Orly wanted this more than his brother did. He worked harder. He deserved it more.

For a moment, we thought of telling the boys that neither of them got the part. Justin wouldn’t be as devastated as Orly would be—but only for a moment.

Are we crazy? We can’t do that.

Justin deserved to have his moment in the spotlight as much as Orly did. And whether he had been fooling around or not, he had earned his role and it was our responsibility to celebrate that. Besides, we have to let our kids fail. We’re not doing them any favors by shielding them from disappointments. These moments build character. We knew what we had to do, but it was painful.

“Let me be the one to tell him,” Orlando said. “I’ll come by and pick him up in 15 minutes. Have him ready.”

With my poker face on, I told my son to get ready to go to the grocery store with his dad. He put his shoes on and rushed out of the house.

Orlando drove them around the block and parked in a nearby school parking lot. “What are you doing, Dad?” Orly asked.

“Orly, I have something to tell you. Justin was chosen to be Theo for Pippin, but you weren’t.” Our son’s eyes dropped down to the floor.

“Orly, I know this is devastating for you, but you can’t let it get you down. You had a great audition. You killed it. In fact, the director called me because she wanted you to know how impressed she was by you. She said she’d keep you in mind for future performances.”

“But if I did so well, why didn’t I get the part?” he asked.

“Because this wasn’t the right part for you, buddy. You are too tall and mature for the role. You’re not going to be a good fit for every part. And the acting world is full of rejection. If you want to be on Broadway like you say you do, you’d better get used to hearing ‘No’ more often than ‘Yes.’ That’s how it works. You’re going to have to develop thick skin.”

“Okay,” Orly whimpered.

“About your brother. Justin has been your biggest fan, sitting front row at all your performances and rooting for you. He’s always the first one to run up to hug you when you’re done. It’s his turn to shine. He deserves for you to be as supportive of him as he has been of you. And if you weren’t going to get the part, who better than your brother to get it?”

Orlando pulled Orly close to give him a hug. Tears streamed down both of their faces.

I waited anxiously as I saw my husband’s car pull into the driveway. Orly got off and opened the front door. “Justin,” He yelled loudly. “Come give your brother a hug!”

Justin ran right into Orly’s open arms.

“Why are you hugging me?” He asked mid-hug.

“Because you’re Theo.”

“Really?” Justin squealed. “Are you Theo too?”

“No Justy, I’m not. But I’m so proud of you.”

There are moments in life you will never forget. Watching this young boy, whose glossy eyes and pink nose revealed he’d been crying, put aside his feelings to celebrate his brother was one of those moments. I couldn’t have been prouder of my son.

When it was time for bed, I laid next to Orly like I always do. He began to cry again. “Mom.” He sniffled. “It’s not that I’m not happy for Justin. I’m genuinely happy for him, but I’m sad for me, too. I don’t get it, mom. I’ve been working really hard. Is it that I’m not good enough?”

“These things happen, my love—even when you work hard—but eventually your persistence and commitment will pay off.”  I rested my head on my hands as I spoke to him. “You can feel happy for brother and sad for yourself at the same time. You know what you have to do tonight?”

“What?”

“Cry all you want. Feel sad or mad or whatever you want to feel.”

“And then?”

“And then tomorrow get back up again, ready to audition for the next play. Tomorrow, get back to working on your craft to be the best you can possibly be … because there’s an awesome role waiting for you right around the corner.”

Just then, Orlando walked into the room. “Orly, you know what? It doesn’t matter whether you got the role of Theo or not. Remember that the director said you made a great impression on her. There are no wasted auditions. One day, she’ll think of you when another kid role comes up, and this will all have been worth it.”

“You promise?” Orly asked.

We do not take promises lightly in our home. Having our children’s complete trust and confidence is one of our biggest priorities. Orly knows that, so this was an extremely loaded question.

Orlando paused, looked at his son, and replied, “I promise.”

A smile crossed our son’s face. We kissed him and walked out of his bedroom.

On the opening night of Pippin, we left Justin backstage and took our seats in the theatre.

With a huge smile on his face, Orly turned to me and said, “Mom, my legs are jelly.”

“Why” I asked.

“Because I’m so excited for Justin.” He squeezed my hand as we waited for his brother to take the stage.

A Moment of Clarity

I felt a little proud, a little sad, and a little hopeful that our son would be rewarded for his commitment, courage, and character.

But no matter what, I knew everything was going to be alright.

(Stay tuned for next week to find out what happened next)