Why Deserve Is a Dangerous Word

A young woman asked me this question on Instagram: Do you have a blog post about “imposter syndrome?” Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve the beautiful life I have. 

I understand where she’s coming from. We’ve all felt at one time or another that we don’t deserve the cards we’ve been dealt—good or bad. There are good people who endure so much pain: an untimely death of a loved one, illness; financial problems, or heartbreak. And there are bad people who seem to be rewarded despite the hurt they’ve caused or the mistakes they’ve made. Either way, the question becomes, “Why did this happen if I didn’t deserve it?”

“Why me?”

My answer: Life is not at all about what you deserve. It’s about what you do with it.

Recently, my mother-in-law asked me if I’d call an Uber for my grandparents to ride from Hallandale to Miami to attend a funeral. “You know how much they love Elisa,” she said. “They want to be there for her.” 

I remembered Elisa. She lived in my grandparents’ building. I’d met her several times when we visited. Her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over twelve years ago. He’d been bedridden for quite some time. It was no surprise that he’d pass away soon. “Oh, poor thing,” I replied. “She took such good care of her husband. At least he’s resting now.” 

My mother-in-law’s eyes opened wide and her eyebrows raised. “No! It was not her husband who died. It was her son! He died of a heart attack. He was only 44 years old.”

I gasped. How could that happen? Wasn’t it bad enough that woman had endured the slow and painful deterioration of her husband to then have to lose her young and vibrant son? It wasn’t fair. It isn’t fair. 

Life Isn’t Fair or Predictable. It’s Just Life.

 

We could argue all the reasons Elisa didn’t “deserve” what happened to her. But does it matter whether she deserved it? What difference would that make? 

Also, how far should we take the deserve argument? Do you deserve to be born in a privileged country versus an underdeveloped country? Do you deserve to be born to one family versus another? Rich or poor? Homosexual or heterosexual? Male or female? Tall or short? 

To deserve something is that you are born worthy of that thing. I would argue that we are all born worthy of love, health, abundance, joy, success, and fulfillment. And yet there are so many who are deprived of those essentials since birth—without having done anything to deserve otherwise. So then what? If life isn’t fair or predictable, what do we do about it? How do we reconcile the things that happen? How do we maintain a sense of control? 

We eliminate the word “deserve” from our vocabulary. We accept that life is what it is, and we control the only thing we can—our attitude.

 

What You Deserve Doesn’t Matter

 

Once we accept that what we deserve is irrelevant, then we can take full advantage of the life we have. We can choose what we do within our circumstances. 

So you made a bunch of mistakes in the past and you feel you don’t deserve the life you have now? Apologize, forgive yourself, and commit to serving others from this point forward. Use your energy to be good and do good. Those mistakes will make you less judgmental, more forgiving, and more compassionate to others. You are in training for something bigger. 

So you’ve been a good person and you’re dealing with a hardship now? Let yourself experience that pain, be patient with yourself, and look for the lessons. Those hardships will make you stronger, wiser, and more compassionate to others. You are in training for something bigger. 

I do not believe that everything happens for a reason—but I believe everything that happens is training for the next obstacle.

You can always make better choices, pick yourself up again, express gratitude, and serve others. You have much more power than you think. 

As for Elisa, my hope is that she finds peace and hope in this difficult time; that her remaining children, grandchildren, and community offer her the love and support she will desperately need; and that she is filled with blessings in spite of her pain. 

A Moment Of Clarity

When you eliminate the word “deserve” from your vocabulary, you shift from a “why me?” mindset to a “what will I do about it?” mindset. Then it no longer matters that life isn’t fair or predictable—what matters is that it’s worth living. 

What My Mom’s Failed Marriages Taught Me About Success

Today I get to marry my mom. I’m sure that there aren’t that many people who get to do that in their lifetime, but I do. My mom met a wonderful man. He is kind and loving, hard-working and smart. He takes good care of her and makes her laugh. He’s everything she’s been looking for her whole life. 

My mom has married and divorced quite a few times. For a long time, I saw her divorces as a series of poor choices she made. It seemed like she could never get it right. I wanted her to stop making the same mistake, so whenever she got divorced I’d try to convince her to never remarry again. And yet here I am, getting ready to perform her wedding ceremony. Ironically, I couldn’t be happier for her.  

If she knew I was writing about this, she’d probably tell me to delete it!  Her divorces embarrass her. But my mom’s failed marriages have taught me more about success than anything else, and I want her to know how proud of her I am. 

Here are seven important life lessons I’ve learned from this amazing woman: 

Life Lesson:

Let it go

My mom has an incredible ability to forgive. No matter how many times she has been hurt or wronged, she refuses to be a resentful woman. Anger does not define her. Resentment does not consume her. She lets those emotions go. Not allowing your heart to harden makes you vulnerable to getting hurt again — but it also allows you to love again, to trust again, and to dream again. Holding on to the pain may keep you safe from being hurt, but it also means fear controls you. Letting go allows you to live fully instead of letting a part of you die.

Life Lesson:

Correct your mistakes

Mom taught me that you can correct your mistakes. People assume divorce is always a sign of failure. Sometimes divorce is the mistake. It can result from one or both parties’ unwillingness to do what it takes to make their marriage work. Those cases are unfortunate.

But there are also times when divorce is the correction of the mistake. It’s a way to stop the bleeding in a bad situation. It’s a way to cut your losses. I learned from my mom that no matter how painful it is to publicly acknowledge failure (i.e. go through a divorce) it is more painful to be imprisoned in a life that no longer serves you. My mom gave her marriages all she had. She fought for her relationships. But there were boundaries she was unwilling to cross. And when there was nothing more she could do — or there were wrongs she was not willing to accept — she dared to walk away. I will never view my mom as a woman who has failed. I see her as a woman who is courageous enough to start over when her circumstances no longer serve her.

Life Lesson:

Something good can always come from the bad

 I’ve often questioned my mom as to how different her life would look if she’d made better decisions. But she always tells me, “Even if I could change all my decisions, I wouldn’t because they gave me your sister, your brother and you.”  

Life isn’t always perfect, but that doesn’t mean you should want to change it. Your past is part of your journey, and something good will always come from it — even if the only good was the lessons it taught you. 

 Focus on the good and move on. You don’t have to live with regret. Embrace that this is all part of your journey. 

Life Lesson:

Ignore the naysayers

 So many people worry about their image. They govern their decisions by one premise: What will they say? 

But they don’t have to live your life. At the end of the day, they go home and you’re left with the choices you’ve made.

The problem with living life to maintain an image is that it prohibits you from living authentically. That is why so many people suffer from depression or live a secret, double life. 

But not my mom. 

She withstood so much criticism over the years from her family, her friends, to outsiders. People have judged and criticized her for not wanting to be alone. I was one of them. I was only trying to protect her. I didn’t want her to get hurt anymore. I just wanted her to be happy by herself. But that wasn’t my decision to make. Sometimes you think you’re protecting the people you love and what you’re doing is discouraging them from finding their happiness. That must have hurt my mom tremendously, but she ignored us, naysayers.  

My mom is fierce. She forged ahead anyway with a smile on her face and her heart on her sleeve. She wanted to find love and she would never stop looking for it, no matter who said what.  

Life Lesson:

Accept where you are, 

but be clear about where you want to go

 

There came a point in my mom’s life where she finally realized that being alone is better than being in bad company. Her desire for love overlooked that in the past and blurred her decision-making. The good thing about her is that she was strong enough to end bad relationships. The bad thing is that she was weak enough to get into them. Sometimes you have to beat your head against the wall a thousand times before you get it right. She’s one of those people. But at a certain point, albeit late in her life, it clicked that she should only be in a relationship with someone worthy of her. 

 She began doing things she hadn’t done in years: she went back to the gym, made friends, and began enjoying life as a single person. My mom finally accepted that she may be alone for the rest of her life. It made me proud to watch her embrace this new era. 

But she never closed the door to love! She still met people and went on dates, only this time as soon as she saw there was a red flag, she’d stop there. My mom became crystal clear on what it was she was looking for and she would never settle for less again. 

 It was when she took that stance she met the most wonderful man; the man she’s going to spend the last chapter of her life with. 

Life Lesson:

You’re never too old to find happiness

As long as your eyes open in the morning, your life isn’t over. Witnessing my mom find love at 70 years old has been remarkable. One would think she’s too old, but she’s proven to all of us that is only a limiting belief. Love has no age limit. Success has no age limit. The only limits we have are those we impose on ourselves. 

 Stop thinking you’re too old to live your life. You’re still here. Live!

 My mom hasn’t been afraid to put herself out there no matter how old she is. And after all these years, she found the man she dreamed of. We don’t know how long they’ll have together but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they get to be together today. 

Life Lesson:

Own your journey

There have been many moments in mom’s life where things didn’t work out the way she thought they would. There have been many moments when she didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel; when she thought her life was hopeless. Even though she has lived courageously and authentically, there is still a part of her that is ashamed of her divorces. Society has a way of making divorce feel like you’re wearing a Scarlett letter. That’s why it’s so important for me to share this message: You don’t have to be ashamed of your past.  

I wear my mother’s divorces like a badge of honor.  

Because of her mistakes, I’ve learned the power of making good choices. Because of her example, I know I can fail and pick myself back up again. Because of her actions, I know that I can always choose love, happiness, and forgiveness. Because of her never giving up, I know failure often paves the path to success.  

Every journey is different, what matters is that you own yours.  

As I reflected on these life lessons I’ve learned from my mom, I realized if I were to replace the word “marriage” with “business” I’d be describing an entrepreneur’s journey. An entrepreneur’s journey is not easy or perfect. My mom is nothing more than a badass entrepreneur of love!

If there is one thing my mom will say at the end of her life, is that she lived it her way. And that, my friends, is a page we should all take out of her book. 

 

A Moment of Clarity 

No matter how many mistakes you’ve made or how many times you’ve fallen — never give up on fighting for the life you want. A life lived with passion, zest, resilience, and a happy heart is the most successful life you can live. My mom taught me that. 

Finding the Good in Grief

Four years ago, I kissed my father’s cheek, hugged what remained of him, held his hands for the last time, and walked out of his hospital room. I reached the parking lot, got into my same car, took the same route home, walked into the same house to see the same husband and the same kids. Everything in my life was the same, yet everything was completely different.

My world as I knew it had changed.

It was the end of my dad’s life. The end of his battle with cancer.

But it was also the end of his career. 

The end of our long and meaningful conversations.

The end of him attending birthday parties or family functions.

The end of surprise visits and impromptu dinner dates.

It was the end of so much. 

Death highlights the ends, causing sharp pain which cuts through your heart. 

Although I’d suffered this profound loss, I found myself comparing my situation to others.

I had friends who’d lost their parents much earlier in life. Their parents had not been around to walk them down the aisle or see their grandchildren be born.

I had friends who’d lost their child. That is out of order in the cycle of life. Our parents are supposed to die before us, not the other way around.  

I had friends who’d lost their spouses, young and old. They’d had to rebuild their lives without their other half.

Things could be worse, I thought. How dare I be sad?

And then there was something else. I wanted to believe that my father’s presence would remain with me even after his death. I had to believe we were still connected— that he was still here with me.

But if he hadn’t left, then how could I miss him?

I suppressed any feelings of mourning, thinking I didn’t have the right to have them.

At the time, a friend of mine sent me a podcast interview on grief.  It took me a while to hear it, thinking it would be too heavy and unnecessary. But eventually I did press play. That podcast did something for me that I will be eternally grateful for: It gave me the gift of grief.

The guest said something that stayed with me. Something I’d never heard before. “Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional.”

What I was really trying to do was avoid suffering.  I refused to become a victim of my loss. My father had taught me to focus on the positive, to use humor in all circumstances, and to be strong. I thought by grieving his death, I’d be letting him down. But that podcast showed me that I was merging pain with suffering and I didn’t have to.

That changed everything. Suddenly it didn’t matter if my loss was more or less tragic than anyone else’s. It didn’t need to be compared. It was my loss and it sucked.

And then the guest said something else. “It’s not about the grief, it’s about the change.”

It’s not that he’s not with me…it’s that he’s with me in a different way.

My relationship with my father had changed. A relationship that had helped mold me and define me. A relationship I had counted on and depended on for the last 35 years.

I no longer had a relationship with my father— the person.  I was beginning a relationship with my father— the soul.

I could see my dad in my mind or in videos. I could sniff his cologne and smell him. I could hear his voice. I could remember him.  But I could no longer touch him. I could not kiss his cheek, hug him or hold his hand. I had lost one of the most important senses we humans have, the sense of touch. We are allowed to feel the pain of that loss.

The most beautiful realization I made, however, was not while I was listening to the podcast. It came later.

Despite giving myself permission to grieve, I was still the same person as before.

I was still positive.

I still used humor.

I was still strong.

I often think of my dad, cry, and minutes later find myself laughing at something adorable my child did. I can miss him and feel his presence simultaneously.

I can grieve with grace.

I have also come to appreciate the cycle between ends and beginnings. The end of one thing is always the beginning of something else.

A newly wed welcomes a life of companionship and romantic dinners yet misses the simplicity of being single.  A new mother thanks God for her beautiful, bouncy, baby girl and yet mourns the time when she was only responsible for herself. As parents gloat with pride that their bright and independent son is off to college, they mourn the little boy who creeped into their beds in the middle of the night. Even happy beginnings come with sad ends.

Although I reached the end of my earthly relationship with my father, it was the beginning of a new relationship. One in which I carry him with me everywhere I go.

The gift of grief has allowed me to live fully in the present moment. I can be happy or sad without feeling guilty about it.

 I used to have a mantra whenever I felt a twinge of pain. It went like this:  “I am strong. I do not feel sorry for myself. I am not a victim. I am blessed. I have a good attitude.” 

I continue to reiterate the same mantra, but I’ve added this sentence: “I am human and I feel sad… That’s ok too.”

A Moment of Clarity

If we deny ourselves the joy of the beginning or the pain of the end, we are denying ourselves the act of fully living.



 

 

Turning Tragedy into Legacy

I recently attended a meeting where guests deliver a thirty-second commercial about what they do. I shared with the audience that after twelve years of practicing law, I’ve dedicated myself to keynote speaking and writing to fulfill my purpose of carrying my father’s legacy. 

 An older man stood up when it was his turn and said “My name is Mario and I, too, am carrying a legacy.” He then spoke about his roofing company. 

At the end of the meeting, I walked passed the main entrance of the meeting room and bumped into Mario. 

“So you’re carrying a legacy, too?” I asked 

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Is it your dad’s legacy?” I figured maybe his dad or grandpa previously owned his roofing company. 

“No ma’am. I’m carrying my son’s legacy.”

My smile faded. “What happened?”

At twenty-six, Mario’s son died when a drunk driver crashed into him. He left behind a roofing company he’d proudly created on his own. Because Mario’s son loved being a roofer, Mario decided to do whatever it took to keep that business alive. For a while he tried juggling his own company and his son’s, but soon realized he couldn’t continue doing both. Mario shut down his existing company to focus on growing the company his son had poured his heart into.  He became a roofer and now manages the business with pride, knowing he is doing it in his son’s memory.

Mario touched my soul. He serves as an example for all of us that regardless of the pain we endure, we always have a choice. We have the choice to get lost in our suffering, or put our pain to work somehow. We have the choice to forget the ones we lost, or to honor their memory and keep their spirit alive. We have the choice to stop functioning, or to carry on with purpose, love, and resilience.

A Moment of Clarity

Mario’s son died too soon, but his dad made it his business to carry his legacy. Now that is purpose-driven work!

Mario found a way for his son to be there even when he’s not.

Living With a New Truth

In our home we celebrate Christmas. For many years I struggled with the “Santa” tradition. A part of me enjoyed that my kids believed in Santa and all the magic that came along with it. But another part of me didn’t want to lie to them. I had no problem finding out the truth about Christmas when I was young, but a friend of mine was deeply scarred by it and it took a long time for her to trust her parents again. She vowed to never mislead her future children. I wondered what it would look like when my kids found out. Not only did they believe in Santa, but they also believed the magical Elf on the Shelf moves around the house and travels to the North Pole every evening. 

Would they feel betrayed? Would they stop trusting us? Will they be devastated? 

Nonetheless I played along, postponing the inevitable. Until January of this year. We were attending my oldest son’s developmental workshop in the University of Miami. (Click here if you haven’t read that inspiring series) 

 Justin, my middle child who had just turned seven, told me he needed to speak to me in private. 

We went off to the side, and I knelt down to meet my son at eye level. 

“Mommy” he looked away. “I don’t think I believe in Santa or God.”  My heart stopped. I wasn’t prepared to have this conversation. I needed to buy some time. 

“What does your heart tell you, Justy?” 

“My heart tells me to believe Mommy, but my brain is interfering with my heart.”  Stay calm, Caro, I told myself. We were in the middle of an event and I didn’t want to have this conversation without my husband there. But I knew it was time to tell Justin the truth. 

“Justy, we’ll talk about this today but we need to wait until we get home so we can speak in private. Is that okay?” 

Justin nodded. 

“I don’t want you to talk to your brothers about this, either. This is between you, mommy and daddy.” 

“Okay mommy.” 

I kissed his cheek and stroked his sweet, innocent face. I almost cried. 

I found Orlando in the crowd and told him what had happened. “We have to tell him tonight,” I said. Orlando agreed. 

Justin, true to his promise, didn’t mention anything for the rest of the evening. When we finally arrived home, we put the other boys to bed. Justin, his dad and I locked ourselves in my bedroom and sat on the bed. 

We had a beautiful conversation about Santa and the elves. We told Justin that now that he knew the truth, he had become one of Santa’s helpers, and it was his job to pass the magic on to his brothers who still believed. We explained the difference between Santa and God and our thoughts on both. (I will not share the God conversation in this post for brevity, but if you are interested in knowing what that conversation looked like, let me know in the comments and I will write a separate blog about it.)

In August of this year, Orly started a new school. Because he was entering the fourth grade, we were afraid that the kids in the new school would spoil Christmas for him and we wanted him to hear the news from us, not anyone else. So a few days before his first day of school, we sat down with him and had the same conversation we’d had in January with Justin. Orly was dumbfounded. Unlike his brother, he was unsuspecting. What hurt him the most was discovering that the elf wasn’t real. He loved his elf. It had become his friend, and he trusted it. He was crushed to learn that it wasn’t magical.  I wondered if we had made the right decision in creating this fantasy for our kids only to shatter their reality later. 

On Thanksgiving morning, I was busy preparing for our dinner when Orly called me over to his room. “Mom!” He whispered. “Where are the elves?” 

“Oh, Um, they’re put away.” I had forgotten that the elves arrive on Thanksgiving Day. 

“Well, you need to go get them mom. Ryan will be waiting for them!” 

I sneaked over to their secret hiding spot, took them out of the box and handed them to my son. Orly called out for Justin and together they ran off to conspire on what they would do with the elves to surprise their baby brother. A new season had begun in our home. 

For weeks I’ve seen the big brothers create the same magical experience for their little brother as we created for them. They’ve been intentional about the words they use and the actions they take. Orly has been particularly mindful about helping me with the elves. I am amazed at how fun it’s been to team up with my kids this year.  

I was talking with Justin the other day and I asked him how he felt about all that had happened. 

Justin shrugged his shoulders as he confessed,  “At first I felt a little betrayed that you guys had lied. But mom, now that I’ve seen the look on Ryan’s face when he wakes up to those elves, I understand why you did it for us.” 

“Are you enjoying the year as much now that you’re in the know?” I asked. 

“I’m actually enjoying it even more!” He smiled. 

It still pains Orly that his elf isn’t what he thought he was. But even so I’ve been so proud of how gracefully he’s behaved. His disappointment has not affected the excitement he’s had in making this time special for his little brother. He found a new way to experience the joy of Christmas. 

I no longer question whether what we did was right or wrong. I realized that because my boys lived the magic, they can now create that magic for someone else. 

The magical moments they experienced growing up were very much real to them in the moment. And that is how we should all live, isn’t it? In the moment.  Change doesn’t take away the experience, it creates the space for new experiences. We may believe something to be true for us today that isn’t true for us tomorrow. That’s okay. It’s part of our journey. We evolve, we learn, and we adapt to our new reality. If you look back, you‘ll realize that each experience and every belief is training you for what’s coming next in your life. It will help you lead others and serve others in a new capacity. It stops being about you, and it becomes about them. I learned this lesson as a parent, and my boys learned it as big brothers. No matter how many things change, we can find the beauty, the joy, and the magic in the next stage of our journey. Life is all about how you choose to look at it. It can be wonderful, even if it’s different from what you once knew. 

A Moment of Clarity

 First you live the magic, then you create it. 

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. 

An Extra Seat at the Table

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, we are all getting ready for the biggest feast of the year.  You might be following your timeline to ensure your turkey defrosts on time, or searching through Pinterest boards for those last-minute table decorations. All the planning and prepping to make sure everything comes out just right can be overwhelming.  It‘s easy to lose sight of what really matters — that this is a time of togetherness, sharing, and giving thanks. 

Several years ago we hosted Thanksgiving at our townhouse. There were twenty people on our guest list, which was about as much as our limited space could handle. On that Thursday, we were busy cleaning and decorating our home. Orlando had brined the turkey for a couple of days and the appetizers, sides, and desserts were all done. We’d set up two long portable tables in our dining room and put away the kids’ toys and unnecessary furniture. It was tight, but it looked pretty. In the midst of the party planning commotion, I received a call from my friend Joana. 

“Hey there!” I said. “Are you ready for Thanksgiving?” 

“No, I’m not,” she replied solemnly.  Joana had planned to attend her family’s Thanksgiving celebration, but that morning she discovered that a few of her staff had no place to go. She immediately called her aunt who was hosting the feast. Joanna explained the situation and asked if she could bring a few extra friends to the party. 

“I’m sorry,” her aunt told her over the phone. “But I already set everything up. I‘ve accounted for every seat and made place cards for each one. I’ve tried so hard on making this an intimate, family dinner and it would throw everything off to invite strangers.”

Joanna understood but didn’t want to leave those people stranded during the holidays. She called me to ask if she could join us instead. 

Orlando and I had to think about it for a minute.  We, too, had every seat accounted for in our tiny townhouse and we didn’t know the people she was asking to take. But we trusted Joana, and we knew if it was significant for her to find a place for these people to have Thanksgiving, then there must be a good reason for it. 

So we answered yes. 

Our home got pretty crowded that evening. My cousin brought an extra small turkey to make sure we had enough food and some of us ate sitting on the couch to make room for our new guests. With a few minor adjustments, everything worked out. 

What I learned that day was that no one cared if there was a beautifully decorated place setting for every guest, if our space was too small, or if they had to have a smaller portion of sweet potato casserole. Everyone was happy and everybody felt welcomed.  Joana was grateful to spend the night with her friends and the crew she cared so much about, and we all had a lovely time getting to know our surprise guests. Many of us are blessed with family, friends, and a great support system—but many are not.

It became the most memorable Thanksgiving we’ve ever had… and the one we talk about most fondly. That’s how life is — the moments we treasure most are usually perfectly imperfect. 

So don’t sweat the small stuff. When you live life with open arms and an open heart, there is abundance, beauty and joy in everything. This is significant at work, at home and in social gatherings, and it is crucial to teach our future generation.

A Moment of Clarity

Sometimes the most generous gesture you can make is to make room at your table for that extra person who would otherwise feel left out or insignificant. 

A month of Gratitude

Hi all!

November is a wonderful time to reflect on our blessings and cultivate a gratitude mindset.

What are you grateful for this day, month, year?  Are you not sure? Well, guess what? It doesn’t matter!

Searching is what counts. Just thinking about what you’re grateful for will train your brain to look at your life differently and your thought patterns will begin to change.

Here are three simple ways to incorporate the practice of gratitude in your life this month:

Join A Gratitude Challenge 

Challenges are great because they get you focused on the goal you’re trying to achieve. Spending 30 days or more working on a specific goal gives you the opportunity to create a positive habit… and if it’s a habit that you can stick to, you can incorporate it into your lifestyle. Inviting friends and family to join your challenge is also a great way to stay accountable and it can make the process more fun.

I found this great Gratitude Challenge online, and I thought you might like it also.

Make it a Routine

Maybe you’re unmotivated or too busy to start a challenge, but recognize the importance of practicing gratitude. Here’s something I’ve been doing with my kids for two years and it’s been wonderful. I created a “What are you thankful for?” routine.

Every morning I take my kids to school. The first thing I do when we hop into the car is ask that question:”What are you thankful for?” Then each one of my boys and I have to say at least one thing we’re grateful for. There have been many mornings that my kids are sleepy, or we had a fight before we left the house and we’re all still mad at each other, or they’re upset for some other reason. On those days, it can be really hard to transition from bad mood to saying thank you to the universe. But I’ve insisted on creating that discipline. So even when I’m fuming, I take a deep breath, drive for a couple of minutes and then say, “Okay boys, what are we grateful for this morning?”

Sometimes their response is “nothing,” or “I don’t know.” When I get those answers, I begin a series of questions.

“Did you guys wake up this morning?

“Yes,” they say half-heartedly.

“Did you wake up in a cozy bed, with warm covers?”

“Yes.”

“Did you have food to eat breakfast?”

“Yes.”

“Do your parents have a car to drive you to school in?”

“Yes.”

You get the drift. I run through every mundane thing that we did that morning to show them all the things that we take for granted but are really blessed to have or do. And then I let them choose which one of those they want to be thankful for. Believe it or not, it works! It has been great training for all of us and has become our morning routine.

Read a beautiful story about how you can have gratitude mornings even from a distance here. 

Now we’re all so well trained that the kids have gotten very creative.  They tell me all sorts of random things they’re grateful for, like, their hands or crayons.

Share your Gratitude for others

Tell the people who have made a difference in your life that you’re thankful for them. You may think they already know how you feel but you have no idea what it means to someone when you can genuinely share something about them that you’re grateful for. Maybe they helped you in a moment of need. Maybe they’re that friend that you run to whenever you’re excited about something. Maybe they impacted your life with their kindness or generosity. Or maybe they’ve just always been there for you and you can’t imagine your life without them. Make this month the month you call them just to say thanks. Or invite them to a gratitude dinner. You can also send them a postcard!

With Thanksgiving around the corner, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the day to day business of the holidays, but make it a point to carve out some time for what really matters. Those few minutes in your day can make a huge difference in your life.

A Moment of Clarity

This November marks one year since I started this blog. Although I’d been writing over at Pile On the Greens for years, starting this blog marked a decision. The decision to turn my writing hobby into a speaking and writing career. It meant that I committed 100% to sharing inspirational stories, tips, and lessons with you every week, regardless of the circumstances.

And so this week I wanted to say THANKS to YOU. Thank you to those of you who faithfully transitioned with me from my former blog to this one. Thank you to those who are new here.  And thanks to all of you who believe in the Be There Even When You’re Not project. Thank you for letting me have a space in your inbox and in your hearts.

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!”