There are always moments in life where we are offered an opportunity that feels too big for us, making it very scary. Our immediate reaction is to run, bolt and hide. Yet, this is fear talking. And fear keeps us from going for big things in our lives and soaring high. Sandra Joseph’s response to these situations is to fall in love with fear. Sandra is a history-making Broadway star (as the longest-running lead of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway), a number one international bestselling author and TEDx speaker. Sandra talks about embracing the things that frighten us, mustering up our inner courage to be able to stand on the edge and look fear in the eye, and learning not to cower from the vulnerability that is required.
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Embracing Fear And Falling In Love With It with Sandra Joseph
I am excited in part because I get to speak to somebody that I absolutely adore, this beautiful woman who I got to collaborate with on something that was exciting and nerve-wracking. It put me on my growth edge like nothing has since the time I studied for the bar exam when I was going to become a lawyer. I had to get ready for that thing. It was an insane amount of pressure. I spent so much time and focus on it. I remember at the time, my new bride, my wife now of almost 30 years, Randi, she gave me several weeks to myself. We had two young little ones at the time. She took the kids for several weeks and went to her mother’s house, so I could study for the bar exam and not be crazy about other things.
I am reliving that moment and all that beautiful mix of energies is going on inside of me knowing that I get to debrief with this amazing person who is a part of that experience with me. It was spectacular. The experience I’m talking about is the TEDx event in South Lake Tahoe. My guest is a dear friend, her name is Sandra Joseph. Sandra was on this stage. I want to first of all, not share my experience of what Sandra’s experience was. I want to get it fresh from her. Sandra is somebody who is world-renowned, somebody people know from having been on Broadway years ago. She’s the longest running lead of Christine in The Phantom of The Opera on Broadway, which is a remarkable accomplishment.
In the last episode, we spoke about what it was like for you in leading up to that moment where you got that part where you were the lead. What it was like to have the resilience and endurance to continue to deliver that high-quality performance day after day and month and year after year. This was a totally different experience for me. I didn’t play on Broadway, but this was very different than anything I’d ever done. I’ve been a speaker for years, but TED is a very different thing. Sandra, first of all, welcome to the show. It’s lovely to see you as always.
Thank you, Adam. I’m excited to have this conversation. I’ve not spoken with anybody about this, especially to speak to you because you were there having your own experience. I’m looking forward to debriefing it.
The place I would begin for myself is when I decided to do it. When did you decide that you wanted to do a TED Talk and what was that decision like for you?
I had the great fortune to be invited to give a TEDx Talk. I did not throw my hat in the ring for it. For everybody reading, sometimes we’re given opportunities that feel too big for us. You know that it’s a wonderful opportunity. I felt very honored and grateful to have been asked. I immediately said yes even though inside I was trembling. I remember hanging up the phone after I agreed to do it. I literally said, “God, if you want me to do this, you’re going to have to tell me what to say.” I did not know which way I would go. I’ve been a speaker now for many years. I have a keynote. I have my topics. I have my takeaways. TED is its own weird thing. It was months before the event. I knew I had a significant amount of time. Like everyone, I procrastinated, but I said yes even though I was nervous about it.
It was yes but trembling?
I feel like that’s been the key to my success my entire life. I’ve been very intimate with fear. I made a promise to myself. That’s the truth of it. After I was a fifth grader who chickened out at the first solo I was ever given, I promised myself that if there was something I wanted to do that my heart was saying yes to, even if fear was saying no, run, bolt, too much, too scary that I would say yes anyway. That put me on my edge as you so eloquently said, saying yes to being on that edge again has built a lot of inner courage I think that has strengthened me. It doesn’t mean the fear goes away, but that I learned to bring it along for the ride. That ended up being the subject of my talk. It’s my life’s work. It’s on myself to say yes to fear.
It’s an odd thing to feel like you’re in a relationship with fear on some level. Most people don’t want to be in a relationship with fear at all, not in an intimate way. They want to be able to deal with it, somehow get rid of it or something like that. When you use the word relationship, that conjures up particular feelings for me. It’s like a family, a friend, something you love, or someone you love.
That ended up being the topic of my talk. My talk is about falling in love with fear. As far as deciding on what is my idea worth spreading, I decided very consciously that I wasn’t going to come at it from an external stance in terms of what would position me a certain way or what is aligned with my brand or any of that stuff. I threw absolutely everything away. I’m not suggesting that other people do this. I’m saying this was my process. I went inward and asked for guidance. I did my deepest soul searching about what is mine to share, what have I learned, what have I experienced, and what might I offer that could be useful to someone?
We speak about what we most need to learn. We teach what we need to learn, this subject of befriending fear. More than that, falling in love with it, it’s what started to crystallize for me because it has been the truest thing that I know that I keep learning. It comes up again and again. It has also been the source of my greatest joy, my greatest accomplishments, personally and professionally. It’s the willingness to stand on that edge and be that vulnerable. It was vulnerable for me. I’m so grateful to hear you say that was your experience too even though you’ve been speaking for years. I’ve been on stage a lot. I know how to be onstage. I know how to memorize a script, but this was something entirely different and it pushed all my buttons, too.
That’s such a great way to put it. Yet pretty much every button got pushed on some level for me. I don’t want to fast forward to the night in question yet. Let’s go back to that incubation of the idea. I recommend a few things. We work with speakers as well, our company does, that are preparing for some big talks, sometimes big presentations. Sometimes it’s some other form of a legacy talk or a talk that might even be getting ready to do a TED Talk or sometimes it’s the TED Talk itself. It’s a big deal when you put yourself in the position of, “This is what might become my legacy.” There’s a context for this talk being something that lives beyond us.
On the internet, the distinct possibility that these kinds of things will live on for maybe thousands and thousands of years, which is incredible. I believe in eternity personally. I think we’re eternal beings. I’m not thinking that we get extinguished at any point anyway. To have something that’s out there impacting people, in some way influencing them hopefully in a positive way for a long time to come feels heavy. There’s a heavy responsibility to it. I remember when I was incubating the ideas for what this talk might be, I took some long walks on the beach. We do a process with people sometimes called the last walk. I thought to myself, “How about the last talk? What if this was my last talk?”
Similar to the way I think, Randy Pausch gave his last lecture. Maybe it’s almost fifteen years or something ago. I remember being so moved by that. The world was because it had millions and millions of views of people that watch this man so vulnerably share his life lessons with his students, with his children, and with the world. I thought, “What would my last talk be?” That was part of the process for me to put some ideas down on paper and start to get ready to do this thing. What happened? I had this mountain of stuff. I had a lot there that I wanted to say. Anybody that knows me like my family or people that I have worked with, they go, “That’s not a surprise. He has a lot to say.” I got it to 4,500 words or something like that.
Part of what we have to do is you have to get it on paper somehow. Whether that’s to turn on Zoom or some other recording device and speak, get it transcribed, put it into some paragraph form, simple stuff. Count the words. Go to the word count on your word processor and go, “Good. This is fairly coherent.” I said a bunch of stuff. It’s 4,500 words. 4,500 words to speak without rapid fire like you’re some auctioneer would take about 30 minutes. It was way too long. It’s that process of taking that big mountain of ideas and then distilling it down. In my experience, I ended up having two talks. There were two talks that were in that mountain, not one. I want to ask you what that was like for you. You get invited, which is a little bit of a different paradigm to start. A lot of people who are reading this are thinking, “Do I have a message that I want to share?” Did you get to see the remake of A Star Is Born?
Did you love it?
I know the scene that you’re thinking of.
How important is it? They’re sitting in the bar and he’s talking to her. He’s trying to see whether or not she has that burning desire, that fire in her belly to share something with the world because he says everybody has something to share. Not everybody has the courage to share it or even the courage to get it clearer. What is it that I have to get out of me that has to be exercised from me in my lifetime that is a benefit in some way to the world? Do I have the guts to do that? He’s egging her on to do that. That’s what it was like for me, going into my belly space and saying, “What is that thing that I have the guts to stand up and say?” You were in that position where somebody said they invited you to share that. You went into your process to figure it out. What was that like for you? You’ve shared the topic with us. What was it like to incubate the talk itself and to overlay that in this context of something important to share? That whole TED thing that Chris Anderson speaks about is an idea worth spreading. The first thing you probably look in the mirror and goes, “I don’t know if this idea is worth spreading.” What was it like for you?
It was everything that you described. I agree with you that it feels permanent. It is permanent on the internet. Therefore, it’s layered with this added level of importance. I come from a world of live performance where it’s one and done. It’s meant to be experienced in that room, at that moment. I did the same show for years, so I had six nights a week to try to do it better. This is one and done. It’s permanent. That piece of it felt very pressured. When I went into my internal space of that, what’s the fire in my belly? I looked at taking everything external out of the equation. What do I know to be true that I think might be a benefit? That’s the question that I sat with.
I did a lot of journaling. I wrote. I did a lot of meditation. Pretty early on the question came to me about what if we could wake up every day and fall in love with what we fear the most. We could embrace the things that frighten us, even the big things like losing people we love or our own impermanence. Not to mention all the ways that we hold ourselves back from opportunities, relationships, or career advancement, whatever it might be because of our fear, because of the vulnerability that’s required. This is something that I know very well and that I’ve been working with my entire life. That crystallized pretty early on. I wrote my way into many brick walls. I ended up cutting half of what I had.
The TED animal is its own unique genre. My style is not educational generally. My style is a personal story. I come from theater where you let the story do the work. People connect the dots themselves. TED has to have a little bit of a flavor of giving you the idea, delivering the message. That was a struggle for me to how to make it a TED Talk and make it fit that style while still being authentic in my own voice. I worked with a coach. I consulted with several people. The way that I approached it with the coach was a lot of conversation, a lot of back and forth. I got it into written form, but it started with a deep dive conversation about the idea and what was important to me about it, getting clear on that. The painful process of cutting murder your darlings.
How brutal was that for you? For me, moving it from this place of 4,000-ish words down to about 3,000 felt like I was cutting off limbs. It was painful because I was in love with certain phrases. I was in love with these stories or ideas. I convinced myself that it wouldn’t be the same if I cut certain things out. That was excruciating to edit in that way. All writing is rewriting on some level, but it’s the removing of things. I was prepared for, “Let’s get this wording right.” I also had to decide whether I was going to commit this talk completely to memory or I was going to stand up there, be present, know the idea that I wanted to share this thing, this concept. If you have an idea in your head, you want to rebuild it in the mind’s eye of the people. I’ve done that for a lot of years. To be present and be on script but, but also have the flexibility to be a little off script as well, I opted to not do that. We have this choice to memorize or not to memorize. That is the question on some level.
I wanted to have it not so much memorized but so embodied in my being and in my physicality that if I wanted to take a little liberty in the moment, I knew that I would find my way right back onto the track. I didn’t want to find myself off on some other tangent and not be able to get back to the through line in time because eighteen minutes, that’s the other thing that’s involved. If you do a training now as a speaker, I do training and we know we’ve got an hour or 90 minutes or something. You’ve got enough time to always bring it back. With eighteen minutes, if you lose, you lose your center. It can be challenging to get back and you do not want to violate the time constraints. It’s disrespectful. Frankly, it’s against the rules. What was it like for you to hone the talk down to such a short amount of time? Did you choose to memorize? You said you did.
I did. I’m somewhat scripted, but I know the stories so well that I can have that flexibility. That’s a great place to be where you’re so comfortable. You’re so inside of it that you’re in your body. You’re in the moment. You can deliver it fresh every time. That’s a great place to be. For a TED Talk, that’s too big a risk to take. It’s so condensed that every word matter. You want to deliver it in a way that is tried and true and well-rehearsed. I opted to memorize it as well, which I thought would be easy because I have a lot of experience. I know how to memorize a script, but I found that challenging.
Why was that so tough?
I know all kinds of tricks for memorizing. Part of my problem was I kept rewriting. My Achilles heel is tweaking. The next day you think of a better way of saying something than the way you did it previously and how can you not change it? I had to ultimately say different does not equal better because at some point you’re rearranging the furniture. The message is there. Every word doesn’t have to be perfect. This was a key. Whatever we do, we want to be in a space of healthy striving, doing our best, giving it our all, aiming for excellence. What I think is so crucial is that we also recognize it doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m going to approach it like it’s my last lecture. I’m going to go for it as though this is the most important talk I’ll ever give.
While at the same time, recognizing I’m throwing in my idea into the hat with many other ideas in the world. Hopefully, this will have a little nugget of something that will be useful to someone. I can’t make it so precious and so important because then I’m going to trip over my own feet. I’m not going to give my best. It does a disservice to the whole genre. No matter how brilliant anybody’s idea is, it’s going to resonate with some people. It’s not going to resonate with some people. All we can do is show up, give our best and try to take some of the pressure off. Some very wise person said, “Act as though everything you do that the universe depends upon it while at the same time laughing at yourself for thinking that what you do makes any difference,” or something along those lines. That’s an important piece to bring in, don’t you?
I do. There’s an element of humility that has to also accompany the arrogance. There’s an element of audacity involved in standing up on a stage, getting the mic and speaking to people. I don’t care what you speak or what you sing is in the case. It’s so often your talent has come out through song. Even when you have talent, there’s some element that’s healthy inside that says, “Who am I? I don’t care how I sing or how I speak. Who am I to be that person?” Balance that, harmonize it perhaps to Yin and Yang, to create this harmony between those competing things that are going on inside of all of us. The audacity of our behavior combined with the humility of being a human being, frail and afraid at times as well.
That is so profound and important. It goes to the very root of how we identify ourselves. I come back to this a lot where when I think I’m in charge and I’m running the show and it’s all up to me and my ego starts going. Whether it goes in the direction of self-doubt, which that’s my go-to, not good enough, or if it goes to the other place of where the self-doubt comes out in a different way of, “I’m going to prove to myself, I’m going to prove to everyone, I’m going to do this perfectly.” They’re both flip sides of the same thing. When I can remember that I’m a spiritual being having a human experience, I’m not in charge. My job is to create the conditions in which God can speak through me. Use whatever word you will. The universe can use me to be a voice. When I can get out of the mindset that it’s all about me and this defines me, I pour my heart and soul into this talk, into my book, and into my keynotes. We do that, but also in a way those things don’t have anything to do with me. They don’t define me. I’m not in them. They are completely the best I can do. I recognize what happens from here on out, it’s not up to me. That’s when I’m like in alignment, in a healthy place where I’m defining myself as the sole and not the small ego excel. It’s hard to get there sometimes. I try to keep returning to that truth because I do believe that’s the truth. We do the best we can. Ultimately, we’re being a vessel and that’s the whole gig.
There’s this simultaneous letting go that happens. There’s all this high intention, this great intentionality, but the importance of it and the self-importance.
In our training as actors and singers, we learn that you have to do all the preparation, all of the hard work, dissecting the character, knowing it in yourselves. If you get out there and try to play the part and do perfectly, it’s not going to go well. All the preparation is so that you can roll it up in a ball, throw it away, be present, and let go of it. That’s when the performance comes alive. That’s when you give your best. That’s when we do our best. Do the work, and then surrender and let go.
The universe is so funny. When it comes to certain things like how circumstances come out, they become so unpredictable, which is such a great aspect of speaking. Our company works with speakers. We say the one thing a speaker has to be is unpredictable. The moment you’re predictable, people have tuned out. On some level you lose the opportunity to meet them where they are, to open their hearts, which is our fullest intention is to always be able to open people’s hearts with whatever we’re sharing. Whatever it is, whatever the intention is, you miss it if they’ve fallen asleep or if you become so boring or predictable or they’re on Facebook in a second, they’re in their messages, or in their email in a second.
That second, you’ve become predictable. They know what’s going to happen next. I love that element of things not being predictable except when it comes to, “Will the lights work, will the camera work, will the music work?” It’s so interesting that you, the most experienced of any of the performers that were onstage then. I was a lawyer for years. This is a second career for me. This has been the thing you’ve been doing for so long and you get up on the stage, which is the perfect irony of it. Will you tell the story of what happened? Here we are. We’re going to go to like it’s show time. The TEDx has started. We’ve got 450 people in the room in beautiful South Lake Tahoe and you get introduced.
I’m introduced. I’ve done all the preparation. The whole long day of waiting around and stress and all of that. I’m checking my hair and my lipstick for the 900th time. Finally, I’m announced, I go out, I start my talk and my microphone is not on. I wasn’t sure even though I did a sound check earlier that day. I knew something is different. I was pretty sure my microphone wasn’t working, but I kept going in case I was hearing it differently until someone in the audience shout it out, “We can’t hear you.”
How are you classically trained? You and every other performer, there’s this old expression which is what?
The show must go on.
You’re out there. Your mind tells you, “The microphone is not working. I’ll project a little. This isn’t going to stop me. What are you kidding? It’s 10,000 shows on Broadway. A little microphone? No way.”
Here’s the thing that I feel so grateful for. I have trained my brain over the decades that unexpected challenges like that make me better. When that happened, I laughed. I said, “I’ll be right back.” It turned out the guy who puts the microphones on us had forgotten to turn on the battery pack on my wireless mic. It was his mistake. When I’m in my fear place, I become very narcissistic and the world revolves around me and my needs. I feel like the TED Talk, whatever happens with it, they haven’t come out yet. Once they’re public and all of that, whatever happens, I’m going to hold onto my most successful moment, which was I was present enough to say, “It’s totally cool, Eric. No big deal. It’s great. No, it’s awesome.”
He was mortified that he had forgotten to turn on my mic. I was like, “No, this is going to make me better.” I felt that way. Part of it is we both know the company Learning Strategies, Paul Scheele, they have a Paraliminal, which is an audio training, meditative-like subliminal messages, but it’s Paraliminal where someone speaking into both ears at the same time. There’s a Paraliminal that I’ve been working with for years long before I knew them, Pete Bissonette, Paul Scheele from Learning Strategies Corporation. It’s called Peak Performance. One of the messages that it embeds into your psyche is that unexpected challenges improve your performance. I do think I’ve internalized that. I was more relaxed the second when they reintroduced me, I came back out. I felt so much more free. I was more present because something had gone wrong. I’m glad it happened.
This is one of the most profound gifts that I believe that you’ve given to the folks that are reading this because there are lots of ways to look at that when we’re sharing. From my own experience and have been in that situation, I’ve thought, “How do I utilize this?” The concept that we’ll then share with other people is utilizing what is or as is in things. You could be giving a presentation to three people at your office or something big or whatever it is, stuff is going to go on. Stuff is going to go down. It’s not always according to plan. In fact, the best things often are the things that are outside of that. The standard plan for how it’s going to go if you’re able to be present with it in the moment. Similar to what you were saying about fear or anything else that’s there for your benefit. I’ve been listening to Paraliminals and other types of meditations for a long time. We love Pete and Paul and their work as well. This idea that everything is conspiring for our benefit. We do not live in a universe regardless if you’re spiritually inclined or not.
This is just a part of a belief system. You either have it or you don’t. I didn’t have it earlier on in my life. I wasn’t coming from a place where everything that was happening was always conspiring for my benefit. I thought, “Yes, this stuff that’s not clearly trying to take me out.” I believe in a loving, kind, abundant universe. Everything is always happening for my benefit. It doesn’t feel that way in the moment sometimes. The question is, what’s the creative opportunity? Your microphone was off. Right there and then somebody calls it out. The universe is literally calling out to you, “We can’t hear you.” I’ve heard people ignore messages from the audience. Sometimes that’s their mindset. It’s like somebody calls out something. It’s like they’re a heckler or they’re this or that. You keep going, but you didn’t do that.
You were present enough to be like, “How funny. I’ll be right back.” You go offstage. You don’t bash the guy for a human mistake. Something happened, he had a million things to do. You turn the microphone back on, come back out, and you are live and people were inspired. They were even that much more inspired. That won’t make it to the actual video. People in the world that watch it won’t get that piece of it. There’s this whole preamble to it where you modeled for everybody else the elegance, what it looks like to be graceful under pressure. That was magnificent. People who were there got a treat to see, not just a true professional but to see somebody who was truly present in the moment, being able to handle that situation so elegantly.
That was a very teachable moment for me. I was grateful it happened to me and not somebody who hadn’t been on stage a lot. There was a girl there who was sixteen.
That could take you out if you don’t have a little bit of training as to what’s happening in this moment. It’s like, “I’m not going to die. Nobody’s dying here. The microphone is not on. We restart.” Go take care of it. It’s simple on some level. It’s making completely off on another.
I’ve learned that from being in Phantom. There were nights when things would go wrong. I often talk about the night the boat stopped working. There’s this magical, mystical, very spooky boat ride in the middle of the show. The Phantom takes Christine to his lair. One night the boat stopped working. We were far away from where we were supposed to go. We were in the middle of a song. We’ve got a whole song to go. The Phantom steps out of the boat, reaches for my hand, and we proceeded to walk on water for the rest of the scene. For that audience, they probably thought that was the coolest show they’d ever seen. While we were going, “We’re going to keep going.”
Because your senses are heightened in that moment. You’re in uncharted water in that moment literally.
You go with it. It serves you well. It humanized me for that audience. It humanizes you when you make a mistake or when something outside of your control goes wrong. All we can do is focus on what we can control and try to stay present and go with it.
Was there a favorite time of either during the performance or after, what was the highlight of the night for you?
I have such a clear memory of what that was. After I was done, my husband came backstage. We had a moment. He was crying. He had been so supportive and so helpful the entire time. Sharing that moment with him once it was over, the relief once it’s over, it’s like, “Hallelujah.” I went and sat down in the audience next to Sam Horn, who has been a mentor and is someone that I admire and love so dearly. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned from Sam that has been transformational for me is the concept of receiving and reveling. Sam Horn has a mantra, “Receive and revel.”
That’s something that was not okay for me to do as a young person. That was shut down. I was raised in the Midwest. There was a phrase like, “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back,” and things of that nature. I was never allowed to revel in an accomplishment or to receive the positive feelings of pride and excitement. The best part for me was sitting down. Sam had also done a TED Talk that day. We sat next to each other in the audience. My husband brought me a glass of wine. I shared that glass of wine with Sam as we watched everyone else get up there. We were rooting for them and also being settled in ourselves that we did it. To celebrate, to have that moment of cheers, sharing a glass of wine with this woman that I so love and to sit there with her. Receive and revel in the gift of being a part of it.
I adore Sam. Sam was a mentor to me and still is. She has incredible wisdom. She’s so grounded. I feel like that’s one of the great gifts that she brings to the world is the degree to which she is like mother Earth. I know she’s a mom, but she has the mother earthness, if that’s a word. To celebrate, to be able to receive in a way that it’s not so much about you, but it’s about the experience. To me, part of the motivation for doing something like this isn’t necessarily like, “How do I build my brand?” Yes. Could it be good for your brand? It can. Is it possible that it leads to business? There are talks that have got millions and millions of views that have helped people in their businesses. Simon Sinek has a very successful business. In large part it’s because he has a 35 million view talk, which had all the difficulties you could imagine. His microphone went out in the middle of his talk. It was a handheld mic. They had to bring him another one.
The lighting was terrible. He had this tiny little flip chart with wrinkled paper and one black marker. He goes, “My God,” but yet that talk has changed a lot of things in the corporate space and outside of it for a lot of people. Part of what was in your process was not hanging on too tightly to the idea that it had to be just so. There are three things I reminded myself up as I was going through this process. One was it’s never too late. I’ve thought at times, “It’s too late for that. I’m past the point of doing something like that,” or what have you.
Even when I was eighteen years into a profession and pivoted out of that into something else, it’s like, is it too late? That statement, it’s never too late. My desire for things to be perfect. Perfectionism can turn into procrastination very easily. They’re flip sides of the same coin in many ways because if you can’t do it perfectly, we say, “I’ll wait until I can do it perfectly, if the timing is right, and the ducks line up and the stars align,” and all the other stuff we tell ourselves. Challenging perfectionism is a big deal. The last one, and this is tough because it hits the bullseye of my ego pretty easily, which is daring to suck. The idea of the worst-case scenario is that it sucks. Whatever sucks looks like to you. We’re the worst critic anyway. Our inner critic is so much worse than any other critic could ever be anyhow. It’s the idea that you challenge yourself to do something even though the risk is what you call sucking or humiliation. It’s not fear of public speaking generally to me that stops people’s fear of public humiliations. It’s a fear of public judgment. That embarrassed, that shame of doing something and not doing it well in the presence of so many other people is what stops folk from even ever trying.
This experience was wonderful. Sam was a great benefit to me in being able to move past a lot of that stuff. She was an incredible mentor. She helped me to unpack those ideas, to distill it down. In my process, it was two talks. I was thinking, “Make them both. It can be both.” No, it couldn’t. It had to be this one simple idea that was so important to me that if I left the Earth tomorrow, I wanted someone outside of the people that had already been able to share this with to hear it and determine for themselves if it’s something that’s worthwhile for them or not. I love the experience. I love the fact that we got to do it together. We got to be onstage in the same venue having an earth-shattering experience. We’re both doing some things for some years and not to say that you get jaded. There’s so much energy flowing inside of you and you are in this uncharted territory. Those moments are a little bit rarer, at least my experience. Has that been the case for you too?
Absolutely. When we’re growing the most, it’s tough. It’s those growing pains of walking into another level of vulnerability. It was excruciating at times. It was challenging. I suspect it will be again once the videos are there. I will confess that my video came for a preview for me to take a look at. It sat in my inbox for days before I had the courage to watch it. I did not want to watch it. I was able to watch it once. I don’t like seeing myself on video. It’s very vulnerable, this whole weird TED thing. For me, it creates more compassion for other people because I have to be compassionate toward myself or I couldn’t do it. It’s that falling in love with the fear. It’s that befriending the vulnerability. Brené Brown, TEDx extraordinaire, you know her story, the viral video, The Power of Vulnerability, it means that I do recognize that vulnerability is the birthplace of the things that make life worth living. That does not mean it’s easy or comfortable.
You’ve given me a point of additional clarity when you said about compassion because the compassion that something like this brings out in yourself, for yourself is so powerful for other people. Being vulnerable as you have to be if you’re going to get at the raw and the rich stuff inside of you that’s seeking expression and the stuff that might help other people in some way, touch other people in some level, has to come from that rich soil. To be that vulnerable and to be able to harness, hold that energy, hold the container for that for yourself, to give yourself enough compassion to be able to do it.
Other stuff that goes on emotionally inside could have taken you out long before it happened. My dirty little secret is about a few days beforehand, I was in that process. I had been whittling it down and editing it until about a few weeks before. Like you, I wanted every single word to be so. At a certain point, it’s like the painter. I imagine at some point you have to take your brush off the canvas. You have to stop. There’s no more paint. There’s no more mixing of any colors to make it that much better. Take your freaking brush off the canvas and put it down. I had to do that. It’s like now deliver it. That whole, “It’s too late,” thing. I’m thinking, “I don’t think my brain will do this anymore.” I don’t know that I’m asking my body and my mind to do something it’s not capable of. I had all this self-doubt about that, but also feeling frail, feeling old, feeling incompetent. I thought I dealt with on personal growth programs years ago came back up for me. I’m like, “Holy smokes.” To move through that and to show myself the level of self-care that I did, the level of compassion and understanding is so important because I believe in A Course In Miracles.
I believe in certain things that I read in that amazing treatise so many years ago. I still refer to it in this one chapter. Chapter 30 is called A New Beginning. In there, it says that the love that we give ourselves is the love that we give the world. It’s the love we offer. The things we give ourselves or receive or willing to receive become our offering to the world. When we withhold love, when we withhold approval, when we judge ourselves, that’s exactly what we offer. That becomes our offering to the world. To contribute at a deep level to the world, a big part of it is what it is we’re willing to give ourselves and receive ourselves. It’s such an interesting twist on it because all of us have been brought up to think that it’s the giving. We put ourselves second. Women do this more than men. It’s part of our culture. It’s that whole thing, “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.” You go, “Wow.” The compassion that you gave yourself has become an offering to other people and what a beautiful collateral benefit to putting yourself on that path.
You gave me goosebumps. I appreciate everything you shared and the way that you brought all of that together. I did get chills when you talked about creating a painting and taking your brush off the canvas that at some point. That made me think of the great masterpiece from Stephen Sondheim that all musical theater people worship. It is a show called Sunday In the Park with George about the painter, Georges Seurat. There’s this simple but profound line in one of the songs that ends the song. It’s a song called Finishing the Hat. Throughout he’s doing this pointillism, dot by dot painting this hat. He’s working on it and the whole world disappears as he’s finishing the hat. At the end, he sits back, and he says, “I made a hat where it never was a hat.” That, to me, is a reason to receive and revel. We all have this creative spark. We’re all creative beings. We all have had experiences that we can share that can be beneficial to other people.
When we have the courage to make our hat, to say what’s ours to say, to build whatever it is we’re wanting to build, we can sit back and say, “I created something that had I not shown up and done the work would not exist.” It’s not mine to now sit back and judge if it’s the perfect hat. It’s to celebrate that I had the courage to show up and make my offering and cheers. I’ll sit back and have a glass of wine with anybody who has the courage to do that because it will call up all those old voices that you thought you dealt with. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of creativity that I do believe we joined with the forces of creation, of the universe when we have the courage to put something out there to make our hat. That to me is worth going through the pain of the creative process. It deserves to be reveled in and celebrated.
“What’s yours to say?” What a beautiful question for all of us. You answered that question when you got on stage, would you summarize for us now what was yours to say with your TED Talk?
What I was hoping to communicate was that the things we fear the most don’t have to hold us back. They don’t have to cripple us with worry. They can fuel us and serve us in living our lives more fully. It’s what we’ve been talking about this. It’s a perfect example of this idea that it’s going right into the hot fiery center of that fear as opposed to pushing it away or numbing ourselves out or avoiding. Walking through the fire is the most alive we will ever be. It is the place where you meet all the darkness in yourself, but you will also emerge as a renewed being. It’s like that baptism by fire. I use different metaphors in the talk. I do relate it to Phantom. My character’s journey was she’s running from this phantom. The entire show she’s running from this monster. By the end of the show, she looks directly into his unmasked face, at the source of her fear. She looks directly through eyes of love and compassion. It’s a transformational moment for both characters. I do find that when we look directly into the face of our fears with love, with deep tenderness and compassion, then we can transform them. We can set ourselves free. We express ourselves in ways that we want to, that we’re here for. I hope that makes sense.
That is yours to say. For those of you who don’t know, this very important tidbit, you married the Phantom. We got to complete the story with that. Christine marries the Phantom.
I fell in love with the person I saw behind that mask.
I have so enjoyed this time together. I always enjoy you so much, Sandra. The experience of doing a TEDx Talk was breathtaking. I highly recommend it. It starts with this question that Sandra shared with us, which is, “What’s yours to say?” It’s that concept that comes out of A Star Is Born as well. You’ve got to know that there is something you want to say. I believe everybody has something that’s theirs to say. I don’t think there’s anybody that’s alive that does not have that. The question is whether you seek it out. Maybe one day you’re walking and an apple falls off a tree and hit you in the head. This is mine to do this. This is mine my work to do this. This is my voice and my message to share. Maybe you haven’t had that moment.
A lot of people have it inside of themselves as a question, “Is there something that’s mine to say?” A great place to begin is simply to ask that question. Even now, as you’re reading this, ask yourself that question. Maybe ponder it, maybe meditate on it or put it in something that you think about before you go to bed. Is there something that is in fact your mind to say? Allow for the forces of spirit, the universe or anything else that you might want to call it to give you some guidance. The experience itself was magical. There were young people. We had somebody who was thirteen or fourteen years old on the stage. Folks that were into their 70s as well. It was a beautiful, diverse group of folks with different life experiences.
The wonderful thing about TED is they’re not looking for professional speakers. They’re looking for people who have ideas that are worth spreading. It’s a simple concept and it’s magical. I will say lastly, to me the message that I got to share on that stage was one that’s been incubating for many years. There’s a moment in my talk where I say after having gone through law school and spent eighteen years practicing law and learning all these different, being in business and whatnot, I never thought that someday I’d be known as the, “I love my life,” guy. That’s what I’d be known as. My own little voice was saying to me quite a few times is that, “Is that important enough? Is that as important as the law or is it as important as some other things in life? Is it too simplistic?” That was my dark night of the soul where I was questioning my path after all this time.
I came out the other side and have come out the other side knowing that it is simple. It’s also profound for me. It’s been worth my time and effort to put the question out to people and ask, “What if you decided to love your life no matter what?” I love how our messages are so simpatico. Again, Sandra, I adore you. Thank you so much. My prayer is that we all get to wake up again. I know one thing is for certain as you’re reading this that you got to wake up. That was not a guarantee. That was a blessing. That’s a gift. It was certainly it’s something we couldn’t have counted on because we can’t. It’s doesn’t work like that. When we get to wake up again, I hope that’s your intention as well, that we can be a little bit more awake, a little bit more conscious tomorrow than we are even in this moment. I feel like I’m vibrating at a higher level by spending time in this conversation with this amazing being here.
We get to wake up and be a little bit more awake. In that moment where we realized we’re taking our first conscious breath of the morning, there’s a recognition, at least for me, there will be a recognition that there are people who are taking their last breath also in that moment. Babies being born are taking their first breath of life. There’s something sacred, holy, and special in that moment and something to be grateful for. If you’re willing to do it when you wake up to acknowledge the specialness in that moment and be grateful for it. As you put your feet on the floor, take ten seconds before you have to go rush off to get the coffee and the kids and the chores and whatever else it is that’s going to drive you quickly. Take ten seconds to put your feet on the floor and feel gratitude and appreciation for yourself as you say out loud, “I love my life. I love my life. I love my life.” What a blessing.
- Sandra Joseph
- Previous Episode with Sandra Joseph
- TEDx Talk
- Learning Strategies
- Sam Horn
- A Course In Miracles
About Sandra Joseph
Sandra Joseph is a history-making Broadway star, a #1 international bestselling author, and a keynote speaker. Her legendary run as Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera spanned ten years and more than 1,300 performances, and earned her the record as the longest-running leading lady in the longest-running Broadway show of all time. She has been seen on numerous national broadcasts, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, The Today Show, Dateline, The Early Show, The View, and Oprah: Where Are They Now?
Sandra is on a mission to empower other people’s voices. Her one-of-a-kind musical keynote programs inspire audiences to become world-class performers and unmask what matters most in their lives and careers.
Sandra is a member of The Transformational Leadership Council, a group of 100 top thought leaders. Some of the luminaries that endorse her work are Jack Canfield, Mark Nepo, Martha Beck, Marci Shimoff, and SARK. Sandra is the author of Unmasking What Matters: 10 Life Lessons from 10 Years on Broadway. She is also the coauthor, with five-time New York Times best-selling author Caroline Myss, of Your Creative Soul: Expressing Your Authentic Voice. Sandra is married to her costar from The Phantom of the Opera, actor Ron Bohmer. They currently reside in Southern California.