Welcome!

Welcome to It’s Not About The Chair. I’m Lyena Strelkoff, a storyteller, performer, speaker, and coach. I believe our stories — the ones we’ve lived, that we can’t believe we made it through, or can’t stop laughing about, or just can’t stop thinking about —  are the greatest source of healing we have, for ourselves and especially, for each other. I started telling my own stories after I was paralyzed in a fall. My hope is that this blog will be a place to laugh, learn, heal and grow together. Because, ultimately, it’s not about the chair, or any other obstacle we might face. It’s about the choices we make, the spirit we bring, and helping each other thrive. I’m so glad you’re here.

I’m doing what scares me most… For Prince

Yesterday, like about a million other people, I was stunned to hear that Prince had died, and it’s hitting me pretty powerfully.

It’s not really about fandom. I do love a great deal of his music, but I never went to a Prince concert. I don’t own every album.

No, the loss I feel is bigger than that.

I don’t necessarily mean deeper, and certainly not “more” in the generic sense… Just wider.

In fact, it’s almost unnameable. I don’t have a word that can get around what feels lost, no container that alone can fit it all in… Like Prince, himself, it cannot be contained.

As best as I can sum it up, it’s the gargantuan talent + the equally large personality + the ferocious commitment to living his own life, by his own rules, to hell with what others will say (and do say, very loudly)… It’s the willingness to put it all out there, fail occasionally, sometimes in grand fashion, and get… backup. To put it out there yet again, believe again, risk again, commit again… And in so doing, become an ever expanding, ever brightening talent/star/beacon/light/human/soul/gift.

That’s what feels lost. This particular, uniquely beautiful, and shining example of all that.

And that’s what I aspire to be.

Not Prince, the music, the ruffles, the purple, the controversy… Not Prince as he expressed it. But Prince as I would.

The Shero’s Way says every loss or challenge is an opportunity to become more of who we are. And it always comes down to the same question. So, I have to ask…

Who am I willing to become?

Prince wasn’t my friend; he wasn’t my loved one. He wasn’t even the center of my musical spectrum. But he doesn’t have to be any of that. He only has to be who he is. And all I have to do to activate this opportunity is let him be that. All that. Open myself to the wave I feel moving through me, the vibratory shock that has no name and let it shake me up. Not turn away or dismiss or deny or find a way to dial it down…

Who am I willing to become?

I know the question has hit home because my stomach is turning and I want to slam my computer closed. Not in grief or despair – which wouldn’t be true to who Prince is for me. But in fear. In resistance.

The truth is, I know exactly who I aspire to be, what “ever expanding, ever brightening” looks like for me. And sitting here, I know that taking the sheroic opportunity presented by Prince’s death means embracing who I aspire to be.

That’s the answer to the question. I am willing to become who I aspire to be.

The problem is, in order to do that, I have to do what absolutely scares me the most… I have to tell you about it.

“What are you thinking???” squeals the protective part of me. “Run! Hide!! For God’s sake, shut up!!!!”

But you see, that’s where that part of me has it wrong. It’s for God’s sake I’m about to open my mouth.

I didn’t ask to have certain abilities. I didn’t ask to desire certain things. I came into this life, my soul’s intentions unknown to me, and things unfolded and innate skills got honed and desire arose… And it was all a messy, largely unconscious, but maybe, ultimately, elegant process.

Where do you think that came from? Some clever ego? Believe me, I’m not that clever. And for the record, I’m asking myself far more than I am asking you:

Where do you think that came from?

From God, you silly. The place inside that is God in you. The place that speaks from your soul’s desire, your soul’s purpose.

And now this ___________ has died (still don’t have a word), and the Shero’s Way is my tao, and I can’t in good faith – in fact, I don’t want to – reject this opportunity.

So I will tell you…

I aspire to stand in front of huge audiences and reflect this gorgeous, heartbreaking world that I see, to celebrate the complicated truth of us and champion our exquisitely imperfect beauty. I aspire to stand in the Shero’s Way as it’s revealed to me, as it unfolds in me, and offer its gifts of empowerment. I aspire to lift us up. All of us. Not on my little blog, or to a couple thousand people on Facebook. I mean to everyone, the whole, wide world, to anyone who cares to hear. I mean — and this is the part that’s really, really hard to say — to millions.

I don’t think it’s pride or ego, believe me or not. I think it’s because, it’s what I’ve been given. And all I’ve ever wanted – I remember distinctly writing this in my hospital journal, newly paralyzed – is to give the gifts I was given.

So there it is. No longer tucked away in the safe quiet of my heart. Available now for stomping. 😉

And honestly, if you must, you must. It’s actually really ok.

Big names, big companies, and lots of average Joes stomped all over Prince… And look what he made. Look what he gave.

Any stomping, in the end, is just another catalyst. Another opportunity.

So, my secret is out. I want to be Prince, if he was female, paralyzed, a writer and speaker, on a mission to heal the world.

And I’m so grateful for his example.

Prince’s death is really sad to me, and the loss still feels unnameable. But now, it also feels worth something… Something really important.

That is how it should be. No loss should ever be in vain.

So whether it’s Prince or some other loss for you, recent or long ago…

Who do you aspire to be?

Who are you willing to become?

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Today is the last day to say YES to Your Shining Signature Story. I’ll ask again: Who do you aspire to be? And who are you willing to become?

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The art of failing (as taught by my toddler)

For the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about when my son was learning to walk. I have this picture in my mind:

He’s standing near Reba’s bed, eyeing the coffee table across the living room. I can see that he has set his sights on the toys stored under the table. He’s a bit wobbly standing there… and then he goes. He takes two steps and — PLUNK – falls down. He doesn’t look at me (a clear sign he doesn’t need me in that moment); he simply plants his hands and then his feet on the ground, his butt in the air, and stands up. He takes another couple of steps and down he goes again. Over and over, he does this. Sometimes he falls simply. Other times, more spectacularly. He never cries, never gets frustrated. He just gets back up and starts again, every time. After four or five tries, he makes it to his toys, plops onto his butt, and reaches for a garbage truck.

I am amazed.

It’s not his persistence or success that amazes me. It’s his equanimity. He never seems disappointed or discouraged, no matter how many times he goes down. He never hesitates to get back up. He is completely unfazed by all that falling.

It’s as if he takes it for granted. He expects to fall down. Or, if he doesn’t expect it, he surely accepts it.

Oh, if we grown ups only had such a graceful relationship with failure.

If we could remember that falling is an inevitable part of learning to walk; that there is no shame in being a learner; that all we have to do is decide where we want to go, let our desire propel us, and get up and start again after we fall… how many little garbage trucks would we be holding, now, in our pudgy, sweet hands?

There are three more days to take advantage of the Your Shining Signature Story coaching service. Three more days to say yes to making more meaningful connections at networking events. Three more days to have me WRITE YOUR STORY FOR YOU!!

Info and purchasing here.

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That “special something” I promised

Can I just tell you what a joy it is to be in this relationship with you?

Two weeks ago, I was at that awards luncheon… and I watched my story act as a mighty connector… and I got reminded how valuable our stories are for making meaningful connections with the people who matter to us… and I thought of you… because YOU matter to me… and I thought of everything you could have, be, and do if you could have easy access to your most meaningful stories… and I asked you about it, and you said, “Yes, please”… and with my heart all happy, I pulled together some of my best skills and put them in a pretty package… and now I get to offer it to you, and make myself available in service to your great, big, beautiful, shining story… So YOU can connect with the people that matter to you…

… And if I were a dog, my big ol’ tongue would be hanging out of my mouth!

So thank you. Thank you for letting me give the best of me in service to you. It makes my world complete. 🙂

All right. For you gals in business, here is your “special something,” an easy and immediate way to harness the power of your story in service to your business. I’m only offering it this week, so take a look soon! I’m so eager to see you shine.

And for you who are not in business, I heard from a lot of you the desire to explore and tell your stories, for the benefit of connection with everyone who matters. I’m dreaming up a very different “special something” for you. More details in the coming weeks.

When I first started telling my stories, I never imagined where they would take me. I hardly dared to even dream of YOU. Gotta give a nod to paralysis for that. It closed a few doors, but it opened so many more.

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Life got “brutiful”

So, last week I posted a story about being at a networking event and rediscovering (duh!) the mighty connective power of our personal stories. Did you catch it?

Well, it caused quite a stir. Lots of comments and excitement, from folks both in business and not.

I LOVE when that happens, when what I’m experiencing turns out to be a reflection of what so many others are experiencing. I mean, really, that’s why I write (share/speak/perform). So we can all see ourselves and each other more clearly. So we can connect.

Clearly, I’m not the only one to whom that appeals. Many of you responded with varying versions of, “Yes, yes, I want that!” And I was thrilled to carry on with my plans to help you have it.

Then on Friday (the day after I posted), I got a call from a friend — my best friend for almost 20 years, from whom I’ve been somewhat estranged — telling me she had just entered hospice.

Womp.

Complicated conversation; complicated relationship; complicated connection. Healing, jarring, heartbreaking, disorienting… And yes, connective, though not on account of our stories, just from speaking our heart’s truth like we might not ever be able to again.

Then the next day, I went to a celebration of life for another friend in hospice. An exquisite gathering of love and honoring, but also so, so painful. I don’t have a word for that particular mix but Glennon Doyle Melton does: brutiful. It was definitely brutiful.

By Sunday, I felt more liquid than solid, which was a good thing. I wanted, more than anything, to just be present with it all, let it move in, around, and through me, which is easier to do when you, yourself, are fluid.

It was Family Day, the one day of the week when Dean, Aidan, and I are together from eyes open to eyes closed. And that was a good thing, too. Because there is nothing that fills me and feeds me like time with this sweet family of mine. We ordered food from one of our favorite restaurants, then drove to one of the many wilderness areas in the middle of LA, a place I used to hike all the time in the ten years prior to being paralyzed. And there we ate and walked and looked at ducks and turtles and fish, and played and learned at a nature center, and revisited the little amphitheater where Aidan’s mama did a play with his mama and papa’s theater company.

And coming into Monday, I just wanted to serve. To do what I do. That’s where my ground is, where all the too-big parts of life find their place and I’m able to dance with the complexity, to rejoice in the big, beautiful, brutiful experience of being alive, and connect… with you.

Which brings me back to last week’s post and, particularly, to you who are in business.

The enthusiasm with which many of you received my mention of a “special something” to help you harness the power of your story made me SOOOOOO happy.

Can I tell you why?

It’s not because we might work together or I might make some money (though both of those are super fun). It’s because there is nothing more thrilling than providing value.

I really, REALLY want you to shine. I want you to do more of what you do, and it sounds like you want that, too. So, yea! Super happy.

Regarding providing value…

I want this program to be actually special, not special just because I say or think so. I want it to meet you where you are and deliver you where you want to be. I want you to feel excited (if a bit nervous). And, most of all, I want you to feel relieved. I want you to read about it and feel your body relax, knowing that you’re getting just what you need, in a package that feels delicious, fun, and easy.

So, I’m wondering… Will you help me give you that?

If you read last week’s post (or if your interest is piqued now) and you thought, “Oooo, I’m curious about that,” I wonder if you’d fill out a short survey for me. I want to know more about what you’re hoping for, what would really support you in your business. It won’t take long (unless you’re SUPER wordy like me 😉 ).

That way, I can be empowered to really address what’s most meaningful to you, and tailor the program as much as possible to those most interested.

What do you say?

Here’s the link if you’re game.

And just for sharing your thoughts with me, I’m going to send you a short, never before published little story of mine, just for fun. Because you should always feel how much I appreciate you.

Breathing back into these past few days, I feel again a bit disoriented. I’m out of practice making consistent room for SO MUCH… life. But when the threads get worn and I start to feel cut loose, at least I know what to do:

Start telling stories.

 

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Your story, The Mighty Connector

Last week, I was at the awards luncheon for the 2016 Women of Influence Awards, hosted by an organization called Connected Women of Influence. Nice name, right, for an organization that brings together women leaders for collaboration and support. I was honored to be there, to be a final nominee for two awards… But I was also a little uncomfortable.

Because despite the fact that the women attending were VERY welcoming, and the organization is diverse, well run, and well connected, it’s still a networking organization. And networking events, even those hosted by obviously special networking groups, kind of give me the willies.

I imagine it’s a little like speed dating, though I’ve never done that. It’s definitely like being the new kid in class. We want to be liked, we hope to like others, but we want it to feel real. Superficial niceties and inauthentic exuberance leave us depleted. Why? Because what we’re really looking for is meaningful connection. We’re looking for that next partner or client or love or true friend… And we have just a few sentences with each person to look for a spark that might grow into flame.

At the luncheon, women at my table shared what they do when casually asked by our tablemates. And it was kind of the usual: marketing consultant; owner of a small business; magazine editor… Even me: inspirational speaker and coach.

And our interest in each other, though more than polite for sure, didn’t really spark anything. Again, even with me. I watched it happen. Someone asked me what I do, I gave the party line, and she said, “Oh, how nice.”

Oy. This is exactly why I don’t love networking events. “Superficial” and “inauthentic” seem unavoidably woven in.

But something definitely shifted, and it was one of those ah, of course moments for me:

A woman two plates over asked what I do and, this time, without really thinking about it, I shared a tiny bit of my story. I said something like, “Years ago I was paralyzed in a fall and now I speak about turning challenging circumstances into our greatest opportunities.”

Well, the woman I was speaking to lit up with curiosity and started asking questions, not just about my story but also about what I do. And the more of my story I told, the more she wanted to know about everything, the more opportunity I had to meaningfully share my work, and the more genuinely connected we both felt.

Ta da!! Meaningful connection.

And you know what else? An hour later, she suggested I speak at her church and gave me contact information for the Pastor.

That’s what’s supposed to happen at a networking event! The point is to connect – genuinely connect — with people who can benefit from what you do, whom you can serve. And it wouldn’t have happened if I’d left my story tucked inside.

This is absolutely no surprise. It’s always been my experience. And I’m not just talking about business. This connective power is true in life, too.

I remember shortly after I was paralyzed, I was invited to speak to a support group for people with spinal cord injuries at a local hospital. And I was asked to speak specifically about the power of telling our stories. The focus was meant to be our stories about becoming or being injured, but I made my point about our stories in general.

Well, a lot of people at the meeting were really skeptical about sharing their stories, even those that had nothing to do with their spinal cord injuries. There was one man, a big guy, injured less than five years, and obviously still pretty beaten down about it. He was shaking his head while I talked as if to say, “No way. You won’t catch me telling no stories!”

So I invited him to do a little exercise with me. I started asking him questions about his hometown. And in responding to those questions, he started telling us about the farm he lived on and the work of the farm, the pitching of hay, the smell of the grass (it became instantly clear just what he’d lost when he became paralyzed)… and within seconds, everyone in the room was drawn in. Even his wife, who presumably knew some of these stories. Everybody wanted to hear more about his life.

And he was beaming… Just a big ol’ grin on his face!

So, a man who started out pretty inaccessible, even a bit intimidating in both his size and his demeanor, was suddenly the center of our heart’s attention, genuinely drawing people toward him whose interest and care for him was only growing.

And there it was. In just a few seconds, a few sentences, it happened: Connection. Like it always does.

Stories just do that. They let us into each other. And whether we’re at a networking event, or sitting around with friends, or with our kids or our spouse, connection feels good. It lifts everybody up. And of course, in business, it’s crucial. (I’d argue it’s crucial in life, too, by the way.)

After connecting in this really delicious way with my tablemates at the luncheon, there was a keynote speaker. She was a leader in business with a long history of supporting other women to become leaders. And she was twice awarded commendations from the President (as in, of the United States of America) for her volunteer service. No slouch, for sure.

But I don’t remember a word she said. And I never felt drawn in. Connection just didn’t happen… at least not for me.

And I thought, what a shame! This is clearly an amazing woman. I want to know more… But maybe it’s more accurate to say I wanted to want to know more. In truth, I was really bored, and missed whatever great points she was certainly making.

It was the story-thing again.

In her case, it wasn’t a lack of personal story shared, but the ones she chose either didn’t seem relevant or failed to connect me to her passion and purpose. They were vague and incomplete. They felt sort of generic.

But there’s no way this woman was living a generic life! In truth, nobody does. But certainly not she who is obviously dedicated to her mission and living into that mission everyday.

I was going nuts the first ten minutes or so of her talk, sort of an occupational hazard of being a long time storyteller. The questions were flying through my mind — connections I wanted made, things I wanted to know, that I cared about, that would have helped me move closer to her, that would have drawn me in and made me genuinely curious about her and her work.

And I found myself cringing at the lost opportunity, her lost opportunity to move everyone in that room closer, not only to her but, to ourselves. Because that’s her mission. To help women step into their leadership and make a difference. She could have inspired us to do exactly that, to see ourselves in ways we never had before by letting us see her in a more meaningful way.

But that potential just kind of leaked away. The more she talked, the faster it went down the drain. And it made me so sad… For all of us.

So sad, in fact, that it’s kind of lit a flame under my butt.

Sharing our stories is important for all of us; I will stand by that until my dying day. But right now, I’m thinking especially about the women in business that I know.

I know a lot of women in business, a lot of women working their buns off to deliver good products and services. And a lot of those women are struggling to connect with customers, clients, and partners, the very people necessary to keep themselves in business.

When I imagine those women putting themselves out there – at networking events, on their websites, up on a stage, in conversation with potential clients and partners – and falling flat because they don’t know how to capture and relate their most relevant story… Ugh! I just can’t bear it. I really can’t.

So, I’m inspired:

Very temporarily, I am unretiring from speaker/story coaching. Just for the business gals in my world (which, by the way, includes you artists and healers who might not think of yourselves as business gals). For you, I’m cooking up something special to help you harness the power of your story. Because I want you to make more of those meaningful connections. I want you to do more of what you do!

I need about a week to get my ducks in a row, but I’ll be back soon with more details. There will be no more lost opportunities to connect for you! Not if I can help it. 🙂

Meantime, and for all of us, I wonder what would it take to more frequently share our stories? Do we need an invitation? Someone to ask us? Do we need to better trust that we have stories that matter?

Maybe we can start making a habit of asking each other. I suspect all we need is a small – and genuine – opportunity. I suspect if we start, it will grow itself.

Opportunities to connect are about the most precious thing we have. Maybe we can stop wasting them.

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