Don't Let Others Define Your Experience

Sidelined by a nasty cold for much of last week, I made the best of it by doing something I love one evening -- watching some designers work their magic on HGTV.

It was my first time catching Sabrina Soto on a show called "The High Low Project" and I had an odd reaction to it. The premise is that she takes a room, makes it over “high” end, shows it to the clients, finds out what their budget is, and remakes the room “low” end to mimic the expensive version. In this episode, her mission was to use a $4,000 budget and try to capture the $27,000 master bedroom the clients fell in love with.

Seriously? I’m thinking this is the cruelest tease. Here’s what you can’t have on your measly budget. No luxury for you. Look at it and weep. I’m used to designers like David Bromstad or Candice Olson just weaving the fantasy room and letting us play witness.

But then, Soto shopped and put her team to work and set out to recreate the beautiful sanctuary she had shown the client. By the end, she delivered to the point where the client said she actually liked some elements in the room better than the more expensive version.

It was a bit of a comeuppance for me, a clear demonstration of how we create our experience and our perspective. What felt like settling or shooting low became a lesson in seeing the beauty regardless of cost or preconceived notions.

This from some mindless television.

It made me think about where else I could make that shift. Or where I could help others make one.

When this column goes live, many Americans will be partaking in the heaviest shopping day of the year – Black Friday. I will be one of them. When I mention this to people, I often get responses that go something like this:


Why would you subject yourself to that?

You couldn’t pay me to go to a store that day.

This brings me back to the message – we can create our experience. My sister and I have created one that is a treasured tradition. When we arrive bright and early – and I mean early – at a mall in Central Jersey we will be browsing in department stores that aren’t particularly crowded. They’re just alive and pulsing with energy and holiday music and sparkling decorations.

Aside from us, our lunch, always scheduled before peak hour, will consist of a cousin on a break from George Washington University just weeks before she graduates; her mother; two childhood friends of my sister’s and a newcomer to this experience, my sister’s co-worker. This is a reunion of sorts. The graduate will be heading to Egypt in January. One friend of my sister’s practically grew up in our home. It is such a rare treat to catch up in these times when schedules are pulling us in all directions.

We have created this experience and we guard it like crazy. It is sacred time.

Watching news footage of people knocking each other over for a flat-screen television is foreign to our experience of what Black Friday means and is. We’re more used to the stranger in front of us in line at Lord & Taylor handing off her extra coupon because she won’t be using it. Or putting our head together and knocking some items off my mother’s list, as she doesn’t have as much energy as she used to for shopping and appreciates our help.

I have no desire to convince anyone this is the thing to do. The parking lots later in the day can be maddening. We are ready to wilt by mid-afternoon. But ultimately, I do enjoy getting some to rethink their knee-jerk grimace when I mention our plans. We’re excited – can you be happy for us? It speaks to a larger mindset shift – openness, at the very least.

What a feeling it is to be able to step back and see something with fresh eyes. Sometimes I get reader mail that is confrontational or gratuitously nasty in disagreement. It’s part of the job and I am usually heartened by the fact that I’ve written something that prompted response, regardless of how it is expressed. Yet there are days when I am compelled to drill down and open up my own perspective, read between the lines and understand why the reaction was so strong.

Every day, there is something, some way we can rethink and make our experience more meaningful. We can revel in old friends gathering on a holiday weekend. We can have gratitude that our work is read and that it compels so many to respond. We can appreciate the $4,000 room because a designer has made it her mission to execute her beautiful vision.

We can choose.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to