Striving for a Different Kind of Award


Every year when I watch the Academy Awards I enjoy seeing winners react in a pivotal, career-escalating moment. All the work, sweat, rejection, honing of craft coming to fruition before one’s peers.

But last weekend as I watched, I wondered something else -- wouldn’t it be great if more of us aspired to be the person named in an Oscar acceptance speech?

I don’t necessarily mean that literally, as in we all become agents or acting teachers. I’m thinking something more general like – wouldn’t it be life-enhancing for each of us to know we have given someone a hand up or been part of their support system?

Each day I receive an email called The Writer’s Almanac courtesy of Garrison Keillor and a recent one noted the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (born in 1892). It told of how she wrote a poem in high school and read it at a poetry reading.

“ … [A] woman in the audience was so impressed that she paid Edna’s way to go to Vassar College,” it read.

While we’re not all in a position to do that, especially given today’s tuition costs, we can at the very least encourage and even go out of our way to mentor in some cases. I am finding lately that extended family gatherings are great opportunities to listen, give an outside perspective and really share what we have to offer. We can all point to that one conversation or casual comment that came at a time in our lives when we really needed to hear it. How about being the person on the giving end of that dialogue?

Maybe a few times a week we can aspire to be the one who delivers that to another. It can be a stranger who seems to need an ear. It can be through a speech or a career day presentation at a school. Some of us get to naturally ‘touch’ others by virtue of our jobs. I feel blessed to be able to reach people through writing, knowing that my ability to tell stories helps inform others’ stories.

And then there’s coaching. I met a 30-something man in a social situation recently who was talking about his work and said something like, “I don’t want to work for someone who needs a coach.” His words keep coming back to me because I know what he meant. He wants to be the one who reports to and learns from a person who’s already formed, who’s up to par professionally. But I also know how far off base that thinking is. Coaching can bring out the very best a person has to offer.

A really good example of this is the TV show, The Voice. For those not familiar with the show, singers who’d like to make a living from their craft get a chance to audition for four established singers – Adam Levine, CeeLo Green, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton -- who have their backs turned and only judge based on a contestant’s voice. Each professional picks 12 for his or her team and they coach them through a competition that eventually leaves one winner. These are gifted contestants trying to make a career of their singing, to take it to another level. Having the opportunity to be coached by these pros is all about fine-tuning and polishing talent that already exists.

The other night I was touched to the point of tears when a singer on The Voice was picked for Aguilera’s team and Aguilera was so moved by the performance that afterwards she grabbed a microphone and joined her onstage for a few bars. To say the contestant was incredulous is an understatement. It was a life-changing moment.

Sometimes magic happens when we allow ourselves to be receptive and go with what moves us in response. Play with that. You can’t tell Claude Monet that his water lilies put you in a beautifully meditative state, but you can bring your niece who likes to paint to see a Monet exhibit and let her feel the power of that craft. You can feed her stories of artists who succeeded by going to school and those who didn’t, of those who don’t hold back vs. those who do and let her become discerning from all that knowledge.

Be that person to someone. Sometimes we don’t even have to seek out situations for this; we simply influence others by virtue of consistent, meaningful work. I don’t know all the people who write me to thank me for inspiring them, but knowing this forum has that effect on some people makes me aware that my standards for expressing here cannot waver from being real and pure.

We all have so much more power than we realize and we need only look at our own life experiences to understand better how ours can be useful in ways we hadn’t considered. How many of us actually go from womb to success in our respective fields with only our parents shepherding us through? In fact, it has been my experience as a coach that often the most well-meaning and involved parents steer children off a path of passion to one of practicality. The balance provided by a teacher, aunt or random guest speaker can be just the encouragement some need to go in what their gut says is their right direction.

Of course in some cases going for what might not feel right only helps to reinforce that your gut was the way to go after all. I’ve worked with clients on goals that turned out to not be what they thought they would be, but in retrospect led them to the place that did resonate thoroughly. Someone who wants to be a home run king and goes for it may not have the talent after all, but just might be the one to mold another who has that power. It doesn’t mean all his practicing and knowledge of baseball is wasted.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never been a fan of the expression, “those who can – do; those who can’t – teach.” Aside from devaluing teachers, it so completely dismisses the crucial fact that all of us have something to give that isn’t about our own stardom, but helping someone else recognize theirs.

I prefer to look at things like teaching, encouraging, shepherding as also doing.

No gold statue, but a whole different kind of reward.

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