What motivates us? What holds us back?

The answer is actually pretty simple. 

Since I’m battling bronchitis for the past week and a half, I woke up at 3:30am and got up to make some tea to help with my coughing. As I was waiting for the water to boil, I opened up Instagram and saw this picture:

(Photo credit: Instagram: annika.1a) 

(Photo credit: Instagram: annika.1a) 

Immediately I thought, "OMG THAT'S SO MY STYLE", "Peter Rabbit, England <3" and “Fence...what’s holding us back?”. I ran to get my laptop and started spewing out what was on my mind. (When those creative juices flow, it’s like everything else around me stops in order for me to write it down before it goes away.) 

So what does hold us back in life? What’s held me back? Have I really been holding back all along, or have I actually been moving forward this entire time to lead me to where I am today?

See, when I was in Europe for my audition tour this past fall, I got to travel in three different countries. I literally booked a one way flight and didn't know when I was coming back. (I know it sounds easy, but in reality it took me an entire year just to finally hit that “Pay" button for my airplane ticket.) It was a lot of money for me, but I didn't have a job and it was a risk I knew I needed to take.  (That's where most of the job opportunities for opera are).

And we all know what traveling does to us... 

It opens our minds to see what it’s like living in a different culture, to see and meet more people in a different light than ever before (and when I mean different, it’s totally not like hopping on a train and people watching in NYC).

(Some photos I took in Germany — Instagram: lillahs)

You see in the places I went (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), people take life waaay slower than we do here in America. People actually spend time with their families. They cook together, sing together, go outside and hike together. When you go to a supermarket, instead of seeing pajamas, yoga pants and Snuggies being sold, you see skii pants, goggles, gloves, hiking sticks and boots! Their culture naturally supports going out and being physically active! 

It’s only here in America where people spend the majority of their free time watching hours upon hours of TV shows and kids have lost the free will to even go outside. Schools don’t even recognize the importance of recess or nap time anymore and have made significant cut backs. 

Wake up America, our children are suffering. YOU are suffering. 

You go to work and come home all tired just to wake up and do it all over again. But when you go to Spain, or anywhere in Europe, they take mid day siestas, close their shops at 6 or 8pm and nothing, I mean NOTHING is open on Sundays. 

Sure it’s annoying that you can’t go to the supermarket to buy your eggs, but you learn to get prepared the day before. And for me just knowing that those people who work there can spend more time with their families makes it all the worth me not going to pick up my eggs or orange juice. 

You see growing up in a European, Transylvanian house-hold, we went outside, threw around a soccer ball and we sang Hungarian Christmas songs all the time. Haha pretty funny, now that I think of it. No wonder I love Christmas so much — it’s that time when we can all get together, sing songs and harmonize about Mother Mary and little baby Jesus. 

Yeah that whole presents thing is cute, but it's really the least important thing. We all have smart phones, like what more do you need? Oh, a hover board? Nah, I think I'll stick with my skateboard, thanks. Or better yet — my new car!!! (Thank you God!)

And by the way —  when my parents were kids and got presents they were LUCKY when they got an orange, because their country didn’t import oranges to begin with. Yeah, it was a HUGE deal.

American media and culture is jam packed to program our minds to think that material goods can bring us satisfaction. That new diamond necklace, or watch. That new pair of Air Jordans. 

My sister and I would take piano lessons and listen to Chopin, ah the good ol' days. Piano music by the way is the best music to listen to in the car or when it’s raining. But now schools are cutting OUT arts education and music programs all together.

"WHAT? You mean I can’t take art, theater or choir anymore? What gives people?! Art was my favorite class!" - me

Many years ago my sister sent me a video of this guy named Adam Braun, who was in India and he saw a small boy begging in the streets. He went up and asked him, “What do you want most in the world?”

“A pencil,” the boy replied.

So he reached into his backpack, handed him his pencil, and watched as a wave of possibility washed over the boy. A smile erupted and his eyes brightened. Adam saw the profound power and promise brought through something as small as a giving a pencil to just one child! 

Over the next five years, he backpacked through more than 50 countries, handing out thousands of pens and pencils across six continents. These pencils, these small pieces of potential, led to powerful conversations with local parents and children across countless cultures and languages. 

Since starting with just a $25 deposit, he created his own foundation, Pencils of Promise and has now built more than 300 schools.

"True self discovery is where your comfort zone ends." - Adam Braun

Traveling forces you to realize that material goods aren’t necessary when the only clothes you need are the ones on your back. And when you're traveling like I did, you can't really carry more than just two pairs of shirts and pants. 

So as I was Googling Adam, I found a speech he gave at THRIVE where he talks about how he heard the popular TED talk by Dan Pink on the topic of What Actually Motivates us as Individuals?" and motivates our employees as well. 

And it turns out it’s pretty surprising when you break down the science into three key factors:

1. Autonomy (the ability to dictate our own path)

2. Mastery (the urge to get better at stuff, like playing a guitar or learning how to sing)

3. Purpose/Meaning (this idea that we crave connection to a broader whole, that we want to be part of something more than ourselves, and that ultimately what we endure in each and every one of our lives is the legacy of what we leave behind)

Going to Germany changed my life in so many ways. It made me realize that the idea of moving somewhere else or even finding someone else to make you happy isn't true. Happiness is within you and is always with you wherever you go! You just have to remember to tap into it. 

I quickly realized what’s most important in my life and my deep appreciation and love for my country rekindled, igniting into a burst of flames. "Murica!", "Land of the free and home of the brave", "USA!", "Jersey strong."

I began writing down a list of the most important things in my life and what I’m willing and not willing to sacrifice. Heres my list:

What I want in life:

1. Car — Laugh all you want, but I’ve always been nostalgic about cars. That’s why whenever I was in Germany I’d always take the bus instead of the train — I just love the feeling of a road trip or to listen to my music in my car. Just the thrill of going somewhere new. 

2. House/home — Again, I’m a country girl, and I’ve always wanted a place to roam and have space to practice in…living in NYC I felt like a rat in a cage.

3. Cat or dog — I’ve had a cat for 22 years, he was the love of my life, my prince of Darkness. My trooper. I think of him every day, have his portrait on my wall with those amazing eyes. It’s time to make way for a reincarnated kitty that looks just like him!

4. Have a family — Because until now I’ve never even had time to think about this! One day I’m going to want to have kids and if I don’t start thinking about it, sooner or later that moment will pass away. I need to stop with all the traveling for now, find a place to commit and slowly begin to establish my future life.

These two kind of go hand-in-hand:

5. Volunteer — At a hospital or church. 

6. Teach — Teach kids about technology. Work with orphans. Work for the blind. Work with animals. Teach others.

7. Learn more about God, read the bible — I’ve always had this feeling of him in my life, and bible study at Juilliard literally saved me from all the anxiety. It’s time I found a spiritual group of people I can turn to, who can help me learn to read the word and with whom I can pray. 

8. Make movies — I've always been really passionate about tech since I was a kid, whether editing videos, audio, photo, web design or coding.

9. Make a product and hold a successful business

11. Write a book — I used to write a lot when I was younger to deal with all crap around me at school. Jealous boys, jealous girls, name calling, back stabbing, who got the best grade. All the works.

12. Make a class — goes hand in hand with teaching.

13. Go to more live events

14. Hold and active life/work out — I love to run and go on hikes. Being in nature frees my soul and allows my mind to sharpen. Another reason why I could never live in NYC.

15. Travel visit the wild horses, Grand Cannon, Texas, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Portland, Yosemite, Machu Pichu, Appalachian trail, Spain, Italy again, Japan, get on a moped in Hawaii or somewhere warm.  

And that’s it! 

Nowhere on there does it say “crystal necklace” or “stiletto heels”. Because none of that $%*# means anything to me. 

Just like Dan Pink said, I want purpose, meaning, be able to build my life the way I want to, master my teaching and my craft, give back and so much more! 

So when I look back at all the ways I might’ve failed in life, I realize I was on the right path all along. Thanks to the grace of God. I witnessed Him a lot in Germany. I witnessed miracles to the point where now I think and thank Him every day. Not just in good times or bad but every day. 

If you or anyone you know might be going through something, don’t just give them a bible. I can’t tell you how many times I picked it up and put it that ish right back down. Who has the freakin time to read all this anyway? Tell them how God's worked in your life, who you were before and who you are now. Don't be shy about telling the truth, no matter how dark or ugly it is. And show them something specifically in the word that's helped change you to be better.

Know that when people witnessed certain acts from Jesus — like bringing back someone's eye sight or bring them back to life from the DEAD — they didn’t have social media, twitter feeds and Facebook like we do. Instead they TOLD everyone the knew! The word was literally passed down from generation to generation to now us via the Bible. How lucky we are that it was written and transcribed! 

You think they had book making machines back then? Dude...we're talking B.C. vs. A.D here! — before or after Christ. I'M NOT MAKING THIS STUFF UP! 

So now, whenever I can read the bible, I’m amazed at all the things that happened, all the witnesses that came forth. 

How’s that for a mind blow? 

So what can YOU do?

What are 4 simple things you could do today to build a better life? 

#1. Write a list of what you want in life — Just like how I did. Once you start setting goals, you can take each day like a tiny step towards achieving that goal. And the working up of achieving that goal, my friend, is the journey of life. (Hope I'm not blowing your mind too hard.)

#2. Write a list of all the things that excite you — Create a Pinterest board or collage of pictures of all the things that you enjoy. Follow every Instagram and Facebook group that lifts you up every time you see them. Just don't forget to use that ish sparingly. You want to spend more time working on you, so that eventually you could help others. 

For example, I love landscape photography and nature, so I follow photographers with that view point. I also enjoy the Apple and Nike brands and realize they make me feel “strong”, and “lift me up". Knowing what makes YOU happy will teach you who you are, and you’ll need this eventually when making your own brand. 

#3. Meet people — The more people you meet, the more you’re realize we’re all the same. It’ll bring your ego down to where it needs to be and you’ll be able to be yourself around them because you don’t have to feel censored. Just remember to treat others how you’d like to be treated. Whether you want to believe it or not, you’ll be networking with people without even knowing it! 

#4. Pray — When you pray, you shut out all the noise from your life. You’re focused and can begin to think how grateful you are for the things you have and for being where you’re at right now. There're so many people who wish they could be where you’re at, who don’t even have water, a running toilet or freedom of education. Oh and by the way, God hears EVERY prayer. Every single one. Trust in Him.

Be grateful for the things you have, your health, your hearing, your eye sight. It might seem small, but in reality these things are huge. When your tooth hurts, you don't realize how lucky you are when it doesn't. Am I right? 

To be honest, I pray every day. It helps clear my mind, release negative emotions, and gives me peace and strength. 

Don't worry. Pray. 

There you have it. Hope this helps — it's absolutely helped me realize my goals and how to live a more fulfilling life. But now it’s your turn. Take 20 minutes right NOW and make that list and be MESSY making it.

Write them all down as fast as you can!

Sooner or later you’ll start to do what makes you happy, and in turn you'll be able to help others and make them happy.

For some, all it takes is a pencil.  

Signing out,