Over the holidays, my family came into town from the far corners of the globe. My siblings and I hadn't all been together in one place in 5 years, so we had a lot of catching up to do.
One night we went to our local bowling alley/entertainment center and grabbed a quick dinner at the fast-casual restaurant. Except our trip was anything but quick. Our food took so long to arrive that management apologized by giving us each 30-minutes of unlimited arcade games to thank us for our patience.
With a "free play" card in hand, I headed straight for the Skee-Ball machines I always loved as a kid and started rolling the wooden balls down the thin alley toward the point buckets.
1000 points. 2000 points. Occasionally 3000 points. I'd always been pretty good at always getting the lower levels of points. Even though I hadn't played in years, it was easy and fun--my safe zone.
Every now and then I'd glance at the higher levels--4000 points, 5000 points, 10,000 points.
"I wonder how you hit those," I thought. "They're beyond my reach."
But then another fleeting thought popped into my mind: "WHY are they beyond my reach? What if the reason I had never hit those buckets was because I've never actually AIMED for them?"
I immediately realized this was true. I usually had a limited number of tokens to play with and focused on earning as many tickets as I could with those tokens. That scarcity mindset of "I'll eventually run out so I'd better make the most of what I have" had encouraged me to always play it safe and focus on points I could definitely achieve.
But this time was different.
I had free, unlimited play for 30 minutes. AND, the free play cards didn't even allow us to earn tickets, so there was no physical prize to shoot for.
"What if, for the remainder of that time, I focus ONLY on the big buckets--5,000 points, or even the tiny 10,000 point buckets in the top corners?"
I had nothing to lose.
I started putting more power behind my rolls and aiming much higher on the board. The next few throws were wild and all duds. But then a ball hit the 5,000 bucket once, twice, three times in a row!
That quick improvement prompted me to shift my sights even higher to the 10,000 buckets. I kept rolling and rolling, tweaking my technique each time. By the end of 3 games, I had hit those "elusive" buckets 7 times simply because I raised my sights higher, aimed for that new goal, and experimented with my strategy until I reached it.
Scoring big on a few games of Skee-Ball don't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of life. But this principle does. My initial thought was true--the biggest points were out of my reach at first--until I changed my mindset and started AIMING for them. Until I stopped worrying about missing and shot for what was POSSIBLE instead of what was PROBABLE.
Does this story remind you of an area of your life where you're playing it safe? What big dream are you not committing to 100% in your thoughts and actions. And what is one step you can take regularly to aim higher, shoot farther, and improve by 1% every day?
Have you ever wrestled with your inner critic when it tried to keep you safe but small?
I have. And more times than I could ever count, I’ve let my inner critic win.
But over the years, I’ve learned that staying safe protects me from failure, AND it also keeps me from joy, deep connection and new collaborations.
Step out. Be courageous. Embrace failure.
The journey means so much more when you stop shooting for what you already KNOW you can do and start learning what you are TRULY capable of.
This is the message I delivered mid-December that won 1st place during the GSU Toastmaster's Club's International Speech Contest! I now move on to compete in the Area Contest Jan. 21 at the Bluebonnet Library in Baton Rouge.
If leveling up your speaking or leadership skills is on your 2023 goals list, Toastmasters is a wonderful way to practice regularly in a supportive learning environment. It's never too late to join a club near you and start practicing. I'm proof of that :D
This year has definitely been one for the books, and in reflecting on all that has happened, I'm having trouble picking a favorite moment. But the good thing is that I don't really have to--each experience (whether good or bad) has been a chance to grow, learn, step out of my comfort zone and have fun along the way. I hope you feel the same, especially about things that may not have turned out how you hoped in 2022. For challenging situations you find yourself in right now, I invite you to keep an open mind in 2023. With time, you may find a gift where you least expect it.
One recent opportunity I'm particularly thankful for is getting to talk to fellow coach and host Kristen Henry about life, music, coaching and my big mission on her latest episode of The Widening Your Aperture Podcast. If you're curious about my backstory or how I help people find their voice today, click the image below to listen in to our conversation.
I'll be taking a much-needed break for the next few weeks to celebrate the holidays with family, but I look forward to seeing y'all and continuing to find our voices together in the New Year!
My husband, Adam, is adamant (haha. Didn't even mean to make that joke!) to wait until after Thanksgiving for anything Christmas-related to enter his world.
But as a musician, I know that behind-the-scenes preparation for the Christmas/holiday season starts MUCH earlier--often around September--so that we can be ready in time for Dec. 1.
That includes working on this latest ukulele tutorial for RockClass101.com in the heat of the Louisiana summer!
So this year, as you enjoy all the gatherings, events, music and cuisine, take a moment (especially when things don't go perfectly or as you expected) to remember that people have created them with love, hard work, and consideration to make your holidays a little bit brighter :)
A couple weeks ago, an opportunity I've dreamed of for a long time came to fruition: the chance to audition to be a featured vocal soloist with a local symphony. I made it through the first round of auditions (video) and was invited a few days later to do the second round (in person) along with 4 other female vocalists.
Upon arrival it quickly became clear that the other women knew as little as I did about what, exactly, the conductor was looking for, how many soloists they'd pick, etc., so we chatted nervously as we warmed up in the hallway.
One of the ladies had brought her aunt along for moral support, and as I struck up conversation (in part to keep my nerves at bay), she mentioned two striking things to me: first, that her dad had played with Louis Prima (a fixture of New Orleans jazz and one of my biggest swing music influences), and second, that she wished she had picked up an instrument as a kid but didn't think it was in the cards for her now.
I shared with her my own story of putting music aside, then learning the ukulele and eventually finding so much more of my voice vocally, and let her know that it wasn't too late for her to connect with music!
Then it was my turn to audition and we parted ways.
A few days later I received word from the symphony that I was not selected as one of the finalists this year, but they highly encouraged me to audition again in the future.
This news was disappointing, of course--I was SO CLOSE--but at the same time, I was truly proud of getting that far. All those who were chosen were more operatic singers than me, and all had vocal performance degrees (two of them even had vocal masters degrees!).
Additionally, one of the finalists messaged me on Instagram a few days later: "When we left," she wrote, "one of the first things my aunt said (and I have to agree) was that it was so nice talking to you and she felt uplifted when you mentioned that she could still learn to play an instrument!"
So even though that audition story didn't end with me singing with the symphony this Christmas as I'd hoped, this unexpected interaction with a stranger brought a bit of joy and possibility to her life.
That is a true gift in my eyes :)
I hope this story inspires you to share a bit of your own joy with others during this busy holiday season. You never know what positive effect you might have on people, so make it count!
A few days ago a friend of mine gave me tickets to the Baton Rouge symphony. We ended up sitting just a few rows away from the stage with a great view of the front line of musicians.
As the concert began, the first thing I noticed was the special guest conductor. He was young and not very imposing in stature but projected such energy through his movements and body language (even with his back to the audience) that you could feel his presence and leadership of the orchestra as it played.
I loved that he wasn't afraid to hold us in silence with his gestures at the end of one particularly poignant piece until the whole orchestra (and room) was silent, too. For a few brief moments, you really could hear a pin drop. Then as his arms and posture relaxed, so did we.
But what most endeared him to me was his impromptu interaction with the audience. Usual symphony tradition says you should NOT clap between movements of a longer piece of music, and I wouldn't be surprised if a few conductors throughout history have scolded audiences at times for breaking this rule. This conductor, however, embraced those who didn't know about that tradition, even turning around after one movement when a few VERY hesitant claps echoed throughout the hall to let us know with a welcoming gesture that it was perfectly "OK" to clap at that point, too.
This experience demonstrates one of my favorite tenants of charismatic communication--that oftentimes, HOW we say something is more important than WHAT we say, because it's our tone, body language and facial expressions that most affect how people FEEL in our presence.
That conductor took a moment when we as a collective group were hesitant, unsure, nervous even, and he connected with us (even for a second) to reassure us and "make us right."
Similarly, the musical genius and performer Jacob Collier, who is known around the world for turning his audiences into impromptu choirs, uses his charismatic communication and leadership skills to get everyone in the room to "go out on a limb" for him. You TRUST that he will lead you through an incredible musical experience, that he won't lead you astray, and so you follow him. But once you're there--singing in a concert hall among hundreds of other strangers--his #1 JOB as a leader is to make sure you feel safe and to GUIDE you to be RIGHT along with everyone else in the room. And he does. THAT is the root of his magical connection with the audience.
Find a way to make YOUR audience (even an audience of 1) feel OK, reassured, laugh or at least less awkward in the moment. It can have a huge impact on their overall perception of you and open new doors for collaboration together.
Do you sometimes feel like you've bitten off more than you can chew?
I feel like that some days with music.
Since moving back to Louisiana, I have basically started adding an entire new subgenre of songs (traditional jazz) to my repertoire, which means a lot of practice and occasional baptism by fire.
It's exciting AND equally terrifying :)
On the days when I'm feeling more overwhelm than enthusiasm for extra work I'm putting in to prepare, it's important to pause and look back at how far I've come.
You can do this, too, for anything you're currently working on.
Incorporating this practice into life regularly can put things into perspective and help you not only ACCEPT where you are in that moment (or even feel joy for it) but also recognize just how far you've come (and celebrate that).
It's a simple technique that works wonders. Try it and let me know what you think!
Have you ever been in a one-sided (or severely lopsided) conversation?
One where the other person talks and talks, and when you finally get a moment to chime in, you don’t feel like they truly listened to what you said?
Plenty of people in the world claim to have no problem talking to anyone, about anything, anywhere. They have a voice and they use it a lot.
But QUANTITY of words (and VOLUME LEVEL) does not beat INTENT and how you make people FEEL when they’re in conversation with you.
What over-talkers don’t realize is that they’re swinging their voice wildly like an unruly sword. At best, this way of communicating keeps others at a distance (or silent). At worst, it cuts off deep connection with others and possibilities for collaboration.
Learning to be a better listener can change your world, your life, and your relationships.
I’ve been working on my listening skills my whole life--first as a shy kid who didn’t talk much. Then as a public relations professional and second-language learner. And now I love diving even deeper as a musician and coach.
That’s why a peer review like the one below means a lot to me. Start LISTENING to others like your life depends on it. Because it does.
“Overall Ashley is a shining example of a great PQ (Positive Intelligence) coach. I believe she brings much radiance and energy to her sessions with the client. She is truly present with excellent 3rd level listening (intuition) when interacting with the client.”
- Peer Coach Reviewer
I'm starting my next round of coaching this month. If you'd like to learn how to improve your performance, reduce stress in your life, and deepen your relationships by using your OWN voice more powerfully and effectively, email me for details!
When the delivery man carried it in, I could see the surprised look on his face.
“That is ONE ORANGE COUCH…,” he said.
"Yeah, we've been impatiently waiting to see if we'll like it," I added as a sense of both dread and relief washed over me.
We bought an orange couch sight unseen (apart from a couple pictures online)...and we like it!
But the relief of the wait being over is because this large piece of furniture is not just a couch. It's so much more than that.
It’s a place for relaxation after a long day and an opportunity for daily connection and conversation with my husband.
It’s a dream realized—I tried to picture this pop of color in my house so many times but couldn’t be sure it would work well until I saw it today in place.
It’s a feeling of completion—for weeks our living room felt and looked strangely empty…unfinished.
And let’s not forget the BOLDNESS of the color (how could we?!?)! That’s a side-effect of the new level of boldness I have stepped into in my own life.
Although we weren’t expecting to wait 1.5 months to get it (and especially didn’t realize how much we’d MISS having a couch), it was worth the wait.
This fun piece of furniture is so much more than “just a couch.”
It’s a symbol of comfort and family and fresh beginnings. It’s a symbol of home.
Now to pick out a new rug to go with it!
With gratitude and from my orange couch,
When my husband received word a few months ago that his job was transferring us back to Louisiana after 5 years in Texas, it wasn't a surprise. In fact, this was one of the aspects of life I had thought about very carefully and knew I'd need to accept before we got married.
When we heard the news, we were excited to be close to family again, but that also meant starting over for me just as steady gigs were coming back and fun musical projects were getting off the ground.
So to make the transition as smooth as possible (I'd never actually been a "jazz musician" in Louisiana), I did what countless moves overseas have taught me to do: hit the ground running.
And while establishing myself here hasn't been ALL sunshine and rainbows (I still get in my own way plenty of the time :p), it has been amazing to start planting new seeds and see them produce lovely opportunities that, in some cases, I hadn't imagined before.
They say, "Bloom where you're planted." And I like to add to that: "Start planting NOW!"
With that being said, there's a concert I've been nurturing for a couple months that I would love you to be a part of!
Please join me tomorrow, Oct. 5, from 8pm to 10pm at the beautiful Marigny Opera House in New Orleans for "Coming Home: Live from the Marigny Opera House." This show will feature some of my favorite jazz standards and traditional jazz songs as I celebrate what "home" means to me through music.
I hope to see you there!
Ashley Orlando is a jazz vocalist/ukulele artist and coach who helps growth-focused leaders find their voice, grow their presence & amplify their impact.