HeatherStewart_Press Photo

My father passed away a couple years ago. My uncle one month before him. Another uncle a month after. I went to three funerals in the span of three months all at the same funeral home. I'm fairly certain the funeral home was getting suspicious of the ladies in our family. Had any of the men who passed away been rich, there would have been some arrests. If it weren't my actual life, I would have thought I was playing a part in a film. Except Hugh Grant was nowhere to be found.

During that time, I felt so numb yet the most alert I had been in years. I was angry yet overwhelmed by love. Things were funnier and more painful. I felt more and less. You know those moments you have in life where you are doing something mundane and you think, "What the f*ck is THIS all about?!" Death feels like that except for much longer moments, strung together, for quite a while. It was during one of these extended, painful WTF moments that I noticed a refrigerator magnet for sale in line at a flower shop. "Life is what happens when you are making plans!" I stared at it . For a long time. It made so much sense and it was so annoying. Death can make even the most nauseating clichés very poignant.

Plans. Yeah. I had been "planning" a lot of things. The biggest plan was to record my second album (I'm a singer-songwriter). I had been "planning" it for five years. Five. Years. Of. My. Life. But I wasn't planning; I was avoiding. Terrified. "I blew my wad on the first one! It was a fluke! I'm a fraud! People will hate it!" I felt all these things but told myself the next album was "in the works". Then that little ceramic magnet put it all in perspective. "Life is what happens when you are making plans!" (Please apply whiney, high-pitched sarcastic voice.)

I bought that stupid magnet and I started writing the music for my second album. I wrote songs I did not think I was capable of writing. I wrote songs with other songwriters I would have been afraid to even talk to in the past. I wrote for my father. I wrote because I was afraid not to. I wrote because life goes by fast and loved ones die. I wrote because I wanted to stop making plans. I wrote to save my life and to live my life.

I started out thinking I was just going to record a 5 song EP. It would be easier, less money, not as intimidating. I worked with producer Greg Critchley and we decided the album needed a very organic and raw sound. Not a lot of layered tracks, recorded at different times and places but one live take. It's called recording "live off the floor". Greg assembled the most amazing group of musicians I have ever had the pleasure of working with. We played these musicians an acoustic version of the songs in studio, day of, and then let them interpret it the way the felt it. The moment they started playing the first song I couldn't breathe. I thought I was having an asthma attack. Then I started crying. I quite literally got choked up. The music, my music, my father, my uncles, five years of my life, hell, the rest of my life, was pouring out into the studio. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.

After that, I knew I had to do an entire album of music. Five songs weren't enough. On October 8th my sophomore album came out and I had a CD Release party here in Los Angeles. I looked around the room and saw all of my friends and family and again I cried. I did it. I made it happen. I know my father was there. I know my uncles were there. As for Hugh Grant, I think he was busy making plans.


On her sophomore album What It Is, Americana/acoustic rock singer/songwriter Heather Stewart offers the next generation what artists like Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow gave to the world – genuine conversations from the heart, a fiery and courageous spirit, and killer live performances.  Connect with Heather Stewart here: http://www.heather-stewart.com/ 

 

 

Christina Rasmussen

Every time there's a knock on the door, the doorbell rings or there's a pan left on your doorstep covered in aluminum, you know exactly what to expect. Casserole. Lasagna, spinach, or maybe if you're lucky, scalloped potatoes and ham. With it reads a note similar to "I am so sorry for your loss. If there's anything else you need, let me know."

Of course the casseroles were all prepared with love and with me in mind, and for that I was truly thankful. But if you're like me, you would let the casseroles pile up for weeks, even months. I mean on the plus side, you never had to cook dinner— or even worry about grocery shopping. Which was a good thing, because you had gone through all of your mascara tubes after applying it countless times a day. Hibernation in your home was perfect, for the time being.

Believe it or not, the mailman, yes the mailman, that drives in the white truck and delivers you all the bills you now have no idea how you're going to pay as a single parent… turned my life around.

It was a wintry day in Massachusetts and almost a year and half after losing my husband, I was preparing for my second Christmas without him. If that wasn't already hard enough, I had wondered why I hadn't received any Christmas cards from my loved ones. That morning, the sun was shining and I figured it was a perfect New England temperature to shovel the snow out from in front of the mailbox. After two hours of shoveling away, I thought I had cleared a path for the mailman. From my couch, I watched him pull up to my neighbors home, deliver their mail and then pass by my house. I was furious! I quickly put on my snow boots and snow jacket and raced down the street to catch him. I really wanted those damn Christmas cards.

Once I finally reached his truck, I caught my breathe and said, "May I please have my mail?" He looked at me, and muttered, "Why don't you ask your husband to shovel your driveway a little better?"

My anger was indescribable. I remember pulling myself together, as best as a widow could and managed to say, with a straight face, "He would if he could, but he is dead." Without giving him the satisfaction of replying, I walked away. That day…was the day I cleaned out my fridge.

I decided I was no longer going to live passive, like a pathetic victim. I had two daughters to live for and my whole life ahead of me.

After Christmas, I went back to work as a completely different person. I held real conversations with people, I smiled and more importantly, I laughed. I was happy.

That's my message to you all. Grieving after loss is normal, but it's how you deal with the loss that will determine how you live the rest of your life. Second firsts was the next chapter of my life. My second first job, my second first date, my second first husband.

So go clean out your fridge, buy some new mascara and live your best second life. Because the truth is, it's all on you…and YOU can do it!

Jeffery Straker Publicity Photo crop2

I'm busy – we're all busy…

I'm an active touring singer-songwriter-pianist in Canada. I'm lucky to be really busy performing my music and I do about 100 shows a year. I find working in the arts incredibly fulfilling but my schedule and being self-employed doesn't offer up very much down time so that time is really precious; what I do with it is chosen wisely! I've found one of the best things I can do with part of my little free time, is GIVE IT AWAY to people who can really benefit from it. Over the past few years, in Regina Saskatchewan, I've worked with a piano program called 'Heart of the City'. It's an incredible concept that offers piano lessons to youth who couldn't otherwise afford them. It was started in Saskatchewan and has spread across Canada – simply because it really just makes sense.

I recognized a need, partly with my heart

In the small high school I attended when growing up, there was no music program. If you wanted music training you had to go to private lessons. Luckily my parents were able to pay for them. However not everyone's parent can afford private lessons and many schools still don't have music programs. This means there are a lot of musically inclined youth who don't get a chance to give music a try. I pursued my classical piano studies to a professional level earning my licentiate diploma in piano performance from Trinity College London (England) when I was 19. Piano lessons and training were such a huge love for me as a kid that to know there are other kids out there who want to give music a try but just can't afford it, is pretty heart-wrenching.

Giving of yourself = immediate results in others

I found Heart of the City just as they found me – it was a little star-charged how it happened – and it was 'love at first try'. In my work with them I've met with groups of their students, and have done workshops with them on several occasions. We've talked about playing piano, practicing, and have worked on some ear training. We've worked on rhythms, melody and harmony and I've also talked to them a little about the idea of songwriting. No matter what the topic, I swear I've never seen such motivated minds and hands before. These kids soak it all up and it's amazing to see. It's tricky to work with them on the one hand because the playing levels really range in the group, but on the other hand, I just want to help them and try to motivate them so it's really worth the time. And as they're soaking this all up, they LIGHT up. It's incredible, really. It's a delight for me to do -it's possibly the most rewarding feeling seeing that positive reaction in these kids so fast while they're sitting at a piano.

Giving of yourself is a bit addictive

At a recent concert I performed I figured I'd go the extra mile with the students so I had a large group of them come up, and perform a tune with me. We had 4 pianos on the stage and 3 students per piano. They were spectacular! It was a first time in front of an audience for most of them and they were pretty proud when it was all done. They got a huge applause from the audience and the glow in the room was pretty intense – rightfully so. Giving a little felt good for me. Giving more felt better!

Change the world, little by little
Even if the students don't retain 'everything' we cover in a workshop, one of the main things I think that sticks with them is that they met this guy who makes his living writing and playing music and it all started with piano lessons and via their teachers it's been funneled back to me that that really motivates them to want to keep on. I kind of see it as a paying it forward type of thing that musicians should do to help make sure the next crop of musicians is getting ready to take us by storm. I guess in that way, I see that it's possible for one individual to make a change in the world. Just by giving a bit of my time to some young people who can benefit from it, the reward seen in them has been so huge.


Singer-songwriter-pianist Jeffery Michael Straker performs over 100 shows per year across Canada. He recently recorded for CBC radio’s ‘Canada Live’, had a music video chart in the top 10 on Much More Music Canada and in 2012 toured in Africa. Tour stops range from intimate house concerts to club & theatre shows and include a recent sold-out concert (capacity 2000) with the full Regina Symphony Orchestra. Visit Jeffery Straker for more info + tour dates.

All the negativity in the news media, the cold temperatures and dark skies outside, uncertainty at work and craziness in life can make anyone freeze. You get nervous constantly thinking and analyzing what steps to take in life. You make resolutions and give up because you say, "What's the point?", "Why should I even bother in all this unpredictable environment?". You feel stuck because you look around and just feel overwhelmed in all the chaos of life.

In my journey of learning to deal with uncertainty at work and the unpredictable and seemingly random nature of life, I used to worry all the time about the future. Dealing with anxiety and stress due to uncertainty in life is hard because you feel like you have no control over anything in your life and it becomes a vicious cycle. Causing you to freeze. Paralyzed by over analysis of what I should do in my life, I felt stuck. But over time, I broke through. I got unstuck and began a journey that I'm still on. And while I am not sure how it will go in the future, I feel so much better because I am unstuck and moving forward in life despite living in uncertainty.

Here are 4 lessons I learned on how to get unstuck in life:

1. Take a Trip

Getting out of the house and taking a trip anywhere helps to break things up a bit because instead of the mind spending time over thinking, the mind will be focused on the here and now. Taking a trip however small can make you focus on the present and not worry about the future. It can be as small as going out to a party to meet friends, to accept the invitation from a friend who moved to another state or another country or to attend a conference not for work but for personal growth. Put a date on the calendar to travel to a new place for a new experience.

If you're interested in switching careers, then find a seminar, a conference, a meeting or an event in your town, your state or in another state. There are so many meetings, round tables, events or forums that are happening around the world on any given day and attending one can help you meet new and interesting people who give you a perspective on life. Even your local public library or community college has various events ranging from wine making to blog writing to public speaking. These are awesome ways to get unstuck because you are no longer left in isolation of a hyperactive mind.

Taking a trip to a new place for a short adventure can breathe new life into your soul because human beings are meant to be breathing, living, interacting, engaging, sharing, laughing, talking, moving and doing. You get a whole fresh perspective on life going out and seeing how the world lives, works and loves. We're not meant to be sitting around feeling stuck and trying to predict the future.

2. Try something new, however small

Have a new idea for a fresh new career? Want to explore a new relationship? Want to try a new business idea and not sure how it will go? Try it. Just go ahead and move forward. Focus on the tangibles and the very specific actions you want to take every single day and simply do it. When I first came up with this idea of "Embrace the Chaos", it was a result of a trip I took with a friend. But frankly I did not know where to begin. I was dealing with so much chaos at work and uncertainty in life that I just put off this "new" idea for months. Then someone said, "why don't you start a blog?". I had no idea of how to do it or where to begin. But feeling stuck made me so anxious that I wouldn't sleep for hours at night. Then one night, I woke up in the middle of the night and spent 3 hours on the web trying to learn about blogging. And in the last 10 minutes of those 3 hours, I registered the name embracethechaos.com using a registering service. That was it. That was my tiny, little triumph: I registered the name for a website. It was easy to do but it took me a while to summon up the courage to do it. And then over time, one tiny step, then another, then another, then another and eventually over time, you get momentum.

Momentum is one of the most powerful ways to success. Tiny motions moving forward pro-actively create a snowball effect that has profound implications for getting unstuck in life.

It's always the small things you do that can have the biggest impact in your life. Want to know the science behind it? Look up: "The Butterfly Effect" in chaos theory.

3. Don't get distracted by others

When you're trying something new and aiming to get unstuck in life, people around you will ask, "Where are you headed with this new thing?", "Where will it lead?", "Where are you going with this idea?", "Will you make any money?" "How do you know if this relationship will lead anywhere?".

Critical questions about the reality of sustaining an idea or a relationship or a new business will often pop up in your mind and on the lips of a lot of people around you. While they may not mean you any harm, this creates self-doubt and takes the steam out of you. And you know what? Acknowledge it. Don't ignore it. Saying, "I DON'T KNOW" is perfectly fine. It's ok not to know because you're trying to get unstuck, not trying to solve all of life's problems. Your goal is to get yourself grooving and moving forward again, not to solve the financial crisis of the world. And the reality of life is that no one can predict the future, no matter how smart, saavy or successful they maybe in their own life, they cannot predict what your future holds. And neither do you. So, don't get distracted by negative thoughts, comments or critiques even from yourself . . . just move forward recognizing that your goal is to get unstuck in life nothing more.

4. Surround yourself [your mind and your body] with positivity

Stop reading the newspaper, watching the news, surfing aimlessly on the internet. For me, this was huge! Receiving negative stimuli from the bad news, from toxic people and surfing the internet like a lost soul was a big contributor to feeling stuck in life. Data, facts, trends, numbers and more information are often useless because so much of it is bias and conflicting. If you really want to get unstuck, you've got to un-plug from the negativity that you're receiving in your head. It's not helpful because it makes you doubt everything and everyone and every action. It worsens your ability to get unstuck. It hinders your growth and development. And what can you do about all that stuff anyway?

I am a fairly reasonable person and never been a 'ra-ra' kind of cheerleader. But what I discovered is that by surrounding myself with positive people, interesting and inspiring blogs, books and energizing videos from the masters of self-help, I was in such a better mood. From attending services at your local place of worship to going to a reunion or a child's birthday party can boost your energy and outlook inviting you to move forward in life.

Opening up your mind to positive thoughts and people in a universe of uncertainty allows you to feel encouraged and inspired because they are people just like you, trying to get through this crazy thing called life and if they can smile amidst challenging times, then so can you!

I believe that learning to get unstuck in life is not that difficult when you realize that you lose so much precious time over thinking about an uncertain future when you could be using that time to create a fulfilling present in the here and now.


Bob Miglani, is an author and accomplished executive with a Fortune 50 Company in NYC for the last 20 years, grew up running his family's Dairy Queen Store and came to America from India about 35 years ago with only $75 and the desire to pursue the American dream.

Through real life experiences in India, Bob has been able to bring a fresh perspective to the chaos that surrounds our modern life right here at home in America, which is the topic of his new book titled, Embrace the Chaos: How India Taught Me to Stop Overthinking and Start Living.

Bob writes and speaks about: Moving Forward in Life and Work, Getting Unstuck, Managing Career Chaos.

For more information please visit Embrace the Chaos and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter