Iwalani’s classroom is not fancy. No chic furniture. No Apple computers. No Wifi.
There’s a set of homemade green curtains, a collection of instruments made from pebbles, hollow gourds, and bamboo sticks, and wooden cubby to store your shoes. That’s about it.
But Iwalani doesn’t need much. Just a simple space, and her voice, and her knowledge — fifty years of practicing, preserving, and teaching the ancient art of hula dancing.
Fifty years of devotion. Fifty years of love. Fifty years of patient, steady work.
She begins with a demonstration. The music begins. Her long, slender fingers move in a rhythmic wave — folding and unfolding like an enchanted flower — while her feet keep time with the rhythm. Her hips swivel in a precise spiral. Her face beams with a serene smile. She makes it all look so effortless.
I focus my gaze on her hands — so lovely and graceful, like a ripple of silk — and I wonder how long it took for her to master that one small hand motion. A month? A year? A decade?
We live in a world that’s outrageously impatient.
We send emails and expect an immediate response. We set ambitious goals and then grumble when things take longer than two weeks to complete. We lack the attention span to finish reading anything longer than a text. We want life-changing results and we want them instantly — and of course, with minimal-to-zero effort.
Watching Iwalani dance, I’m reminded that behind every seemingly effortless motion — behind every extraordinary work of art, every project, every business, every shining victory — there are thousands of hours of effort. There are bruised toes, scraped knees, sore muscles, crumpled first drafts, disastrous attempts, moments of doubt and frustration, and moments of sheer grit. Most of all: there’s patience. So much patience.
Iwalani’s troupe is preparing for a prestigious hula competition. They’re in the midst of rehearsing for the big event. I ask, “How long do you and your students practice every day? Four hours? Five? Six?”
Iwalani’s eyes crinkle and she smiles and tells me:
“As long as it takes.”
I boarded a plane headed for Hawaii.
It was a smooth and uneventful flight. I watched an episode of Poldark. I sipped some guava juice. A teenager dozed off and quietly snored in the seat next to me. His mom played games on her smartphone, and woke him up when it was time for soda and snacks.
After we landed, the usual flurry began—seat belts unclicking, happy chatter, passengers reaching for their phones to catch up on texts and emails.
But then came… an eerie announcement.
A voice on the intercom:
“Some of you may have received messages on your phone about a missile headed for Hawaii. We’ve received an update… these messages were sent in error. It’s a false alarm. Apparently somebody pressed the wrong button. It was a mistake. There is no danger.”
Despite these reassuring words—“no danger”—a hush fell over the plane. Everyone exited quickly and efficiently. I grabbed my bag and made a beeline for the car rental desk, suddenly feeling very eager to get away from the airport.
I asked the car rental attendant, “Are you feeling OK? I know it’s been a scary day.”
She said yes, the false alarm was frightening. Everyone was panicking. Shops closed. Parents rushed frantically to get home to their kids. “Scariest day of my life,” she said. And then she added, “But… it’s a great day to be alive!”
I laughed with her and agreed. Yes. Yes, it is.
Today is a great day to be alive.
Today is a great day to lace up your sneakers and break a sweat.
Today is a great day to write a letter for your son or daughter to read on their 18th birthday.
Today is a great day to get a public library card and check out all those books you’ve been meaning to read.
Today is a great day to hold your loved ones very, very close.
Today is a great day to turn off your phone, go outside, lie on the grass, and feel the earth holding you.
Today is a great day to ask, “Will you marry me?” or “Will you forgive me?” or “Can we begin again?”
Today is a great day to eat a hot fudge sundae with extra whipped cream. Or a fresh, crunchy salad. Or a cheeseburger. Or whatever you desire.
Today is a great day to learn the name of a constellation in the sky.
Today is a great day to be alive.
Most of us love to meticulously map out our lives. We schedule dates. We make resolutions. We try to stick to the plan.
And yet, ultimately… this life, it’s all just a big chaotic mystery. Cancer strikes. Trains run off the tracks. Missiles launch. Canyons collapse. Volcanos erupt. Guns fire. Deer leap into the road. People do wonderful and terrible things. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.
So, what do we do now? In this frightening world, full of so much uncertainty?
What do we do? The only thing we can.
We go live.
As a little kid, I had severe asthma.
Gym class at school was a nightmare. Other kids would sprint around the track, play soccer, and slam basketballs. Meanwhile, for me? Almost any kind of physical exertion sent me into wheezing spasms — tight lungs, inflamed airways, gulping for breath.
I used an inhaler filled with medication and a big, clunky machine (I think it was called a “Nebulizer”) to un-constrict my lungs so I could breathe normally. I wasn’t allowed to have carpeting or stuffed toys in my bedroom — because those were potential allergy triggers — and at one point, an asthma attack sent me into the hospital. Not very fun.
I outgrew my asthma as I got older, as many kids do. By the time I was in my late teens, I had no symptoms at all.
But inside my mind? I was still the “sick kid” who “couldn’t run.” That’s what I firmly believed.
“I can’t run. Never.”
And so I didn’t. Run, that is. Absolutely never. Somehow I managed to get through three decades of life without ever moving at anything speedier than a brisk walk.
Then one day, on a whim, I signed up for a group fitness class. The class description mentioned nothing about running, so I figured I was safe. But then, to my horror, the instructor asked us to run back and forth across the room — not far, and not long, just twenty seconds or so.
At first, I considered skipping this part of the routine. But it was just twenty seconds, and everybody else was doing it, so… I tried it. To my surprise, it actually felt pretty good. Energizing. Invigorating. My heart pounded, my skin gleamed, and a strange little voice inside said, “I think I might like this.”
Twenty seconds of running turned into two minutes. Two minutes turned into two miles. Two miles turned into my first 10K race — outside in the crisp autumn air, lapping around a gorgeous park, as my parents cheered at the finish line, applauding their (very grown-up) daughter as she claimed her “You’re not very fast, but good job for participating” medal. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
On the day of that 10K race, I burst into tears somewhere around the 4K point. Tears of amazement. Tears of gratitude. Tears of shock.
“I can do this. It’s happening. I’m doing this.”
The girl who couldn’t run. Running. For real.
This is a brand new year. A brand new week. A brand new day.
Today would be a wonderful day to shock and amaze yourself.
Today would be a wonderful day to prove yourself wrong.
Today would be a wonderful day to lace up your sneakers, unroll your yoga mat, pour that Diet Coke down the drain, write the first page of your book, say “I forgive you,” say “I love you,” or do something you previously thought you couldn’t do. Maybe just for one minute. Maybe just twenty seconds.
Today might be full of surprises.
What’s their name?
The friend who’s always there for you—to celebrate with you, to grieve with you, or simply to sit in silence and be with you.
The colleague who always brightens your week with hilarious emails—the one who makes each workday just a little bit better.
The teacher who saw your potential—the one who believed in you, who pushed you and didn’t let you slack off, burrow under the covers, and hide.
The artist, musician, podcaster, senator, activist, or community leader who has touched your life—the one whose work revived your faith in humanity, whose work helped you to survive.
Have you said “thank you” to that person, recently?
Today would be a great day to do that.
Here’s a quick script to get you started:
This last year has been stressful and discouraging, at times, because ________. But this year has also been wonderful because of people like you.
Thank you for reminding me that ________. You’ve helped me to see that ________ is possible. You add so much to my life by ________.
I’ve been meaning to send this note for awhile, and I hope these words reach you at just the right moment. For everything you do…
Do it today. Write the email. Send the text. Pick up the phone. Record a twenty-second audio note or video message. Or mail a hand-written note. Send your appreciation.
Please don’t wait until tomorrow. (Tomorrow is never guaranteed.)
Please don’t assume they already know how you feel. (They may not.)
Please don’t assume they’re already drowning in cards, gifts, voicemails, and fan mail, and they don’t need any more love in their mailbox. (This may not be the case. You might be the only one.)
I will never forget meeting a high school teacher who was exhausted, burnt out, and on the verge of quitting his job… until one person pulled him aside to say, “Thank you for everything you do. You’re a hero to me.” That moment changed everything. He decided to keep teaching. All because one person bothered to say, “Thanks.”
A handful of words can make such a difference in someone’s life. So, whatever you want to say, please say it now.
“Right now” is always the right moment to send love into someone’s life.
Teaching is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve taught writing retreats and workshops in eighteen cities around the world, in all kinds of venues—inside converted barns and farmhouses, yoga studios, publishing companies, people’s living rooms and backyards, and one time, on a cruise ship.
Typically, these workshops fill up pretty quickly. Some go from “empty” to “sold out” in just a few days—or even just a few hours. Typically. But not always.
One time, I decided to put together a workshop in Los Angeles. It was going to be a summer workshop. A beautiful venue near the ocean. Catered meals. Total perfection. I’d been on a real “winning streak” lately. All of my workshops were completely sold out—or very close. I figured this new workshop would be no exception.
I put together the webpage. I wrote an announcement for my blog and newsletter mailing list. I reached out to some friends in LA to ask if they would spread the word. The official announcement went out, and…
Almost no one signed up.
A week went by. Three people signed up. Another week went by. Three more people signed up. Another week went by. Nothing.
The workshop was approaching quickly. I had a total of six registrations, and I’d been hoping for twenty or twenty-five. Maybe thirty. It felt really embarrassing.
I agonized over what to do next. Should I cancel or reschedule the workshop due to low sales? Should I do a more assertive “push” with my marketing to try to fill those remaining spaces? I felt rejected and confused. Why weren’t people interested in coming? Did I do something wrong? Did I choose the wrong dates, the wrong venue, the wrong topic? I’d never experienced this type of non-interest before.
I printed out the list of six registered guests. I looked at the six names over and over again. These six people had paid hard-earned money to sign up. They had cleared their calendars for the workshop dates. Some were traveling from San Diego and San Francisco to be there. Most likely, many of those people had already booked hotel rooms in Los Angeles.
All six people had said, through the action of registering for the event, “Hey Alex, I will rearrange my life to be there. I will show up for you.”
Canceling the workshop, at this point, would be completely disrespectful.
They’d promised to show up for me, and I needed to show up for them too—regardless of how full (or not full) this workshop was going to be. This wasn’t about money. This was about integrity. So, I made a gut decision. I decided to be completely honest. I emailed the six guests and I said:
Hey everyone! Here’s the situation:
Ticket sales are unexpectedly low. This workshop is still pretty empty.
So, please, if you wish, bring along a friend, a partner, your son or daughter, your mom or dad. Bring two friends if you want. Totally free of charge.
It’s my pleasure to give extra ‘complimentary’ tickets to all of you.
Let’s fill this workshop with people we love—and make it a fabulous party that we’ll all remember and enjoy.
All six people were ecstatic and immediately invited all kinds of fascinating people.
“That’s so generous!” they exclaimed. “This is amazing!”
Interestingly, the very next day, several people purchased tickets on my website, too. (Unrelated—or not? Payback for good karma? I don’t know. But that’s what happened.)
When the workshop rolled around, it was a completely full house. About half of the people there were paying guests, and the other half had received free tickets. Every single person was thrilled to be there. And, because of the unique way that this particular workshop came together, the crowd was unusually eclectic.
We had a champion swing dancer in the room. He gave everyone a dance lesson during our lunch break.
We had a male nurse who was a pregnancy and birthing expert in the room, too, and his story was utterly fascinating.
We had best friends, moms and teenage kids, artists, vocalists, illustrators, professional writers, and people who had never written more than emails before. We had entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, full-time parents, and people in between careers.
When the workshop was over, nobody wanted to leave. People stayed, we broke out a few bottles of wine, talked, swapped emails and phone numbers, and did Tarot card readings around the table for hours and hours.
It was the most fun, meaningful, and memorable workshop I’ve ever experienced—truly, a peak moment for my entire career.
And to think…
I almost canceled the whole thing because I felt hurt and embarrassed about the fact that ticket sales were lower than I’d hoped. I’m so glad I came to my senses.
I often think back to that experience whenever I’m feeling disappointed because something isn’t panning out the way I predicted or wanted.
The question I ask myself is:
“How can I make this feel amazing?”
If ticket sales are slow and I feel sad about that, how can I make this feel amazing?
If everyone flakes out at the last minute and only two people show up for my birthday party, how can I make this feel amazing?
If my last publisher says “no thanks” to my new book project (which happened to me—twice), what’s the next move? How can I bring my book into the world in a different manner? How can I make this feel amazing?
When we’re willing to be imaginative and flexible, there’s always some way to turn a sour, disappointing experience into a better experience. Maybe even an amazing experience. Maybe even something better, sweeter, and more emotionally rewarding than whatever you’d originally planned on.