My Story and the Birth of Everyone's Wisdom
Updated: Oct 8, 2020
It’s so interesting how connected the events of our lives become - so obvious when woven together with hindsight - for their role in shaping our destiny. I see clearly now how some very difficult periods of my life have informed and guided my path. I recognize how a few key existential questions have guided my quest for a better life, and I now understand how my answers to those questions drove me forward and spoke urgently of the need for a new kind of content platform, Everyone’s Wisdom. This is my life’s work. Let me say outright, Everyone’s Wisdom is not ‘my’ idea; I was just able to see a hole; the hole that others complain about, but for which I see a solution. This is common for me: I am a systems thinker by nature. I fit in where I see a need - where I perceive a gap in the system - to help everyone rise. Everyone’s Wisdom will fill an obvious gap, at least to me. And so that’s where my story must begin; with the one who taught me this gift of seeing the gaps - my father.
My father had the gift of taking complicated issues and clearly distilling them down to their core idea - from conflicts to complex problems - and I learned a great deal from him in life; so it’s ironic that his most profound lesson for me would come after his death. I was only 20. A few months had passed and I was fiercely grieving his passing, just putting one step in front of the other really, trying to make the best of things. When, one night, I had a pivotal dream. In this dream, I was simply an observer. My dad was there but unaware of me, watching him. He was in a cloud-filled room of sorts and I sensed he was in conversation with someone; someone I could not see. As I watched, he began to see different parts of his life as if on a movie screen, major life events and turning points, decisions he made and where they took him, moments of joy and sorrow. Experiencing all these moments as they passed by in a flash, I watched as he began to cry. I rarely ever saw my dad cry in real life. He was an engineer by trade, a brilliant scientific mind that developed application systems theories in the early days of computers. And though he was non-judgemental and unfailingly kind to others, he was also introverted, stoic and left no room for emotions himself. Yet, here he was in my dream, feeling every emotion of his life to the fullest, and openly sobbing. For the first time in my life, I could really feel my dad. He turned to me in that moment, with urgency in his eyes, and said, “I missed it all. It was all right there in front of me, and I missed it.” I woke from that dream, and knew my life would be forever changed.
That dream gave me a new thought, one that I had previously shunned: Why are emotions essential for a good life? While living, my dad had taught me that the meaning of life was to be a good person and that feelings easily get in the way by compelling people to do hurtful things; but after his death, he showed me that the meaning of life came through our experiences and that emotions were the gateway to every gift life had to offer. As Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” As it turns out, that lesson came just in time. For in the midst of my intense grief, my life was poised to take flight. I began to break free from the myth of straight-A perfectionism as the path to success. My flying lessons began with small, low-risk choices - going out with friends over studying, rest over achievement, ease over pressure to excel. This proved to be a new and better balance. The universe confirmed my new path; my grades went up! Then came a true test of my new wings.
I found my soulmate that summer. He would open my heart so fast and so wide that we were left breathless and scared by its intensity. Still, I actively leaned into my vulnerability and took the chance that the warning shots in my head were folly and that my heart was right. I chose love, over safety. I flew higher. He became everything that was good, and made me a better person. My last big test that year was in deciding what to do after graduation. Again, I let my heart soar. Instead of following through on my plans to achieve my doctorate degree, I chose to get a job near the comfort of friends and family. I was choosing a life of experiences I enjoyed over a prescriptive plan for success. By consulting my feelings as a guide, I was opening up to more mindful decisions and building a better life for myself. There’s no flying without a little risk!
At the same time, my beliefs changed: No longer were emotions on a continuum of good to bad, rather they were just energy in motion: e-motion. That reignited my curiosity. What if all emotions - the “bad” and the “good” - had equal significance? I imagined life’s experience would be more akin to the swinging of a pendulum, moving back and forth and in multiple directions depending on the emotion being felt at any one time. Sadness is up here, joy over there, frustration back on this side, pleasure on the other, swirling around when there’s more than one, and so on, indefinitely. As I played with this concept, I realized there’s a bit of a trick: We don’t have control over where the pendulum swings, only how far out the pendulum swings. If we allow it to expand into the “good” feelings like intimacy, grace and happiness, we also open ourselves to feeling more sorrow, anger and loss. When the swing goes out wide in one direction, it will inevitably go just as wide in the other. And this is by design! And with this I debunked another myth: that we must always move through pain to get to joy. The analogy of the pendulum showed me that I could allow myself to feel more joy, love and connection to others at any time. All I needed to do was to savor those emotions when they arise and choose to let the feeling swell. Sure, if we become afraid, we can also choose to tighten the boundaries of the pendulum’s swing. In desperation or crises, we may even choose to bring the pendulum to stillness in the center. But the more we live to restrict our emotions, the less we are living. Brene Brown says it well: “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” Coming to rest in the middle, we don’t find peace, we find numbness and a life devoid of meaning. And that was my father’s plea. Emotions are to be felt, yes, and they’re also a source of wisdom, informing us so we can choose our next action. When we love, we are connected and our life has greater meaning. When we feel excitement, we are driven and our life has purpose. I wanted these beautiful things my heart would bring to my life. “I missed it all,” my father had said to me. With that my choice became obvious: I would let my emotions flow, no matter how uncomfortable, and let them be my guide.
The following years provided me with a lot of practice. You know, life happened. I opened my heart to the depths of grief. I got married and loved fiercely. I did the corporate thing in both good and toxic places. I had two difficult pregnancies that gave me two beautiful daughters and adored being their mom even though motherhood was exhausting. I weathered chronic health issues with lots of ups and downs, embarked on new learning journeys fraught with twists and turns, said goodbye to some people I loved and welcomed the birth of new family members. With each experience and emotion, I learned more about myself, what I wanted and where I wanted to go with my life. I continued to break down all the “shoulds” I had believed were mandatory for being a good wife, mother and employee, replacing them one by one with “coulds” and giving myself permission to consider what was best for me in meeting life’s demands. I was reducing my fears and building up my intuition, my internal wisdom.
Coming to trust the wisdom of my heart eventually allowed me to find answers to one of the toughest questions we humans face: What happens when we die? The unknown answer elicited a primal fear, ever creeping into my silent moments in the years since my father’s passing. My own brush with death made it scream in my ear and I could ignore it no longer. It was in the Spring of 2000. I was pregnant with my first daughter. When taking a hot shower, I felt a strange sensation. I immediately knew something was wrong and I called out my husband’s name in alarm. He later would report that just the weird sound of my voice was enough to send him bolting up the stairs. He found me on the floor, wet, eyes rolling in the back of my head. I have no memory of this. Not of turning around, or taking a step, or falling through the door, or hitting the tile floor. I wasn’t there. Instead, I was in a dark tunnel with light at the end. I felt calm, at peace, so loved. It was instantly a place of pause and of healing, such as I’d never known. I started to move towards the light, and a figure stepped into the doorway at the end. I recognized the silhouette as my father. The energy shifted and I received a message - felt it more than heard it - Oh no, no, no! It’s not your time. And my father began to close the door at the end of the tunnel. The next instant, I heard my husband’s voice, saying my name. But it sounded strange to my ears. I felt my cheek cupped in his hand. But I couldn’t remember where I was. And for a split second that stretched across time, I wondered how I got here, when I was just there. It was so comfortable there. So loving. And this hurt! Here in my body. Pregnant. On the floor. Why am I on the floor? “Wendy!” Oh, right! I’m Wendy. I was in the shower. I felt really strange. I must have collapsed! Oh no! What about the baby?
And this was my next major shift. Physically, I was fine and so was my baby, yet that cross-over experience replaced my fear of death with awe and curiosity. I had felt a bit of it; dying. It actually felt fantastic on the other side! It’s a merging with wholeness and peace! In the weeks that followed, a fear crept in that I was actually wishing for another opportunity to be in that place again, crossed over. Then, if by design, a crisis during delivery gave me a healthy dose of realism. Of course, I didn’t really want to die! So, I shifted my curiosity to learning all I could, reading about near-death experiences and reincarnation. And I began to find answers. When I read the stories of others’ tunnel experiences my memories gained significance and I could relive my own, recall the feeling and savor it without having to be there. From the stories, I also recognized another step in the journey to be what I had witnessed 16 years earlier in the dream with my father - a life-review! This is what happens when you die, your spirit heals and continues to learn. The knowing made life all the more sacred because I was no longer afraid. I saw everything differently. I yearned to savor as much as I could, as often as I could, without dwelling so much on the worries and fears that are humanities’ needless suffering. And I began to see that the wisdom of living with less fear of death and a greater appreciation for life was available to everyone.
This new awareness propelled my journey of spiritual awakening into high gear and soon would give birth to the idea of Everyone’s Wisdom. My path first led me to yoga and meditation, to new friends and new ideas. With my new tools and habits, I was not only thinking and feeling better, I was becoming better. I was a better mom and a better wife. By 2008, I felt a growing sense of gratitude and abundance for all that life was giving me. At the same time, I happened upon The Last Lecture by Randy Pausche. It’s not a spiritual book of any sort, but rather the result of one man knowing his time was short and asking himself, What do I want to leave behind for others when I die? His answer was, obviously by the title, a last lecture. In it, he shared his life’s wisdom. The best part though, was his reveal at the end of the book. It hit me right in the center of my heart, because his intended audience was not the hall full of people hearing him speak, but rather his baby daughter who he would have to leave behind. Through tears, I realized I too had something to leave behind. Without fear holding me back, I allowed myself to ponder the question, If I were to die young, as my father had, what would I want to leave behind for my daughters? My answer was exactly the same as Randy Pausche’s: I want to leave behind the wisdom I’d gained in hopes that it would create more ease and give my girls’ lives greater meaning and purpose.
All of a sudden, I was filled with a sense of urgency. Randy Pausch said it best, ““Time is all you have and you may find one day that you have less than you think.” I wanted to share all that I knew about spirituality and finding passion and joy in life. And an idea for a website was born, one that could walk anyone - everyone - through the wisdom of the sages of old, the gurus from the East, the science of the west, the thinkers in the ivory towers and the average person on main street. I wanted a platform to allow people to discover their own answers, their passions, their emotional guides, their innate wisdom. And the name became obvious, Everyone’s Wisdom. It would be a place to share the best of humanity, by everyone and for every one. This was the beginning; just the seed of the idea. Even with a continuous sense of urgency from within, Everyone’s Wisdom would take another decade to take shape. The full picture has snuck up on me slowly, like putting a puzzle together, each piece requiring mindful attention and several tries.
The first big piece was my dear friend Ellie. Ellie came into my life as a spiritual teacher and Reiki Master. She was the first person I asked to join my exec board for Everyone’s Wisdom and, looking back, that’s the day the spirits most certainly started to dance. Together we focused on an area of synergy between us: parenting. Within a few months, our conversations grew and we discovered we shared a similar and rather unique approach toward raising kids. Conscious Parenting was born and we became business partners for 4 years. Ellie and I worked extremely well together. A meeting of two minds and souls, with meditation and intuition infused into our process. Our detailed discussions about curriculum and programming elements felt like play. Giving presentations to a room full of people was energizing. Together we launched classes, workshops and the parenting section of Everyone’s Wisdom. We were open, fair-minded, honest, genuine and fully supportive of each other. And when the first website for Everyone’s Wisdom was hacked and I had to take it down, even as I demolished that sandcastle I’d so lovingly built, I remember thinking, If all it did was bring Ellie into my life, all that work was completely worth it! And that was the second piece of the puzzle, knowing how much fun hard work could be when collaborating with the right person. After the site was down for over a year, I began to wonder if Everyone’s Wisdom was done playing its role in my life. It wasn’t.
Many puzzle pieces still needed to find their way into the picture, and life’s curveballs would again provide the motivation to do that work. Multiple crises in the family demanded my attention, often overlapping: job changes and bullies at school, severe storms and several lengthy power outages in the cold, chronic illnesses and scary diagnoses, beloved schools being closed and the death of loved ones, multiple surgeries and health relapses. Crises sure have a way of quickly clarifying priorities, forcing out everything that’s not useful, then everything that’s not needed, and then making us choose between even the most important things. The day I had to choose between helping my mother or my daughter, both with urgent health issues, was a notable moment in just how impossible my choices seemed at times. Looking back on long stretches of time, I often struggled to understand why a year that otherwise appeared fabulous on paper with accomplishments and wonderful family moments had felt so miserable overall. That is the period I learned first-hand that life is about more than a resume and Facebook veneer. Joseph Cambell talks about this very thing in his book, The Power of Myth: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” And with every challenge, piece by piece, my experience of life and what matters most to me became clearer.
Most of all, I was gaining wisdom in knowing what made me feel most alive. Those we love come first. A greeting with kind eyes and a smile matters, a lot. A cherished event can last forever if we choose to savor it. Enjoying a quiet moment can melt the world and make it feel like heaven. Dance is a spiritual practice. Healthy anger is a useful and necessary sign that boundaries are being crossed and change is required. Giving everything all the time ceases being useful if there’s nothing left of you at the end. I was learning what was within my control, and what was worth letting go. “We are not victims of our genes, but masters of our fates, able to create lives overflowing with peace, happiness, and love.” writes Bruce H. Lipton, in The Biology of Belief.
So if we are masters of our fates, “Why aren’t we all already thriving?” It was 2012 and the next major piece was about to find its place. I was searching for content on childrens’ gifts to augment a Conscious Parenting class, and I was looking for something beyond the obvious labels like ‘she’s great at math’ and ‘he’s a track star’. That’s when I stumbled across a scientifically-based character strengths survey. Come again?! Values like creativity, kindness and appreciation of beauty were scientifically categorized? They were measurable and actionable?! It was a completely new way to describe people and I immediately loved it. It was the first clear path towards greater flourishing I’d ever seen. Curiosity peaked, I kept searching. Within days, my awareness expanded into the relatively new field of Positive Psychology. Within weeks, I had signed up for the first-of-its-kind certification course given by Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar at Kripalu. It was an obvious blend of two of my favorite things - two strengths actually! - intellectual curiosity combined with spirituality. I couldn’t sign up fast enough!
I spent a year in the company of great minds and open hearts, learning what makes the human body, mind, heart and soul thrive. What makes us happy? How do positive emotions affect us? What are the most important indicators for success? Is happiness genetic or is it learned? It was everything I had been thinking and wanting to learn. Instead of looking at what’s wrong with people to diagnose and fix them, Positive Psychology looks at what’s already working and how to savor and maximize it. Tal Ben-Shahar writes in his book Happier: “Happy people live secure in the knowledge that the activities that bring them enjoyment in the present will also lead to a fulfilling future.” The science he presented was so solid in showing what humans are capable of when we focus our attention on positivity and strengths, by the end, we all began to state the obvious: Everyone needs to know this! And with that, Everyone’s Wisdom was reborn anew.
The site concept expanded from a focus on spiritual awakening to human flourishing! Getting my certification in Positive Psychology was like completing all the puzzle’s edge pieces. It provided a frame around which all the other sections could find their place. New questions arose. What did humans look like when they were at their best? What encourages humans to be altruistic or to persist with innovative breakthroughs? The latest science in flow and creativity gave me answers, which then raised even more questions. How can we use technology to enable these things in humanity? How can we get at the answers faster and get them to the people who need them most? The more I looked the more answers I found. I concluded that we really have all the answers we need and that everyone’s answer is bound to be as unique as their own inner wisdom. So I found myself back to the original question: Why aren’t we already thriving?
And that’s the very question Everyone’s Wisdom now seeks to answer by collecting that which creates greater human flourishing. When I circled back to repeat that question about thriving, it made me see the gap in our cultural system, and all my life’s work showed me how it could be filled. So the full picture was coming together. Everyone’s Wisdom would become a content platform, empowering contributors with the freedom to seek answers, to explore shared knowledge, and to take steps toward a better life. Barbara Marx Hubbard writes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; All people are born creative; Endowed by our Creator with the inalienable right and responsibility to express our creativity for the sake of ourselves and our world.” The last puzzle pieces were falling into place quickly now. This will be a completely new way for people to engage with the Internet. Everyone’s Wisdom will be designed specifically to take advantage of everything technology can offer with the express purpose of encouraging the best in each person, for their sake and for the world’s. We need our best solutions working for us, now more than ever.
I’m committed to see this through, not only as the culmination of my life’s work and my life’s journey but in service to the world. Fredrich Beuchner writes in Wishful Thinking, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” For my part, this project answers all the guiding questions of my life and places this unique opportunity at my feet.
Why are emotions essential for a good life? Because they provide a guide. My passion and excitement within each step I take in creating Everyone’s Wisdom confirms that every minute is worth my time and effort. No matter how long it takes, it will happen.
If I were to die young, as my father had, what would I want to leave behind for my daughters? I want to contribute my strengths of organization, systems thinking, creativity, curiosity and spirituality to manifest this vision for sharing knowledge and wisdom and leave behind a world that makes flourishing just a bit easier for everyone else, including my daughters.
Why aren’t we already thriving? We need to use technology to our advantage, instead of technology using us. With the best of technology, we can enable the best in humanity. That support will allow more people to take steps towards greater compassion, collaboration and creativity - toward a better life and greater thriving.
Ultimately, I envision a platform that stores our collective wisdom so we may share what’s already working well with those who need it most, break down the gatekeepers and silos that stifle our creativity and strengths, and work collaboratively to discover new innovations that meet the world’s greatest needs.
Admittedly, it’s a huge idea that’s incredibly overwhelming at times; and though I’ve tried to give it away to others I’ve come to realize that I’m the only person who sees the completed puzzle. So, I’ve chosen to nurture it. I have allowed the concept to grow in my mind and after a decade the creative process has a will of its own. I can feel its constant need to expand. To ensure I can wrangle it to the ground and condense it into something achievable, I reached out to family and dear friends. Mom, Avis, Ellie, Barb, Lynn, Tom, Russ, Becca, Roseanne, Cristina, Julie, Abby, Anna Maria, Tricia, Lisa, Tim, Rebecca and many others have all listened to me, enriched the vision and kept things on track. I'm grateful for their helping me place many of the pieces with greater ease and grace.
Now it’s time to co-create Everyone’s Wisdom! I cannot do this alone. I need you! Your involvement, your passion and your curiosity. Everyone has wisdom to share. Paulo Coelho encourages all of us in his story, The Alchemist, “No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it.” Now you know. So together, let’s use technology for our benefit. Let’s free ourselves a bit more from our mental mind by storing and organizing our knowledge in one place. Let’s feel the freedom to share solutions and collaborate for the benefit of all. Let’s discover our passions and have the tools we need to make our dreams come true. Let’s see ourselves as connected to everything else and learn what we can do to be better stewards of our planet. Let’s lift those most in need of basic safety and shelter, by providing solutions we already have. And with just a smidge of extra energy to spare, let’s choose to create a bit more love, light and joy in our lives and in the world. And then maybe, in our moments of silence and within the connections that matter the most, we might just feel a little more Heaven on Earth. That will be the moment we come full circle, when we will realize that with everyone’s wisdom, we rise and we thrive together.
If you want to be part of this project, I’d love to hear from you about your interests! Very soon, I will need testers for the first beta version, content managers with expertise in your favorite topics and anyone with business acumen to be part of my team. And maybe there's someone you know who'd love to get involved. If so, feel free to forward this to them! We are co-creating a quiet revolution of the mind. You are needed! Please, reach out and tell me how you’d like to be involved.