How to Figure Out What You Really Want | Ashley Stahl | TEDxLeidenUniversity
Transcriber: Marina Aalten Reviewer: Tanya Cushman It was 2:45 PM on a rainy Friday in Los Angeles. My dad was just brewing a cup of coffee in the kitchen when he answered a call from an unknown number. He froze as he heard a woman violently crying and screaming on the other side of the line. Next, a strong masculine voice came on. And he said to my dad, "We have your daughter, and if you don't listen to every single word that we say, we're going to kill her." My dad paused, he lost his breath for a moment, and he managed to ask, "Can I talk to her?" "Do you
wantus to break her arm?" They taunted him. Now, you have to understand I am one of two daughters. And sadly, just six months before this phone call came in, we took my big sister off of life support. I'll never forget the day that she died. My dad looked at me with this grief, with this heartbreak, bigger than the entire sky, and he kept repeating to me, saying, "Now I only have one daughter left." So, as anyone would when they're in fear, he gave his power away, and he desperately said to the kidnappers, "This is my only daughter; I'll do
want." "Are you alone?" the kidnappers asked him. And in that moment, he locked eyes with my mom across the kitchen, pressed his fingers to his lips, silently begging her to remain quiet. And he said to them, "Yep, I'm alone," as he scribbled on a napkin. He wrote, "Go...
outside, quiet, call 911.
Ashley's been kidnapped" My sweet mom, she hurried outside with her hands trembling, and she managed to call 911. Meanwhile, my dad was being commanded by the kidnappers. "Get in your car," they said to him. "You're going to the bank, you're keeping us on the phone, and you're going to pay a ransom. And if you don't cooperate, we'll be sending you her body parts in the mail." My mom let the police know to meet her at the bank, and she tiptoed in the car so that they wouldn't hear her. The conversation in the car to the bank was all over the place. In one minute, they were asking my dad how his day was. In the next minute, they were threatening to rape me. They pulled up at the bank, and my mom went to meet the police officer, and meanwhile, my dad stiffly walked into the bank with his phone on in his pocket as promised so that the kidnapper could hear him wiring the funds. Meanwhile, as all of this was unfolding, I was actually sitting in my quaint, little Beverly Hills office, conducting a podcast interview. I remember throughout the conversation with my guest kind of seeing my phone light up across my desk and not thinking much of it. No, it wasn't until my guest left that I saw a slew of missed calls. And most importantly, I saw one text message that I'll never forget. It said, "This is the police. I'm with your family. Please call." Now, in my early 20s, I worked in...
counter-terrorism at the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C., so believe me when I tell you that my imagination of
whatcould go wrong is so colorful. But in that moment - I've never gotten a message like that, thinking that maybe
whatever was on the other side of that text message was going to ruin my life. So I sat there, and I mustered the courage to finally call. He said, "This is Officer Johnson. Is this
Ashley?" "Yes" He said, "Please confirm your name." I said, "This is
Stahl. Is my family okay?" Next thing I knew, I heard commotion. He yelled across the bank to my dad, "Mister
Stahl, hang up the phone! She's on the line; it's a scam!" I heard a ton of commotion, and then my dad grabbed the phone from the police officer. And he came onto the phone with me with a voice sounding more fragile than I've ever heard him before. And all he said to me was "Is it you?" I said, "Yeah, it's me." And for the first time ever, I heard my dad break down and sob. He didn't sob like that when I was a little girl. I remember one of his businesses went under, and our family went through an incredibly hard time, and he didn't sob like that. When I was in middle school, I came home one day, and he told me he had stage III cancer. And he didn't sob like that the day my big sister passed away. Never. He kept asking me if it was me, as in I felt like I had to prove that it was, so I...
said, "Yeah, Dad, it's me. We dressed up as hotdogs together for Halloween. You love cheesecake. I just signed my book deal. It's me, Dad." And he met me with one question. He said, "Can you please just come home?" So I was on my way. I remember walking in the front door of my parents' house, my dad rushed over to me, and we hugged heart to heart, and I felt his pain in a way that I've never felt on another person. It was in that moment that I also realized that parents aren't superhumans, that they're just people - like you, like me - doing the best that they can. He walked me through the phone call from start to finish, and I couldn't believe that for two entire hours he was living one reality while I was living a completely separate one. But knowing that the truth always leaves clues, I couldn't help but wonder, how did my supersmart dad get so duped? And did the crying woman even sound like me? And how did he manage to give his power away so quickly to a bunch of strangers? So, eventually, I managed to ask him, "Did you ever doubt that this was real?" And he gave an answer that we all tend to give when life corners us and we buy into fear. He said to me, "I didn't think that there was another option." Thinking about that, he went on, about how we get so scared, and how somebody was screaming on the line, and you don't have time to think about that. And that totally made sense to me. But...
throughout the rest of the night, I sat there in so much sadness and some anger, looking at how traumatized - I'd never seen my 75-year old dad so traumatized - wondering how could somebody do this to another person? And it was in that moment that something completely unexpected washed over me. And it was compassion. Not just for my dad, but for the fake kidnappers. I wondered, why would somebody choose a career path of scaring people like that and robbing them of their life savings? The only answer I could come up with was maybe they didn't think they had a better option, or, you know, maybe this is
whattheir parents taught them, just like my parents taught me
whatwas possible for me in my career, or maybe they don't have the awareness that there's another way. Put simply, maybe this was the best that they thought they could do to get by, survive, and meet their needs in the world, and pay their bills. Often, we kidnap ourselves from the lives that we actually
wantbecause we think a different path is going to help us survive, get by, pay our bills, or meet our needs in the world. I pulled out my journal, and I wrote at the top of it, "I'm my own kidnapper." I listed all of the ways over the years that I silenced the truth of
want, all of the times that I took myself captive on soul-crushing journeys that I didn't even
wantto be on. I thought about how so many of us choose majors in college or career paths that we...
wantto be on, because we think it will help us survive, get by, or meet our needs in the world. But it doesn't have to be that way. I encourage you to ask yourself, "Where am I kidnapping myself from the life that I
want?" "How am I giving away my power, getting into fear, just to meet my needs in the world?" When we go into fear, we give away our power and we disconnect from who we
want. But as a career coach, I've learned that there are three key steps that you can take right now to make
whatI love to call a "you-turn," which is the decision to get out of fear and come home to yourself. So the first step is to do a self audit.
Reallyask yourself, "Where am I holding myself captive?" This means being honest with yourself about where you are,
what's working for you, and
whatisn't. If you think about it, we come into the world, our natural state is with so much love, creativity - think about kids; they have inspiration - and yet over time we're taught to fear. And fear is a necessary inner alarm system that we all need to survive in the physical world. Think about it. We learn to look both ways before we cross the street. We learn not to touch the stove when it's hot. We learn not to talk to strangers. But over time, we get hurt. Life throws us curveballs. We learn to stop taking risks and start being afraid. We get afraid to put ourselves out there. We start...
calling ourselves "practical" or "realistic" for making choices that seem "responsible" when
reallywe're just so scared of criticism. And if we're being
reallyhonest with ourselves, people who call themselves realists are often just dreamers who got their hearts broken somewhere along the way. So how do you make a you-turn? You do a self audit. You come home to yourself. And that's why one of my favorite questions to ask people is "
Whatdo you know that you wish you didn't know?"
Whatdo you know that you wish you didn't know? Maybe some of you know that you're hiding from the truth. Deep down, you know you're hiding from the truth. Maybe you're hiding from the fact that you hate your job, but you won't admit it because you're scared and you don't know where to go next. Or maybe you're hiding from the fact that you married the wrong person, but you're scared to admit it because it's going to unravel your life to get a divorce. Or maybe you know that something is going on with your health, but you're scared to go to the doctor because you don't
wantto hear the diagnosis.
Whatever it is, tap into
what's deeply true for you, seeing things as they are - not worse than they are, not better than they are, but as they actually are. In order to
want, you need to see the truth of where you are. And maybe right now you feel pain bubbling up inside of...
you as you look at
what's true for you. But know this: pain is often a trampoline that will launch us into our next stage of life if we're willing to let it. The second step is to follow your freedom. Follow your freedom. This means paying attention to
whatfeels good to you so that you can finally set yourself free. So you're probably wondering right now, "Okay,
Ashley, how do I feel
whatfeels good?" Very fair question. We live in a world right now of Internet trolls and tweets and text messages, and the data is officially in: we are so connected that we're somehow, according to research, more disconnected than ever. In fact, in the United States alone, 71% of the workforce is on the job hunt. And I believe, as a career expert, that that is because people don't like where they are. More than 70% of the United States is taking prescription drugs, and more than half of marriages are ending in divorce. We've heard it all before. "Do
whatyou love, and the money will follow." Or my least favourite piece of advice, "Follow your passion." These short expressions are often a fast track to nowhere. But when you learn to
whatfeels good to you, your purpose is often either right in front of you or on the periphery of that. So maybe you're wondering, "Well, how do I
reallyconnect to my body? How do I feel
whatfeels good?" You're still being with this question. And that totally makes sense to me....
Right now, scientists are calling our gut "our second brain," and you've probably heard the research that suggests that there's more than 200 million neurons in our gut, which is equivalent to the size of a cat or dog's brain. So
whatdoes that mean to you? That means if in your nervous system you're feeling some sort of anxiety or disconnect, some nerves, something feels off, to trust it because your body is a messenger and it is constantly giving you feedback. In my early 20s, when I moved to Washington, D.C., to work in counter-terrorism, I didn't know if that was going to be my ultimate career path. But something about it felt good to me. And guess
whathappened on the periphery? I succeeded in my career. I learned how to master the job hunt. And I became a career expert. And guess
whathappened on the periphery of that? I became a published author, my biggest dream. In a world of climbing the corporate ladder, five-year plans, and unnecessary degrees, we are all striving for something that is so unrealistic. And it's perfection. But who you are at age 25 isn't going to be who you are at age 30, and it certainly isn't going to be who you are at age 40. And that's why I invite you to see your career as an experiment that
reallymeets you where you are - a vehicle for your own self-expression. You can start with writing down all of your ideas and checking in with your body, seeing how they feel to you. Do you feel joy? Or do you...
feel fear? Do you feel expansion? Or do you feel contraction? Do you feel liberation? Or do you feel suffocation? That's why one of my favourite tools to recommend people that they use is called a "joy journal." When you're feeling disconnected, for 30 days, take the time to write down every single moment - that moment that lit you up the most - every single day. And I don't care if it's the woman you talk to in the bathroom line at the club or the meeting you led at work. Pay attention. And at the end of the 30 days, take note of if there's any patterns in your inspiration.
Reallyask yourself, "
Whatskill set am I using when I'm the most inspired?" Because when you're in your inspiration, you're not being run or kidnapped by your fear. And the third step is to engage. So needless to say, your cute little joy journal isn't going to get you that love interest that you've been pining over or that dream job that you
want. Action will. But perfectionism is the enemy of action. And often, I found that perfectionism is a mask that we all wear when we're afraid of failure. So ask yourself, "Am I a perfectionist?" Because here's the truth of the matter. Clarity comes from engagement; it does not come from thought. Limbo is powerless. So if you
wantto be powerful, look at your list, pick something that feels good. Show up, see
whatfeedback the universe gives you, make a commitment, and know that...
you can course-correct along the way. You know, looking back and thinking about the fake kidnapping incident, I think a lot about my dad and all of the trauma that he experienced that day, nearly wiring his entire life savings to some strangers on the phone. I think about how the truth always