I first met Lourds Lane at the Forbes Women Summit this year. She is the creator of the 2014 Broadway-bound musical CHIX 6. She was on stage performing. I was immediately drawn to her authenticity, her passion, her clear vision for how she is making her “ding in the Universe”. Lucky for me, she happened to be sitting at my table for the conference. I immediately asked her if she would contribute to a series on my blog called “My Purpose Journey”. She immediately said “Yes”. Here is her story.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a musician, but I call my “purpose,” my “song.” How did I find it? Well, I remember taking a multiple choice test when I was in 4th grade. It was supposed to help the students figure out career preferences. My teacher said it would be the easiest test we would ever take because no matter what answers we chose, we’d be right. Thank God because my strict Filipino disciplinarian mother would kick my ass if I got anything less than an A. But I digress.
The top three ‘best fit’ careers for me were: 1) Teacher 2) Social Worker 3) Performing Artist. The teacher let us know we needed a parent’s signature on the test in order to complete the exam. My mom flat out refused. She said, “Pick jobs that will actually make you money and then I’ll sign it!” Flash forward to today. I’ve written the book, the music, and the lyrics for the musical “CHIX 6,” which will open on Broadway next year. In the show, I perform the role of a superhero called Rise who plays the electric-violin and champions full self-expression. I’ve also founded a non-profit called the Lightning Girl Fun-Dation, which empowers at risk youth through the arts and I teach the curriculum regularly. 1) Teacher 2) Social Worker 3) Performing Artist. Pretty accurate test. I’m my own boss, supporting myself with a career of my own design… and Mom couldn’t be more proud.
Believe me, my mom tried to force feed me her version of my song. My mother was only doing what she thought was right for me. My grandmother, or as we say in Tagalog, my “lola”, had always said to my mother: “Be independent. Make your own money so no one can ever control you”. Regimented discipline and a high demand of excellence was her way to create control, to make her children feel safe in the world. My Dad beat her…her world felt chaotic, unsafe. Looking back, her actions make complete sense. But growing up, I saw my mom as a taskmaster and I worked my ass off to please her.
So what did that look like? Model student, youngest and top of my class, president of a half a dozen clubs, academic trophies filling up two rooms… you get the picture. Pretty cool to be and to have “all that,”–yet I felt empty, because I wasn’t motivated by anything internal. I wasn’t singing my own song. My motivation? Make mom happy.
Eventually, inevitably, the rebellion phase kicked in. I redefined myself as anything but a people pleaser. “I’m a rebel! I drink! Give me any four letter word and I’ll OWN it!” I traded my acoustic violin for an electric violin that could distort. “Screw the establishment! I’m a rock star!”
So instead of following the traditional money making path to quickly pay back my gargantuan student loans, I decided to live a hand-to-mouth existence, fronting and managing my own rock band, and touring North America for many years. Even though my band ended up with a dedicated national fan base, and even though I learned valuable skills in managing a small business, I felt like a hamster on a wheel. One day blurred into the next because I still wasn’t living out my song. I learned that rebelling against something does not mean standing for something.
So, when did my song sing to me? Well, since I was a little girl, giving back always provided me my strongest melody. I always knew deep down that my song had something to do with service. I began to hear it even more clearly I when I was teaching in Harlem. The musical I wrote, “CHIX 6,” was in its developmental run and on Monday, my off day, when I wasn’t performing, I would teach kids in Harlem how to find their own inner superhero.
The exploration entailed taking a close look at the students’ strengths, as well as those aspects the students wished to improve upon. Examining this would help the students find their superpower and create their superhero name. So, I went around in the circle asking the students which one attribute they’d like to improve upon until I got to the only student who didn’t raise his hand. His response was barely audible: “I’m too shy.” When it came time for him to declare a superhero name, this shy boy, now hiding behind two of his classmates, said, ‘I guess it’s Camouflage.” Now, although it’s pretty clever for a shy kid to create art projects as a superhero named Camouflage, I wondered how continuing to ‘disappear’ would serve him, especially when he himself admitted that it was the one aspect he wanted to improve upon. So I asked him to stand in the center of the circle. He reluctantly obliged. I told him to close his eyes and stretch his arms out. I asked him if he could imagine feeling really big, growing higher and wider, taking up space in the room, so that wherever he walks, he feels powerful. He knows exactly what to say and people want to be in his space because they want to bask in his light. What does it feel like to shine like the sun? Suddenly, the boy opened his eyes and said, “My name is Illuminator!” And when the shy boy spent time creating art as “Illuminator,” his whole personality shifted. He was social, engaging, cracking jokes. He was a different kid. This was the first class of what has become the Lightning Girl Fun-Dation (with a capital, FUN.) By the end of next year, we project that we will reach tens of thousands of kids nationally and internationally. Can you imagine a world full of “Illuminators” experiencing themselves as powerful and valuable, listening to and singing their song?
And this is my purpose. I’m here on this Earth to empower our young change-makers, disruptors, and world leaders. I envision having the superhero artwork creations of the Lightning Girl-Fun-Dation students on rotating display in the lobby of the Broadway Theater where my show about finding your own inner superhero, touches and inspires people 8 shows a week, for years on end. Just writing about this excites me, because this is what I’m here to do.
It takes millions upon millions of dollars to put up a Broadway show, run the FUN-dation, and build a global empowerment brand. But we are doing it. And I say we, because I’ve sung my song loud and proud, and people have heard me, and have joined me, and now we’re a massive choir. Together, we are primed to transform the world. Because we say so. Because we know our shared song will make a difference.
Before I found my song, I felt like the only way I could find the right path was by hacking away at the jungle called my life with a big-ass machete. It was all about struggle, open gashes, and sweeping, dramatic arm motions. Now that my song is pulling me forward, I walk and the underbrush just separates on its own in front of me. All I have to do is keep walking forward and the path miraculously appears. There’s nothing like the feeling when you’ve discovered what you love to do, you’re a total badass at doing it, and you’re making your own unique contribution to the world. Do anyone else’s timelines or expectations really matter to your song or how you sing it? Your job in this world is to be you. It’s your own unique brand. So be brave, be bold, speak your truth, and sing your song.
This blog post is excerpted from Lourds Lane’s keynote speech for the Forte Foundation’s 2013 Women’s Leadership Conference. Follow Lourds @lourdslane, www.lourdslane.com.
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Lourds Lane – TEDxWomen 2012