Tell Your Soundtrack Story: Career, Motherhood and 9/11

In his book This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin, a rocker-turned neuroscientist, explores the connection between music and our brain, providing some interesting insights on why we love the music we do.

In particular, Levitin helped me understand why Stevie Wonder, who made his way on to my soundtrack as a pre-teen, was still on my soundtrack during my 30s, the decade of launching a career and learning to mother.

He writes, “teenage years are emotionally charged years of self-discovery. Because of the emotional component of these years, our amygdala (the seat of emotion in our brain) and neurotransmitters (transmitters of information from the brain to other parts of the body) act in concert to ‘tag' these musical memories as something important.”

What kinds of music and which artists did you love as a teenager? Now in your 20s, 30's, 40s, 50's, or 60s, do you listen to similar music?

SOUNDTRACK STORY: Career, Motherhood & 9/11

Isn't She Lovely — Stevie Wonder composed ‘Isn't She Lovely' when his daughter Aisha was born. I loved listening to this song as a teenager, cradling my newborns to it as an adult. It is a song that gave utterance for me — and no doubt millions — the importance of connectedness and caring.

Smooth — Definitely the ‘imagine and explore' song in the mix. Not surprisingly this yearning plays out for me via Latin music.

Fragile — Having read Levitin's work, it's fascinating to me that the Police who were so popular during my relatively carefree college days, could capture the sadness, the grief at innocence lost on 9/11. Gratefully, I wasn't in my World Financial Center office to witness the horror firsthand, but I needed (as we all did) to eventually grieve. It was in a taxi, on my way into Manhattan, listening to Sting's Fragile, some weeks later, when I finally cried.

Diggin' Your Scene — Smashmouth's ode to the fictional Sydney Bristow on Alias. As Psyche would have acknowledged, Sydney was about connecting and caring AND daring and dreaming. As a 30-something trying to marry these two, Sydney Bristow was my archetypal gal. Smashmouth says it all.

For those of you who want to explore musical intelligence (as defined by Howard Gardner), you will no doubt find Levitin's book interesting. Levitin also observes that if you want to be a great musician, or great at anything for that matter, practice — not talent — makes for virtuosos.

If you'd like to test Levitin's premise that we hardwire our musical preference as teenagers, check out, a music genome project, which allows you to specify a song you like, and via the matching of that song's DNA to the DNA of other songs, make recommendations. For example, knowing of my fondness for Stevie Wonder, I wasn't surprised that I instantly liked the Brand New Heavies.

Related posts:
Tell Your Soundtrack Story: Pre-Teen – Stevie Wonder On the Scene
Seeing With New Eyes
Tell Your Soundtrack Story: High School, Cheerleading and Finding True Love
What I've Learned by Identifying My Heroes
Asking and Answering the Big Questions

Asking and Answering the Big Questions

I recently attended the last day of Professor Clayton Christensen's fall semester class at Harvard Business School.

In his final minutes with eighty of the world's best and brightest 25-35 year-olds, there was so much that Professor Christensen could have used his bully pulpit to say. Interestingly he chose to focus not on building and sustaining a successful enterprise, as he had done all semester, but rather on building and sustaining a happy life.

Paraphrasing Dr. Christensen's remarks, “In just a few months you will graduate from Harvard Business School, and embark on what to many, including yourselves, will be prestigious, lucrative, high profile careers. But if you want to also have happy lives, you need to know the purpose of your life.”

Photo courtesy of Jorge Antonio, istockphoto

He concluded class by encouraging the students to take the time, even if it's between 11 and 12 each night, as he did some thirty years ago, while he himself was in graduate school, to figure out their ‘who they are', and ‘what they are meant to do.'

There was a tear or two.

In Howard Gardner's groundbreaking theory on multiple intelligences, he outlines eight different type of intelligences. The first two, logical-mathematical and linguistic, aptitudes most valued by our society, are no doubt strengths of HBS students.

But what of kinesthetic, interpersonal, musical, naturalist, spatial, perhaps most importantly, existential intelligence — to make meaning of our life — the intelligence to which I believe Dr. Christensen was referring?

Many of us do not have graduate degrees, including myself. Even fewer have degrees from an Ivy League school.

Which is why I found Dr. Christensen's words so encouraging.

Because to be existentially intelligent, even credentialed, we don't need a degree, we just need to know how to ask and answer the really big questions, like — what's our story meant to be? How do we become the hero of our story? The hero of support in others' stories?

Which intelligences do you possess?

Have you ever considered yourself existentially intelligent?

What is your story meant to be?

Will you resolve to be the hero of your story?

And the hero of support in others' stories?

Related posts:

Seeing With New Eyes
Play to Your Strengths
What We Can Learn From TLC’s “I’ve Got Nothing to Wear”
What I Learned About Seeing from My Glasses
Rock Climbing and Rethinking our Competence

What We Can Learn From TLC’s “I’ve Got Nothing to Wear”

We carry with us the wonders we seek without us. Sir Thomas Browne

Dream, dream, I want to dare, I want to dream, but how?

Good question, and TLC's I've Got Nothing to Wear offers some suggestions…

Figuratively, not literally, so stay with me.

In this six-part summer series, a professional stylist assigns the guest's clothing to one of two categories: salvageable and non-salvageable. The non-salvageables are sent to the “chop shop” where three designers have been assigned to cull, rip, redesign, and resew these items into fresh, fashionable pieces (e.g. an outdated pair of slacks might become an evening gown). In the meantime, the stylist shops with the guest for 4-5 classic items to complement the salvaged clothing. When the stylist creates a “look book” which shows the student how to mix and match the salvaged clothes, the newly-purchased classics, and the revamped pieces, the wardrobe refashion is complete.


I'm not suggesting that each of us begin to personally redesign our clothing, but rather to propose that the premise of “I've Got Nothing to Wear” can help us think through what tools may be available to us as we dream.

Salvaged clothing, or clothing that is wearable today — This is a metaphor for our strengths. Just as the stylist helps identify clothing which works, we may need a see-er of our strengths until we see them. Howard Gardner and Laura Morgan Roberts' work are great resources.

What are your strengths? What about you is magnificent that you don't see, but others do?

Newly-bought classic items — Think new skills and competencies. Just as the student's wardrobe needs a few new classic pieces, we may need to acquire a new skill to achieve our dream.

What skill can you learn in a matter of days, maybe even hours, that would move you closer to your dream?

Revamped or refashioned clothing — Consider the importance of repurposing strengths that once “fit and were in style” and no longer are. Just as each of us have clothes that we love, possibly inherited from our grandmother or mother that no longer fit us or who we are, we also have strengths, ones that may have even gotten us through tough times, that no longer serve us.

What skills or competencies no longer fit? If you sent them to the chop-shop for a repurpose, what fabulous new something about your self might you discover?

Contact Us

Fill out this form and we will follow up to create a customized plan to help you build a smart growth organization.

Media & Press Inquiries

including requesting Whitney as a guest on your podcast

Media & Press Inquiries arrow_forward

Gain insight into growth, adaptability and agility

Download our free resources outlining the Accelerants of Growth—including books, podcasts and TEDtalks to help you move up your S Curve of Learning.