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

Book Club: Elizabeth Crook’s The Night Journal

Thenightjournal The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook has me asking a lot of questions about the telling of our story.

Here's a synopsis from the back cover:

Meg Mabry has always felt oppressed by her family's legendary past. In the 1890's her great-grandmother Hannah Bass wrote revealing diaries of her life on the southwestern frontier, Hannah's daughter published these accounts, creating an American literary landmark, and cementing her career as a renowned historian in the process.

Meg, however, in rebellion against the imperious Bassie, has refused until now to read her great-grandmother's journals. But when the elderly Bassie returns to New Mexico, Meg concedes to accompany her–and soon everything they believed about the family is turned upside down.

Some observations, and many, many questions:

1) It had never occurred to me that one could be oppressed by a family's legendary past given that the past of my family isn't legendary.

Does this mean that if we ‘tell the story' of achieving our dreams, our daughters will view this story as a burden rather than a gift?

2) As a follow-on, because my college degree is from a 2nd-tier university, it hadn't occurred to me that someone with an MBA from one of the world's foremost universities could feel pressure, as does one of my girlfriends, to make something of her life.

When our dream doesn't directly build on our own impressive past, will we give ourselves permission to pursue our dream, trusting that our seemingly unrelated skills will eventually come into play?

3) As The Night Journal unfolds, we find that Hannah Bass' legendary past was only part of the story. The Night Journal is the proverbial ‘rest of the story.' It is only when Meg learns the whole story, the true story, that Hannah's story becomes a gift.

With the proliferation of blogs, do we risk telling a story that is so glammed up that our posterity will fail to know our true story?

As we give voice to our experiences, they do gain power, but do they influence lives for good or ill? Inspire or oppress?

Related posts:
Tell Your Story
Telling My Wall Street Story
Doorsteps, Doors and Dreams
Belle Liang: Making Meaning in Malawi
Children and the Call to Adventure

Tell Your Soundtrack Story: High School, Cheerleading and Finding True Love

In analyzing my teenage ‘tell your story' soundtrack, I observed a thing or two about myself. Not so much the need for story edits, but definitely some insights, clues as to what I might want to think about as I write my story into the future.

But more on that later.

As you scan this playlist, you'll see that, as a teenager, daring to dream for me was largely about becoming a cheerleader and finding true love. Piano and grades had become inconsequential, and angst was now on the scene: so much of living gets compressed into those four years.

Which songs best tell the story of your teenage years? What do your song choices say about your emerging and shifting priorities as you moved out of childhood?


Nature Boy — Nat King Cole's music bound me to my grandparents (first heard his music at my grandparents' home) and parents (my mom heard him live in San Francisco before he died), even as I began to individuate. I think this song put to music some of the sadness of those years — thrilled to be growing up. And not.

Still the One — In 8th grade, I went to see the Castillero Jr. High songgirls perform. After watching these pretty, and seemingly popular, girls perform to this song, I knew I wanted to be just like them.

Play That Funky Music — At the first school dance I remember attending, the DJ played this song, and I reveled in the abandon. (I don't know about you, but I am intrigued by the fact that at every age there have been songs that remind me just how much I longed to imagine and explore.)

Always and Forever — Being in love, and having my heart broken, for the first time. Ironic that I chose a tune which referred to ‘always' and ‘forever'.

Can't Hide Love — Though the song makes me so, so happy today, as a 16 year-old, ‘Can't Hide Love' always made me think of two boys (they don't know it of course) to whom I had given my heart.

Related posts:
Tell Your Soundtrack Story: Of Childhood and Christmas
Tell Your Soundtrack Story: Pre-Teen – Stevie Wonder On the Scene
What I've Learned by Identifying My Heroes
Imagine and Explore
Getting Gratitude

Tell Your Soundtrack Story: Pre-Teen – Stevie Wonder On the Scene

Definitely, definitely consider creating a musical mix for your children, grandchildren.

As I pull together these songs, limiting myself to only five songs (constraints can be a good thing), I am not only sharing the highlights of my soundtrack story, I am finding that I'm re-writing certain portions — edits can be a very good thing.

But more on that later.

Without further ado, here is Part II, memorable songs from my pre-teen years:


I Woke Up in Love This Morning — My crush on David Cassidy was so HUGE. I still have a picture of myself standing by a poster of him in my bedroom. And, as I've shared previously, it was remarkable to me that Shirley Jones could be an ingenue AND a mother.

I Am Woman — We would listen to Helen Reddy on an 8-track player as my mom would taxi me to ice skating. I LOVED taking ice skating lessons; gliding over the ice I felt such my sense of self surge. In hindsight, I'm laughing that I liked this song so much; my desire to affirm ‘us girls' seems to have started at the tender age of 10-11.

Come, Come Ye Saints — Singing this hymn always moved me, an homage to both my spiritual heritage and family roots, especially of my pioneer ancestors that settled southern Arizona.

Don't you Worry ‘Bout a Thing — My lifetime love affair with all things Spanish/Latin America began at an early age, with my birth actually: my children even think that we are part Spanish. But not sure why I have such a love for the music of Stevie Wonder. Perhaps because his lyrics give utterance to my deepest feelings/longings in a way that few musicians can and do.

Ease on Down the Road — Another happy, carefree song, that encourages me to imagine and explore, to face my fear.

Related posts:

Tell Your Soundtrack Story: Of Childhood and Christmas
What I've Learned By Identifying My Heroes
Finding our Reality in Reality TV
Asking and Answering the Big Questions
Rock Climbing and Rethinking Our Competence

Tell Your Soundtrack Story: Of Childhood and Christmas

Have you ever wondered:

What if my great grandmother had bequeathed to me an iPod (suspend your disbelief for a moment) with songs that had inspired her?

What if she had annotated her musical mix with a sentence or two saying why these songs had been meaningful to her?

In short, what if she had told her story with a soundtrack to her life?

On the odds that I will someday be a great grandmother, and because I do have an iPod, I hereby bequeath to my children Part I of my soundtrack story (thanks to Spotify), the music which inspired me as a child, as well as my best-loved Christmas songs.

What songs were most meaningful to you as a child? Why?

Which Christmas songs do you cherish?

What if you were to create your own playlist and e-mail it to your children and grandchildren as a last minute Christmas gift?

SOUNDTRACK STORY: Childhood & Christmas

Do-re-mi The Sound of Music, which I saw for the first time at San Jose's domed Century theaters next to the Winchester Mystery House, was the catalyst for my playing the piano. I still remember plunking out ‘do — a deer, a female deer' when I was three. Given that I have only two memories from when I was three, need I say more?

Melody — I played this by Robert Schumann at my first piano recital, around the age of 7. I loved to play the piano; playing well nurtured my growing sense of self.

Six Grande Etudes after Paganinni — My family listened to Andre Watts almost every Sunday; as an 8-9 year old, hearing Watts play (and also seeing him in concert) encouraged my dream of becoming a concert pianist.

Abide with Me, ‘Tis Eventide — As I sat in our chapel on Cherry Street late one Sunday afternoon, the singing of this hymn, stirred deep spiritual feelings within me. It is the first memory of this kind.

Everybody Wants To Be a CatThe Aristocats was so real to my 8 year-old self. This particular song was rowdy, and happy, and tapped into a creative impulse which manifested itself in my sister and I making up dances. Remember the kind: carefree, uninhibited dances that only young children are capable of doing.

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year — Whenever I heard Andy Williams belting out this song, the Christmas season had officially begun.

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker — My mother took my sister and I to San Francisco every year to see the Nutcracker when I was growing up. Even today, I thrill at the music which accompanies the Christmas tree growing and growing and growing. It was pure magic!

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas — I could have chosen the entire Carpenters' Christmas Portrait, but this song best recalls the occasional longing I felt for home as a 21 year-old on a mission in Uruguay.

Vince Guaraldi's ‘Oh Tannenbaum' — If there is an album that most recalls our happy decade in Manhattan, it's this one. And because I still daydream about becoming Diana Krall's younger sister (musically speaking), ‘Oh Tannenbaum' is one of my favorites.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day — Definitely my favorite Christmas song. When I sing “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep”, my heart swells with gratitude for the birth and life and death of Jesus Christ.

Related posts:

This Is Your Life (and How You Tell It)
Your Very Own Song?
It Takes Courage To Tell Our Stories

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.