Beacons of Greatness

Exploration & Risk: Sexy Bedfellows?

By Cindy Yantis

Yes, it's a scary, sexy killer combo.

Free risk

When I pulled the word prompt card of the day, these two were stuck together. Exploration and risk. Are they meant to be linked? The two words often appear together when talking about science, business and space: Exploration and the risk assessment thereof.

But, it got me thinking about how a marriage between the two ideas offers an interesting allegory for life.

I think of exploration as a road of discovery. Forging around corners of the unknown. Being open to newness. Trying things on for size. Dipping into an experience before fully committing. Digging deep in the microcosm of a thing and then connecting the dots and meaning therein.

So, an explorer? An explorer is a seeker, a questioner, a non-settler. Can an explorer ever really be settled, or are they not happy unless in the field of exploration? Always looking around the next bend?

Risk on the other hand, to my way of thinking, takes exploration to the next level. To safely explore is coloring within the lines. Certainly nothing wrong with that, although often the outcome can be rather beige.

However exploration with risk, skating on the edge of discomfort, where  a choice made could be dangerous in terms of success or failure, yet doing it anyway: that’s risky exploration and is about being truly alive.

Risk-takers often jump without a net, the ultimate in self-trust. They dance in the precipice between staying small and living large.

The time that comes to mind for me is when I made the big cross country move from Michigan to LA to pursue the arts. I had never lived more than three hours from home and I was leaving my comfort zone and everything I knew to forge and explore the bumpy road of discovery. It felt like a big risk because I was heading into the unknown in a much bigger way than I'd done before. I could fail, fall flat on my face. But, I went anyway and it was such an exciting, temperature-raising time in my life.

Risk doesn’t have to be through grand public gestures. Internal risk involves leaping outside of our comfort zone. In fact, the switch often has to happen there, internally, before the great things transpire in our world. 

Within greatness, exploration and risk abide.

The pillow talk between these two bedfellows is passionate and limitless and at times volatile, volatile only in terms of their mutual vibration, vibration that pushes them beyond what or who they were before. Surrendering to this powerful marriage means to continually step up, to grab onto exploration and risk and go, simply go. It’s momentum and marks the powerful agreement that this undeniable nuptial demands.

Now that’s a tête-à-tête I want to be a part of. I’ll even share the pillow.


Surrender to Surrendering

3 R's for Being Successful

Pick a Lane! Follow the Road, Baby

Living in the Space of Possibility


The Impact of Being a Precedent-Setter

"You've been given a great gift, George. The chance to see what the world would be like without you." ~ Clarence in "It's a Wonderful Life"

What a great line from an iconic movie.  I saw the Frank Capra film on the big screen for the first time this year at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.  It was such Wonderful lifea treat seeing it as a feature film with 300 other rapt moviegoers, popcorn and all.  The comment we made as we left the historic theatre was "they don't make movies like that anymore." 

Then, last night a friend took me to see "West Side Story" at the Pantages Theatre.  It's truly the perfect evening of musical theatre, the brilliant re-telling of Romeo & Juliet set to music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. West-side-story

After seeing both of these treasures that have stood the test of time and whose stories still hold up today, it got me thinking about how when they were both made they were original and fresh, truly the exemplars in their arenas, setting a new ideal.  Even though "West Side Story" was an update on Shakespeare's tale, the way it was told made WWS, itself, precedent-setting.  It was done so well that any attempt to re-tell or update its tragic love story would be futile.  The theme behind "It's a Wonderful LIfe" set a precedent that many storytellers have tried to emulate, but none so well as in the black & white original.

It got me thinking about how, in this copycat information-junky society, it's important to remind ourselves that we all are true originals, to set precedents of our own, to be remembered for being unique and for contributing value to the world and to the lives of others, to build a legacy that is ours and ours alone.

  • Be yourself, instead of trying to be something or someone else.  Imagine how much more work it takes to keep up the appearances of being someone else inauthentically, rather than in being yourself authentically.
  • Chart a fresh course.  Expand your mind and your ideas by trying new things and learning new subjects. Take a class, read an author you're unfamiliar with, skydive, belly dance, snowboard, climb a mountain, camp by the ocean, walk a country mile, buy an espresso machine, learn an obscure foreign language, meditate, sing in public, tour a museum, eat something you've never eaten before, do whatever "charting a fresh course" means to you.
  • Make note of original ideas.  By keeping a regular journal or notebook you can keep track of small seeds that are divinely or organically planted in your mind.  Then, go back and expound on them. 
  • Pay attention to sparks.  My best ideas have come from paying attention to odd images, interesting words or phrases I read or hear, or a question or need I need answered.  I grab the spark, storing it to chew on later.  Think about Post Its, or paper clips, or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, or "Gone with the Wind."  The spark for the idea came from a need, a twinkling of a thought or a slice-of-life experience.  Pay attention to the sparks.

Establish your own standard to be followed by yourself and others.  Examine the areas of your life and career where you are the example, where others follow your lead.  Where do you set a precedent?  No matter how small it may seem, notice where you are original and unique.  Take some time this weekend before the new year begins and honor your originality.  Many times out of those moments of self-reflection and reverence come more sparks.

Pay attention to the sparks!


11 Powerful Re's to Reignite Your Career

Dinner guests were arriving when the electric igniter went out on my oven.  And, then a few minutes later I discovered the igniter on my gas grill was also out.  After a momentary panic attack I re-thought the evening, ordered in and we got a laugh out of it.

But, being aware of metaphor and the subtle epiphanies it can bring, it got me thinking about where in our lives the igniters go out from time to time.  For both the grill and the oven it was an easy fix to re-ignite the mechanism.  What about re-igniting our lives and careers?  It’s a powerful act and allows you to live your life rather than your life living you.
  Lightbulb idea
Taking it a step further, it got me thinking about the impact other Re’s can have on us and all we do.   Think about your own life and career for a moment.  You have a dream, or a plan, or a specific project you’re trying to complete, or a bigger goal with a deadline, or an overall vision.  Perhaps you’re stuck or not feeling inspired; or what you’ve been doing isn’t working anymore; or you really feel like you want to make a change but have no idea what it is or how to go about it.

The power of the Re is that it places new energy in a new way toward what you’re looking at or trying to accomplish.   If you allow the Re to do it’s thing and not fight the process, the results can be staggering.

There are a lot great Re words, but here are 10 powerful ones to get you started, or re-started:
  • Reinvent your career by getting back to the foundation, what do you love and why do you do what you.
  • Reinvest your time in a new and charitable way.
  • Reclaim your dreams, keeping them alive by articulating them on a regular basis.
  • Rejuvenate your attitude, turning can’t into can and don’t into do.
  • Refocus your energy by pausing, taking a deep breath and changing your position.
  • Readjust your thinking, allowing yourself to come at a project from a fresh angle.
  • Retool your personal brand, your resume, your leadership style.  A fresh approach can bring fresh results.
  • Recharge your physical battery; take walks midday or change up your commute on the way to work.
  • Reignite your vision, like gently blowing on cooling embers.   It’s in there, gently wake it up and bring it to life by pursuing it in thought and action, a little every day,
  • Redesign your plan; remove what’s not working and try something else.
  • And, Refuse to quit on yourselfEveryday, get up and Redo something else.

In the way our skin renews itself every 24 hours, embracing the Re allows us to do the same thing in our lives and careers.  And, the good news is you can do and re-do it again and again.

It’s truly the cycle of life.  Or, in this case, the recycle of life.

Featured Thought Changer - Leo Tolstoy

“Abandon yourself entirely to everything you undertake.” Leo Tolstoy  Tolstoy

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking.” Leo Tolstoy  

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy led a controversial movement of people who questioned beliefs and provoked change in thought.  He led the way for future Thought Changers.  Whether you agree with his philosophies or not, there's no denying he changed the thought paradigm of his day. 

There's a Shift Taking Place

For several years now there's been a growing movement of global thought leaders who broadcast their notions and philosophies to an audience of seekers, seekers who crave possibility.  Many of these thought leaders are indeed wise; they speak and teach in sound bites and give (or sell) systems that promise to change lives and/or seriously pad bank accounts.  Many of these mogul leaders have become very rich selling possibility.  And, the problem with some (not all) is that they've become so big that they've lost sight of what made them transformative thought leaders in the first place.  Their celebrity has caused them to become out of touch with the ever-changing groundswell of society, surrounding themselves with gatekeepers and large staffs so that their followers are left feeling disengaged, disregarded and frankly taken advantage of.

There's a paradigm shift taking place in what people respond to.  The most effective thought leaders today must be transparent, real and grass roots. 

The most effective thought leaders are also thought changers.  Thought changers give way more than they get.  They make it their primary mission to help effect change.  What they give is not connected to the almighty buck, but to the service mindset.

Now, I’m all for being paid handsomely for passionate work; I’m a fan of riches in fact.  But, it’s when that disconnect happens where the “thought leader” suddenly seems less authentic, more talking head with a clear focus on charging huge fees for what they “offer,” less about service and content, and more about the sales pitch.  

A main focus of this blog is to shine a light on the true thought changers in this world, those leading the thought changing movement; as well as presenting ideas and new ways to think about what we do every day.

I have my favorites and I welcome your recommended and most admired thought changers.  I may just feature them here!

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6 Ways to Capture Brilliance in Everyday Moments

Strokes of genius, flashes of brilliance, inklings of inspiration.  Do those phrases intimidate you?  

Here’s the thing.  We all have those moments when a thought or notion comes seemingly out of nowhere and sparks a new idea, gives a fresh perspective to a task you need to complete or sends you off in a direction that provides a solution.  Raindrop

So, then it’s all clicking and perhaps you get some recognition for your great idea or perhaps it even  becomes something huge that really changes the course of things for you.    What happens next time you  come up against a problem you need to solve or you’re ready for the next project to be born.  Do you feel pressure to continue to have those flashes of inspiration for another great idea?  Does that stop you sometimes from moving forward?  

My friend Brian told me about a wonderful talk that author Elizabeth Gilbert gave on this very subject, and it was my flash of inspiration for this article.  She had come off of her explosive International bestseller, “Eat, Pray, Love” and found herself in that zone of “it's exceedingly likely that my greatest success could be behind me.” So, now what?  How does she continue to do the thing she’s supposed to do, write, without the looming expectation of genius?  The gem I took from her insight was this, “protect yourself from the result of your work.  Don’t let the end result stump your progress.”  When you have 19 minutes, watch her TED talk.  It, in itself, is a flash of brilliance.   

I recently saw the beautiful film, “Bright Star”, about the short life and love of poet John Keats.  This man was both tortured and buoyed by the ebb and flow of his flashes of brilliance.  The film very effectively depicts the quieter time that was then, when the insane distractions that we face every 10 seconds today were still so gloriously far away.  His genius came to him in his silence which he lived in for hours upon hours.  He wrote, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”   I really related to that because the truth is, for me, many time the sparks come to me in my quietness as well. 

Singer Taylor Swift said, “Thoughts come in involuntary moments, which then become ideas for lyrics and melodies.”   

That’s a great lesson.  When you keep an open mind while you’re in the midst of, well, life, that tiny little inkling may come to you and if you’re paying attention in that state of open awareness, you’ll catch it!  In every episode of the medical drama, “House”, diagnostician Dr. John House, who solves the most impossible of medical mysteries, gets his 11th hour stroke of genius in the midst of doing something completely unrelated.  He takes that small inspiration which sparks a fresh perspective on his huge problem and then solves the case. To bring this into your everyday world, here are some ways to stimulate and capture your flashes of brilliance:

  • Give yourself quiet moments – shut everything else down and be with yourself.  Nature and animals sometimes help to quiet my mind.
  • Start the day with a stream of consciousness – journal whatever comes into your mind without judgment or a plan.  Stick with it for five minutes; just write, don’t think.
  • Keep an ever-present notepad – in your bag, by your bed, in your car.  I find that the spark can flash out as quickly as it flashes in, so write it down as soon as possible.  It could just be a word or phrase so that you can expand on it later.
  • Have a bounce session – bouncing ideas off other people can bring you the fresh perspective you need to find your stroke genius. 
  • Read or watch things that are unrelated – ideas come in those involuntary moments.  The back of your mind is powerful place, and if you keep it open to what’s entering the front you’ll be amazed at how solutions will present themselves in unexpected ways.  I’m inspired by quotes, photographs, visual arts and news headlines.  Whatever gets your brain buzzing, tune in to those.
  • Be open to life circumstances – as a student of life your mind can be open and awake to the possibilities of brilliance in the moment.  Pay attention.

And remember; don’t focus on the end result.  So many times the outcome of just letting the strokes of genius, flashes of brilliance, and inklings of inspiration happen in due course bring about an even more satisfactory, and surprising, conclusion, whatever that may be. 


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Cindy Yantis is the Thought Changer Blog creator & curator. She is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. For more info:

Gratitude and Wisdom Walk Hand in Hand

Does gratitude make you a better leader?

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."  Melody Beattie, Author

Gratitude is the highest of attitudes.  This thought came to me full throttle this past week.  And, when gratitude is combined with wisdom, lessons can be learned, embraced and then taught.

Last weekend my computer got a nasty virus!  I actually started writing this at the library because after SIX days Geek Squad had still not fixed the problem.  (never again will I use Geek Squad but that's a whole other story) 

So, I was without a dedicated computer and the internet for a week.  And. sadly, I went through a withdrawal that brought up some interesting introspection.  For about 24 hours I went into a Slow_downfrenetic energy wondering how I was going to get everything accomplished that was on my ever growing to-do  list.  What do you do when things are out of your control?  I tend to ask myself, what am I supposed to be learning from this?  The answer that came to me was to slow down and get clear on what's directly in front of me.  Here's where the gratitude came in, after which wisdom came from listening to the lessons in the moment.  I made the decision to be in an attitude of gratitude and truly practiced moving moment to moment.  I took care of, and was grateful for, what was directly in front of me.

Effective leaders understand how to take the pulse of the current environment or situation and adjust accordingly when it involves things that are out of their control.  

  • Be curious.  Staying in a state of awareness means shining the light of curiosity on stumbling blocks that come into your path instead of getting frustrated over situations that at first appear formidable. 
  • Surrender to the pace instead of trying to control what you can't.  You'll find going with the flow much easier than swimming against it.  What's in the way, is the way.
  • Explore and clean out your current space. You'll be amazed with the kind of clarity you'll get from doing this.  I had a yard sale last week and used the computer down-time to clear out the old to make room for the new.  And, by new I mean fresh ideas, thoughts and energy.
  • Take the time to reach out to an old friend or contact.  Reconnecting brings on a surge of renewed energy.
  • Invest in yourself.  Take a class or read a book that you can learn from.

With Mercury Retrograde fully upon us (Sept. 7- Sept. 29), communication is particularly challenging.  And, two very public examples of that this week put the notions of gratitude and wisdom in even closer perspective.  Both Serena Williams and Kanye West had serious lapses in judgment in the way they communicated - Serena, when she berated a US Open line judge with inappropriate and vicious language; and Kanye when he selfishly stole a victorious moment away from VMA Award winner Taylor Swift. 

How can there be gratitude in these circumstances?  It may come from the realization of the impact of their actions, and for the asking for forgiveness which they both did.  Was it enough?  That's not for me to judge.  The wisdom might come from the ability to look at the full extent of their actions and to create a teaching moment for those who can learn from it, particularly those impressionable enough to look up to those particular public figures.  The wisdom comes in the lessons learned.

Gratitude is expression of truth as well as honest acknowledgment from within, and wisdom is the gift that comes from the gratitude awareness. 

Socrates said, "Wisdom begins in wonder." So, with wonder and gratitude, slow down in those moments you can't control and listen to the lessons being taught.  They very well could be great lessons in leadership.  I know I'm grateful for being forced to slow down last week.  The wisdom I gained from clearing out space, both literally and metaphorically, will serve me as I move forward with patience and perseverance.

"Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."  Melody Beattie

Is Leadership a State of Mind?

Fashion icon and Harper's Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland once said, "The only real elegance is in the mind; if you've got that, the rest really comes from it."

It got me thinking about how much power we have or don't have over our own states of mind. If elegance is indeed a state of mind, then can leadership be an acquired mindset as well? I would posit that it is.

Some appear to be born leaders, and it's true that some people do have an innate sense of their DUCKLEADER_Full leadership qualities and how to put them into practice no matter what field they're in or whatever endeavor they embark on. But, there are ways to recognize and adopt a leadership state of mind. One way to do this is to examine the differences between a "manager mindset" and a "leader mindset". Both roles are necessary, but it's when you truly think and act like a leader that people and opportunities are drawn to you like magnets. And, it is then that you experience excellence and satisfaction in your career in ways you never dreamed.

  • Managers think in terms of tasks. Leaders think in terms of big picture ideas.
  • Managers tend to stay within a "checkers strategy", utilizing minimal input and not thinking too far beyond the to-do list. Leaders use "chess strategy", bringing in players to represent all points of view so the strategy is well thought out with fewer chances of unwelcome surprises. It enables them to see various scenarios in advance.
  • Managers color inside the lines, working inside a plan. Leaders look for ways to move, change or remove the lines all together, challenging and improving the plan.
  • Managers say "look at what we've done." Leaders say "how can we do what we haven't done?"
  • Managers many times find themselves in defensive mode, left to explaining "here's why it didn't get done." Leaders turn a defensive stance into a positive offense, stating the realities, but also "here's the opportunity to change the reality - new markets, ideas, products, etc." 
  • A manager mindset can feel threatened by talented co-workers. Leaders surround themselves with talent equal to or better than their own.
  • Managers control. Leaders influence.
  • A manager's result-focus is smaller, immediate and linear. A leader's result-focus is company-wide and spherical or web-like.
  • A manager's agenda can be project-oriented with the manager as the key driver. Leaders are consistent and long-term contributors, collaborators and delegators always looking for team members to champion as drivers.  
  • Managers can be worker bees who keep their head down. Leaders are the queen bees who have an impact on the entire organization. The really effective leaders have a joyful, powerful and effective energy about them.

Managers manage. Leaders lead. 

It doesn't matter what your title says. Strong, forward-thinking companies crave leaders at every level. And, these same mindset principles apply in other areas of your life as well, whether you're leading an event, running a household or spear-heading a committee.

What's your mindset? You have it within you to change yours and be the leader you were innately meant to be.


Are You Wearing Masks That Hide the Real You?