That Thing You Do

by Monica McCarthy on September 4, 2014


What do you love more than life itself?

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert poses this question in her 7-minute 18-second TedTalk on Success, Failure, And The Drive To Keep Creating.

For the author of the runaway hit Eat, Pray, Love the answer is, unsurprisingly, writing. In the speech Gilbert explains that she believes her life wouldn’t be worth living if she couldn’t write. Or, to put a happier spin on it, the act of writing makes her life worth living.

Another way to phrase the question is: What do you feel called to do? Yes, that sounds a bit heavy on the spiritual or woo-woo side of things, but ask anyone who chooses vocations like art or creativity or social work or parenthood or anything else that doesn’t totally make sense from a rational perspective, and the only explanation that can be offered is that of the deafeningly quiet push and pull of the Muse.

The calling isn’t only for the famous and history books.

The calling, the sense of urgency to express, to do, to be, is real and alive in each of us. How loudly we hear the voice and the devotion to which we answer back is what determines the rest.

Here’s where I confess that as much as I value art and creative expression, I do feel a tad bit squirrelly at the thought of loving any one of those things more than life itself.

And if you look at my track record, there have been a number of things I felt called to do for a time, be it writing, acting, traveling, directing, etc. But I’ve discovered, for better or worse, that the medium is not what determines the message, or rather the foundation as Gilbert puts it, for the rest of my days on this earth.

What I do know is I would feel less alive if I couldn’t continue learn. To try. To experience. To connect. To feel. To be in community. Unfortunately that isn’t as easy to explain as, say, to write. I clearly haven’t figured out the panoptic word for my calling yet. But that thing, whatever it is, that is what feels unapologetically me.

For the past two years I’ve dreamed of creating a space for curious, smart, fun people to come together to learn about ideas and skills and concepts they’s always wanted to know more about. The goal is not to be an expert or become certified in anything. Just to try. In person. Not an online course. Not a massive conference. But an experience.

Exactly one month ago I started my new chapter as the Experience Impresario for Holstee, a creative design studio in Brooklyn. And today, I’m thrilled and scared and excited to announce that we’re opening our doors this October for what feels like a venerable playground of possibility: The Holstee Learning Lab.

The premise for the Learning Lab began with that whisper of the siren song that became louder and louder until she called with such bravado she could no longer be ignored.

So I opened my notebook and wrote the first thing that came to mind:

Life is short. What would you try if you knew you couldn’t fail? There are no grades at the Learning Lab. Only new ideas born, friendships formed, and curiosity cultivated.

And then I wrote down what I’d like to learn. And then I wrote down the names of people who were experts and teachers in each topic. And then I sent emails. And thankfully people said yes.

Rest assured, this is only the beginning. There will be arts and movement and music and design and just about anything-you-can-think-of classes. If there’s something you want to learn more about then send me an email at monica(at)holstee(dot)com.

Yes, you can Google how to learn something. But you can never, ever replace the fluttering of excitement that comes from that first day of school. The simple thrill of showing up to discover and create and explore. To be a novice and not be afraid to start from the beginning. Or to be afraid to be a beginner but choose to begin anyway.

I guarantee that whatever you want to learn more about, someone else does too. And then, before you know it, a community of people fueled by nothing besides their own innate sense of curiosity is formed.

Gilbert closes her TedTalk with some wise words of advice about treating the calling as a foundation for the rest of our life pursuits:

Look, I don’t know where you rightfully live, but I know that there’s something in this world that you love more than you love yourself. Something worthy, by the way, so addiction and infatuation don’t count,because we all know that those are not safe places to live. Right? The only trick is that you’ve got to identify the best, worthiest thing that you love most, and then build your house right on top of it and don’t budge from it. And if you should someday, somehow get vaulted out of your home by either great failure or great success, then your job is to fight your way back to that home the only way that it has ever been done, by putting your head down and performing with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from you next. You just do that, and keep doing that again and again and again, and I can absolutely promise you, from long personal experience in every direction, I can assure you that it’s all going to be okay.

I don’t know whether a studio for the studious is the answer to my calling. But I know it’s a step in the direction of the Voice.

For now, I’ll just delight in dancing to the music of possibility.

And I hope to see you in Brooklyn very soon.



The Space Between

by Monica McCarthy on August 19, 2014


One of the zillions of things I’m loving about my new partners in crime is that they too are fans of big ideas and exploring a different theme every month.

The theme for August is bravery.

Bravery is, more often than not, depicted as a means to a way of obtaining something. But just as often (and as pointed out by Sunday’s yoga instructors Adam and Monica), bravery can be found in the letting go.

When we loosen our grasp, or when clean out the rubble, two important things happen. First, we are able to have a clearer vision of what remains (the important stuff) and second, we’re able to make room for amazing things; be those things people, experiences, ideas, thoughts, or emotions.

Cleaning out takes work. It’s one thing to quickly sweep the dust bunnies under the rug and stuff everything into the storage closet when the guests come over to dinner. Hiding the truth is easier than dealing with it. But real cleaning out means rolling up our sleeves, getting on our hands and knees, and scrubbing the stains away.

Cleaning out also asks us to toss out because we need to make room for what comes next. Bravery often requires us to let go of things we really like to make room for things we really love. Then, occasionally, bravery asks us to let go of things we love because bravery requires sacrifice.

“You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” – Mary Tyler Moore

Bravery isn’t about leaping and magical nets appearing.

Bravery is about coming face to face with what we want most to avoid, and choosing, despite the fear and trembling, to roll up our sleeves, humbled with scrub brush in hand, and getting to work.

Freedom affords us the ability to make a mess when necessary.

Bravery is what happens in between.


p.s. I’m honored to be interviewed on the Holstee blog today on the topic of making the choice to join a team in pursuit creating a greater good.

image: Mr Thinktank


The Next Chapter

by Monica McCarthy on August 7, 2014

photo (43)

Today marks the start of a new chapter in my story.

I am bursting at the seams to tell you more about this new adventure, partly because I hate secrets and partly because I hope you’ll join me in some way.

But first, a bit of prologue to set the stage for why we got here…

While grabbing drinks with friends earlier this week, I shared the big news. Sitting next to me was Jonathan Fields, whose work and outlook I greatly admire. We got to chatting and he asked me a simple but brilliant question in regards to the announcement:

What are you most excited about?

Instantaneously a flurry of answers came rushing to mind and my pulse quickened at the thought of it all. We don’t always have advanced warning that our life is about to change, so when we do, it can be dizzying… even if the change is something we want!

Jonathan patiently listened as I verbally sussed out the thoughts that have been percolating in my mind for the past week. Thanks to him, you get the streamlined version:

First, I’m honestly ridiculously excited to have a home for my ideas.

You see, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been an “ideas person.” I can’t help it. I often joke it’s like a disease. The challenge is that I don’t have the resources in regards to time, money, technical aptitude, and manpower to make the ideas happen. And the closer I got to understanding what mattered to me, the more ideas I had…. And the more frustrated I became that I couldn’t accomplish them all on my own. I had a very specific vision for what I wanted to build and more importantly why I wanted to build it. Cheshire Parlour taught me that there are other people out there who also believe in the importance of discovering what is meaningful. And one company in particular with the same vision and values has been on my radar for the past few years. (Yep that was a preview.)

Which brings me to my next point of excitement: I’ve (finally) found my tribe! Confession: I don’t like working on my own all the time. I realize that for many people, solopreneurship is the dream. But it isn’t my dream. Working independently from home or from a coffee shop is, as I’ve learned the hard way, not optimal for me. Yes, I have introvert tendencies (I love spending hours writing and reading alone) but I’m an extrovert more often than not. Another way of wording that would be: I get really jazzed being around people. And not just being in proximity to people (which is the benefit of co-working spaces) but actually conversing, strategizing, dreaming, and co-creating. Being united with remarkable people by a shared vision is my kind of utopia.

This was one of my biggest personal revelations of the Act II project in which I interviewed performing artists who have pivoted into other careers. When I really thought about why I loved acting in the first place, I realized I loved being part of a cast and crew. Ok, sure, I like having a starring role, but I’ve never desired to perform in a one-woman show. I loved the whole process of putting on a performance, from the table-read to the dress rehearsal to the final curtain, all with a collaborative team.

And wait until you get to know my new co-workers if you don’t know them already. They are seriously amazing. I smile just thinking about showing up to the “office” every day.

Which brings me to the next thing I’m excited about: A creative collaborative space! A space to build, connect, and offer accountability simply by existing. This space happens to be in walking distance from where I live in Brooklyn, and is filled with light and radiates inspiration. This space will also be where we’ll host events, dinners, workshops… it’s just wonderful really. The communal desks are made of reclaimed wood and there are local wild flowers filling mason jars. The fridge is filled with produce from the local CSA and there is an endless supply of green tea. I can’t wait to see what we create here. And “here” is only the beginning. Look out world! We got big plans.

Speaking of plans, I’ve got some plans of my own, outside of this new gig. Plans to finally write that book, and make that film, and learn to play those songs on my keyboard. But those plans came to a halt when all my creative and physical energy became focused on building “my thing.” There was no free time, or at least that is how it felt to me. It might sound strange, but the moment I signed on to this job (it feels weird to even call it that) the ideas and motivation for everything else came back!

So without further ado, here is my next chapter:

I am officially the Experience & Culture Impresario for Holstee.


With the Holstee founders Dave, Fabian, and Mike



Everyone I’ve talked to about Holstee falls into two camps: Those who love Holstee and those who have never heard of Holstee but will soon love Holstee.

I’ll write another post that goes into greater detail about what Holstee does and what my job entails. (In the meantime, checkout their website… they’ve even added me to their About page already!) I’ll also write more soon about how the position came about because I want to share some lessons learned about finding the dream job… especially one that never existed until you make it up!

Until then I highly recommend watching this video showcasing the Holstee manifesto (which has been downloaded approximately over one hundred million times!).

Funny side-note: when I went to re-watch the video on YouTube I discovered I’d shared the video two years ago via Google+ with the comment:

There’s nothing not to love about this video. One of my favorites: “Some opportunities only come once. Seize them.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity to join the Holstee family.

Here’s to another great adventure…