Monday, September 15, 2014

Lessons from Celebrities: Angelina Jolie

It’s just another day at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  I’m sitting at the entrance to the hallway that leads back stage.   My job is to protect the backstage area (which would make you laugh if you saw my small 5'2'' dancer frame).  I held the list of people allowed backstage and it was my job to make sure those were the only people back there.

The first few hours of this job are painstakingly boring.  Mostly, I just greet the famous people who are going to be on the show that day.  Most of my time was spent leaning back on the rear legs of chair and counting how many seconds I could stay balanced without falling over.  1... 2... 3... 4... 

The day usually looked like this.  First, the band would show up.  They were always the first to show up because they had to do camera blocking and sound check before we could load in the audience.  

Then, the second guest of the night would show up.  I always loved the second guest of the night.  They were usually the up and comers who showed up wide-eyed with a smile, excited to be on The Tonight Show.

Then, the first guest of the night arrived.


I would hear the stirring of a large group of people outside.  And before I knew it, there would be a group of people standing in front of me.

The entourage. 

They were all busy talking on their phones or checking their email or trying to look important.  And almost every time, an assistant or publicist would be the only one to speak to me.  I'm not important enough for the famous person to take time out of their day to speak to me.  After introducing myself to the group, I would escort them to their dressing room and there was very rarely even a thank you from the famous person.  It was expected that I would know them and I was to serve them without even a thank you or being acknowledged.

This time, it's Angelina Jolie. 

She has a bigger entourage than any I had seen.  One woman is carrying a bag full of shoes.  There were at least 10 pairs of brand new shoes still in their boxes.  Two women are carrying multiple dresses so she could chose.  I’m nice to the assistant who checks in with me.  I try to say something funny, Angelina is unamused and then looks at her assistant and says "Can we move on?  I don't need to be standing out here being bothered by random people."

Oh man, I get mad.  I feel like a cartoon character and that line of red was moving up my face.  (When I look back, I have no idea if she was calling me one of the "random people", but I do know that I took it very personally and just thought of her as a jerk who was way too high maintenance for my taste.)  I mean really, who needs that many clothes for one 10 minutes spot on a TV show?  And seriously, she has one of the biggest entourages I had seen.  Why do you need all of these people?  What are they doing and why do they need be here for the one day you are at The Tonight Show?

After work, I go out with my friends (who aren’t part of the Hollywood industry) and tell them all about the jerk, Angelina Jolie.  I tell the story of the straight out rudeness of her telling everyone that I bothered her and how she was so complicated...

They suck up every word.  Every eye is glued to me, every word cementing in their brains.  And they say things like “I could tell she was like that.”

Fast forward a few months and I see on the schedule that Angelina will be on the show again.  I let out a great sigh.  I’m quite the opposite of excited.  I've seen people skip work and their lunch breaks just to see her walk by, I would have done anything to get out of this.  I don't want to put up with her high-maintenance needs.  I don't want to have her eyes roll at me or make me feel like I'm a nuisance.  But like always, I will put a smile on my face and be as kind as I can.

My stomach knots up as the time draws near for her to arrive.  I look over quickly when the door from the outside opens, but it's just two people.  I sit back in my chair waiting for the entourage.  I lean back on the rear legs, 1.. 2.. 3... 4...  I tip forward quickly onto all four legs when I realize the two people are standing in front of me. 

I look up and it's Angelina and her assistant.  Her hair is down and soft with a beautiful smile on her face.  Her one assistant is carrying her one dress. And to my shock, she introduces herself and on the way to dressing room asks me how I’m doing and then genuinely thanks me as I left.

I’m confused.  Who was this woman?  She's a jerk...  Right?

So, dazed and confused, I head back to our pre-show meeting and I’m telling my friend Ryan about what just happened, and how I’m confused because she's usually such a jerk.  He looks at me shock on his face and says, "What are you talking about?  She's a sweetheart... to everyone."  And everyone in the room agrees.

Suddenly I realized, you know who the jerk is?  Me.

I took one small interaction with a person and judged her by that.  I spread false information about her and her character because I got attention for it.  I know that what I think of Angelina Jolie probably doesn’t matter to her.  I know that telling my small group of friends something won't ruin her reputation, but it ruins mine.  I showed my character by jumping to conclusions and trying to make myself seem more important by telling this disparaging story about her.

I know that I would be terrified if someone, knowing no information about my day or situation, drew an opinion of me by judging me on a bad day and then told others that was what I was like.  I will keep my eyes open and give people multiple chances because that is what I would like done for me.  Grace.  I just need to remember grace.  And spread it around like crazy.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Race of a Lifetime

“The first member of the 2008 Disneyland Resort Ambassador Team is...”

Drum roll.

My heart pounded.

There I was, standing on a stage in front of Cinderella’s Castle.  Hundreds and hundreds of eyes staring at me.  The Disneyland Band just behind me getting ready to burst into a celebratory song.  The president of the Disneyland Resort, Ed Grier, was about to announce the first of only two names chosen to represent the Resort to the world.

I breathed in as he ripped the envelope open.  My hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

“Liz Hetzel!”

There was silence for just a second as I realized that my name was just called, and then I was overwhelmed by cheers and screams as my friends jumped to their feet in congratulations.  The current ambassador walked over to me and attached my ambassador pin to my lapel.  I could feel the weight of this role as the pin hung there glimmering gold and beautiful.

In 1965 Walt Disney just had too much to do.  There was the Mary Poppins premiere, and the tenth anniversary of Disneyland, and the World’s Fair, and it goes on and on.  So, he hired one Cast Member to represent the Park when he couldn’t be there.  The Ambassador would appear on TV with him and travel the world in style, telling everyone about Disneyland.  And now, that was me.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.

My year was filled with unbelievable moments - hard experiences, tears, and an abundance of joy.  I wouldn’t change this year for anything.  My days spent with Julie Andrews, making families' dreams come true, or celebrating children who had made a difference in the world will always be with me.  But there was one day that still stops me in my tracks when I think about it.

One of my assignments was to travel around the country with Mickey Mouse visiting children in hospitals.  This was life changing.  We would walk into these sterile beige rooms, and the parent’s faces showed the sadness, the exhaustion, and the concern filling their minds.  They always tried to hide it from their children, but I could see it.

There was always one moment with every family where we would turn the corner into the room and Mickey’s face would make them forget where they were.  For half a second everyone in the room would forget about the sickness, forget about the needles and the beeping of the machines.  They would forget their troubles.

The memory of watching Mickey’s silhouette enter a child’s hospital room still gets me choked up.
One day in Seattle, Mickey and I were moving room to room.  Some rooms we could only walk into.  Some rooms were quarantined so we would just stand in the doorway.  And some rooms are sealed shut.  Mickey and I would just stand at the window and wave excitedly.  Sometimes the kids would run up to the glass door and put their little hands on the glass.  Mickey would put his huge glove up to their hand.  Oh, how their little faces would light up!  I loved it so much.

We arrived in one room that had no quarantine, but as we were about to step into the room, the mother stopped us.  Through a quivering voice she told us that her son was very sick and was probably too tired to have us visit.  We stepped back and gave her a little Mickey doll for the boy.  Just as we were walking to the next room I saw the little boy open his eyes just slightly.

Mickey and I were in a room two doors down, and I glanced back down the hall toward that little boy’s room, and there he was.  Still inside of his room, but shyly peeking his head out into the hall to get a glimpse of the Mouse.  I motioned to Mickey and whispered, “Come peek your head out here.”

Mickey very slowly peeked his head out the door, but of course the first thing that the child can see is the corner of Mickey’s huge ear.  As his ear got bigger and bigger, the child’s eyes got bigger and bigger.  And when Mickey finally peeked out the child jerked his head back into his room with a little giggle.  Mickey just stayed there, peeking out into the hall and when the little boy slowly peeked out the door, Mickey jerked his head back into the room.

And with that, this little frail sick boy laughed and stepped out into the hallway.  Mickey did the same.  The little boy's mother gasped.  There they were, standing there, staring at each other and as if Mickey were a magnet, the little boy mindlessly started walking toward him.  The only problem is that he was attached to an IV pole.  So, a nurse ran into the room and grabbed the IV pole that the little boy was attached to and quickly followed him.

That hug.  That hug will always be with me.  That little guy hugged Mickey like he was being reunited with his long lost best friend.  The mother started crying and I walked over and put my hand on her back.  Her hand was over her mouth in amazement.  Her eyes filled with tears, and she whispered through her fingers, “He hasn’t been out of his room in weeks.”

I thought the boy would never let go.  After a minute or so, Mickey pulled away and put up one finger asking the boy to wait for a second.  The boy stood patiently as Mickey disappeared behind a wall only to reappear with two little tricycles in tow.

Mickey put them down next to each other and got on one.  His huge yellow shoes on those tiny pedals.  His knees to the side of the tiny handlebars wrapped in huge white gloves.  The seat vanished under his huge red pants.  The entire family and nursing staff laughed with joy.  Mickey covered his mouth and giggled with them.

The little boy hesitantly got on the other trike.

Then, Mickey leaned forward toward the handlebars and looked to me for the cue to start the race.  The little boy leaned forward and looked to me.  I look at the nurse, unsure if this is a good idea.  And she says, “Any exercise is good at this point.”

I look down at the two of them.




And with that, I watched as that little boy disappeared from the hospital.  The walls morphed from beige and boring to the lights and colors of Main Street.  I could smell the vanilla in the air from the candy shop.  I could hear the whistle of the train entering the station.

He laughed and laughed as he made his way down this small hallway with his pal Mickey at his side (and a nurse jogging behind with his IV pole).  When he got to the end of the hall, he closed his eyes and put his head back.  He threw his hands up in the air in freedom and laughed.  This was the race of a lifetime.  He opened his eyes and looked over at Mickey who high-fived him in congratulations.

Slowly, I watch the boy return to the hospital.  He was breathing hard from his first attempt at exercise in weeks.  The walls turned back to beige, and the sterile smell returned.  The little boy dismounted his tricycle and walked it back to the room by the handlebars.  He looked like a little old man with a walker.  The only difference between him and a little old man was the huge smile of a young boy.

He left the tricycle in the hall and headed back into the room.  Mickey followed.  The boy crawled into bed and Mickey tucked him in, nice and tight.  His little legs disappeared under the thin blankets.  Mickey placed the little Mickey doll next to him and offered a high five.  With the little energy he had left, the boy high-fived him and whispered,

“Thanks, Mickey.”

The only two words spoken between these two good friends.

As we left the room, the boy closed his eyes again to rest and the mother thanked us over and over and over again.

I wish I could have explained to her that her little boy just gave me something I will hold onto forever.  That sometimes when things are just as bad as they can possibly be, you will be given the one thing you need to go on, to try again, to keep moving forward.  Her little boy will forever be an inspiration to me, reminding me that no matter how hard it is, get out of bed and don’t let a moment pass you by. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Secret To My Happiness: Taste Buds

People ask me all the time why I'm so happy.  They want to know the secrets to my joy.  People want to sit with me chat about how to find a better life.  To be honest, I have no idea how I ended up this way, but today, I found one clue to my contentment.

This morning I watched a video I had heard many times before.  It was Brene Brown's Ted talk on vulnerability. (  Every time I listen to her talk I know that I need to be vulnerable, I need to be comfortable with being open to others, but today something struck me that I never noticed before.

In the talk, Brene Brown suggests that because we don't want to be vulnerable with others we find ourselves not living a wholehearted life.  And because we don't live wholehearted lives, we start to numb ourselves with food, and alcohol, and drugs.  But the problem is that we can't selectively numb.  When we numb the things we don't like, we also numb our joy and our capacity to be happy.

It suddenly occurred to me, could my 8th grade taste buds, the taste buds that keep me from drinking coffee and wine, that keep me from going wine tasting, do those taste buds actually keep me happy?  There have been MULTIPLE times when life is hard, when things feel overwhelming, when people say to me "If only you like wine..."  or "You need to learn to drink."  But instead of drinking, I just sit in the problem, I face it head on.  I don't escape it, I soak in it because there's no escape for me.  On the flip side when things are good, I toast with a Coca-cola.  I get to feel it all.  The horrible and wonderful.

Maybe the secret to happiness is not numbing yourself from being unhappy, but rather allowing yourself to feel unhappy in order to also allow yourself joy.  And maybe, just maybe, I totally did that on accident, by have taste buds that hate the things that numb.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Gentle Slope

There is one thing that is true about anything that holds you down, haunts you, ruins what is good; it never happens obviously.

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts...      -C S Lewis

What if you replaced the word "Hell" with "the loss of a dream" or "the distance between you and your spouse" or "a debt so great you can't get out"?  Indeed the safest road to the loss of a dream is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts..."

Evil doesn't come crashing in on you because you would notice it.  Instead, it is usually just tiny baby steps and then you turn around you are 100 miles off course.

Things that are harmful sneak their way in.  It's that decision to confide in your attractive coworker rather than you spouse.  Then it's just a casual lunch.  Then it's just a quick drink after work.

Maybe you took that job that was a little deceitful, but it payed more.  And sure you had to lie to one client, but it didn't really hurt anyone.  And yah, you are now having to work extra hours to cover up the lies you told, but the extra money is good for your family.

You're going to think about the reality of heaven and hell... tomorrow.

Everyday you are making tiny little decisions.  Changes are happening so slight that you don't even notice, but what if you made a time-lapse of your choices?  What will these small choices look like in 30 years?

Don't go down the gentle slope.  Instead choose to walk uphill, even if it's hard, even if you are tired. You won't regret it.


If you are interested in getting updates on my book:  50 Things I Personally Learned from Famous People, click here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The hare got a bad rap...

Alright, I'm just gonna say it.... and you might hate it, but the truth is sometimes the hare wins.  We don't like to admit it.  We don't want to talk about it.  We want to believe that if we work really hard and keep going, in the end we will win.

But the truth is.  If you put a hare and a tortoise in a sprint.  The hare will win.

(I never could really figure out why the hare was so evil anyway, we all procrastinate....)

Anyway, I think the point really should be that we should do what we are made for.  If the tortoise tries to sprint, he will lose.  If the hare races marathons, he will lose.

If they both stuck to what they would good at, they could both win.

And isn't that what makes the world is a better place?  What race should you be in?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mountains or Waterfalls?

Here we are in Scotland, my dad and I.  The creative and the engineer traveling together...  I like to sleep in, he likes to get up and get going.  I like to enjoy the journey, he likes getting to the destination.  It can be interesting at times trying to get the two of us to agree on how to travel.

We were on our way to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles.  We're swerving along on the windy highway, windshield wipers intermittently swiping, and my dad surprises me by saying he would prefer to not hike up there.  I told him I was going.  

He took me to a tourist office where they made it VERY clear that it was a bad idea to go up there.  A storm was moving in and not only was there 100% chance of rain, but there would also be horrible fog up there and most likely, snow.  I didn't bring the right clothes for any of that.  So, alas, with arms folded, I agreed.  There would be no hike to the hop of Ben Nevis.  It was heart breaking for me.  I love to travel because I love the beauty of nature.  I love the adventure of hiking to unknown places.  I love when my eyes see new sights.

We were staying in Fort William and we agreed to leave a day early because if we weren't hiking to Ben Nevis, there was no reason to be there.  On the way out of town, my disappointment grew.  Then the strangest thing happened.  I started noticing waterfalls... everywhere.  And I mean everywhere.

The rain was coming down so aggressively, waterfalls were spontaneous forming on the mountain-sides, by creek sides, in fields and even right by the road.  It. was. gorgeous.

I loved it.  I was the paparazzi of waterfalls.  My dad laughed at me as I repeatedly tried to get pictures of them.  

Here's one of my more successful shots just off to the side of the highway:

I know that I should be disappointed that I didn't get climb Ben Nevis, but honestly, I have never seen anything like this.  I know that mountain will be there the next time I go,  but I have no idea if I will ever see waterfalls like that again.  I imagine that in life you can be disappointed at the mountain you didn't climb or you can be in awe at the waterfalls around you.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Find Your Carrot

So here I am walking up The Ladder.  That part of the Runyon Canyon Trail that makes people cry  (and where I yelled at Channing Tatum.)  I just made it to the top and I'm pretty sure I'm gonna pass out, but then, this cute guy passes me.  He's jogging just little bit faster than I'm walking...  With a slight smile, I think "I can keep up with him."

So there I am, the rabbit with the carrot on the string right in front of me.

I was already pretty much done at the top of The Ladder and now I had jogged to keep up with this guy.  Slowly, the distance between he and I was getting larger.  And then we got to the stairs.

I only take stairs two at a time.  Well, he takes them one at a time.  At the top of the first set of stairs I'm not far from him.  By the time we get to the top of the second set of stairs,  I'm just behind him and then he starts up the third set of stairs.  I'm breathing like a beached whale, I'm sweating like a crazy person and I'm pretty sure I wasn't going to make it up this third set of stairs.  So, I stop and look up at the stair case that I just can't conquer.

And then.

He turns and with a little nod of his head, he smiles and says, "Come on."

Well, ok.

And without thinking twice, I start taking the stairs two at a time.

About two steps from the top I know something is wrong.  And as my foot hits the final stair, chills go up my spine and all the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  Yep, I'm gonna puke.

I know that no matter how many steps I take two by two, throwing up will definitely not impress him.  So, I just stop and breath deeply.  Don't throw up, don't throw up.

By the time I've collected myself, I look up and the carrot is gone.  And then I laugh because I just did something I didn't think I could ever do. All it took was a cute guy.

But why did I think I couldn't do it in the first place?

Because we don't give ourselves enough credit.  I didn't need that guy to tempt me to keep going.  I could have done it on my own.  I had it inside of me.  I had the ability to keep going without any outside motivation, but if it had been up to me, I would have stopped at the top of The Ladder.  Look how much more I did.

Do you give yourself enough credit?  I bet you can go further than you think.  I bet you can accomplish that thing that you think is impossible.

And maybe you just need to find your carrot.  What motivates you to succeed?  Find it, put it in front of you and keep going.