Learn to Thrive at Work and in Life

Ten years ago almost to the day, I took a solo trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I travel frequently on my own and find that the break from familiar routines and environments creates a space where inspiration, creativity and truth are free to rush in. For that reason, I hoped that something special would happen on this trip.


Prior to that Mexican trip, I went to Cuba for a week during a stress leave from my ER residency, and discovered during my time there that I really wanted to be a writer and a dancer. I resigned from my residency when I got home, hung up my shingle as a GP and signed up for writing and dancing classes.

If you’re feeling stuck in your life and not sure what your next steps are (or aren’t sure how your life has become what it is), I really recommend getting away for a little while, even if it’s just taking a daytrip to a nearby town you’ve never been before and wandering around.

At the very beginning of that trip to Vallarta, I remember getting ready for dinner in my hotel room. I felt lonely and a little unsure about the whole experience. Shortly before, I had sat for a few minutes in front of my blank-paged laptop, trying unsuccessfully to write the first words of my book (a book, eventually called Live a Life You Love, that would be published seven years later).

The only thing I knew for sure was that I had big dreams. My medical work still didn’t feel right, and I wanted more time to write and dance. I was tired of the big city rat race and all the related stress and pressures and wanted to live somewhere warm, sunny and relaxed, where I felt like I could really be myself.

Suddenly, through my open balcony door, I heard the first notes. I put down my hairbrush and lifted up my arms, singing along with the chorus. Hopeful tears ran down my cheeks as I twirled around my hotel room:

I don’t want to wait

For our lives to be over

I want to know right now

What will it be

I don’t want to wait

For our lives to be over

Will it be yes or will it be


I Don’t Want to Wait, by Grammy-winning artist Paula Cole, sung eerily accurately by the Latina lead singer of the band at the hotel. It was like Paula herself was outside my balcony. As I sang and danced I felt goosebumps all over, and a determination to make those dreams come true. In that moment, I felt as if God was telling me that it was all going to happen. I didn’t want to wait, I wasn’t going to have to wait. I’d spent enough of my life living up to other people’s expectations and ideas about what a successful life should look like.


Grammy-winning artist Paula Cole

As it turned out, from that moment onward I truly didn’t have to wait anymore. Events unfolded shortly after that opened the way for me to plan a move to Mexico the following year, where I lived out my writing and dancing dreams on a scale that I hadn’t dared imagine.

A few years later, my sister Laila Biali decided she didn’t want to wait anymore, either. A national award-winning jazz pianist/vocalist/composer who taught workshops at Stanford when she was 23, she received and said yes to an invitation to play and tour with…Paula Cole.

She played keyboards and did back-up vocals for Paula, singing with her in multiple numbers including – you guessed it- I Don’t Want to Wait.

Now the words and notes flowed through my sister’s life:

I don’t want to wait

For our lives to be over…

While touring Laila met and worked with Paula’s drummer/percussionist, Ben Wittman, who Paula had first collaborated with back in the early days at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Given the choice, Laila didn’t want to wait – so she and Ben took a chance on love.

Last week, ten years after I first danced and sang to I Don’t Want to Wait during that season when my “true” life began, I sat up in the balcony of the oceanfront Shalin Lu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts, Paula Cole’s hometown. Next to me was Martha Wittman, Ben’s mother, a rare, beautiful woman who is still professionally performing modern dance in her seventies.

Pre-concert stage – Rockport, MA

Laila, who went on to work with the likes of Sting and today headlines her own shows across the globe, had been to the previous night’s show and that night was back at the bed and breakfast with gorgeous little Joshua, her three year old child with her husband Ben (and my beloved godson).

Tears flowed down my face again, as my voice joined with Paula’s along with the other people in the crowd, as she sat at the piano and sang that beloved song:

I don’t want to wait

For our lives to be over...

I was overwhelmed by the synchronicity of it all and how we were all tied together by this powerful song (seriously, what are the odds that one day I would get to sing the lyrics along with Paula Cole herself in an intimate concert, and then get to give her a hug after backstage? Crazy!).

That night in Mexico in 2003, I had no idea that life had such an incredible series of gifts and adventures and plans in store for me and my career. I just had big hopes, and a song that filled me with courage during a lonely moment in a foreign country. I had no idea my baby sister, years later, would meet her husband while they both played that song with Paula, and I would never have thought that one day I’d get a pass (arranged by my sister and Ben) to see Paula perform the song live in such a special venue.

But that’s just how life is. I’m not telling you this just to talk about what happened to me – I want you to know in the depths of your soul that great things, unimaginably good things, and all kinds of surprises become possible for you when you listen to what life is asking you to do, and do it.

Paula Cole continues to write and sing her unique brand of soul-gripping music (her latest album is called Raven; to this day industry experts say she has one of the most beautiful voices in the world). From what I know of her life, she is a woman of immense depth and courage who doesn’t wait when it comes to what matters most, and lives life with everything she’s got. If you ever have the opportunity to see her in concert, do not miss it. You will cry, too.

Life is so glorious when you decide not to wait anymore. When you know what your heart and life are calling you to live, and you put away the excuses and fears and just do what you know you need to do. No matter what the risk, no matter how uncertain the outcome. Sometimes when you take a chance, you get a “sorry” experience in response to your courageous attempt. Most of the time, though, I’ve found that the answer you get from life is a resounding yes.

And much, much more.

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