Sharing Life Lessons through Stories:

Welcome!

Welcome to the Blog! The place where I share my life lessons through stories.
First, a little backstory – an “origin story” if you will:

Hello, my name is Melissa and my BIG dream is to meet Elton John. I’ve been pursuing this dream since my very first concert in 1992 – I was 19 years old and didn’t know any better other than to DREAM BIG! To date, I’ve attended 47 concerts!
I’ve been married to Jack for twenty years and we have two teenage boys, two rescue dogs (and the occasional foster), and Freddy, the turtle.
I started my financial coaching business in 2012 and that has evolved to add motivational speaking and the publishing of my first book, Building My Yellow Brick Road: Life Lessons from Pursuing a Dream (2017, Amazon). I also own/operate a pet sitting business. I LOVE to travel, especially if it means going to see Elton John in concert!

You can read my full story – it’s all there. How we hit financial rock bottom, dug ourselves out of debt, and how my number one goal was always to stop letting money be the thing that stood in the way of pursuing the dream. I believe that dreams matter and we should pursue them, despite the obstacles.

In short, I’m pursuing my dream of meeting Elton John and sharing stories along the way. The posts you read here will mostly be about my epic concert adventures but I’ll share other stories, too from time to time. With each, I’ll share the life lessons I’ve learned along the way. Lessons that, hopefully, you can apply to your own life as well.

Blogs are published with the latest post first, so scroll down to the one entitled, “A Long, Long Time to start from the beginning…

Speeches Series

Jan 22, 2022

As a speaker, I share life lessons through storytelling. Today, I was back in my Toastmasters group doing that just that. (I’ve been a member since 2017)
As I give speeches throughout the year, I’ll share them here under the title “Speeches Series”. I’ll also add the feedback I receive from the other members. In Toastmasters, we are asked to give an Introduction for the Toastmaster to read and we are timed on our speeches. In this case, I was presenting from the Presentation Mastery path, Level 3: Connect with Storytelling. My speech time was 5-7 minutes.

Introduction:

Melissa is a speaker and author, pursuing her dream to meet Elton John and sharing life lessons through storytelling.
Recently, Melissa flew to Dallas, TX to attend her 48th and 49th Elton John concerts. Her last Elton John concert was in November 2019 because Elton’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour was postponed for just over two years due to the Covid pandemic.
For over two years, Melissa has been anxiously awaiting the day she can return to her travels in the pursuit of her dream of meeting Elton John.
Plans were made to attend two concerts in Dallas, TX. – Flights and hotel were booked. Concert tickets purchased. Everything for the trip was going just as anticipated and planned – until it didn’t. In this 5-7 minute speech, Melissa will share A Lesson in Perspective.


Speech: A Lesson in Perspective
Note: Yes, this speech is a condensed version of the blog post with the same title. When I speak, I do so from personal experience, fitting the story to the time allotted and to the audience.

Perspective is the ability to understand what is important and what isn’t.   As in, “I know you are disappointed, but keep your perspective.”

Two years is the longest period of time I have gone without seeing Elton John in concert in the last thirty years. 
Why is that important? 
Because my dream – the one I’ve been pursuing my entire adult life – is to meet Elton John in person.  I feel like, to have a chance of doing that, I have to go where Elton is performing a concert.   And, I must sit where he can see me.  I love everything about the entire concert experience. 

That’s really it, you know – the answer to why I’ve seen Elton John 47 times so far – the pursuit of the dream and the energy of the concert experience. 

The pandemic postponed Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour until this year.   I was excited that 2022 meant a return to travel and attending concerts.   But also, knowing that this was the last year that I had to make my dream of meeting Elton John come true.   This dream I’ve been pursuing for 30 years!

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022 – started out like any other concert day.  I was up early; I was the first one in the breakfast area of the hotel and after breakfast, I went for a walk down to the area of the venue.  It’s a bit of a tradition for me, to walk to the venue the morning of concert day. And, it helps to calm some of the excited energy I woke up with that morning! 

I had just returned to the hotel and was in my room when the notification for Ticketmaster went off on my phone.    A quick glance showed that a concert was labeled TBD.  Immediately, I thought it was odd that another Elton concert – at this point, my next concert was not until April – was showing TBD. 
I looked at the notification again trying to understand.  And, suddenly, the realization hit me – that notification was for the concert I was attending that night.   What??!!! 
In all my years of attending concerts, I’ve never had this happen. 

I quickly typed in the link for the American Airlines arena website and right there on the front page was the news – Elton had Covid and both that night and the following night concerts were canceled.   
What – the – H double hockey sticks!!!! 

Both concerts were canceled, and the rescheduled date is TBD.  Ok then. 

In the span of about 15 minutes, I went from shock to acceptance.   I somehow just knew that eventually the concert would get rescheduled and that Elton would eventually recover.  In those moments, I intentionally decided to not be angry or sad. 

I had some perspective based on experience. 

As a person of faith, I KNOW that God’s plans are so much greater than mine.   That doesn’t mean I don’t get disappointed when things don’t go as I planned them.  It DOES mean that I bring myself back to remembering that in all things, God is good and I focus on finding the good instead of dwelling on the disappointment. 

I had previously made plans to meet up with a local friend for lunch and while I was in the lobby waiting for her, people were checking in to the hotel.   One couple flew in from Detroit, found out when they arrived at the hotel that the concert was canceled, and immediately made plans to take a return flight home. 

Later that day, I went out to dinner with my concert friends.  One lived in the area; the other had driven about 16 hours the day before to go to the concerts. 

We had a great time at dinner – an experience I would not have had if the concerts hadn’t been canceled because I don’t eat dinner on concert nights. And, just in case you are wondering what a group of Elton John fans talk about over dinner?  Well, all things Elton John of course!  Our Favorite concerts, favorite songs, etc.    

When I arrived back at the hotel, there was a small gathering of people at the hotel bar.  I walked over and said, “Is the Elton concert commiseration society meeting.?”  To which a few went, “Oh no, you too?”.  I asked for everyone to tell me where they traveled from – Hawaii, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Los Angeles to name a few cities.   
I then asked if it was the first time seeing Elton for them and they ALL said yes!

Meeting these people in the bar was a lesson for me –   
Someone asked me where I was from, and I said, North Carolina. And then I paused because I knew the next question was coming – and I’ve learned to wait.   


“Is this your first concert, too?”  (PAUSE)

No, it’s my 48th – and tomorrow would have been 49th.   I go ahead and answer the next question because I already know what they are going to ask – And that’s over the span of the last 30 years.   And then I wait.  Because this statement is so ordinary for me to say but I know it’s extraordinary for people to hear.

At that moment, I became the “Elton concert expert” and was peppered with questions – I assured them that if there was any way Elton could have performed the concert, he would have.  He hates to disappoint his fans!   

For me, hearing that each one of those people traveled to see Elton for the first time and may not be able to come back gave some perspective to the situation. 
 This affirmed why I intentionally chose to not be angry that the concerts were canceled.  I have had the privilege of seeing Elton 47 times!  I also have the time and the financial means to go back to Dallas in early March for the rescheduled concerts.

My life experiences have taught me this – we can always choose how we react to situations.  Often, all we need is to hear about someone else’s perspective. 

Perspective gives us a choice of how we respond to situations.  

Choose wisely.   

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Feedback
In Toastmasters, there is an evaluator for my speech and each individual member can write a short note of feedback. Sometimes they add their name to the comment and sometimes not. Three improvement points from my evaluator –
1. I went over the allotted time ( My fault: I made a small announcement before my speech and I forgot that my time starts AS SOON as I start speaking). Total speech time with the announcement was just over 10 minutes
2. I had the opportunity to use the word of the day in my speech and I didn’t
3. I had an opportunity to show MORE emotion in my speech at certain parts.

Members feedback:
“Great structure and story. Very witty. Try not to pace back and forth. If your goal is public speaking, I challenge you to get on the stage.” (there is a small stage in the place where we have our meetings )

“Your first speech in a long time – super smooth!” Very well executed. Next speech, dress the part.”

“Stalkery – Pursuit of Dream. Good clear, loud voice. Always strong speaker – Humor – H-e-double hockey sticks. ” (Note: I threw in the word stalkery while giving the speech referring to how I won’t meet Elton by just going to his house. A suggestion was made to use “stalker-esque” next time)

“Too much pacing while talking. Walk-stop-talk. This is a story you know – you can’t read what is your personal story (this refers to my use of notes while speaking). It’s a great story – you have come so far – great job.” ~Eric

Melissa, your speech was terrific and worthy of a professional gig. Your audience engagement is off the chart: your use of notes was seamless and the humor with the story was perfect.” ~Anita

“What is very ordinary for me to hear is extraordinary for someone else. (quoting my speech). Really liked your call to action and the lesson you learned.”

“Great speech Melissa! I love Elton John! I’d love to see him! I really love your perspective on the rescheduled concert.” ~Megan Danielle

“Very exciting message. Thanks for stepping up and delivering. voice clear, eye contact, interesting story, you kept our attention. Perspective. We can always choose how we respond to…”

“Nice pace – good eye contact – good handwork (gestures). Good for you having a passion and a dream.”

“Good job! Loved it! You have a very natural delivery.” ~ Jacky

“Great lesson on perspective. Even had I not known your story or passion the way you resented anyone could relate. Great message about reaction and belief to keep perspective. Great pause and use of words.” ~Megan

“It’s great to see how far you have come in your speaking. Enjoyed the humor. Loved the message. I have faith you will meet Elton, rooting for you! Watch the swaying, you did good going from one side to the next but slow it down so it’s not swaying.” ~ Janet


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A Lesson in Perspective

January 25, 2022
The morning started out like any other Tuesday – sort of. After all, it was CONCERT DAY and I woke up with a mix of excitement and anticipation. Having gone to sleep early the night before, I was also up early – about 6 am local time. As such, I was the first one in the breakfast area. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that breakfast was pancakes and sausage! (and, a banana wrapped in plastic wrap?!)


One of the reasons I enjoy the convenience of staying as close to the venue as possible is because I like to go for a walk – I could already feel the excited/nervous energy building up so I decided to take a walk to the venue. I love seeing the sights and the expectation of adventure. The American Airlines Arena was a short walk from the hotel, the weather was cold but sunny and I was ready to get outside!

It wasn’t until I got back to the hotel that I got the news – first, an alert from Ticketmaster that showed the time/date of the concert as TBA. My first thought was that this must have been for another concert that I had tickets to – I honestly didn’t think right at that moment that the alert was for the concert I was to attend later that evening.

A quick click over to the American Airline Arena website confirmed it.
Elton had COVID and was canceling BOTH concerts I was to attend.

I’ve attended 47 concerts in the last 30 years and this has NEVER happened. I wasn’t quite sure what to do but my mind immediately went into an “action plan” mode –
I contacted my concert-friend Brett, he had driven in from Florida the day before, to let him know and also because I remembered him telling me he was picking up another friend at the airport – luckily, Brett was able to contact her right away and she did not get on her flight. But she knew another friend who was flying in and she was on the plane when she got the news that the concerts were canceled. Fortunately, she was able to get off the plane and not make the trip.
I had previously arranged to meet up with my friend Ronei for lunch and I decided to go wait in the lobby for her. Although I was scrolling through social media on my phone, I was also acutely aware of what was happening around me. There were other people in the lobby and I noticed an older couple arrive at check-in. The man asked the front desk clerk for information about getting to the venue for the concert. As the clerk was explaining it to him, there were two ladies who spoke up – “The concert tonight is canceled.” The man turned to face the ladies and said, “You have got to be <expletive> me!” At that point, I spoke up and said, “no, it’s true, I’m here for the concerts, too”. For a moment, we all just looked at each other.
It was a moment of solidarity in a way, we were all different people and yet, found ourselves in the exact situation. This, “what do we do now?” kind of moment.

The man turned to his wife and said, “hand me the phone” and proceeded to contact his airline – they were going to forego checking in to the hotel and fly back home. I think he told me they had come in from Detroit. I went back to sitting on the couch and at that moment, thought that I should check about going home early too. A quick click through the app revealed that I would have to pay over $200 to change my flight. I opted to wait and call the airline later. Maybe a real person who could maybe help me more than clicking through the app.

Ronei arrived to pick me up for our lunch and we went to ShakeShack where I had something new – a hamburger with avocado on it! Specifically, it was the Advocado Bacon Burger. So yummy! Although Ronei and I keep in touch through social media, there’s just something different about sitting across the table from each other, sharing a meal, having a conversation.

After lunch, I arrived back at the hotel and I knew I needed a plan – I started with a plan for dinner. I had planned to meet up with concert friends at the concert Tuesday night anyway so we opted to meet up for dinner at a local Barbeque Place – Sonny’s. Dinner was me, Brett, Holli, and her husband – this was my first time meeting Holli. I had known her through an Elton John fan club but hadn’t met her in person. And, in case you are wondering, what a bunch of Elton fans talks about over dinner – Elton concerts, of course! Among the four of us, we had attended over 100 concerts so there’s LOTS of conversation around our first concerts, our favorite concert, different concert experiences, and future concerts we all may meet up at. Even though it wasn’t a “night at the concert”, it was still a great time and my first lesson in some perspective – we wouldn’t have all gathered for dinner had the show gone on as planned.

When I arrived back at the hotel, I noticed a group of people sitting around the bar. The hotel bar was a bit small so there were maybe ten people. I decided that those people MUST have had plans to go to the concert so I walked over and said, “Is this the Elton John concert commiseration group?” To which most of them replied, “YES!”. Introductions revealed people had come from Alaska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, a town 250 miles away, and Los Angeles. For each person, it was to be their very first concert. Inevitably, they ask me if it was to be my first concert too –

I’ve learned to pause when I tell people how many concerts I have attended to date: It’s very ordinary sounding to me to tell people “This would have been my 48th and 49th concerts” but I realize that this is an extraordinary statement for people to hear. Then, I have to repeat it and tell people it’s been 47 concerts in 30 years. In that moment of talking to these fellow fans, I felt especially sad that this was to be their very first concert and they missed it.

Again, with the lesson in perspective. I had decided almost immediately after receiving the news that morning about the concerts being canceled that I wasn’t going to be mad. Disappointed yes, but not mad. Because I know that Elton and his people did not make this decision lightly. I know that if Elton felt like he could put on the show, he would have. I know that there are just some things that happen beyond our control that force decisions we don’t want to make. This was NOT the first concert I was missing out on. Sure, it was the first concert in over two years, but still. I’ve had 47 Elton John concert experiences and I have tickets for several more concerts throughout this year.

After chatting with my “new friends at the bar” for a while, I headed up to my room to go to bed. While scrolling through Facebook, I saw these three posts that really resonated with me:

This was my final lesson in perspective – the reminder that I needed to remember. You see, as a person of faith, I do believe that social media can be a great source of seeing what you need to see or read at just the moment you need it. I do not find it coincidental that these three things showed up in my news feed on the day that I received the most disappointing news. Even this trip, which did not go as planned, I recognize the God moments. I recognize that God knew what was happening and I recognize that it was indeed my faith that helped me process through the feelings of disappointment and anger – AND, then almost immediately choosing to not BE mad and angry.
I DID see the goodness of the Lord in this trip. I WAS reminded of the goodness of God. And yes, I will still choose to wake up every morning and pursue ( I don’t use the word chase) the dream. I went to sleep with a peaceful heart. Knowing that God’s plans are better than mine (or Elton’s!) and that tomorrow will bring NEW adventures.

Away I Go

Sunday and Monday, January 23 and 24th, 2022.

SUNDAY
I haven’t flown in over two years which is weird. And yet, it’s just like riding a bike arriving at the airport, and going through security. Not much has changed in those two years.
I love uneventful flights. Also, I prefer direct flights as much as possible. I like to sleep on the plane and a stopover usually happens right when I fall asleep!
Years ago, I applied for the TSA PreCheck. If you travel often and do not have this, I HIGHLY recommend it! It makes going through security so much easier!
I also recommend that when you buy your ticket, you double and triple-check to make sure your TSA PreCheck number is on your boarding pass. I did not do this and so going through security at my home airport required that I go through the regular security line.
It was still quick but the hassle of removing shoes, my laptop, etc… oy.

People watching is my favorite airport past time AND the NFL game was on the TV at the bar so the “hurry up and wait” time for being two hours early for my flight passed rather quickly. I always try to get a window seat (so I can use the wall of the plane to sleep) above the wing, when I fly and then just hope and pray I have someone nice sitting next to me.

Such was the case on my flight to DFW. I settled into my seat, turned on my downloaded podcast, and away we went. It was sunset when we arrived at DFW and it’s so pretty to see a sunset from the plane. I’d never been to DFW before and this airport is HUGE! We landed a half-hour early but it seemingly took “forever” to taxi down the runway.

Sunset from the plane window!

My friend Melissa lives in Dallas so she was my “Uber driver” for airport pickup. We had previously planned to meet up with our other friend, Miriam, for dinner. We met up at the Rodeo Goat where the menu was through QR code ( that was new to me ) and the hamburger I ordered was delicious! The “Nanny Goat” was herb goat cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and garlic-herb mayo. Of course, I had french fries too!
The company and conversation were a great way to start off my trip!

Melissa, Miriam, and Me!

Melissa had offered to host me at her house for the evening and so after we “closed” the restaurant (haha – the staff were literally putting chairs on the table when we left) we took a quick selfie outside and headed off. Melissa rescued two retired racing greyhounds several months ago and I was excited to meet them! They are super sweet doggies! I am a “dog person” and so did not mind at all staying in a home with dogs. I only hate that I didn’t get a picture with them! Thanks to Melissa for contributing a photo!

Bueno and Rapido, my new doggy friends!


MONDAY
Did you know that you can request early check-in at a hotel? Of course, they always say they can’t “guarantee” it but I’ve always had a room ready whenever I’ve requested. Melissa dropped me off on her way to work and I was checking in at 10:30 am. I always stay at a hotel as close to the concert venue as fits in the budget. Most of the time when I travel, I do not rent a car so I don’t mind paying a little extra for a hotel given that I’ll need to walk everywhere. In this case, I chose the Hyatt House* which was conveniently located to the American Airlines Arena, a CVS, and the local grocery store, Tom Thumb.
After I dropped my bags in my room, I headed out to Tom Thumb. I only needed a few groceries for my three-day stay – my hotel room had a small kitchenette with a fridge, microwave, etc. (another thing I look for when researching hotels). The challenge for me is remembering that whatever I buy, I have to carry back to the hotel so I really need to keep the weight and amount to a bare minimum. Also, here’s a tip for walking with grocery bags, ask the cashier to double bag. In retrospect, what I should have done is emptied my backpack in the hotel room and used that to carry groceries back to the hotel. Would have been MUCH easier than carrying grocery bags!

I like to unpack and get my room set up as soon as possible and I did that upon my return to the grocery store. Once I was settled in, I had lunch and spent the rest of the day working/resting. The travel day, plus late-night, plus time change and early morning (because, you know, my brain cannot adjust to the fact that I DO NOT need to be up early) meant I was quite tired and I knew that I was going to need some rest for the next two days!


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*Hyatt House: I wouldn’t necessarily HIGHLY recommend this hotel. I had issues with WiFi in the room and I had 3 different phone calls with IT and it still wasn’t fixed. Also, the hotel is older and there are NO USB ports in the hotel room. It’s budget-friendly, I felt safe there, the staff is nice, and it’s conveniently located but I need to be able to access secure Wi-Fi when I travel, and not having USB ports in the hotel room was an inconvenience.

“A long, long time…”

January 29, 2022.
It’s been two years, two months, and 19 days since my last Elton John concert. Number 47.
The longest stretch of time in between concerts since my first one in 1992 – THIRTY years ago!

I’ve hesitated to post a “countdown” of any sort on social media or talk about my upcoming trip because I didn’t want to “jinx” anything. There is already so much uncertainty in the world these days and quite frankly, anything can happen to cancel the concert or postpone the tour again so I just waited. I’ve had these concert tickets for a “long long time…”.

In December I bought my flight. One step closer…
In the last few weeks, I’ve been able to get a seat closer to the stage. One step closer…

Earlier this week, I got out my silk shirts, my sparkly shirt/jacket, my piano socks, and my iridescent Dr. Marten’s shoes. All of which have been sitting in a closet or drawer for over two years. After all, these aren’t my everyday clothes. These are my concert clothes!
I dusted off my suitcase and began to gather my items. I made lists, of course!
I packed my bags. I self quarantined for a week. I doubled up on my vitamins.

I waited anxiously to be sure that the first concert of this tour in New Orleans actually happened – it DID! That concert and two in Houston are “in the books” as they say!
The reviews have been FANTASTIC! Elton looks fabulous and life is a little bit more normal!

IT’S OFFICIALLY ELTON JOHN CONCERT SEASON!

2022 marks the 30th year that I’ve been pursuing my dream to meet Elton John, in person. Not just getting his autograph. Not just shaking his hand from the stage. Not having him point out my “Concert 46” poster from the stage. All were AWESOME experiences but NOT the dream.
The dream is to meet him.

And so my journey begins again in Dallas, TX with two concerts. Number 48 and 49.
The intent is to write about the journey, here on the blog because I’m quite certain I’ll have some stories to tell! I’ll also be posting on Instagram and Twitter @MThomas1410 so you can follow me there, too.

Dreams matter. Dream BIG. GO!