Ladies Who Launch: Mystery in a Toll Booth

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET
  • Amy Swift Amy Swift Crosby, Founder, SMARTY

Happiness, as a life goal, has a history of being elusive. Do you 'get'
happy? Does happy
just 'happen' spontaneously one day when you aren't waiting for it? Is
it a choice? Watching Eliot Spitzer's wife endure the painful press
that accompanied her husbands hooker habit hit me in the gut. To say
nothing of their daughters!
But this scandal will not rob them of happiness. They either possess
already, or will learn to, channel
their own sense of completion and well-being, despite the external
circumstances that have and will
swirl around them. Ladies Who Launch member Elizabeth Cassidy relays
the story of a toll booth
operator who defined (and created) his own happy world, one beat at a

Amy Swift, Editor-in-Chief,


Elizabeth Cassidy, CTACC

Vertical Coffins Spotted in San Francisco. Why is this Man Dancing?

My storytelling father always seemed to be able to hold our collective
breaths with his tales of ghosts and the undead. You knew how effective
his scary stories were by the number of under the bed inspections that
were held in our house. I'm sure my mother appreciated it since my
father worked at nights at the New York Times. My father's imagination
and storytelling were legend and so were our nightmares. Just don't ask
me to go down to your basement.

I was listening to "The Second Half of Life" in my car last week. The
author, Angeles Arrien, PH.D, talked about how storytelling can trigger
memories, associations and one's imagination.

She went on to recount a true story by Dr. Charles Garfield who has
written about high performance people.

It unfolded something like this:

Back in 1984, Dr. Garfield encountered a toll booth employee on the
Oakland/San Francisco Bridge who was dancing to loud music that was
blasting from his toll booth. The doctor asked what was going on. The
dancing man in the booth said that he was having a party. What about
the other people working in the other booths? Oh, they were not invited
to his party. Loud horns blasted from impatient drivers (don't you just
love them) and ended the conversation abruptly but the doctor made a
note to find the dancing man again.

And he did.

The dance party was still going on. The Dancing man remembered the
doctor and asked him what the other 16 booths looked like to him. The
doctor had no clue. "No imagination, no imagination," was the reply that
came from the toll booth. "Look again, look again."

The doctor was stumped, gave up, and asked for an answer from the
dancing man.

"Vertical Coffins. These 16 people come to work everyday at 8:30 and
die in their booths and then at 4:30 they come back to life just in
time to go home. They look like Vertical Coffins."

"What makes it different for you?" The doctor needed to know why this
one man was so happy.

"I have a corner office with glass on all sides. I can see the Golden
Gate Bridge, Berkley Heights, and San Francisco and while thousands of
people travel everyday to visit, I get to live it. I get to dance. I
get to do what I love."

So many of us don't get to live the lives we are entitled to. We go by
someone else's rules and expectations and we forget that we even had
dreams that were so full of hope and adventure. We find ourselves
getting by on "no imagination, no imagination" and we struggle in our
own vertical coffins.

How would it feel to dismantle one or two of those vertical coffins
that keep you from what you really want to do? It could be as simple as
saying "No" to some of the requests that others pour on you (and not
feeling guilty!) so that you can have 30 minutes to read, take a walk
or just sit and listen to your own heart beat. It can be as grand as
reexamining where your life is going: does the job do it for me, would
going back to school open me up again, or would Jimmy Choo's heels
really make me feel better? The latter was what Gwyneth Paltrow asked
me ... in a dream. I assured her that they would.

So it might be a little stretch, but how about taking a look at one of
your vertical coffins and screaming "boo", making it go back
under your brother's bed?

Your brother will get over it. Eventually.


Elizabeth Cassidy's Bio

Life has not always arrived gift wrapped but I know it has made for a
more interesting existence. Would I have preferred an easier life?
Well, maybe if it came with me being 5'11" and winning the Nobel Peace
Prize and having Daniel Day Lewis escort me to Oslo to accept the award
while my understanding husband stays home to watch the cats and dog.

But my life has been about facing challenges and moving forward. I
have had some great successes - first New York Director of Project
Linus, stand up comic in Manhattan and comedy writer for WNBC radio, a
member of Who's Who in American Poerty and surviving a near fatal car
accident (along with 15 surgeries) to some sobering disappointments.
But each experience has helped me become the person I am today. And a
healthy dose of humor has made getting thru each chapter in my life
quite doable.

The decision to "reinvent" myself came after 20 years in the NYC
advertising field. Sprinkled in between I created and sold my own
jewelry designs, worked as a fundraiser and AIDS volunteer and operated
an upscale consignment business. But I wanted more in my life and I
wanted to connect with motivated women who were looking to take a
similar journey.

I went back to school and became a certified creative life and career

My colorful background, life experiences and non-judgmental nature
give me a unique perspective on life and the notion that change is not
to be feared, but embraced. We baby boomer women have learned much and
have earned the right to discover new passions in our lives. I've
learned that if you really listen, life gives you the clues to discover
your blueprint for success in all the areas of your life.

My philosophy is if you long to take that unfinished manuscript out of
storage, paint with Paris as a backdrop to your artistic side, start a
new business or change careers or become happier by peeling away those
old tired layers of insecurity now is our time. It is never too late to
be the person you need to be. To be the person the world needs you to

And that is why I started Branching Out Life Coaching.