For as long as I can remember, I have wavered between seeking attention and hiding from it.
From all the stories my mother tells of me being bold — streaking naked through the living room during her Marriage Encounter meetings, belting out the lyrics of a horribly suggestive 1970’s song called “Do it ’til you’re satisfied” in public— I can count thousands more where I hid behind a bellbottom pant leg, or when my words got caught in my throat.
As I got older, my methods of hiding and seeking grew more sophisticated. I hid in the back of the classroom, hoping not to be called on. I hid my feelings from my parents, especially my father who was quick to disapprove. I hid my writing ambitions from everyone except my journal.
But after school, I’d go on auditions, and dance in front of the television and take singing lessons and dream of being famous, because what I also wanted was to be seen. The tension of these opposites was ever-present and not easily reconciled. Other people were confused by the way I showed up too: teachers would call on me, possibly thinking that because I did well on tests, I might actually have something to say in the room. (Nope.) Directors would hire me for roles because I was great in a room one-on-one, but when I got on set, I’d freeze. (I was fired more than once.)
Rarely did I stop to think about the motivation behind this behavior until I got into therapy as a teen. By then I was also hiding my rage. I was mad at my father who hid at home and liked to tell me that life was not a three ring circus. I was mad at my fun-loving mother who acted like it was. Two opposing forces. Sometimes I felt like a wishbone. Mostly I felt invisible.
Therapy gave me insight, but the pattern continued. The push to be seen, the pull of holding myself back. I’ve made a career out of working hard behind the scenes, supporting visionaries who love the limelight. In many cases, it’s been rewarding work, and in all cases, a brilliant opportunity to learn something new. But when I stop moving so quickly and finally listen in, what my heart wants more is to be recognized for my contribution— and not just recognized by said visionaries, but by the world at large.
I want to do my own thing.This realization comes on the heels of the release of my first non-fiction book. But I use the term “my” loosely in this case. On the cover, my name can be found in tiny letters under my co-author’s. There’s no one to blame here. I agreed to the terms of the project. What I didn’t see coming were the big unruly feelings that came up around achieving a lifelong goal of mine. In the movie version of this story, my name is above the title. More importantly, all the ideas are mine.
Why is this important? Why can’t I be Zen about the order of things, take it in stride, be detached and otherworldly?
It feels vulnerable to admit any of this matters, because admitting it makes me feel like a vain, ego-centric jerk, and I really would prefer that you like me. But I’m tired of selling myself out by being too nice, too easy-breezy-what-everyone-else-wants and not at all me. I’m sick of being gaslit by those who bury my contributions and feel like it’s their exclusive right to take center stage. Underneath all the nice, I’m still angry. Mostly at myself.
There’s no benefit in pretending like I’m Lana Turner sitting at Schwab’s pharmacy just waiting to be discovered. Truth: if I want to be seen, I can’t hide who I really am anymore. That includes not hiding all the crap I’m telling you right now. And definitely not making it all pretty and perfect.
I don’t want all the attention. There’s plenty to go around. I do want to stop being scared of the spotlight and get on with sharing any gifts I have with the world. Then it’s not about me anymore, it’s about us. And here’s what I really want for all of us: To come out of hiding for ourselves, and seek connection over comparison. Because when we do that, we’re dancing — or streaking — in the moment, and with one another. When we do that, we’re free.
No one is coming to save (or discover) me, and that’s perfect.
Ready or not, here I come.
Originally posted on 11/1/2016
It happened: Yesterday on Halloween, I turned 45. Dressed as a sparkly unicorn and nursing sore legs from the half marathon I ran the day before, I spent some time thinking about being 45 is good, and what I’ve learned now that I am officially in the middle of my life. (Technically I plan to live to be 108, but that’s not entirely my call, so….)
These are in no particular order, by the way.
Do you see yourself in here? Anything to add?
45 REASONS I’M GRATEFUL TO BE 45
11. I know the difference between love and lust. I appreciate them both.
12. I can afford nice shoes (yet still feel guilty for buying them for myself)
13. I am a mother of neither an infant nor a teenager. Our son is 9. Thank you!!
14. Both of my parents are still alive and well and living nearby.
15. I am happily married to my first husband. Which has nothing to do with being 45 but it’s rare and awesome so I’m throwing it in here.
16. I still feel like a teenager when I hear Jane’s Addiction.
17. I know how to ask for what I need.
19. I don’t wait. I don’t mean that I am impatient, but that I no longer wait for things to come to me, or for someone to say something first. Life is too short and by most calculations, I’m already half way done with a long, healthy life. Now is now is now.
20. The bar for celebration has gotten MUCH lower. You woke up this morning? Party on!
22. The pain of high school is a distant memory. I hear childbirth is like that too. Some things are worth forgetting.
23. No one expects me to still have a bikini body. (It is still on the nice-to-have list though.)
24. Saying what’s on my mind is far more liberating than being mysterious. Finally got that one.
25. I’m quicker to apologize and slower to point fingers. Who has time for grudges anyway?
26. I’m trusting my gut more and my cravings less. I listen to my intuition, but now I actually question when my body says it cannot live without a truckload full of cotton candy.
27. You don’t have to choose between your face or your ass if you have a great esthetician.
28. I no longer have to try and look cool. Either I am or I’m not, there is no try.
29. A good night’s sleep is better than almost any after party.
30. Giving a compliment is more rewarding than receiving one. By the way, that shirt really brings out your eyes.
31. Being called ma’am. I used to want to punch people when they called me that. Now it kind of feels like respect.
32. Life is neither fair or unfair.
33. No matter what the question, I realize now that love is usually the answer.
34. The alternative is much worse.
35. I can stop making lists whenever I feel like it.
When I made the decision to switch my focus from copywriting to coaching, I was mildly terrified. Coaching people to help bring their creative ideas to life meant that I had to be doing the same—no excuses. And yet…. I still found ways to rationalize avoiding my own projects (specifically my book).
I prioritized writing projects that weren’t meaningful to me.
I overbooked so I had nothing left to give myself.
I played online Scrabble until I thought my eyeballs might bleed.
And then I meditated.
That last one saved me. When I finally got quiet, I recognized that I was being run by my fear. I’d been scared that I had nothing valuable to say or that I what was doing had been done before. Mostly, I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough. And while sitting with that, this sassy voice inside me said, “Who would you be without all of this angst?” I had to laugh, because that’s what I was really doing—angsting—and it was getting in my way.
This was a really good question.
For me, the answer is this: Without all the angst, I’d be able to create more freely. The energy spent avoiding can be used more productively. However it’s unrealistic to think that the angst won’t return.
So this answer is also this: When the angst is there, I can choose to create too.
The need to be creative is innate—it’s an essential part of us that needs nourishment regardless of our state.
Since becoming aware of this, I’m more able to choose freedom and let fear come and go. Which means sometimes I’m writing fearlessly, and sometimes with the acknowledgment of fear’s presence. But my commitment is to write no matter what. In being dogged, some of the darkness tends to recede.
Maybe you can relate to this struggle? If so, consider getting quiet for a few minutes and ask:
How can you make peace with your angst? In your creative endeavors, your relationship, and this one wild and precious life?
And see what comes up.
I’m currently serving on the leadership team of a 21 day virtual coaching intensive. A colleague read a poem in our team meeting last week, and it moved me so much, I wanted to share it with you.
When asked “How would you have lived your life differently if you had a chance?” Nadine Stair, an 85-year-old woman, from Louisville, Kentucky, said this:
If I had my life to live over,
I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.
I'd relax, I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.
I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would perhaps have more actual troubles,
but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I'm one of those people who live
sensibly and sanely hour after hour,
day after day.
Oh, I've had my moments,
And if I had it to do over again,
I'd have more of them.
In fact, I'd try to have nothing else.
Just moments, one after another,
instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I've been one of those people who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat
and a parachute.
If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.
If I had my life to live over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies.
***In this stay at home moment, we’re all spending more time turning inward, examining our choices and how we live. Reading Nadine Stair’s words, I feel the sting of her regrets mixed with my own. I’m thinking of the many, many times I’ve hesitated for too long to speak up, or raise my hand, or shine, and the moment passed. Or stayed silent or stayed home when my heart really wanted to come out and play. For what? Is what I’m asking myself. What am I waiting for?
What I really want to tell you is this: I’m coming out of hiding, and I’m bringing you with me. (Unless you have other plans, but… really?)
This means speaking up, getting messy, and using this life as a laboratory to experiment with joy and meaning and creativity and play. I don’t want to wake up at 85, look back and wish I’d lived differently, and I know you don’t either.
It’s safe to say that Nadine Stair is no longer alive, but she’s left us with an incredible reminder: No one needs to wait another minute to start living out loud and on purpose. Meaning planning less, loving more, dancing in the street. Meaning getting into the kind of trouble that makes for the best stories, the ones you get to relive and laugh about for years to come. Meaning yes to ice cream, yes to morning sex and mistakes and yes to that opportunity in disguise. Quarantine or no, we don’t need to carry everything that’s been given to us. We can set it all down, leave our shoes at the shore, and run free. The ocean is calling, and, if we’re quiet enough to hear it, so are our souls. So instead of looking back and counting our regrets, how about we start today by answering Mary Oliver’s question: “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” And what’s one tiny thing you can do with that right now?
I rushed into the hotel banquet room five minutes late, and the workshop participants were already milling around the room making verrry deliberate eye contact with each other. I found my name tag at the unmanned table near the front, slapped it on my yoga wrap and joined the group, unsure of what to expect.
Signing up for this three-day workshop was part of an experiment. I was testing out the hypothesis that I might be interested in this whole coaching thing. Six minutes in, it was not going well. The group leader paused the milling around to ask us a question.
“What is your dream?” she said provocatively. We were asked to share our answer-- repeatedly-- with different participants. Everything in me wanted to punch this lady in the face. What is my dream? What kind of question is that? An offensive one for sure. I didn't let on to my rage. Instead, I plastered a smile on my face, walked through the room and made shit up.
It took me months to get to the bottom of why her question made me so violently angry. And a few years to finally admit it.
I didn’t have a dream and I felt wildly ashamed about that.
I didn’t have a dream because I hadn’t let myself dream for a really long time. I knew what wasn’t working any more in my life, and I knew I needed something different, but I hadn’t dared to really let go and imagine possibilities that might really light me up. I didn’t go big, because for so long, I felt really, really small.
As a little girl, I was all imagination and fairy dust. I lived in the world of my mind, creating stories, building worlds. I was always in charge, forever the quiet and mysterious star of the show. It wasn’t a single event that shut me down or forced me to stop believing in my superpowers; it was decades spent meeting expectations that didn’t exactly match my own.
Remember what you loved to do when you were 10? That’s one of my favorite questions to ask people. It’s less confronting than “What is your dream?” (how dare you) and has the potential to spark much more insight. I believe that what we loved doing when we were little-- before our parents and teachers and the world told us who we should be -- is a clue to what might be missing in our lives now. That’s where I went looking-- my early childhood. While spending time remembering what I loved, I rediscovered the joy of telling you stories like this.
How does all of this relate to you, fellow creative, and finishing your creative project? Maybe it doesn’t, if the project is just something else to cross off your to do list. BUT if the reason you want to create in the first place is bigger than that-- maybe somehow part of your dream-- then listen up, because you’ve got work to do. The fun kind.
Your job is to imagine the most beautiful dream you’ve ever dreamed. Lie on the grass and look up at the stars, or close your eyes or lay on your bed, and get quiet. Tune in. No distractions or shoulds. Just you tapping into pure Youness. The young part that remembers what it’s like to play and create. Then, when it’s all so vivid you can feel it, write it all down. Write it down in the present tense, like it’s happening now. Read it back. Read it out loud. Read it to someone who loves you. This is how you start to build a bridge between your imagination and reality. This is how you start coming home to yourself.