An Exaggeration

It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Random Observations, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Seth Godin recently published this very short post:

A parody of yourself

A simple test for brands, organizations and individuals:

When you exaggerate the things that people associate with you, your presence and your contribution, does it make you a better version of yourself?

When Seth gets it right (which is often), he gets it really really right.  I’ve been thinking about this question since I saw the post and damn.  What *do* people associate with me, my presence, my contribution?  I know what I want them to associate with me, and I make an effort to focus on those traits.

But what can I do about those unknown things – the personal quirks and habits and unlikeable bits that I’m unaware of?  The things that people who love me don’t care about but could nevertheless impact my ability to accomplish my goals?  Self-awareness and reflection get me to a certain point, but how do I get past all the doubt and uncertainty and accept that I’m just a human?  A normal human who has normal human-y quirks and habits and oddities?

I thought about doing a self-parody but stopped that idea right in its tracks.  I’m not in the best place to parody myself from a helpful, funny perspective and it’s far too easy to think of myself as a ridiculous monster.  Untrue, of course, but that’s what too much navel-gazing gets me.

So…going out on a limb, I’m going to answer Seth’s question with a “yes.”  People tell me that I’m creative, engaged, warm, attentive, and kind, and those are traits that only make me better 🙂

Reading the Comments

It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Wins, Writing

I recently wrote a post about rediscovering my desire to serve others.  Much to my surprise, my post garnered a very long, angry comment largely focused on what an arrogant dick I am for openly expressing this desire.  The comment opened with “I don’t even know you” and proceeded to cover a wide swath of territory that included judgments on my character, accusations about my intentions, and speculation that losing my job was caused by my arrogance in thinking I have something of value to offer.

The level of judgment and bitterness was extraordinary.  I hadn’t written anything controversial, it was a personal statement, nothing I’d ever expect anyone to care much about.  I wrote it for myself, to clarify my own thinking and solidify my commitment, and I’d expected it to go entirely unnoticed.  That it engendered such a vitriolic response was a giant surprise.

But what was most surprising was that this stranger had plucked out of my head my very own words, fears and doubts and insecurities, typed them up, and sent them to me.  When I read that so-familiar and hateful rhetoric, felt the judgment and resentment, I was paralyzed.  How did this stranger know to use those words, the exact words that live on a never-ending loop in my head?  How did they know to say the most harmful words, words that would undermine my confidence, and tear down what I’d worked so hard to build – my belief in myself, in my own value and contribution?

How could one person say such cruel things to another person – a complete stranger, someone they know nothing about?  Even worse, what if they were right?

Encouraging words from a friend helped me gain perspective, but this comment, I think, may prove an invaluable tool.  Seeing my own self-doubt and self-judgment so clearly articulated was terrifying.  I would never say those things to someone else, why am I saying them to myself?  Marianne Williamson’s famous writing on our deepest fears includes the following lines:

“It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

My internal monologue and this anonymous comment both demand smallness.  They demand that I not recognize any of my potential, talent, or value.  This message – that we have to play little, hide our light, deny our desire to shine and grow and expand – is the message of fear and denial and rejection.  It is rooted in rejection of our shared beauty and grace, grief at our self-imposed barriers, and a profound fear that we will never measure up.  It is that message that keeps us suspended in a state of perpetual self-hatred and destruction.

It is valuable also because I do need to check in with myself, ask for feedback from friends, and pay close attention to the impact I have on others.  But I get to decide which feedback is helpful, which friends and colleagues to ask, and what advice is helpful.  Because I tend to believe the worst of myself, I have to get objective opinions, and advice from people who care about me and want me to thrive.

Ultimately, that one comment prompted useful thought and reflection, although perhaps not in the way the author intended.  I am proud of my talents and skills, the work I’ve done to develop them, and my commitment to helping others, and it doesn’t matter what other people think about my decision to write those things down, or say them out loud.

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Arrogance

Art/Images, Creative, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

I looked up the word arrogance before writing this post, just to make sure I had selected the correct word.  I’m not convinced it’s the right word, but I can’t think of one better so here we are.  When I started believing I could write about my experience working in prison, I knew (intellectually) it would be a challenge.  Although I have extensive experience in technical and business writing, curriculum development, reflective and academic writing, I have ZERO experience in creative fiction, nonfiction, or memoir.  I knew I was venturing into unknown territory but I’m not the first to do so, nor will I be the last.

One of my reasons for venturing into this wilderness is my tendency to get distracted by intellect, and I often think about this in relationship to dancing. Years ago, I made a clear and specific decision that I wasn’t interested in pursuing the more technical aspects of dance.  I’m a social dancer, I like to experiment and explore, going far outside the choreography and “normal” movement and shapes.  In more recent conversations, I realize that this is a an advanced approach to dance, if not a truly “complete” approach.  The greatest dancers are those who challenge themselves technically, as well as artistically, and I’ve long since left the road to technique.

I made this decision because dance is one of the only places in my life where my brain is OFF.  The minute I start concerning myself with technique (Am I a fast enough spinner?  Are my arms straight?  Am I pointing my toe enough? Are my shine patterns symmetrical?), I am out of my heart and body and into my head.  I’ve got enough technique and body control that I can forget about it and simply enjoy the music, movement, and connection with my partner.  THAT is what I crave in dance – not greater technique or an extensive repertoire – even those things are wonderful.  This is what I thought I could transfer into my writing, this sense of being grounded enough in the technical that I could focus solely on the story.

Because I have a solid grounding in writing technique, even if it is largely informal, I thought I had a decent chance at putting together a story people would want to read.  I wasn’t naive enough to think it would be perfect, but I did feel I was competent.  As of today, that feeling has entirely evaporated.   I realize this is probably a normal part of the process for any writer, but I am keenly feeling my lack of formal training, experience in creative writing and storytelling, and in the craft itself.  I’ve realized that the “how” of storytelling – all the decisions about timeline, details, organization, setting (you know – all the things that make up a story) – is not some magic combination of luck and brilliance, it is grounded in technique and exposure and work work work.

I’m not sure I was arrogant when I began this project but I definitely didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Today, my lack of confidence is showing up as “what made you think you could do this?  you don’t know shit about writing anything other than program outlines and lesson plans?  how could you be so disrespectful of all those people who have spent years learning the craft by thinking you could just sit down and pound out something decent – with no experience or training?  who do you think you are?”

I realized recently that I have several well-known, well-respected authors and storytellers in my bigger circle of acquaintances and I cringe when I think about my arrogance.  They’ve spent *years* working and perfecting their crafts and I think I can come along in a few months and produce a top quality piece of work?  Even though I’m posting this online, I’m kind of hoping none of them read it (I’m pretty sure none will) – I don’t want them to know how clueless I really am.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this feeling, this terrible and crippling lack of confidence, is another obstacle to overcome, another block on the road to shipping.  It’s an unexpected and unfamiliar feeling – this lack of confidence with regard to writing, with regard to work.  I’ve been confident in my ability to complete, to execute, to ship, for years and years.  Even when I was unemployed and desperate, I was still able to scrabble together enough gigs to limp along – I was still able to make things happen.

But I can’t “make” this happen, and that is an unknown, uncomfortable feeling.  I can’t brain-muscle my way through, force the words I know are “right,” or build an outline and follow the bread crumbs backwards.  None of those things are working, and they’re the majority of my toolkit.  My unconscious competence isn’t unconscious anymore, and my skillset needs to change and grow.  I’m afraid that learning what I need to learn (or think I do) will take too long, that I’ll never get it done or the story will no longer be relevant.

As I typed that, my head realized that it’s nonsense but my heart still feels afraid and worried.  I drew this a week or two ago, on a really really bad day.  Today isn’t that bad and writing this post helped.

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