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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

LIE TO ME (I HAVE TO PLAY SMALL)



I am in the middle of a class taught by the incredible Laura McKowen.
The class is called 'A Bigger Yes' and 'is a program designed to claim, honor and devote yourself to your soul's deepest callings'. 
You can check it out here: (Yes)

Let me start by saying....I recommend this class highly.
It is worth every cent I paid to experience it.
Also...this class has caused me to feel a mixture 
of exhaustion and exasperation.
I am exhaustipated.

Each week has a specific focus and the class structure
 and assignments
lead me down a path sideways until....
 whammo!
The thing I've been avoiding or obscuring is right in front of me.
It's exactly what I wanted and needed-
and what I have unable to quite achieve on my own.

Last week, the class walked me right into this tried and true
 lie that I whisper to myself still:

I need to play small.



One of my homework exercises for the class focused on 'truth'.
There were a series of questions designed to focus me on who I am
so that I can discern what is 'true' about me.

Here's an example question:
What are you most known for?

My short hand answers:
speaking truth in uncomfortable situations 
for holding on in the face of impossible
driving through-crisis management
good food and crazy flowers
my ability to make something beautiful out of something terrible

There were several pages of these kinds of questions.
I am supposed to write responses out long hand-
no computer typing to get to these roots.
It is cathartic and interesting what that pen writes-
as if it is separate and distinct from me.
The exercise culminated in writing an obituary of sorts.  
If I stopped my life today, if I put a pin here and looked backwards, 
what would I claim as done?
I was told to describe what I've achieved using facts.
I was supposed to use the material from the previous 
questions to create this last step.


I didn't.
Not really.
Instead, I just plowed ahead on auto-pilot
and wrote up a brief summary of data about myself.
I included only things that a stranger could prove in quantifiable ways.
My name, birth date and place, 
parent's and children's names, 
 current place of residency,
schools I graduated from and
the work I've done as a professional that puts letters behind my name.
I mentioned my church and a few of my garden endeavors
 but they sounded like hobbies-
not the foundational calling of my life.
In this summary, not a reference could be found for 
writer, artist, or designer.
Not a peep about crisis management, mediation skills or mentoring.
Teaching and motivational work was erased.
I didn't even include my ability to do push-ups or 
how I finally ran 3 miles without stopping!



I left out lots and lots of of things that are a part of me 
and areas where I am undeniably talented.
When I answered the homework questions, 
I claimed a rainbow of strengths.
But when I was tasked with summing it up,
pulling it all together into a narrative....
I left it out or minimized those strengths,
whittling them down to a thin, uninteresting blip.
What the heck?


After a time of reflection (i.e.-a long, protracted argument in my head),
 I realized that this was my old friend,
the lie that says I'm supposed to play small and minimize my gifts.
Or else.

What is the 'or else' exactly?
It's a wiggly bugger....hard to pin down because 
 there are many issues in this mix for me:
socialization of women,
finding a sense of belonging by normalizing,
perfectionism and a fear of failure.
For today though, I'm going to focus on how I learned
not to get too big for my britches.
Not to shine too bright-
so I could leave some things for other people to be good at.

I don't think I am a narcissistic personality disorder sufferer
(although if I were, I doubt I'd recognize it).
Let me state for the record that I KNOW that I am terrible at many things.
Some things that I desperately wish I were good at
I am not.  And probably never will be.
Here's a short list of failings (feel free to leave more in comments):  
housekeeping, self-care, hand-eye coordination, small talk, 
controlling my face, patience, physics or electrical theory, 
most mechanical things, sitting up straight, focusing on just one thing, 
picking one part in three part harmony and sticking to it.
There are more. Many many more things.


However, I am above average at a lot of things.
Academics.
Art.
Leadership.
Bravery (and/or bossiness).
Drive and energy.
Plus I am pretty darn cute.

I got the message early on that being 
smart AND pretty AND creative was just a little too much.
I wouldn't fit into a box neatly.  
Pick one.
The world cannot handle all of you.
Slice some bits off so that people can be more comfortable around you.
So that you won't upstage people.
We need to find a single superlative that fits.
Do you want to be the smart one or the pretty one?
The artist or the scientist?
The lover or the fighter?
You cannot be all those things that you are...it makes the world cringe.
It limits the space for other people.
You'll be taking someone else's spot.
Pick one.


So I picked academics.
It seemed the one with the most longevity and diversity.
I am a well-rounded sponge when it comes to learning.
Math, science, literature, writing, languages -I soak them all up.
And with academics, I could work in some art for college aspirations.
I could hang my hat on this label for a good long while.

Whenever the other talents showed up,
I hid them under a bushel-utilizing them in secret 
to help further the public agenda of uber-nerd.
All through my teens and early twenties, 
Smart was my reason and my definition.
Accolades or rewards earned for being smart, I allowed to remain.
All others, I let fade out as inconsequential or part of the background.
This was an semi-successful strategy while in school but...
once my undergrad degree was up, it became apparent that
I needed a new box to fit into.

I originally thought I might become a college professor.
After some research, I realized that to make that happen....
I'd actually need to do some research.
Masters and Doctorate kind of research.
Egh....this is where my commitment to the box of academics
 started to crack a little.
Neither my generalized intelligence nor my disdain for hierarchy
lend themselves well to the halls of professional academia.
Did I mention I'm not patient either?


I joined the business world and haven't looked back.
Well...except that I keep trying to fit myself into a singular box.
One where I make sense to everyone else
and don't show off too much,
or claim too many diverse talents,
or over-shadow anyone who might need recognition more.
The thing is....it doesn't work.
I worked really hard to keep my gifts hidden.
And yet...they kept popping up like a scary clown.
It became harder and harder to ignore them-
and I finally decided to let myself go.
To give up-for the most part-
trying to slice off the bits that keep 
peaking around every corner.
They're just going to grow back anyway
like horns on a billy-goat.

When I let myself be ALL of myself-
no matter how much a jumbled mess it seems on paper-
something unique shows up.
Something that actually works all together
in a way that is necessary and right.
I do a ridiculous and varied cacophony of 
things that somehow makes sense to me.
I grow things, I eat things, I heal things.

I cultivate connection.
Writing, designing, learning and stretching,
joining discussion groups, searching for the DIVINE,
breaking my heart open every time it starts to feel too tight,
leaning into LOVE, protecting whenever I feel the call.


More homework from The Bigger Yes...A vision board of my path.


Jump back to that obituary though....
I thought I'd quit playing this game.
I thought I'd reclaimed these gifts.
I thought that I had reconciled with the fact that I
don't fit inside just one box.
Apparently, taking a class is enough to trip me 
right back into the trap of this lie.

Here's the most deeply exhaustipating part:
I may always be working to reclaim these gifts and 
to reframe my narrative.
To hack out the little bits of a lie that kept me playing small
 or dancing for the cheap seats
for years and years.
I may never 'fix' this lie in myself.
But I'll be damned if I don't keep trying.

The work of this life is learning in my bones
that I do not have to play small.

I do not have to be anyone other than who I am.
I do not have to make sense to anyone
and whatever gifts I have are all mine, all the time.
What are the ways you limit yourself?
Do you tell yourself you can't (when you know you could)?
Do you stay safe (because it's too risky to try something new)?
You just may need to get comfortable with disappointing some people.
And get ready to do stuff they told you wasn't possible.

Street art from a recent trip to Savannah.  



Tuesday, May 15, 2018

LIE TO ME (I HAVE TO EARN ACCEPTANCE)



This is another in the series of lies that I tell myself.  
I assume I will eventually get bored of talking about them but so far...
I'm still happily dumping my junk out in yard sale fashion for anyone to see.
Hopefully you're finding insights too or
at least comfort in the fact that you're not the only one
who struggles with some of these.

Here's today's lie:  I have to earn acceptance.

Not surprisingly, I'm going to illustrate this lie using food.
I have very few memories of eating at restaurants
before I started working in them at age 14.
When I was growing up,
dinner away from home was always a kind of a tribal event.
We didn't go to one of our parent's friends' house
to have a carefully curated meal where everyone gathered around a table.
We descended en masse like a loud and chaotic pack.
I can remember going to church cover dish dinners,
a relative's house or assorted community centers.
Our family gatherings were always informal. 
That meant everyone brought what they had,
or didn't bring anything AT ALL,
according to some mysterious family organization I never understood.
All this is to say that I did not know what is normal for being a guest
at someone's house for dinner.

Luckily, I had a TV shows!
 I learned by watching sitcoms that it is customary to 
bring something when invited to dinner at someone's house.
According to sitcoms, a good guest never arrives empty handed.
They have flowers or wine.
Or they offer to bring a dish or dessert.
One or the other.
Right?
It's possible that this recommendation doesn't exist
and that you are not required to bring something.
I just want you to know I got it from somewhere.
Moonlighting, The Cosby Show, Golden Girls,  Murder She Wrote.
Those are my sources and I'm sticking to them.



I internalized the lesson that guests bring gifts and
 in true over-achiever fashion....
took it to a whole different level.
A few years ago, if you had invited me to your house 
I would have shown up with a bottle of wine, 
a homemade edible gift and 
either a side-dish or an appetizer.
Probably an arrangement of flowers from my yard 
and/or a plant that I just happened to have lying around.
In a pot.
With an intricate ribbon tied around it.
One time I showed up for a spur of the moment 
get together at a friend's house
with two entire bags of groceries.
I brought a simple spread of expensive cheese, 
assorted crackers,
 charcuterie, 
fruit, 
and artisanal chocolate bars.
And beer.
And wine.
Just in case.

I want to pause here and remind you.....
IT WASN'T MY PARTY!
I can still remember how my friend pulled me aside and said...
I feel like you're saying my food isn't good enough.
No no!  That's not it! I said.
My kids are just picky and they eat so much 
and I just want to make sure we didn't eat you out of house and home.
(At your on house, at the party you decided to host.)
What is the proper emoji for this situation?  
It's got to be something stronger than face palm.



So I wasn't the best guest.  
What about if I were the host?
How did that play out?
Well, if I invited you to my house,
you were going to get one of the best meals of your entire life.
I would spend a lot of time 
planning and prepping,
shopping and chopping, 
and imagining how each course would fit together.
Evaluating the textures and the flavors-
are they layered enough?
Will every guest be satiated?
Will every guest have choice and options?
Will the piney taste of the carrots pair better with lamb or with duck?
Better make both.
Will the kiddos all enjoy their dye-free, hand cut chicken nuggets?
Better make four-cheese pasta as a back up.
Chocolate tart with ginger crust might be too specific a palate...
I should definitely make a layered fruit confection for the people
 who just don't like chocolate.
I got very very good at cooking as if I were a 4 star restaurant.
You were not my guest....you were my customer.
If you ate at my house,
I literally overwhelmed you with the food.
No matter how many courses or options I served,
I always worried that I would run out of food, 
that someone wouldn't like what I served, 
that my customers would give me bad reviews 
and never come back.


This attitude was exhausting
but you could pry it from my cold dead hands.
I told people that I loved to cook-
that it was my favorite creative outlet.
That I got joy from the experience.
That was a lie too.
What I was doing was hustling.
Taking the universal need to eat-
and turning it into a drug.
Cooking became a way to check out so I wouldn't 
have to sit with my own feelings.
Of inadequacy.
Of loss.
Of discomfort and confusion.
It also allowed me to drink an awful lot of wine.
Cooking for people was a wrapper that could contain lots of seemingly innocuous behavior that was becoming increasingly toxic for me.
I would stand in the kitchen
creating incredible food
for people who just wanted to talk and laugh.
I couldn't handle the connection or the vulnerability
inherent in showing up without these crutches.



Back to the original lie in this post:
I was fairly convinced in my subconscious that I was worthless.
That the only reason you invited me over
or that you responded to my invitation
was because of what I could do for you.
I was hell bent on earning my place.

This was OF COURSE not allowed to be 
present in my conscious thought.
That would never do.
I was successful!
I was independent!
I was fronting hard and nothing was going to make me see this lie-
nothing short of everything falling apart.

I have so much compassion for the young woman I was.
Trying so hard to prove that she was talented at 
one of the many household chores she never learned to do.
I may not be a good housekeeper but I can whip up 
pork tacos and guacamole that will transport you!
I may not be able to (care about how to) fold a fitted sheet 
but there's not a mom around who can make a better nicoise salad.
You might not think I acted or looked normal,
but if you invited me over, you'd feel better after I left.
Nothing to see here people-please watch the flashy pretty things
 as I exit stage right.

I'm using hospitality as the frame for this lie but
it was pervasive and persistent through every other aspect of my life.
That's the thing-if you can see it in one area,
it is for sure living well in all the others.
I did not believe that I belonged
in any of the arenas I was playing in.
Not work, not motherhood, not as a sister or a daughter, 
not in my creative endeavors.
I was using all my gifts and energy
to win an award that does not exist.


Sigh.
As sad as this lie makes me,
I am happy to report that if you invite me over now-
I'm likely to show up with just myself.
I'll ask if you need me to bring anything.
If you say no, then nothing is what I'll bring.

I'm also telling you that if you're invited to my house....
you'll get whatever I'm cooking for my family for the week.
No special things made just for you in case you don't like what I have.
You are welcome to bring whatever helps you feel comfortable.
Or you can eat what I make.
Or we can just sit and talk and that is the best of the best anyway.


I'm not saying it is easy to do this new behavior-
I still have serious moments of anxiety about showing up as I am.
But if I can't show up as just me, then why am I showing up at all?
I am learning to trust the truth that I don't have to earn my place.
My worth is not measured by the gifts I bring to the situation.
My place is already 100% secured.







Tuesday, May 08, 2018

LIE TO ME (IF YOU'RE STUCK, I'M STUCK TOO)




This series is a semi-systematic, unflattering look at the lies
 that I tell myself and how they impact my life.  
I would love to be able to say that I don’t tell these lies 
to myself anymore….that would be another lie though.  
I’m pretty good at keeping these suckers around by 
renaming them or rationalizing.

The lie for today is:  As long as you’re stuck, I am stuck too.


Or said differently…I can’t be different unless you make 
that change first (or with me).



Imagine for a minute that I am trapped inside an elevator
with my best friend…who is very very claustrophobic.
When the elevator first stopped between floors, 
my best friend was closer to the emergency phone button so  
I asked him to push the button.  
He looked at me with giant eyes, broke into a sweat 
and started rocking. 
Since that initial request, he’s barely hanging on-
swinging between hyper-ventilation and 
shouting random, non-sense commands.
My friend, is overwhelmed, panicking and 
has essentially gone bat-shit crazy. 

No matter how many times I try to help him see that 
he can pick up the phone and notify emergency contacts, 
he is not getting it.  
He throws tantrums, starts screaming, begs me to hold
 his hands with both of mine because he is so afraid. 
DO NOT LEAVE ME HERE is said over and over.



I’ve spent two hours trying hard to convince my friend
 that all he needs to do is push the button.   
That he can get himself (and me) out of his current situation.
Breathing techniques, focused communication, modeling sane 
behavior have all failed.  
I’ve hugged him, reminded him of our years of friendship, 
that I’m a trustworthy person and I won’t leave him alone to suffer. 
I’ve tried to bring him back from the brink. 
Every ounce of my own problem solving energy 
has been focused on helping my friend understand how to change.
Nothing is working… my words are lost in the panic 
in his eyes and the clench of his fists. 
I just need him to push the button so that we can get out of here.
And he won’t do it.
I’m stuck because he is stuck.
I'm still here in this sucky place-
hot, sweaty, exhausted and starving-
because he won't do something that is super simple.
It's clearly labeled and common knowledge.
Anyone could do it-even a child.
And yet...I'm still here because of him.

I don't know if ya'll can see it but
this is utter bullshit.
It's probably obvious to you-
because who would not get out of this elevator?
Everyone would.
Except.....I am in situations like this all the time.
What if you apply this to a relationship?
Emotional or relational boundaries?
Self-care situations?
Does it read differently then?


I am NOT stuck because he is stuck.
I am stuck because I won’t push the button MYSELF.
I am stuck because I want the other person to have 
the same ability, perception, attitude as me before 
I will allow myself to move to a different experience.
I am stuck because I have deferred my own agency-
and given it over to someone who can’t even breathe or 
speak-someone so sick that he has forgotten himself.
I am stuck because I am choosing to remain stuck.
Until my friend gets it together.





How long do I stay stationary in that elevator?
How long do I spend my energies trying to calm down my friend?
When do I realize that I am the person who 
needs to push the button?  
That waiting on my friend to get it together 
is keeping us both stuck?


I am a bright person but in this realm, 
I have been historically slow and thick-headed.
My personal stats suggest that
the average amount of time it takes for me to realize
that I am capable of changing myself
without everyone else changing first...
is measured in years.


I will keep trying to coach someone through 
a lesson until I am exhausted, depleted and literally at my end.  
Only when I’m on the floor, starved and sweaty-
will the epiphany come……
I could push that button myself!
It's like an ultimatum that I don't want to issue
because then I'll have to follow through.
So I avoid knowing it like it is my full time job.





Here's some other examples.


Drinking not working for me anymore?  
I’ll stop drinking as soon as my family stops.  
Or as soon as I don’t have a job that requires me to 
socialize with clients in bars.

Have a book pushing through my heart that I must write?  
I’ll do that as soon as my job becomes less demanding or 
my side projects have a space.

Want financial freedom or a different schedule?  
I can do that after my kids go to college.  
Until then-I’m going to have to keep working the normal job.

Have a tribe that isn’t committed to growth?  
I’ll find another one eventually-
right after I get through this next holiday.

I have come to understand that I have a lot of reasons 
that this lie keeps coming around.

Here are a few:
 I value being the hero.
I have a lot of energy and dedication-and 
I don’t feel worthy enough to use that energy for 
my own redemption or release.
 I’m afraid of ending up alone 
(or spending too much time with only myself to face).
 It’s much harder to take a risk and try…
than to sit and wait for someone else to take a risk.
  It’s a tool that I’ve used a long time and 
I’m comfortable having it in my hand.  
It worked for me in the past and I keep trying to make it work again.
I could list probably 15 more but you get the gist.
This strategy is something that worked for me
in the past for a variety of reasons.
So I keep breaking it out again
only to find myself back to the basic lesson again-
I can do it myself.
Before anyone else thinks it's a good idea.
Even if no one else ever understands it or 
changes in that same way.
With or without support.



What keeps you stuck?
I bet you can push the button.
 
Photo from my teacher Glennon