Bragging Mad Libs

As I said in my last post, it takes a lot of ENERGY to own your power – to express your life’s journey with confidence – to brag.

Know what else takes a lot of energy? Creative expression. It takes time and effort to sit down and draw, to get up and dance.

But creative expression also GIVES a lot of energy. You sit down to draw and suddenly, hours have gone by and you’ve been wholly absorbed in the colors and lines and shapes of what you are creating, and your brain is sparking. You spend an hour dancing like crazy and you end up working out harder than if you’d gone to the gym, but you feel like you could keep going for hours.

Bragging works that way too: it takes energy to stand up and say, this is my story, this is my strength, here I am. But when you do it, you feel the energy flooding in. This is who I am. BOOM. YES. This is who I am.

This is why I encourage you to practice bragging – because you can feel the effects right away.

Here is a super quick and easy way to practice right now – bragging mad libs! Fill in the blank and see what comes up for you.

I like to write down the first thing that comes to mind, even if it doesn’t make sense.

Because if I stop to think, I’ll get stuck and my trolls will want to get in on the action, and then I’ll start wanting to get it right, and then there’s no hope. You can’t brag if you’re trying to be perfect.

Though (as with most things) the opposite is also true: you could also sit with this, testing it out, seeing what comes to you over time.

If you want, make up your own mad libs! I take inspiration from the king, Muhammad Ali, and also from musical divas, country queens and classic rock gods. Here are some lines you could play with:

I’m so mean I make medicine sick

I’m so fast I can turn out the light and be in bed before it’s dark

Here I am, rock me like a hurricane

I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me

I was born a coal miner’s daughter, in a cabin on a hill in butcher’s holler

I’m the sister of a hellraiser, the daughter of an old tomcat, I was playin’ the piano in a honky-tonk before you bragged about that (I just heard an interview with rock and roller Linda Gail Lewis which is where I heard that line!)

So easy to turn them into fill-in-the-blank brags:

I’m so ___________ I make ________ __________

I’m so _______ I can _______ and ________ before it’s _________

Here I am, rock me like a ___________

I’m a ________ baby so why don’t you _____________

I was born a _______, in a ________ on a ________ in _________

I’m the sister of a _________, the daughter of a _________, I was _________ before you bragged about that

Try it! Jot some things down, and why not: speak them out loud.

WOO HOO! Do you feel a rush? Do you feel a thrill? That’s your power, baby.


If you want to do this with others in a safe environment for practicing space-claiming and power-proclaiming, you can sign up for my free webinar, DYNAMIC BRAG

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Here I Am

Hello out there. How was your summer?

I had a very creative summer in many ways – lots of family time and swimming lessons and camping trips and first steps and whoopie cushions and a superhero scavenger hunt.

So many things to inspire and instigate and invigorate my creative spirit. Nothing makes my heart swell with love and pride more than seeing my kids give free rein to their creative instincts. Beautiful!

And at the same time, exhausting. Because facilitating the growth and healthy development of small children involves a lot of thinking ahead, a lot of making mistakes, a lot of head-bonking, a lot of tantrum-decoding, a lot of blanket-fort-decomissioning, a lot of tears, a lot of night frights, a lot of messes.

I believe in messes. I believe in the creative anarchic spirit. And I believe parenting – all caregiving, really – is creative. It requires deep pools of creativity in order to do it at all. And because it is so all encompassing, so demanding, so FREAKING HARD — it also makes it difficult to focus on other creative projects.

Like, it’s hard to foster my son’s beautiful anarchic creative spirit while also embracing my own. It’s hard to embrace making messes when I’m the one cleaning them up. It’s hard to hold space for chaos when you’re also in charge of setting the boundaries.

So I am excited that we are in the fall and my kids are in someone else’s care for part of the day so I can make some time for my creative spirit to bounce off the walls. So I can write to you and turn my mind towards what the hell I do when I’m not wiping applesauce off the floor and chasing a one year old into the bathroom shouting NO HANDS IN THE TOILET!

My coaching tentacles are slowly coming back to life and here I am, curious about what’s going on in your world.

I find my mind returning to a topic that always carries such a charge – something that is a key part of the Creative Magic Workout, the one people are most resistant to, the one that seems like it’s got nothing to do with creativity – like it’s a separate universe – and which turns out to be intricately, inseparably intertwined with creative expression.

That topic is BRAGGING.

Bragging is a loaded word so allow me to use some other words to describe what it means to me:

  • Telling your hero story
  • Standing fully in your experience of the world
  • Owning your experience — what you feel and believe and think
  • Feeling pride in what you have done and what you will do, good or bad
  • Speaking with confidence about your experience, about what you have done and will do
  • Holding yourself with power, acknowledging your power instead of deflecting it, hiding it, pretending you don’t have it
  • Claiming your space
  • Claiming your time
  • Claiming the attention of others

So scary, right?

There is a reason we spend a lot of time on this – because it’s HARD and because it’s KEY to your creative expression.

So my approach, as with anything creative – come to think of it, this is my approach to parenting too – is to make it as easy as possible.

How to make bragging easy?

One way is to find someone to emulate, to remind you of what kind of person you want to be, to spur you on, to cheer you on, to encourage you.

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One of my champions is Dolly Parton and I’m so thrilled to see my very favorite song of hers, “Here I Am,” out in the world as a new duet with Sia. And it strikes me as a FANTASTIC bragging song. (One of my favorite ways to creatively work things out is to find a song that speaks to whatever is on my mind, and then sing / dance / jump around to it in my garage).

If you’d like to do that with me today, please join me in singing and dancing and hopping around and saying out loud, HERE I AM.

(And if you want to register for my free webinar next week, DYNAMIC BRAG, you can do it here: REGISTRATION)

Give attention to the thing you’re embarrassed about

Hello from the other side of newborn mountain! Or in the middle of it? I’m not sure but I can tell you that this ridiculous bundle of sunshine is 2.5 months old.

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I’ve got a lot to tell you about my birth experience and maternity leave (or as I have been calling it, my artist residency in motherhood) but first I thought I’d share this creative exercise that came to me yesterday.

I made a video about it here (co-starring my newest collaborator, River Rowan Helma-Walters) or you can read on below if you’re more of a visual/verbal processor.


I had a quick idea for an exercise today and I wanted to share it with you while it’s fresh in my mind. Here’s the context behind it: so I was walking my son, Waylon, in to summer camp this morning, and I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in the window and had one of those classic moments of, ewwww, this shirt does not fit me well, my belly looks kind of weird… etc etc…  

Anyway, I continued on my way and hugged Waylon goodbye and passed the window again on my way out, and had a reflexive cringe as I saw my reflection again. And then I thought, hold on, hold on: why am I feeling embarrassed?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last four years, it’s that when I feel embarrassed about something, whether it’s physical or emotional or otherwise – it’s a good idea to slow down and pay attention to that feeling.

So I noticed that feeling of embarrassment and took a second to ask myself, hey, why am I feeling like I should hide my belly? Why am I feeling some shame here?

And then I thought, What if  decided to I flaunt it instead?

So I did. Instead of tucking it in and folding my body inward, I took a deep breath and stuck my belly out. And you know what? My embarrassment dissolved.

And that’s basically the exercise: take something you’re hiding, and try flaunting it. If there’s something you feel as a flaw, ask yourself, what would it feel like to show this off? And give yourself two minutes, whether it’s alone in your bedroom or out in the world, to do that.

This is especially potent to try on your belly, because man, the belly is such a loaded body part. I’ve heard it from so many women I know, this shame around having a tummy, like it’s not okay, it’s repulsive. Unless you’re pregnant, and then it’s gorgeous. Both times I’ve been pregnant it’s been striking how much love and admiration and worship is lavished onto my belly from other people. People encourage you to flaunt it! They want you to show it off, they compliment it, they ask to touch it. Some people find this intrusive, but I find it kind of lovely, this loving attention given to something that doesn’t usually get attention.

And then immediately after the baby is born, BAM – the exact same part of your body is suddenly NOT cute, it does not get any attention and if it does, it’s shameful. The worst insult a woman can hear is someone asking if she’s pregnant when she’s not, right? Oh god, the horror!

Why is this belly so horrifying when there’s not a baby, why is it no longer beautiful now that it’s just my body?

So the exercise for me is to pretend my belly is just as beautiful without a baby inside it, to act proud of it, to show it off the same way I did when I was five months pregnant.

I encourage you to join me in drawing attention to whatever body part you’re embarrassed about and giving it some love. Give attention to the thing you’re embarrassed about. This is like a Daniel Tiger song! Give attention to the thing you’re embarrassed about. Just give it some attention, that’s all I’m saying. This applies to physical parts of your life and also to the emotional things, which is trickier. Or maybe it isn’t! You could pretend it’s not trickier.

Anyway, that’s me reporting to you from my artist residency in motherhood, with creative ideas inspired by my own body and my own life, that I hope speak to you, in your body, in your life. I wish you well on your artistic journey and navigating the world in all it’s complexities and violence and joys, I hope you’re finding solace amidst the chaos.

The chaos of nature

I’m writing to you in the midst of a wild Portland spring. One day it’s 80 degrees, the next day it’s cold windy sheets of rain. In between, there are moments of glorious rainbow transition.

I’m in transition too: wrapping up the first online round of the Creative Magic Workout, which has been a lovely and fruitful experiment. I’m making plans to retool it a bit and launch it again in the fall. (Registration will open September 12, if you want to sign up).

I’m also preparing my body, mind and soul for the entrance of a new baby into the world (and its exit from my body).

Not gonna lie: I’m scared. And this is different from the last time I had a baby. It’s the fear of the known (or, relatively known) versus fear of the unknown.

Last time, I handled my fear with bravado and denial and blithe ignorance. I went in overconfident and underprepared. And it’s taken me a long time to forgive myself for not knowing what I didn’t know, to see the beauty in how things unfolded as they did, to trust my body and my instincts. Honestly, it took me a long time to forgive nature itself.

I thought my body would know what to do naturally — I thought wanting a “natural birth” would somehow guarantee me a blissful, pain-free experience. And that is not the way it went. (Someday I’ll get around to writing the epic tale of my birth story, because it was beautiful in its own way, medicated and mediated and messy as it was).

This time, I’m approaching the prospect of childbirth with more wariness. The way you might approach a wild grizzly you happened upon in the woods. It’s natural, sure. And it also might claw your face off.

I went on an imagination walk with my son the other day, and we happened upon this sign:

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The funny thing is, I read it as: “Take time to listen to the chaos of nature: it is the music of life itself.”

Either way — chaos or chorus — I love the reminder.

In the years since I gave birth to my son, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve accepted the parts of myself that I used to reject as flaky and soft and inconsistent and weak; I’ve reclaimed them as the strengths of spontaneity, empathy, improvisation and vulnerability. I’ve created a new world for myself, a beloved community that comforts and calls me out, that reflects what I value and shows me what is true.

I’ve forgiven nature her fierceness, her brutality, her dramatic swings. They don’t negate her chorus of calm and loving care. They exist alongside it.

Thank you for being on this journey with me, friends. I will probably be off the radar for the next few months while I adjust to new life. I’m excited to see what I learn while I’m down in the dirt of newborn baby bootcamp, and to return to you in the fall with some hard-won insight.

Until then, I wish you kindness and good fortune on the chaotic chorus of your creative journey.

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Bragging as a bridge (not a wall)

Bragging is a big part of the work I do, and we’ve been talking about it this week in my Creative Magic Workout, so I thought I’d open up the discussion to everyone.

Watch the video:


If you’re doing any kind of creative work – by which I mean, living life as a vulnerable, expressive human being – there are so many opportunities for rejection, and not many for building you up and celebrating what you’ve done and how you’ve grown. That’s one reason it’s essential to cultivate a healthy ability to brag about yourself and your work.

But when we do, fears come up, and one big one is the fear that if you brag, you’re going to push people away or turn them off. We often associate bragging with a kind of aggression, someone who can’t stop talking about themselves, someone who goes on and on at a party or is trying to sell you something or is desperate for your approval. The fear is that when we brag, we’re pushing people away, pushing them out.

But what if we can see bragging as a way of connecting, as an invitation, a way to bring people in? What if we can talk about our strengths and triumphs in a way that draws people in?

I think of it as approaching bragging as a wall, or as a bridge.

A wall divides, it keeps some people out and some people in, it projects an image of strength that is a fakeout, a façade, a lie to hide behind while you lob flaming arrows at supposed attackers to keep them from finding out the truth.

A bridge says, welcome. Come on over and see for yourself. There’s room for you here. I am open to you being here, I want to help you cross over anything that might divide us, I want to provide a path for you to find me.

That’s a different kind of confidence. It’s not about lying, it’s about being totally transparent. And I think when you brag like that, it’s infectious and welcoming and not threatening.

So how does this play out in real life bragging? Let me give you an example from my life: this week I realized that I’ve gotten a lot better over the course of the year at getting my 3.5 year old dressed and fed and cleaned up and out the door on time to school.

The wall version of bragging out this would be to inflate it, to project something bigger and better than reality. I could say, I get my son out the door and to preschool on time every single morning with no problem because I’m a bad ass.

That sounds good, right? Except it’s not my actual reality. And when I have a hard day – like I did yesterday – that kind of brag is an unrealistic expectation that makes me feel worse. And if it makes me feel worse, I imagine it might have that effect on others too!

So what’s a bridge version of that brag? How can I be confident and strong within the challenging circumstances, within my lived reality?

I could say, it’s really hard to get my kid out the door on time. But you know what? Day in, day out, I’m doing it. even when it seems impossible, I find a way to make it possible.

That’s true. That’s reality. It makes me feel better. It opens me up to seeing my own strength in a challenging situation.

And really, that’s the most important thing, right? Building a bridge to yourself, inviting yourself to feel confident as you move through life in all it’s fluctuating paradoxical glory. In my experience, that kind of bragging helps me see the ways in which other people are growing and struggling and doing great things. And that’s how we build a strong community of love and support.

Creative Breakthrough: how I learned to dance

I was driving yesterday, stuck in traffic, and I don’t know why but I found myself remembering the process of how I learned to love dancing. And it occurred to me that it might be a good story to share, because it involves overcoming fear and awkwardness and that is so central to all our creative journeys, whether they involve dancing or not.

So here it is! The story of my creative breakthrough as a dancer:

… IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE WATCHING THE VIDEO, HERE IS THE TEXT …

I love to dance now, but I didn’t always feel that way. For many years I was super self conscious about my dancing. I felt like I didn’t move right, I didn’t get it, I thought I danced like a white girl and that was not a good thing, so whenever I was in a situation where dancing was called for I moved as little as possible and got out of there as soon as I could.

Of course when I was a kid I loved dancing. Every kid I’ve met has loved to dance, and it seems to be a natural reaction to hearing music they like, their bodies just move. So yeah, I loved dancing when I was five but by the time I was ten I was crippled with self-consciousness. And I think this is true for a lot of us, we hit adolescence and we get self conscious, we don’t trust our bodies, we feel like we don’t look right or talk right or move right, so we spend a lot of our energy hiding, and that’s what I did. I can remember standing at the edge of the gym during school dances, arms crossed, terrified and annoyed and waiting for the whole thing to be over.

For me, two things changed this, and I’m so glad they did. they were pretty random.

One of them was this one time at band camp – yes, this is a real story about band camp – when I was about 13. There was some sort of a dance we all had to go to, which normally I hated, but because I was at band camp, there was a freedom to be someone different, to explore different sides of myself. And I felt safe with my new friends and we were all outside our normal lives, so for some reason, the song Rockin Robin came on and I had a reaction of total love for that song and my inner five year old busted out and I started dancing like I was on fire.

And it was really clear to me in that moment that when I loved the music, I loved dancing. It didn’t carry over – I didn’t go home and love dancing from that moment on – but that awareness stuck with me, the joy I felt shedding my self consciousness in that moment.

Flash forward to my freshman year of college. I was hanging out in someone’s dorm room with some new friends. Somehow this girl I didn’t know very well and I got to talking about dancing, and I said, I don’t feel comfortable dancing, I don’t get it, I can’t do it. And she decided right then and there to give me a dance lesson. She put on some music and for about 30 minutes she watched me dance and pointed out to me what I was doing that made me look like stiff and uncomfortable and showed me some moves and helped me get comfortable enough to try them myself.

And I can remember the big aha moment: I thought the problem with my dancing was my flailing, awkward, hopelessly uncoordinated limbs, and my response was to bring them in and move them as little as possible. But she was like, you are barely moving! You gotta get in your body more, really move your body. Your arms and legs don’t matter, what matters is that your hips are moving. Let your arms and legs follow the core of your body.

OH! I’d been so fixated on what not to do, I hadn’t noticed what was missing, And she showed me what that meant, she drew my attention to my hips, and I had time and space to try it out and look stupid and hesitant and practice moving boldly and feeling foolish and laughing at myself and there was nothing humiliating about it. And by the end of those 30 minutes, I felt like I got it. Enough that the next time I was in a situation where dancing in public was called for, I felt confident moving to the music and realized: this is fun! This is a fun way to spend time with people! If I liked someone else’s moves, I could copy them. If the music didn’t speak to me, I could sit it out and jump up when a song I loved came on. I lost my self-consciousness, and now after 20 years of dancing I can say, I am a very confident dancer. This doesn’t mean I’m a good dancer necessarily – I think I am, but in the end it really doesn’t matter – because I like dancing.

When I look back on it, this is such a metaphor for any kind of creativity. You need time and space to move through that awkward phase, to do it badly, to do it wrong, to look stupid, to flail your arms, to hit the wrong note, to draw a shaky line, to write a meandering sentence. And the irony is, when you give yourself that room to do it fully and badly – that is how you move to rocking it.

I’d love to know if you had a formative experience, with dancing or any form of creative expression. What led to your breakthrough?

And if you’d like to join me for a six week process of breakthroughs and creating and failing and practicing being bold in a safe and loving space, the very first online version of my creative magic workout starts April 3! Wooooooo!

Here’s some Dr. John for you to dance along to:

The kind of magic I believe in

Two weeks ago, I finished up the first round of my new solo show / creative expedition. It was incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, which is funny, because at every step along the way, I had doubts about its worthiness as a project and my ability to pull it off.

I can’t tell you how many times I almost cancelled it. And each time, the question came down to — is the risk that this will be a disaster a risk I’m willing to take?

And each time — BARELY — my answer was yes. So I did it. And lo and behold: it was not a disaster. It was wonderful! We performed a ‘What If’ spell to imagine a world where we have what we want. We named the trolls in the room and charmed them into helping us. We summoned champions and felt their energy. We dissolved toxic spells and enacted an ‘As If’ spell to imagine ourselves engaged in a beloved community.

Someone asked me after the show: well, do you believe in magic?

I was a little taken aback, because to me there’s no question. Are my feelings not clear? Am I communicating something subconsciously, some doubt, some deep lingering hesitation?

But then again, the reason I am working on a show about believing in magic, the reason I’m building a creative workout program around it, is because I frequently forget about it.

It’s easy to find yourself lost in a fog of forgetfulness about what magic feels like and how it works. To feel adrift, floating along at the mercy of elements you don’t understand or control.

For me, when I’m lost in that fog, the way back to magic is through magic. It’s like self care: when I get busy or tired or stressed out, I stop taking care of myself, stop paying attention to my self-talk, stop drinking enough water, give in to the desire to eat starbursts instead of eating actual fruit. I stop drawing self-portraits in my daily dream journal. I forget how important it is to check in with my friends.

And it starts to feel all or nothing. It starts to feel like what is required to get me back into alignment with myself is something huge and insurmountable. When in fact, the way in is through small gestures, small tokens, small footsteps. One drink of water! One drink of water is all it takes for my body to remember what being refreshed feels like. One text to a friend is all it takes to set a time to get together over coffee. Five minutes of sitting with a pen and a blank page of my dream journal is all it takes to draw a self portrait and feel that rush of recognition. Five minutes of walking outside to give all my attention to a tree is all it takes to see some magic at work.

Does that sound silly? I am serious: go outside right now and look at a tree. Or a plant or a flower or a bug. You start to notice things you didn’t see before. And in that noticing, magic starts to creep back in, possibility creeps back in. The awareness that the world is much bigger than you can imagine creeps back in.

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The key for me is this: magic isn’t a THING. You don’t snap your fingers and it’s there, easy to digest. It’s not a pill or a trick or a simple set of directions. It’s a state we can enter, an energy we can feel and a power we can sense.

 

It’s a process and a practice. Magic is both what we are trying to summon, and the way to summon it.

For me, for many years, the practice took the form of live theatre, which uses all the elements of true magic: you create a space. You dim the lights. You invite people to sit in silence. And then you enact a ritual within that silence. You spellbind. You cast spells together. You tell stories. You take people on a journey in their mind.

These days I’m still fascinated with these tools, and with what we can do with them, in or outside of the theatre.

Because I know that in my life – incredible things have happened since I’ve switched the focus of my creative work.

I’ve talked before (here and here and here) about the radical change that came about when I stopped thinking of my life as a vehicle for my creative projects, and instead turned my life into a creative project.

The transition into motherhood 3.5 years ago was a rough one for me, and in order to find my footing, I had to use all the creative tools I could think of to survive. I drew pictures. I wrote poems. I wandered into a zumba class down the street from my house. I made up little songs to sing to my baby son to try (vainly) to get him to sleep.

All these things helped me survive, and the big surprise was, I came out of the transition stronger. For the first time since I was maybe 9 years old, I felt comfortable in my skin. I felt comfortable with my taste and with voicing my ideas, no matter how corny or naïve or half baked they might be. Because for the first time, I wasn’t pursuing them to please or placate or impress anyone but myself.

Since then I’ve become passionate about helping other people do this, because I’ve become more and more aware of how desperately we all need creative work, and how little room we’re given to pursue it. When you’re left to your own devices, it can be hard to pursue – because as soon as you do, trolls start jumping out from under bridges and dragons rise up out of your nightmares to frighten you out of your wits. There are a million ways to sedate that creative urge and not many ways to step into it.

So to answer my friend’s question: that is the kind of magic I believe in. The magic of the creative urge, and what happens when you follow it. It’s there if you start looking for it. It’s there if you take one small step towards it.

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(And if you want to join a Creative Magic Workout, we still have open spots! Heed the call, friend).

What if where you are is exactly where you need to be?

Hello everyone! How was your summer? Mine was a glorious mess of contradictions, so most of the time I was days behind in my creative self-work, sorting through the various stressors that had hijacked my nervous system.

When I did have time to catch up with myself – to dance around with my kiddo, to sit down and draw and write in my journal and ask questions and breathe – the knot would loosen enough for me to remember: OH YEAH.

Oh yeah – there’s no such thing as doing it perfectly.

Oh yeah – I am a human being and it’s okay to mess things up.

Oh yeah – that’s how I learn: by messing up. It’s okay for me to be honest about it! That’s the only way to learn from it.

Oh yeah – When I don’t have childcare, things go nuts. Right! I’ve been here before. This happened last summer. I can figure this out.

Oh yeah – what works for someone else might not work for me! That’s not because I am a FAILED HUMAN. This isn’t a contest. No one is winning the Best Mom Award.

Oh yeah – I don’t have to be hard on myself! That’s a choice. I can choose to be gentle and loving. When I do that, it’s easier to be gentle and loving with those around me. Especially my sweet little 3-year-old monster who is figuring out how to be a human being too.

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We relearn the same lessons over and over, don’t we? And then get mad at ourselves for not learning it the first time, even though of course we didn’t learn it the first time. Learning is circular and repetitive!

Look at how much you are learning right now. Look at how far you’ve come. Think of where you’ll be a year from now. What if what you’re doing right now is exactly what you need to do to get there?

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That question is a big one in my life.

I first heard it ten years ago, at a workshop led by an Australian performance artist named Margaret Cameron. The workshop was part of an international festival for women theatre artists. I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right choice to fly all the way to Denmark to take part, but here I was, in a workshop led by a woman wearing (in my memory anyway) a flowing muumuu and turban.

I tried to be open-minded but she seemed to be making it up on the spot, leading us on a ridiculous journey across the stage like we were children. I was jet-lagged and grumpy. What am I doing here? What am I supposed to be learning? What is she training us to do exactly? My inner teenager rolled her eyes HARD.

And then something happened. She asked several questions:

What if this is exactly where you need to be?

What if what you’re doing right now is exactly the right thing?

I know it’s not – but what if it was?

What if you are doing exactly what you need to be doing?

Something about these questions made me stop and notice that I had a running commentary in my head of this is dumb, you shouldn’t have come here, you’re not doing this right…

These were familiar thoughts. I realized that in most moments of my life, my brain was buzzing with this refrain.

And how liberating would it be to imagine – not even to believe, but to CONSIDER – that I might be doing some things right.

It felt radical and dangerous and ridiculous all at once. And in that moment, everything shifted. My energy shifted and suddenly this workshop was blowing my mind. Suddenly Margaret Cameron wasn’t some kook, she was a fucking genius.

I remember thinking, I wish I had the courage to do what Margaret Cameron does. To share my silliest, scariest, most heartfelt ideas and not care whether anyone thinks I’m a fool. To patiently wait for people’s resistance to fall away, or not.

Her blithe confidence seemed absolutely alien to me. I thought, maybe when I’m 80 I’ll be ballsy enough to do something like this.

Today I was thinking back to that time, and I realized: holy shit – not only was Margaret Cameron’s question a great exercise in shifting perspective – it was RIGHT.

I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment. I was doing exactly the right thing. Every single thing was the right thing, even the parts I thought I was doing wrong. They all led me to where I am today – a place I couldn’t imagine ten years ago.

I thought I could never be brave enough, confident enough to risk looking like a fool. But here I am!

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Where will I be ten years from now? I can only imagine, and experience tells me the reality will be wilder than my wildest vision.

So what if it’s true for you? What if everything you’re experiencing now is preparing you for where you’ll be in ten years?

Does anything shift when you ask yourself that question?

How to brag without sounding like a douchebag

I have a question for you. If I asked you to brag about yourself right now, what would you say? I imagine you would react by freezing up and mumbling and not doing a very good job. And you are not alone! Most of us find it difficult to brag. (By us I mean women, but if any of you dudes find it hard, this is for you too).

I’ve been thinking about why it’s difficult, and I think it’s this tension: on the one hand we want to feel respected and appreciated, to be seen as powerful. And on the other hand, we don’t want to sound like douchebags. We don’t want to bullshit people. It feels uncomfortable to make a claim about yourself that someone could knock down.

I have an exercise I use to get myself in a headspace to talk about my achievements without feeling that creeping horror of “they’re all gonna laugh at you” – one that helps me talk about my achievements without making it all about me. It’s a simple idea:

  1. Write down 3 of the hardest things you’ve ever done
  2. For each one, ask yourself: what was hard? What did you learn?
  3. Say it out loud: My name is [insert name], and I [did this hard thing]

That’s it! No elaboration required – you just SAY OUT LOUD THE HARD THINGS YOU’VE DONE. You aren’t lying or bullshitting. You are stating the facts, and sharing your growth, and letting whoever is listening draw their own conclusions.

I’ll show you what’s on my list. Off the top of my head, here are 3 hard things I’ve done:

  • I gave birth to my son after 44 hours of labor.
  • When I was 22, I moved to Oregon with my best friend. We had no plan, barely enough money and only knew one person out here.
  • 12 years ago, I took a show to Poland with my theatre company. We performed in many crazy situations, the craziest of which was doing the show in an open field at sunset while the set caught fire and burned down around us.

So let’s look at that last one. What was hard? It was grueling. I put myself in some dangerous situations. We could have died. It was scary. What did I learn? How to keep calm when the world (or set) is crashing down around you.  How to dodge fire. How to think on my feet. That I could handle the worst case scenario. And after that, performing onstage without fire seemed like no big deal.

From this, I can put together a pretty good brag. Like this:

I am Faith Helma, I worked for 15 years as performance artist. I made 20 shows. I performed in some crazy situations. Once I did a whole show while the set burned down around me. Two years ago, I hatched an idea to channel that creative energy into a coaching business. And instead of dismissing that idea, I took it seriously, and now I am running this business. I am failing and learning every single day. And I am being honest about my failures which scares the shit out of me but you know what? One thing you learn when you are performing a show while the set burns down around you is how to keep calm, how to think on your feet, and how to dodge fire. 

So now it’s your turn! Go through the steps, dig deep into what you’ve overcome in your life, and practice saying it out loud. And then if you’re up for an extra challenge: see if you can sneak it into conversation with another human being.

p.s. I wrote about this topic over a year ago, here: BOASTING PRACTICE . Back then I shared clips from two masters of the boast, Nicki Minaj and Muhammad Ali. Both of them start with something hard they did — making stupid mistakes when starting out, getting knocked down in fights — and spin that out into some righteous, braggadocious poetry.

 

Who is your failure hero?

Prince, of course, has been on my mind. It’s great to have heroes who show us what is possible – who shine like a beacon blazing a supernatural path*.

But I’ve been thinking — it’s also good to have heroes who show you what it looks like to stumble. Who blaze a trail of shit so you can say, hey, look at them – they made an ass of themselves, and I love them anyway.

So today I would like to encourage you to think about someone whose failure inspires you. Someone who has done something messy or ill advised or wrongheaded or ridiculous —  and despite all this, or maybe BECAUSE of it, they spoke to you.

For me, one of my failure heroes is Neil Young. He has many beautiful albums, but he also has some terrifically bad ones. One my favorites is Sleeps with Angels**. Half the songs on that album are transcendent and beautiful, and the other half fall flat. I don’t know why, but this is what makes it my favorite. It makes me feel like I know him. It lets me into his process. It lets me appreciate the easy magic of the beautiful songs even more.

Another hero for me is Jean Auel, the author of the Clan of the Cave Bear series. No disrespect to her, but each book is like 800 pages long, the characters repeat themselves, the moral lessons are easy to spot  and there are long, flowery, detailed sex scenes. I hope it doesn’t sound like I am criticizing her books because I LOVE them. I love that they exist in the world exactly as they are. They resonate with me and fill me with delight even as I am aware of how clunky they are.

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(This is not the first time I’ve asked, what would Ayla do?)

Is there someone or something like this for you – something ridiculous or shlocky or embarrassing that you love?

Study it, and take some lessons from it. What challenges could you take on from your hero?

For me, I can think of a few:

  • I could make an album of bad songs
  • I could go to an open mic and accompany myself on the 3 chords I kind of know how to play on guitar
  • I could sing covers of only the bad Neil Young songs
  • I could map out a novel of my ideal fantasy world
  • I could create a character who is a stand in for my ideals
  • I could let myself write a blog post that goes on way too long and says the same thing over and over
  • I could add a terrible sex scene to that post
  • Or I could come up with a series and every post in that series is a variation on the same thing. Like I could make this a series – the Failure Hero series – and just keep writing the same post over and over

What ideas do your failure heroes inspire for you? I would love to hear! (And if you want someone to help you embrace failure like the glorious hero that YOU are, contact me to set up a navigation session. It’s my offer of support and encouragement as you set out on your journey.)

footnotes:

* of course, it’s also good to remember that Prince did not feel like everything he did was a success. Apparently he thought he made an ass of himself in this incredible moment with James Brown and Michael Jackson – whereas I see someone effortlessly taking command of the stage and transforming it with ridiculous, sexy confidence. You never know how people are responding to what you think is a huge failure.

** this is weird: I am writing this in a coffee shop, and as I paused to gaze off into space and decide which album of Neil Young’s was my favorite, Razor Love came on.