Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Bad Ass: A sorta book review

I recently left a secure 9-5 to pursue my dream of being a full time speaker and writer. It was prompted by some changes that made my work environment toxic. I would come home so mentally and emotionally exhausted that I had no energy for the things and people I love. 

I contemplated my options for months. I spoke to my HR department twice. I looked at other positions within the institution. My options were super limited and I decided that it wouldn't help to trade one devil for another. Was I scared? Definitely. Did I feel like a crazy person leaving a job to go after something as abstract as motivational speaking? YES. Still do. But speaking is when I feel most invigorated. Each time I share my story I feel alive in a way that doesn't compare to any other facet of my life. Most people are terrified of speaking in public. I love it. I feel nervous beforehand but once I begin, I get in a zone that is like no other. 

Over my life I have felt propelled to do certain things that fit with my life at the time and are fulfilling. Speaking is another of those callings. As with any change in life, I feel fear, doubt and a sense of losing control. Those feelings sometimes manifest in middle of the night freak out thoughts that keep me up for hours, my mind racing with the all the worst case scenarios of my actions.

As I often do in times of uncertainty, I turned to books. I had heard of the book, YOU ARE A BAD ASS: HOW TO STOP DOUBTING YOUR GREATNESS AND START LIVING AN AWESOME LIFE. By the title it sounded like exactly the book I needed. In some ways it was, but I also had a mix of thoughts.

Like most books of this nature, it is a rallying call to put your goals out there and trust the universe to make it happen. It talks a bit about the author's path to leaving a job and pursuing her passion. Like most self-help books it gives very broad, general advice for how to do so and still feed your family. I was looking for tangible steps I could take that were beyond mantras and faith. I wanted to know how to identify the game-changers that could influence the universe. What is the first thing I should do in my pursuit of a career change? How do I establish my brand on a budget? I was looking for more of a guidebook with steps that I could cross off as I did them.

Lots of the advice was simpler than what reality seems to dish out. For example, at one point it mentions getting a small business loan if that is what is needed to make your dreams come true. While this is certainly a viable route, it reeked of privilege. It was stated as such a simple step with no accounting for the low percent of approved loans for women and people of color. It also did not account for people who have less than stellar credit, which is mostly marginalized communities. That  perspective of privilege tainted many parts of the book. 

Not to rag on the book because it was mostly enjoyable with humor and an easy tone but it was almost too light in its RAH-RAH YOU CAN DO IT LIKE I DID! approach. At points I felt uplifted when the author shared some examples of success but at other times I found myself wanting to scream, "Oh come on, it can't be that simple. The universe does not hand out opportunities on a silver platter!" 

Maybe part of my problem is that I am looking for insider tips for what I know takes hours of hard work, stepping out of my comfort zone and lots more faith than I have had in years. I wanted the book to tell me to send X-many emails a day to influencers; how to identify those recipients and what I should say to get them to want to book me. I wanted the book to tell me how to get over my aversion to phone conversations and what to say that doesn't sound awkward. That is the level of direction I wanted.

I needed a chapter titled: DO WHAT YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO DO TO GET WHERE YOU WANT TO GO because I was at Warren's side for the hours of research, networking and dedication to the business. I helped him with lots of it although he definitely did the bulk of the work.

I rebranded myself when I transitioned from Corporate America to nonprofits and when I went from nonprofits to academia. Those moves felt less intimidating because I was going from one job to another but I still had to reposition myself from what I was to what I was becoming. 

For some reason, this transition feels larger. Perhaps it's because I am the sole breadwinner for my family and that comes with tremendous pressure. Maybe it is because I am older and more apprehensive and cynical. It felt much more possible with my cheerleader/best friend at my side because I knew he had my back no matter the outcome or how long it took. He saw the best in everyone, including me and constantly reminded me to do the same. Left to my own devices I see the let downs and disappointments in people and mostly myself. I err on the side of little faith in the universe. Nothing I have accomplished came easy or felt handed to me. To believe that I put it out there and the universe takes care of it feels irresponsible. At the end of the day, the universe can't write a check to put food in my kid's mouth or clothes on her back and while the book was an easy read, it didn't take me where I needed to go to feel like a bad ass and an awesome life is just waiting for me simply because I desire it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Storytelling (again)

Over the weekend I had the honor of helping a local producer kick off her first event. It was special because it was woman with a vision and I love supporting women who go after their dreams. I was excited to be part of something that focused on women of color and is the first of its kind in my city. 

When I was asked to participate the title: STORIES TO TELL MY DAUGHTER excited me. Raising a teenager is difficult and I believe it takes a village so it would be a great way to have other women impart their wisdom and experience on my daughter and give her a varied perspective. It was also something I wanted to share with my own mother.

I said yes without a story in  mind. I figured it would come to me as I learned more about the event. When I met with the producer and she explained her vision, a story began to form. The problem was, I didn't want to share that story. It was extremely personal in a way that would lay me bare in a setting much more intimate than my previous storytelling experience. This would be a smaller venue, the audience would be physically closer. My social circle crossed with that of some of the other storytellers and the producer so I knew there would be a lot more familiar faces in the audience. That was intimidating given the vulnerability I would have sharing that story.

I wish I could say that I had some brilliant strategy for coming up with another story. Unfortunately, my strategy was procrastination. I should have written out the story many times and went over the timeline and details. I did not. Instead I started reading two new books and tried to justify my fears and hesitations by burying my head in someone else's story. I kept asking myself why I had to tell that particular story. I gave myself no viable response other than that was the story I needed to tell. Period. For weeks I fought with my procrastination and ignored my inner-voice. Even as I resisted, the story formed in my head. Without trying, I had a beginning, middle and end. I had the theme and knew how to weave it in without writing it out.

Weeks of this immature behavior went by and before I knew it, it was the night before rehearsal. With no other story formed, I gave in and wrote the one that wouldn't leave me alone. It came easily, which became a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to try a different technique for preparing to speak. Rather than rely on notes and outlines, I recorded the story and listened to it over and over again. It was helpful to hear it in my own voice. I was able to focus on the pace, pauses, alliterations, repetitions and the inflections of my voice. With my focus on those elements of the story I was less worried about the content. I was still telling the story that my heart wouldn't allow me to ignore, but I found a way to be less worried about it. 

At rehearsal I let it flow and was pleasantly surprised. It was more polished than I expected although I hadn't spent much time memorizing exactly what to say. The reaction of my fellow storytellers was reassuring. They each shared how they related to what I shared and how important it was to put that story into the universe. By the time I left rehearsal, I better understood why that story had been so stubborn.

On the day of the event I was more nervous than I expected. I got to the venue an hour early and it helped to be in the space where I would speak. I generally don't feel a need to be in the space where I am speaking much more than a few minutes before I begin but it felt necessary in this instance. I envisioned the seats filled and how I would appear to the audience. I was glad that my mother, brother, daughter boyfriend and best friend would be there, although I had no intention of making eye contact with them for fear my throat would lock mid-story.
My stomach was a hurricane and my knees shook as the MC introduced me but once I got out the first line, all that melted away. I got through my story with no locked throat, no tears and no other mishaps. It was me and the audience and I felt electric and warm. I connected with the room and felt as though I was talking to close friends. That warmth carried through to the end of the event when audience members came to congratulate me. One person in particular smiled with misty eyes and hugged me, completely wordlessly. I did not know this woman but in her embrace I felt like I peeked into her story and intertwined my own to form a bond. It was a lovely and exhilarating moment between two strangers that also felt deeply personal and familiar. At that moment I shot up a little thank you to the universe for the courage to tell that story and not allowing my own fears to steer me away from what that women needed. It was a wonderful reminder that our stories truly are a gift to those who hear or read them and should be respected as such. 

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