Conquering Fear

img_7555Two words: Audience. Participation.

If those words don’t cause a negative physical reaction when you read them, this post isn’t for you. If, however, you suffered an involuntary shudder when you read them or maybe threw up a little in your mouth, you will appreciate this post.

Last week I heard words I have come to dread, “Hey, do you want to go to the Brewery Follies?” I have nothing against the performers of the follies, they are arguably some of the most talented people I have ever seen perform. I simultaneously laugh and marvel at that show more than any other. Heck, I would go every year if it wasn’t for their penchant for including random members of the audience in their performance.

If you read my post last week about introversion, it should come as no surprise I would frown on audience participation. It’s everything my introverted self hates. Talking in front of strangers without preparation. Being the center of attention. And in the case of the follies, strangers looking at me while laughing. It’s the stuff of my nightmares.

I have been to the Brewery Follies many times in the last 17 years and have devised strategies to avoid being in their target. Sit in the back. Don’t make eye contact. Bring more outgoing people with me who thrive on such things. Use the bathroom at opportune times. Duck down behind the people in front of me. Fake a coughing fit and run from the room when they head my way. You know, those kinds of things.

It has always worked.

Until this week.

Sure enough, two songs from the end, just as I was beginning to breathe and relax thinking I had escaped once again, they did the unthinkable. They started down my row. In the back.

My mind started to race. My palms started to sweat. I began to hyperventilate. What was happening?!? They’d never come down the back rows. Ever. In all seventeen years. My internal dialogue kicked in.

Crap. Is he headed towards me?

 No. He stopped at that other woman.

 Shit. He’s moving down my row and his bit isn’t over yet.

 What did I just do?! Did I make eye contact? I’m doomed.

 Yep. He’s coming towards me and still talking.

 Do I make a break for it? Do I push my friend in front of him? Put my hood over my head? No, that would make it worse.

 Fuck. He’s here. He’s standing above me. People are turning and laughing. Don’t look up. Don’t. Look. Up.

 Crap. I looked up.

 He’s looking down at me. Am I supposed to respond? What did he just say anyway?

 For God’s sake, breathe. This is not the end of the world. You’re being brave remember. No one is judging you, they are just enjoying his performance. You should too. Suck it up. Be in the present. Enjoy the moment.

 Wait. Where’s he going? That’s it?

 Well that wasn’t so bad.

And that quickly it was over. The entire experience lasted less than ten seconds. I survived. I have dreaded being chosen for seventeen years, more often than not turning down invitations to go because of it. And here it wasn’t so bad. In fact, the fear I’ve had of it for this many years was way worse than the actual experience. What a bunch of wasted time worrying.

And isn’t that the thing about fear?

Often my feelings of fear leading up to a moment are worse than the actual experience I fear. It does make me wonder if I’m missing out. What if I just embraced the anxious feelings and faced my fears? What if I stopped letting fear push me around? What might I experience that I would otherwise miss out on? Where would my life lead me?

It’s really just a small shift in thought, a change in internal dialogue, to conquer fear. But could that small shift alter this journey from one I’m reluctantly on to free myself from things that bind me to one of expectation and anticipation? By deliberately turning to face fear, can I remove its power?

Can I transform from a victim of fear to a warrior against the power of fear?

Because I find I love that image.

A warrior against fear wouldn’t be pushed around by public speaking, groups of smart women, hard conversations, failure, risks, rejection, audience participation, or grasshoppers. (Yes, grasshoppers. Ironically the smallest item on the list is my largest fear.) Because she would always have a greater purpose: to defeat the fear that keeps me from achieving big things, trying new things, or experiencing the fullness of life while I’m alive to live it.

She would fight to free me so I can be the best version of me.

And as I think it, write it, read it, I realize she’s been in me all along. In this moment it’s as if I’ve finally turned and noticed her waiting in the wings ready to spring into action. In fact, I suspect it’s this little warrior me who prompted me to write this blog in the first place. Perhaps it’s her first act to remove the power of fear from my life.

Now that I know she’s there, now that I’m setting her free to battle fear, who knows what will happen? Maybe the next time you’re at the Brewery Follies you’ll see me eagerly awaiting the start of the show from the very front row.


An Introvert’s Silent Struggle

ae16ae12-d6a8-42a8-be3b-f31cd65b2090I’m an introvert.

Most people don’t believe me when I say it; they’ve only known me as a go-getter. A professional leader. Someone who can talk with any client, lead any meeting. A public speaker. The fact that people think I’m an extrovert speaks to just how well I’ve been conditioned to go against my nature.

The world celebrates extroverts. Somewhere along the way, having a bubbly personality, a group work spirit, endless energy and optimism, and the ability to be the life of the party became our society’s ideal. Those of us who are exhausted just by reading that list have felt ignored, or worse, reshaped to fit the world’s mold.

From the time I entered kindergarten, people have tried to mold me into something I’m not. My academic career was filled with cooperative school projects where in the name of learning to work together I was assigned to a task with a group of my peers.

I hated it.

I was paralyzed by the discomfort I felt working with other people. I couldn’t think well. The noise of the group crowded out the thoughts I was reaching for to complete the assignment. The only way I could function was to let the group talk amongst themselves while I quietly did the project for everyone. Instead of learning the power of collaboration, I learned I was different and awkward. I learned I was easy to take advantage of.

Throughout my formative years, magazines, tv shows, movies, all of pop culture celebrated extroverts and gave me tips on how to be well liked, to overcome my shyness, to be the center of attention. I was bombarded with messages that how I was naturally wired wasn’t right, but how if I worked hard, I could learn the skills I needed to be accepted.

So I did.

I learned to speak up with strangers, fill awkward pauses in conversation, make eye contact. I learned how to function in a room full of strangers. I learned to work cooperatively with others even if I get ten times as much done when I work alone in a quiet room. I learned to smile when I didn’t feel like it. I learned to drink alcohol so I would have energy to converse long into the night.

I learned to fake it. Really well.

It wasn’t until the last couple of years that the world started talking about introversion and what we are losing as a society by trying to mold introverts into something else (thank you Susan Cain for your book Quiet). Reading that my tendencies are not the effect of mis-wiring, but rather classic traits of introverts, was the first inkling I had that maybe there wasn’t something wrong with me, that instead I might actually have a valuable life perspective.

It was freeing.

Since then I have tried to embrace and honor my introverted tendencies. I celebrate that I seek stillness in a world of noise. I rejoice when I happen to catch a bird doing something fascinating knowing most of the world doesn’t even notice them. I give myself permission to retreat and recharge knowing time alone in a quiet place is the only way I regain energy. I dig in to heart issues with people, knowing meaningful conversation is the only kind that fills me up. I carve out time to write, knowing that my reflective nature is able to put words to things others struggle to describe.

But even still, it can be hard. The world doesn’t understand why I need certain things. And since I can’t always explain why, the feelings of those I love can get hurt easily.

It’s far easier to keep faking it, to keep everyone’s needs met and their happiness levels high.

But it doesn’t feel braver.

And I want to be brave.

Being brave means honoring my introverted nature even when it’s hard. Being brave means protecting those I love from who I become when my energy tank is zero by carving out time to recharge. Being brave is having the courage to be who I was made to be even if the world never understands me. Being brave is standing up for my younger bullied self by being now who she wanted to be then.

Being brave is giving myself permission to just. be. me.

So if you need to reach me, I’ll be home alone quietly writing in my journal while occasionally stopping to watch the birds out my window. And if you wouldn’t mind emailing me instead of calling, that would be appreciated.

A request my introverted friends will understand perfectly.


Little Painter

Getting started

Taking the first step

For years I have collected artwork from all over the world. Finding local artists with styles I love in each country I visit is one of my favorite parts of travel. As a result, my home is covered in paintings from the farthest corners of the world. Every day they remind me of my experiences traveling, the people I met, the lessons I learned while I was there. Together they build a strangely beautiful timeline of my life seasons.

Collecting beautiful artwork is much easier than creating it, yet I’ve had a secret desire to learn to paint for years. When I was a little girl, I loved to paint, to color, to draw. I spent much of my time expressing myself through these mediums for they suited my reflective and quiet nature.

That changed when I was in sixth grade.

I had signed up for art class. I was excited. I wanted to learn more, to become a better painter, to find new ways and techniques to express how I was feeling through art. I chose a seat in class in the back corner. I didn’t want to be in a place where others could watch what I was doing. I wanted to be a fly on the wall soaking up the lessons and quietly applying them to my own canvass. I was shy, quiet, and awkward; a reflective introvert in a world of extroverts. Under no circumstances did I want any attention on me. The back corner suited me perfectly.

Each day, the teacher would highlight a technique then turn on the radio while we worked, encouraging each of us to get lost in the artistic moment. I loved it. I got to learn, quietly apply the lesson, sinking into the quiet and the music as I painted my soul onto the blank canvass.

That year, the band Starship released a new song. A song titled Sara. I loved the song. I loved that they spelled Sara the same way I spelled my name. I loved that the melody was quietly passionate, like me. It quickly became a favorite, I loved everything about it.

Until it came on the radio during art class.

Suddenly what could have been a perfect moment merging two things I loved turned into my worst nightmare.

Looking back, I doubt my classmates meant any harm. But for a quiet kid who just wanted to go unnoticed, having their attention turned to me while I was painting something personal changed me. Suddenly everyone was singing along to the chorus, directing their song in my direction. Someone asked why I wasn’t singing along when the song was about me. They came a bit closer, singing at me and invading my personal space. My face turned red with embarrassment.

YouTube tells me the song is under five minutes long. It felt like an eternity. In that moment, something I loved, an expression of who I was, became woven together with pain and embarrassment. It became unsafe.

I never picked up a paintbrush again.

Until this weekend.

This weekend to celebrate my birthday, Kris’ family suggested we go to a local gallery and sip wine while we learn to paint. I hesitated.

Yet underneath the surface fear, so faint I could barely hear it, that little girl who once loved to paint whispered, “Please. Can we?”

painting-the-wallSo we did. My painting was far from perfect. But no one laughed or judged. And while there was music and singing, none of it was directed at me. There was no Starship on the playlist this time.

Instead, there was joy. There was laughter. There was the building of memories. There was peace. There was freedom. There was a remembrance of an activity once loved and plans made for future painting sessions.

Most importantly, there was redemption for the younger me in every brushstroke. She is finally getting her voice, her validation, and her freedom back.

That makes this painting extra beautiful.




Hot Yoga

FullSizeRender 6The alarm went off at full volume and I cracked an eyelid open. It was dark outside the windows and cold outside the blankets. With a sigh of resignation I reluctantly pushed the covers back and dropped my feet to the floor. Beside me my dog didn’t even lift his head. It was too early even for him.

Today was the day.

Kris and I had decided to try something new. As with everything lately, my immediate response when he first suggested it was a resounding no followed by excuses to try and soften the force of my answer. “It’s too early. I’m not flexible enough. The last time I tried it I found it so boring. What if I pass out from the heat?”

He had proposed we try hot yoga. There was a new studio in town that was offering a fantastic Groupon deal and Kris had heard good things about it from his co-workers.

My excuses were met with a quiet eyebrow raise. That’s all it takes these days to remind me I’m trying to be brave, not perfect. It gives me an uncomfortable extra second to stop and notice that behind the excuses is my fear of not doing something well.  Fear of imperfection, my constant companion.

So we bought a 20 session pass. This was our first day. It was 5:00 in the morning.

That morning began my obsession and love for yoga. Much to my surprise, returning to yoga in my 40’s has been beautiful. My mind has become quieter and more reflective as I’ve aged. Learning techniques that build on that while challenging me physically stretches me in new ways. I have an appreciation for it I didn’t have when I was younger and focused on speeding through each day endlessly trying to prove myself until I collapsed in exhaustion. I find I crave it now, looking forward to each hour where I’m focused only on my breath and how my body feels, connecting with my physical self in a way I never have before.

I am not the best student. Far from it. I am certainly nowhere near perfect. But I am seeing progress. Slow but steady progress and that’s encouraging.

But it is hot. So hot.

Sumits Yoga is done in a room heated to 105 degrees. Half the challenge is staying upright and balanced on one leg as my area becomes slick with sweat. The other half is trying to focus so I can balance as sweat pours into my eyes blurring my vision. It took only ten minutes of the first class to understand why everyone in class was barely dressed.

I have been the exception.

While I made peace with my inflexibility early on since I was working hard to even bend into a forward fold as others did so with ease resting their foreheads on the floor, long held body insecurities have kept me fully covered and extra hot.

Like most women I struggle with body image. Even when I was a size 2 and in great shape I obsessed about the small amount of extra flab I simply couldn’t shed around my midsection. During my divorce I kissed size 2 goodbye and actually learned to love my body a bit more, embracing it for what it could do rather than beating it up for my perceived imperfections.

But that didn’t mean I was anxious to strip down to a sports bra in a room of strangers.

Recently though, my inability to do so when I am beyond overheating has annoyed me. The purpose of yoga is to focus on myself, my strength, my balance, my practice, my flexibility, my breath. Looking at or judging others goes against all the practice stands for. Given I was surrounded by yoga enthusiasts, what was I afraid of? In theory, there wasn’t a group of people less likely to notice or judge my jiggly areas.

So the other day I did it.

Halfway through the session, bathed in sweat and wishing for a touch of relief, I shed my shirt.

And nothing happened.

No one giggled or pointed. No one did a double take. No one even looked my way.

No one cared.

In fact, the only thing that happened was I felt freer, and braver, and one smidgeon of a bit cooler. While every smidgeon of coolness counts in hot yoga, that isn’t why I will continue to shed my shirt.

I will do so to fight back against the voice in my head that tells me my body isn’t perfect enough, pretty enough, or strong enough to be shown to the world.

I will do so because I’m learning the feeling that comes with being brave is far more powerful than that voice, and is best tool I have to silence it once and for all.

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