Embrace Imperfection

embrace imperfection

Embracing my own imperfection and learning to ask for critical feedback is one of my biggest growing edges at the moment. After decades of trying to look perfect, I am discovering the power of showing others my flaws. The result is better work, deeper friendships, and a more pervasive sense of ease in my life.

A week or so ago, I found myself saying to a friend about something I wrote, “What I really want to know is where you disagree with me.” And I meant it.

I want to conquer the sloppy thinking that I got in the habit of during my years of education where sloppy was good enough. Somewhere in my childhood, I adopted an expectation that I should be perfect. I did not develop skills for working through failure to success because success came easily.

I got As in school without trying. Although this sounds nice to people who haven’t lived it, it had a serious drawback. I never learned to work hard for anything; in fact, I learned to run away from challenges and give up easily. For most people, school provides many opportunities to practice tackling material beyond easy comprehension. For me, I didn’t reach that until the mathematics classes I took after calculus. By then, mathematics was optional for my education and I dropped math completely because I figured I just wasn’t good at math. The fact that I was 17 and doing advanced college mathematics didn’t register at all. The truth was that I was excellent at math, but I had never had to work at it so I had no idea how to approach a challenging problem.

Later, at Harvard Law School, I figured out that I could graduate with low honors by showing up in class and spending a week each semester studying for exams or I could study all day long and maybe do a little better. I chose to spend my time in rehearsal instead of the library.

Luckily, the hurdles to jump if you want to traditionally publish fiction are immense. Despite starting with a modicum of talent, I have had to work hard to improve my writing and learn how to overcome my own limitations.

Learning to accept critiques of my stories has allowed my writing to improve much faster than I could have figured out on my own.

But, more importantly, it has taught me a huge amount about making deep connections between people. Showing early drafts to others necessarily reveals your imperfection. The whole point is to put your weak work out there for people to see, to point out what can be improved. By its very nature, the process puts a spotlight on your current failure to meet your own goal. Creative work comes from our deep selves. Even though good critique focuses on the work itself, the work is so personal that I feel exposed when I share. By talking with people about the weaknesses in the work, I reveal the weaknesses in my thinking processes, my writing skills, and my understanding of people and the world.

When the critique focuses on the work and the reader’s experience of the work, the pressure is taken off the writer’s psyche. And, at the same time, the acceptance of the work as it is invites acceptance of the writer as they are. And, when a small group of people do this work together, an intimacy develops. It starts with care for each other’s work, but becomes a connection between individuals, mediated by the work.

Embracing imperfection in myself and sharing my insecurities and challenges with people lets them see me, not my persona, my deeper self. And this is transformative. It is when this deeper self gets seen and witnessed without judgement that we develop both deeper acceptance of ourselves and intimate connections with others.

We have to risk being judged in order to be seen at all.

I have learned this lesson in an intellectual way through my writing and through learning to accept critique.

However, intellectual learning is not enough for deep change. Carl Jung wrote in The Undiscovered Self that a person must have inner experiences of their deep self to maintain freedom and autonomy in the face of the inevitable social structures that pressure individuals to become bodies performing social roles. This deep self is that vulnerable, imperfect, unique individual.

InterPlay has given me fully embodied inner experiences of being acceptable in my vulnerable imperfection. One of the gifts of InterPlay is that leaders create invitations for the individual to show up as much or as little as the participant wants. In a group setting, nervous newcomers often discover their own willingness to let themselves be seen by observing others as they share themselves and are fully witnessed. In a one-on-one coaching environment, the coach creates the invitation more directly, but still gently.

I have taken decades to learn how to ask for help, so I have learned everything the hard way. It is amazing how much faster and easier change is when I embrace my imperfections and address them directly. And the indirect benefit of becoming more deeply connected with people and more at ease with myself is the best part of the whole process.

The principles and practices of InterPlay are the foundations of my coaching practice. To experience the power of this approach for yourself, join me for a free Focus Session.

 

 

 

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

Leaving Facebook

 

This morning, many of my friends were surprised to see me post on Facebook that I am taking an indefinite leave of absence from that social media site. I have been very active on Facebook over the past few years and I have fabulous conversations with dear friends, wonderful colleagues, and friends of friends who I would not have met any other way.

I Love Facebook

One of the things about being an outlier is that local communities tend to offer small numbers of people who understand you. But, Facebook allows me to keep in touch with most of the people I have really clicked with in real life. I had 3 close friends in elementary school, 1 best friend in middle school, 3 deep friends at drama camp, larger groups from the congregated gifted program at my high school, the colleges I went to, etc. Every major stage of my life yielded at least one friend I was sorry to part from when life developed in ways that meant moving. It is astonishing how many of those people I manage to have in-depth conversations with via Facebook despite thousands of miles between us.

My husband’s family is all in England and we rarely see them but stay connected through Facebook. I have nephews I have only seen on video chats and Facebook. Because the extended family posts pictures and silly stories on Facebook, I have a relationship with folks I would not make the time to write regular letters to. Each connection may not feel like much, but I have a sense of who these people are that I would never have if we only met at weddings and funerals. This is my family. For us, Facebook is a tool for cultivating love.

I participate in communities with very specific interests and issues. For example, Facebook is fabulous for parents of twice-exceptional kids to connect. By definition, we are stressed. Our kids need crazy amounts of attention. We burn out easily. We find ourselves awake at strange times, exhausted and only capable of communicating in controlled fashion. And, our kids are rare in the population. One of my sons was described by the principal of his K-8 elementary school of 500 kids as “the most challenging kid in this school”, and they couldn’t remember ever working with a student that bright with that many challenges. I can log on to Facebook and talk to 20 parents of similar children who are seen as unique by their schools. I discover that I am not alone and hear about other kids like mine.

And then there is the intellectual stimulation. My friends post all sorts of fascinating articles. And I follow all sorts of organizations that post intellectually interesting material. Between them, I have a never-ending supply of stimulation for my intellectual over-excitabilities.

So Why Am I Leaving?

 

Facebook is Interfering with My Writing, Especially This Blog

I get a lot of my best intellectual stimulation from Facebook. When I turn around and forward things to my timeline or one of the pages I run, I move that idea out into the world without giving it time to mix with other ideas in my brain or my daily, embodied experiences.

My brain thinks it has dealt with the material and files it in “done” or forgets it. And I have fewer ideas to write about, both in my fiction and in my blogging.

When I post less on Facebook, I have more motivation and more time to blog, and I am better at it.

The number of half-baked, under-cooked blog posts I have failed to complete since my Facebook time became out-of-control is frankly inexcusable.

I need to leave ideas in my head for longer before I act on them or move them out. Less Facebook will help me do that.

I Need to Be More Present in My Daily Life

My life is stressful. I have 4 crazy, wild, wonderful, creative, brilliant, stubborn kids. According to the school district, they all have special needs. (Let me tell you now how awesome it is to live in a school district where all gifted kids are seen as having individual special needs, not just my obviously twice-exceptional kids.) My husband’s job has been stressful for years and got worse for a bit this year. I started a business last year. Over the winter, I got pneumonia and my husband broke 3 ribs. It has been a rough 6-9 months.

Given the combination of stressors in real life and the awesomeness of Facebook, it is not surprising that I have used Facebook as a way of escaping from the difficult parts of my life. The connections with people not connected to my daily stress and the intellectual stimulation have been an amazing distraction.

But, my husband has started complaining that I am on Facebook when he wants to be with me. And I have found myself in the habit of being on my phone chatting with friends instead of being fully present for my kids. These habits are bad. My husband and kids need my attention. If I don’t pay full attention to them, not only do they get upset with me for good reason, but I enjoy my time with them less.

I need to get control of my smart phone habits. I need to be more present with my kids. How can I know who they are if I don’t take the time to see them. Are my own kids in the room with me less valuable to me than nephews I have never seen? They shouldn’t be.

To the extent Facebook is damaging my family, I need to stop.

Why Don’t I Just Cut Back?

I have tried and I can’t do it.

You see, there is always something happening on Facebook. My most recent post or the conversation I have been having since this morning may be generating comments at any time. I find myself with a compulsion to check. And I can check from my phone anywhere, at any time.

That is too easy.

One weak moment and I have failed.

Changing habits is hard. It is much easier to replace a behaviour entirely than to moderate it. I don’t need Facebook. By cutting myself off completely for some time, I will be forced to replace my Facebooking habits with other things.

Once I have filled my time with non-Facebook habits, then I can see if my life is enriched by adding Facebook back into my life. I suspect it will be. But I have to replace the habits first.

How Long Will it Take to Make The Changes I Need to Make?

I don’t know.

Gurus say it takes 21 or 28 days to change a habit, but it isn’t true. Long standing habits in adults can take much longer to change. 60 days is not uncommon for deeply ingrained habits.

Changing a habit requires making new connections in your brain that are stronger than the connections that already exist. My obsessive Facebook checking has been reinforced to an unknown level. I cannot predict how long it will take to replace the craving for an update with the instinct of going for a run, laughing with my kids, watching them play, writing a few sentences, drinking a glass of water, calling a friend, or folding the laundry.

How will I know that it might be safe to test the waters again? When I no longer feel the need to. When it feels like an option, not a compulsion. Until I can make that distinction, I am taking a break.

I can’t wait to see how I fill the time. And I am looking forward to reconnecting with my family at the level that nurtures us all deeply.

How to Deal With Fear

fear
The Nature of Fear

I have a bad habit of letting fear paralyze me. The reasons for this are deeply rooted in my subjective experience during childhood and many of them have very little to do with either objective reality or the present. And, digging into the past to uncover the whys and wherefores of this habit is truly less important that figuring out how to change the habit.

I have many of the same basic fears as every other human – of dying, being abandoned, not being loved, losing loved ones, not having enough food, safety, shelter, etc.

My fears that are more personal to me come from the intersection of the more general fears and my personal experience.

So, having been praised for good grades and stellar academic work as I child, I connected a sense of love from my family with perfect performance at school. Eventually, this warped into a perceived need to be perfect in my achievements in order to be loved. From my current perspective, I know that this is not true. I have seen my family embrace imperfect people with deep love, but the conclusions I came to as a child about how the world works still hold sway in my subconscious processing.

Over the decades, I have shied away from many opportunities because I feared I would not be seen as competent at first. I have a perennial discomfort with things I do not know or understand. As a result, I have not stretched far enough out of my own comfort zone to grow into the person I always hoped I would be.

But, I keep growing. As I get older, I see the value in stretching beyond my comfort zone, and through practice, the experience of stretching is slowly becoming part of my comfort zone. And, as a result, I am developing courage and grit in new and beneficial ways.

Dealing with Fear

1. Notice how fear shows up in your life

For me, fear often shows up as procrastination. If there is something I think I want to do but don’t do, there is often a fear behind it.

Fear shows up as emotional numbness. If I stop enjoying things that usually bring me pleasure, I maybe blocking uncomfortable feelings. For me, fear and anger are the two most likely culprits.

2. Take action

Identify the fear.

If it is a rational fear, take what steps you can to mitigate the risks involved.

Do something that is part of the task triggering the fear. A small step is often enough to get over the emotional speedbump that is stopping you.

3. Rinse and repeat

Over time, the power that fear has over you will diminish.

How do I know? Because years of practice as an actor have taught me how to move forward in performance and public speaking despite fear. I know that these simple to explain, but not always so easy to do, steps applied in any one fear-making direction will eventually change my comfort zone.

And, I know from my own experience that my art, my work, and my personal life all benefit from this approach to not letting fear stand in my way.

I am always interesting in learning how to move past fear. What do you use to move forward when courage is required?

Growing a Young Writer: Inspiration by Observation

Magnetic poetry is great for kids just learning to write.

Magnetic poetry is great for kids just learning to write.

I have been watching my eldest son’s development as a writer closely. He has a natural gift for story-telling and I want to support him without pushing him too hard.

As a young child, he acted out television shows and video-games, but not as rote repetition of what he had seen. No. He was taking the characters and the patterns of narrative structure and writing new stories within the given world – fan fiction.

Once he learned to read and write, he started writing and drawing comic books, with Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books as his primary inspiration. If George and Harold could make their own comic books, then so could he.

As he has grown older, his willingness to write longer pieces of prose has grown, as has his frustration with the quality of his art work. He has started thinking about how a comic book is often written by one person and drawn and inked by another. He isn’t ready to collaborate on his creations, but he has started thinking about the possibilities.

Like many smart kids, he is used to getting things right the first time, and the idea of revision hurts him deeply.

Over the past year, I have started sharing some of my writing with him in unpolished form. I make sure that my marked-up manuscripts are lying around to be observed and I talk about how I need to fix my novel. My goal is to show him a process of improvement. He sees me as beyond him in the way I see my favourite authors as beyond my skills. Modeling the process by which I improve my writing – taking classes, asking friends for advice, rewriting and more rewriting – I am sharing tools I hope will help him stick with his own work through the times where he looks at what he produces and thinks it sucks.

Recently, he has started writing a prose story during his free time at school. Today, I learned from his teacher that he is being given extra time on the computer in order to work on the story after he finishes his class work. The teacher is impressed by his focus and persistence when he is working on this project.

When I asked my son about this new development, he said, “What I write on the computer is different than what I start writing on paper. I make changes as I type it in, to make it better and longer.” When I heard that, I wanted to jump up and down and shout, “He’s editing. He’s revising.” I held myself in and simply said, “Makes sense.”

This is a sensitive kid I am dealing with: a kid with a love of story I recognize and want to support, but also a kid with a profound need to do things his way. The chances are he will have a teacher along the way who says the wrong thing. Both my husband and I gave up creative writing in response to teachers who bruised us emotionally. I came back to it; my husband never did. I am hoping I can give my son a strong enough foundation to get him through whatever he encounters.

And after struggling to teach him explicitly during the year he was home-schooling, it appears my strongest teaching tool is simply to let him see me working.

I have a new post, Never Throw Away a Cardboard Box, up at An Intense Life. Please stop by and take a look.

Seth Godin Pissed My Friends Off—and He Was Wrong, Too

 

I am not a Seth Godin fan, never really have been. He says some good things about marketing and life, but I don’t like his style.

However, many people I respect have a lot of time for what he has to say.

On Friday, he pissed them off.

See, he posted one of his little tiny blog posts on the concept of “gifted”. If he intended to be provocative and controversial, he succeeded.

In his post, he said: ”

Wouldn’t it be great to be gifted? In fact…

It turns out that choices lead to habits.

Habits become talents.

Talents are labeled gifts.

You’re not born this way, you get this way.”

He is wrong. Gifted and Talented are two different things.

“Gifted” is a biological reality, a sensitivity to stimulus. “Talented” is having skills.

Skills require habits of practice to be developed.

It is possible to achieve great things without gifted wiring through hard work, good choices, habits turned into talents. It is possible to have the gifted sensitivities and not achieve great things. But, the most impressive accomplishments of our world generally require both: start with an intellectual advantage and apply yourself.

The reason I am an advocate for individualized education is that without sufficient challenge, many gifted youth learn to slack off rather than apply themselves.

People who say things like Godin did make my job harder.

Gifted people are often seen as “weird” when compared to neurotypical people. Many adults suffered hugely for this as children. Godin’s exhortations over the years for people to embrace and display their unique qualities have spoken deeply and soothingly to many who keep my company in the world of gifted advocacy. Friday’s blog post hurt them deeply. And I understand why.

None of these people are people who think there is any value in being gifted for its own sake. In fact, most of them have suffered because of their giftedness. All of them agree that hard work is necessary for achievement.

Either Godin doesn’t understand or he is being deliberatively provocative. Either way, he pissed my friends off and I am mad at him.

I am not the only one. Here are some other responses to Godin’s post. Check them out and then come back and tell me what you think:

 

 

 

 

 

Giftedness, Creativity, and Storytelling – and Imposter Syndrome

It is the International Week of the Gifted 2012. Around the blogosphere, advocates for gifted adults and gifted children are writing about giftedness with a particular enthusiasm and energy. The World Council for Gifted and Talented Children is encouraging the use of International Week of the Gifted to pave the way for the International Year of Giftedness and Creativity 2013 with the theme “Stories and Story Sharing”.

Giftedness, creativity, and the power of sharing our stories are three of my passions. I feel compelled to do something, organize something, create something.

If I had my druthers, I would organize a series of workshops, offered to gifted children and their parents, using the storytelling tools of InterPlay to help them tell their own stories, hear each other’s stories, and share them through a public performance. I have the training to do this, but I am not sure I have the time, and I definitely worry about whether I have the gumption.

You see, I suffer from the great gifted woman’s disorder: Imposter Syndrome. Essentially, Imposter Syndrome involves constantly feeling like a fraud, like you are not as competent as people around you, and as they think you are. There is an accompanying fear of being “found out” and a lack of willingness to put oneself forth as a resource.

In my case, it manifests as a reluctance to set up workshops because I fear no one will come and that if they do come, they will feel like they have wasted their money. But, I know from past experience that I am a good teacher and a good director. When I lead InterPlay workshops, people enjoy them and many folks want to know how they can experience more.

Lisa Rivero’s article Who Do You Think You Are? Re-Thinking the Imposter Syndrome introduced me to the idea that the feelings of being an imposter may be a sign that one is heading in the right direction and that one should lean into the fear and work through it rather than letting it stop you. That idea resonates with me.

If you had asked me when I was 14, what work I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have said I wanted to run a theatre and associated theatre school. A few years later, I saw a performance by teenagers of monologues they had written about their own lives and was struck by the immense power of people telling their own stories in performance. I spent the next 15 years working in theatre, remembering the power of the autobiographical performances, yearning to be part of such things, and yet not doing any work in that area. Until I found InterPlay.

When I discovered InterPlay, I was teaching a class called Sacred Bodies, Sacred Play at Starr King School for the Ministry. I had developed a collection of tools for triggering spiritual experiences through physical play and creativity and was sharing them in the class I was teaching. The overlap between the forms I had discovered myself and was teaching in that class and the forms of InterPlay were uncanny.

But, I had not been formulating my system into a teachable tool for very long and Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter had been working on InterPlay for decades. InterPlay was in many ways simply further along the path than I was. More than that, InterPlay had developed the tools for combining the physical body, the spirit of play, and improvised performance into truth-telling performances sharing deep stories, thereby joining my play-based work with the power of performance autobiography that I had witnessed so many years before. It is no wonder that I started the InterPlay Teacher Training Program immediately after finishing my first class.

After completing the training, I didn’t dive right into teaching. For good reason. I was moving internationally while pregnant with triplets. I was otherwise occupied.

It is now time for me to start offering classes and workshops.

And, I feel the fear of the Imposter Syndrome surrounding me, telling me I am heading in an important direction, considering a meaningful path, and must take action.

I am not an Imposter. I am well trained for this work. But, sometimes, I have to remind myself of these facts.

  • I have been leading rehearsals and teaching performance as a director for 25 years.
  • I have been organizing rehearsals as a stage manager for longer.
  • I have organized events with substantial budgets.
  • I have produced theatrical productions and special performances for half-a-dozen theatre companies.
  • My InterPlay training was with the founders of InterPlay, including performance classes.
  • I have performed in several InterPlay performances as a dancer/storyteller.
  • When I participate in InterPlay Leaders Events, I am recognized as a peer by leaders with all levels of experience.
  • My understanding of the power of InterPlay as a storytelling tool has deepened through my writing about InterPlay.

I am hopeful that I will have time in 2013 to lead workshops for gifted children and their parents to share their stories. My family is going through some changes that will take some months to settle out, and until they do, I will not know what 2013 is going to look like.

But, I am committed to being a part of the world-wide community of people telling the stories of gifted people, sharing what our experience is. If the performance project looks too big, I will focus on telling more of my story through my writing.

Gifted people are identifiable because we are outside the norm. Sharing our stories helps us connect in a world where we too often feel isolated. I can be part of enriching that connection by sharing my own stories. One way or another, I will be creating work supporting the International Year of Giftedness and Creativity 2013 on the theme of Stories and Story-Sharing.

I hope you will join me in 2013 by either telling your own stories or finding other people’s stories to witness.

For a list of other posts related to International Week of the Gifted, click here