Sometimes I consider myself a late bloomer no matter what decade of life I am in. Recently, I tried my hat at stage storytelling. If you are familiar with The Moth, you will have some sense. But I was recently inspired at work. A few months ago I worked with several graduate students, who I consider our future leaders, innovators, and helpers. (Our hope!) Each were terrified of making mistakes, or of being judged, or of not being perfect. They were worried about public humiliation and imposter syndrome. (We are immersed in a culture of ratings and rankings, so who isn’t?)
I coached them to get out there and speak, to try Toastmasters or storytelling, as a kind of “exposure therapy” or skills building to overcome their fears. Otherwise, if they don’t then WE are missing out on their bright lights. Because sharing their wisdom is a service to humanity. When they realized it’s not so much about them at all, but rather about channeling their gifts, a new recognition set in. It’s flipping the script of the inner critic. The ego can step aside and their message can shine through. Of course, this isn’t so easy at first. It takes practice to befriend a familiar voice of fear and to calm the nerves.
In reality, it takes courage and self-compassion… and at least one person who has your back.
We teach what we need to learn, right? I realized that I had to do the same. I had to walk the talk. I went to a magical Writer’s Romp retreat with Suzanne Kingsbury, where I had to get vulnerable and share my writing by reading it aloud in a safe place (in a tent). She is the creator of Gateless Writing, a judgment-free and wholehearted approach to writing. Like Brené Brown tells: you only share your stories with the people who have earned the right to hear them. I took one brave friend with me. My approach is to take a few steps forward, building upon skills and experience, rather than jumping right in and hoping for the best. It’s like inflicting yourself with kind, small exposures. In my field of psychology it’s called “titrating” (or expanding the “window of tolerance”) and in education it’s called “scaffolding.” It might also be a kind of inoculation.
So after that romp experience I mustered up the courage to share with strangers, but again in a safe space. I signed up for a few storytelling workshops at MassMouth.org.
The scary part is the last day of the 3-session workshop. It’s like a recital and these “tellings” are held at Club Passim in Harvard Square. You invite your friends and family. You share a 6-minute story. I’ve done this twice now. The first story was about me and a former psychiatric patient singing a Frank Sinatra love song at a holiday party (he never knew that the song he picked had been my wedding song). The other was the moment I knew I’d become some sort of therapist after a humiliating encounter with an evil 6th grade math teacher.
I’m starting small and having some fun. The first time I lost my place but I recovered. I didn’t pee in my pants or walk off stage. I survived. Really, what is there to lose? I’m stepping onto a small stage with a friendly audience (with food and drinks) who are rootin’ for me and the other “tellers.”
I’m taking a dose of my own medicine.
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