vulnerability

I Have Gone Insane: Brutal First Impressions

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

On the subway ride to Central Park, I clutched my sign and bit my lip. “I can’t believe I’m really doing this,” I said to my husband. My heartbeat was pounding in my ears.

I made my way through Central Park, searching for the perfect spot: one with lots of foot traffic but still quiet, and I set up my sign and hat. I took a deep breath and prayed that no one would beat me up. Immediately people stopped and stared. Then the cameras came out. I started panicking that I would soon be ridiculed on the internet like the typewriting hipster.

A few months ago, I had the idea of starting a business called Brutal First Impressions. Most of us surround ourselves with people who wouldn’t want to hurt our feelings. While this can be good for our egos, it can also hinder our growth, and we can become comfortable with habits that might be off-putting for others. I figured that for a small price, I could be the one to tell it like it is: put on some deodorant, that shirt is terrible, you talk too much when you’re nervous…that kind of thing. But first I wanted to gain some experience. Why not try it out in Central Park!

The first guys to try it out.

The first guys to try it out.

I set the price at $5. At first, the people walking by would take pictures and laugh, saying, “that’s the best idea ever!” but they weren’t paying me for it. As soon as I lowered it to $1, people started lining up.

I asked each participant for their name, a handshake and a smile. Then I would ask them to take a few steps back and walk towards me, and then turn around slowly. At that point I would critique everything that I saw.

Here is some general advice I had to give almost everyone:

  • Make eye contact when you shake hands
  • Show your teeth when you smile
  • Keep your chin up when you walk

I couldn’t believe how many people needed that advice, and as soon as I said it and they tried it out, they seemed like new people.

2012-10-31 22.28.02It wasn’t easy being mean. A crowd would typically form around whomever I was critiquing and I could tell that they wanted to see tears. At one point I told a guy he had dandruff, and his friends practically cheered. I told another guy that he needed to pluck his uni-brow. When the crowd ohhed and ahhed at this, I asked to see a show of hands for who thought he should pluck his eyebrows. Almost everyone raised their hands. When I wasn’t mean, people would start heckling me saying, “Come on, this is supposed to be brutal.”

2012-10-31 22.23.04The whole time I was doing this I kept expecting someone to ask me my qualifications. I had my response all figured out: I’m classically trained in art and literature so I have a discerning eye and a critical mind. I learned how to evaluate presentation styles from my years as a teacher and teacher trainer. But the only person who asked for my qualifications immediately answered for me: “You’re a woman. Women know how to criticize.”

I was surprised that people were really interested in my story. At one point I had four guys sitting on the bench next to me asking my life story (ladies, this is a great way to pick up men if you’re interested). Everyone wanted to know how I got the idea and how much money I was making. So here’s the grand total…for 3 hours of sitting in the park, meeting interesting people, I made $43. I definitely want to try this again. I think I could make a lot more if I get better at working the crowd.

Originally, I wanted to do this because I thought it could help people present themselves better. At the end of the day I realized that I helped in a different way. I got people to laugh and not take themselves so seriously. I got people taking pictures and saying “only in New York.” I figured someone’s going to go back home and talk about the crazy lady they saw in Central Park. As an aspiring writer, I feel great that I gave someone a good story.

Mini Memoir Monday: The New Girl

This week’s mini-memoir was written by my friend, Tricia!

***

When I was 12 years old, I moved from my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. My mom packed up everything in our tiny pink stucco house, and we moved in with my grandparents in Albuquerque while my mom got her masters in education.

I’d been to Albuquerque many times to visit my grandparents, aunts, and cousins. To me, Albuquerque was a vacation—a place where we went to the balloon fiesta, ate sopapillas (delicious deep-fried pillows of dough) with honey for lunch, and visited my favorite Native American jewelry store. It was not a place where I lived, where I went to school.

I knew no one.

I remember my first day at school like a movie. I wore my favorite sneakers and my favorite long grey skirt that tied in the front. I also had to wear a collared shirt because Hoover had a dress code. I walked up to the large, concrete front of the building where all the students congregated. Huge backpacks hung off of tiny shoulders, weighed down by large keychain collections—the kind that said things like, “I’m awesome and you’re a bitch” with a shiny yellow smiley face.

A girl walking by with a friend stopped and walked toward me.

“Hey,” the girl said.

“Hi!” I said back. I was so happy that someone had talked to me.

“Are you new here?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I just moved here.”

“So you don’t know anyone?” she asked. “You don’t have any friends?”

“No,” I said, kind of embarrassed but still trying to smile.

I was sure that this was the moment that she’d invite me to hang out with her and her friend. My mind flashed with a picture of the three of us strolling down the hallway of the school, linking arms. Other students would look at us with jealousy. I couldn’t believe my good luck.  

“Oh,” she said. “That sucks.”

She turned around and walked away, rejoining with the girl she’d left behind and walking to the entrance at the other side of the school.

I watched as my first chance at a friend walked away, and students began swirling around me, pushing through the crowd to get to their lockers.

I couldn’t believe someone could be so mean, even if it was middle school.

My first few months were hard, but eventually things got a lot easier. It took a while, but I made two of my best friends to this day at Hoover Middle School.

When I left Albuquerque at 22 and moved to New York City, I thought back to how hard it was to adjust to somewhere completely new. I thought that the reason moving had been so hard in 7th grade was because, hello, it’s seventh grade, and I was a shy, nervous, extremely self-conscious 12-year-old. But moving to New York sometimes made me feel like I was right back at Hoover, standing outside the school while everyone else pushed past me, surrounded by their hoards of long-standing friends. Now, two years later, I have many friends that I adore, a great apartment, and an awesome job. I wouldn’t have achieved any of it without the initial struggle.

Moving is never easy. If you’ve just moved somewhere, don’t stress and understand that friends will come. If you know someone who just moved, invite them out for coffee or a drink! You will brighten their day, and in turn yours as well.

Taking A Giant Step Forward

On the Way group picOn Wednesday, October 9, I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do! A new bookstore opened up in my neighborhood, so I called the owner and asked if I could set up a reading with fellow emerging authors. I was so nervous to make this call, and honestly I put it off for over a week, but I was amazed at how receptive the owner was. We got into a long discussion about how Amazon was great for discounts, but it could never provide the sense of community a brick and mortar bookstore provides. I thanked her for having the courage to open an indie bookstore and she thanked me for getting involved.

So now my writing group and I will be reading from our novels-in-progress, and seeking feedback from a wider audience. The idea still sends shivers down my spine, but I’m super excited despite the nerves. If you’re in the area on that night, you should definitely come by and check it out!

Eventbrite - A Night with On the Way Writing Group

The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Done

Over the last year, I have been blown away by my experiences with Defy Ventures, an organization that gives business training and mentoring to people with criminal backgrounds. I must admit I was pretty nervous the first time I walked into a room filled with people who had rap sheets, but after everyone introduced themselves with a bear hug, and I got to hear why these people were choosing to change their lives, I could no longer hold on to my fear or negative assumptions.

 A Clean Slate  Through her M.B.A.-style program, Defy Ventures, Catherine Rohr is helping former prisoners, including Maliki Cottrell (left) and Marlon Llin (center), learn how to launch their own companies.

A Clean Slate Through her M.B.A.-style program, Defy Ventures, Catherine Rohr is helping former prisoners, including Maliki Cottrell (left) and Marlon Llin (center), learn how to launch their own companies. Photo credit: Miller Mobley

I believe in potential; I believe that people grow and become better versions of themselves, and I know that I’m not the only one. But in The United States, we do not extend that faith to people who have been behind bars.

What would it be like if you were permanently known for the worst thing you’ve ever done?

This is a line from Catherine Rohr’s article in Inc. CEO and Founder of Defy Ventures, she has helped transform the lives of thousands of motivated individuals, and by extension, strengthen the communities and families that they came from.

I urge you to read this article. I urge you to question the beliefs that you have. I urge you to support an organization that bolsters our society with the very people who are shunned by society. Oh yeah, and I urge you to like them on facebook!

Which kid are you?

Photo credit: BCI Burke Comp.

A little girl decides to take a risk and climb on top of the monkey bars. The other kids in the playground look up at her in awe as she balances on the metal rods high above them. She puts her hands in the air, basking in her glory. When she makes it across everyone cheers.

What would that little girl learn about taking risks?

What would she learn about getting attention?

What assumptions would she start to make about herself?

Photo credit: Chicago Phoenix

Her friend sees this and decides to try climbing the bars too. She’s so nervous her feet are shaking and she falls to the ground. Everyone sees this and laughs.

What would that little girl learn about taking risks?

What would she learn about getting attention?

What assumptions would she start to make about herself?

If those two girls were in the same class the next year, and their teacher asked for a volunteer who do you think would raise their hand? The second girl has already decided that it’s not safe to take risks. If she messes up, she’ll just confirm all the negative thoughts she had about herself. Even if she does well and everyone compliments her, but there are two girls laughing in the back of the room, she will focus on the laughter and not on the praise (even if that laughter wasn’t directed at her).

Do you ever focus on the one complaint rather than hundreds of compliments?

If those two girls were at a job interview, who do you think would get the job? If those two girls were on a date with a jerk, who do you think will realize they deserve better, and who will accept poor treatment?

We’ve all had moments in our lives that shape who we are and how we see the world. Some of those moments were big and impossible to forget. Oftentimes they were just small moments that are easy to forget as an adult, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a long-lasting effect.

The problem is these decisions we made about ourselves were decided by children who didn’t know better. We were doing the best we could to make sense of a world that is confusing and some times painful. As adults we need to take a step back and determine if these assumptions are true and if they are serving us. Are they keeping us from living a full and happy life? Are they keeping us in unhealthy relationships? Are we stuck in a rut because of them?

This is a huge lesson I learned from The Living Course. If you’ve ever talked to me, you’ve probably heard me talk about this course because it changed my life forever. I was the kid who fell off the monkey bars and decided risks were dangerous and attention could only be negative. I lived with this mentality for 24 years, and then in ONE weekend the light switched and I saw my life through completely new eyes. Rather than fear I embraced excitement. Rather than judgement I felt love. Rather than saying “I have to,” I said, “I want to.”

I wish everyone could take this course. I wish everyone could feel like the little girl on the monkey bars with her hands stretched out, soaking up everyone’s praise and feeling magnificent. You deserve to feel that way. The next course is May 31-Jun 2, 2013 in White Plains, NY. The courses are few and far between, so it’s worth canceling your plans. I assist at every course, because it’s incredible to watch people transform into the better version of themselves in just 30 (intense) hours. Go to their website right now and contact them for more information. I do not get paid to do this. The only reward I receive is feeling like I played a part in making someone’s life better.

Don’t waste another year playing it small. Whatever small voice in your head is saying “no” is the same voice that will keep you from having the life you want. When are you going to stop listening to it?

Blood and Nutshells


When reading about character development in See Jane Write, I got a great piece of writing advice that also poses an interesting question for everyone. “Think of a childhood story that would summarize each of your characters. What is their nutshell?” You don’t need to include the story in your book, you just need to know it to understand the character.

My nutshell story is from when I was eight years old and  I was waiting around the playground after school. I was watching other kids jumping off the swing set and I really wanted to try it. A fifth grader stood in front of my swing and told me I shouldn’t do it because I might get hurt. That made me want to do it more. Next thing I knew, I was pumping my legs as hard as I could. I swung so high I thought I would go around the pole in circles. I let go, knowing that I was going to jump higher and further than any other kid. And I did. Except I landed on a fence face first.

I stood up and looked around, but no one was watching. There was shooting pain coming from the right side of my face and when I closed my left eye everything was blurry and gray. I put my sleeve against my face and saw that it was covered in blood. Since no one was looking at me, I figured I would just stand there until the blood stopped and I didn’t feel so dizzy, and then I would go to my after-school art class. I was afraid that if I told someone, I would get into trouble and miss my the class.

When the blood soaked all the way down to my elbow, a playground attendant noticed and took me to the nurses office. My mom, who happened to be in the school for a parent teacher conference, gave me the present that was intended for my brother’s teacher (a mug that said World’s Best Teacher that was filled with hard candy). I ate every one of those candies as we drove to the hospital and the doctor examined me. I got 10 stitches on my cheek and the doctor told me I was damn lucky I didn’t lose my eye. If it was one millimeter higher, the cheekbone fragment would have pierced my eyeball.

This was me in a nutshell for a very long time (although I must admit I don’t feel like this sums me up anymore because I had a life-changing experience with The Living Course in my early 20s, but that’s a different blog post). If I were a character in a story, here’s what this story says about me:

  1. I was a loner
  2. I was defiant
  3. I wanted to fit in
  4. I was uncoordinated
  5. I was afraid of getting in to trouble
  6. I was willing to accept some pain to avoid punishment
  7. I was lucky

What is your nutshell story, and what do you think it says about you?

I’ll leave you with some comic relief: this is still one of my favorite cheesy jokes of all time.

Wow another 2 day deal!

I’m all about discounts, and here’s one that’s priceless.

I talk a lot about The Living Course (TLC) because it had a huge impact on my life. In three days you’ll gain a whole new perspective of your life. It’s challenging, eye-opening, and most importantly, empowering. This is not a course to take when you feel like your life is a mess. This course is for intelligent, competent people who feel like their life can be better.

When I first heard about it, I thought it sounded ridiculous. I went to art school where self-reflection is a part of the curriculum. I knew what my problems were, but I also knew that there was no way I was going to solve them in 3 days. And the course was so expensive (almost $800!).

By the time I left, I knew exactly what I needed to do to make myself truly happy. The problems I thought I had seemed so superficial – they were all just symptoms of much deeper problems that I never recognized until I took the course. I look at all the changes in my life since the course, and I can’t believe I ever thought that I wasn’t worth $800. I would pay that on a professional development course, so why not on a personal development course? YOU ARE WORTH IT!

Since I took the course (almost 5 years ago), I’ve assisted with 6 more courses. I’m still surprised by how it works with so many different people. I’ve seen brain surgeons, unemployed actors, housewives, principals, stockbrokers, you name it, they’ve all taken the course and they’ve all said that they wish they took it sooner.

If you live in the New York area, even if you live hours away, TAKE THE COURSE! If you sign up by tomorrow you can save $95! The course runs from Oct. 12-14 and it’s in White Plains.

Don’t over think it. If any part of you says this sounds interesting, sign up immediately, or else you’ll talk yourself out of it. Don’t let fear stop you from living your best life. SIGN UP TODAY!

I do not work for TLC, I don’t get paid to do this. My only reward is watching people change their lives, and knowing that I had just the tiniest part of it!

The Power of Vulnerability

One of my amazing friends directed me to this Ted talk about vulnerability. Since I know you’re all busy I decided to summarize the key points. But watch the video if you can because Brene Brown is absolutely charming and insightful.

Brene is a social worker and she wanted to understand what causes shame. While she was doing her doctoral thesis on shame, she interviewed thousands of people and realized that shame comes from the belief that something about you is not good enough; if someone were to find out the ‘truth’ of you they would not love you.

Although everyone she talked to had experienced shame, people tended to fall into one of two categories: those who had a strong sense of love and belonging and those who struggled for it. The people who had a sense of love and belonging believed that they were worthy of love – as simple as that.

Courage was the common character trait of someone who felt worthy of love. She points out that courage is not the same thing as bravery. The Latin routs for courage translate to “tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” Wow! The Latins were really onto the HeSo project 😛

Here are three things that all these courageous people had in common:

-they accept their imperfections

-they are compassionate towards themselves

-“they are willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are”

Most importantly, a person must embrace vulnerability. These people who had a strong sense of self-worth believed that vulnerability was part of what made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability as being difficult or easy – just a necessity.

“They talked about the willingness to say, ‘I love you’ first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.  They thought this was fundamental.”

This conclusion really bothered Brene because she couldn’t understand how vulnerability can cause the very pain that makes people feel shame, but it can also be the cure. It bothered her so much that she needed to go into therapy for a year to wrap her brain around the idea.

It’s true that vulnerability can open you up to pain and rejection, but it can also open you up to personal connection and acceptance. I was afraid to admit that I was feeling doubt. I thought since my blog is about inspiring people and staying positive, I shouldn’t talk about negative feelings. However, so many people reached out to me and said they feel the same way too sometimes. And it really made me feel better.

She argues that today’s society works so hard to numb the negative feelings that we also numb the positive. We try to be so certain that we become close-minded. She gives the example of organized religions transitioning from the power of faith to the power of being right.

We need to start accepting some of the inherent struggles of life. We need to start accepting that we will never be perfect. We need to start questioning ourselves and being honest…and loving the truth of ourselves.

I’ve got a case of the doubts.

Lately I’ve been feeling guilty and confused. I set out on this HeSo Project in an effort to make my happiness and fulfillment a priority. I wanted to find a job that satisfied me spiritually as well as financially. I wanted to challenge myself to be creative and take risks. I assumed this meant being an entrepreneur.

I certainly felt creative and challenged while starting BeddyBye. I learned so much about creating an LLC, and dealing with internet business. I took courses in starting a small business. I hired a consultant to figure out the logistics of working with plastic. I made countless sketches, revised the design, and made four different prototypes. I was talking to safety engineers and manufacturing experts. It really felt like it was going to happen. Then…I lost interest (or perhaps confidence). The steamroller of doubt squashed this dream.

Every expert I spoke with told me I needed over 100k just to get started, and that there was really no way to dip my toes in the water when it came to manufacturing – especially when your making a device for babies. A part of me would like to sell the idea one day to a baby product company, so that’s making me feel like it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Actually no part of me feels like it was a waste of time. I learned a ton from that experience.

But then, when I was trying to come up with the next venture for the HeSo project, I called up an old friend to see if I could sub a few hours a week at her  school just so I wasn’t going through my entire savings.

Four years ago I was an English as a second (ESL) teacher and I absolutely loved it. The only reason why I quit was because I wasn’t making enough money. What added insult to injury was that the school was grooming me for a promotion, but it turned out that the promotion, although it was a great title, included a pay cut! That’s when I started working for my mom. I made tons of money but I was absolutely uninterested in what I was doing.

Well the subbing quickly turned into full time teaching. It’s an incredibly exhausting job, I’m working so much harder than I’m used to, and waking up earlier than I want to, and just barely making enough to pay the bills…but I love it. I come home full of stories. My students make me laugh all the time. I love the routine of work, I know I’m an amazing teacher, and I like being a part of a big team. Call me crazy but I actually like making a small salary. It’s making me appreciate the few things I do end up buying.

So here’s where the guilt comes in:

I feel like I set such a high bar for myself and I’m falling short. Of course my priority was to be happy, and I am. So shouldn’t that be enough? But another part of me thinks I should be doing more. A part of me thinks I’m not living up to my potential.

Yesterday one of my co-teachers said it was her 3 year anniversary of teaching at the school. I congratulated her, but she said she thought it was the saddest thing ever. She got into it just to pay the rent while she was auditioning for acting rolls. She said it was like she had become a career waiter. It made me wonder if I’m settling. Then that made me wonder if I’m letting someone else’s opinion taint my happiness.

I haven’t really come to a conclusion. I just wanted to get that off my chest. Any thoughts?