Fear, My Dear Old Friend

Fear, My Dear Old Friend

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Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to take a class at The Second City, Hollywood for free at their open house. I took a two-hour Musical Theater Improvisation Class. (I also like to call it Heaven.)

I shared the afternoon with about twenty other wonderfully brave individuals who wanted to explore one of the most terrifying art forms ever created.  It takes a specific type of weirdo to be able to get up in front of a group of strangers and sing a song that has no established melody, no established words, and no established story. You have to make it up. You have to trust that the people around you will support and contribute to your song. And the only way to learn or get better, is to get over your mental road blocks, trust yourself, and recognize that you are not going to die. And it is TERRIFYING.

Now, I have been lucky. I have been fortunate that my life and my training has taken me to this point. This point in which I know that getting on stage, choosing a character, and trusting myself is a better choice than letting fear take over. I have been lucky that I was taught to fight against my nerves, and to ignore the concern of whether or not I will be “good enough” on stage. But that took a lot of practice and patience.

That being said, I have been having so much trouble watching my peers, colleagues, and friends give in to their mental roadblocks on stage. I have been watching many performers lately in classes, auditions, and karaoke nights, succumbing to their fear. I can see in their eyes the message “I DO NOT DESERVE TO BE HERE,” “PLEASE GET ME OFF THIS STAGE,” “WHY AM I NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO SHARE THIS SPACE WITH YOU?”… And thus, the story becomes about those messages behind their eyes. The audience’s experience (if they are supportive) is being on the edge of their seats, hoping that this individual succeeds in getting through to the end of the scene, rather than the story the player is so desperately trying to tell.

Furthermore, I keep seeing this fear-mentality in people who are not performers as well. People who are too afraid to go for a new relationship, or talk to a stranger, or quit the job that they hate, or end a toxic relationship, or go on a trip to see new things. They always seem to come up with a reason why they are afraid, or why they don’t deserve that thing they want to go after, which is really outrageously silly.

Why do we do this to ourselves? And not just performers, but people? Why do some people with strong Sad Dragons walk into a space, or approach a new situation with deep inferiority? Most people with these types of Sad Dragons can tell you why.

“It was my upbringing.”

“It’s just in my blood.”

“I’m destined to be a depressed person, so there you go.”

“I’m going through a lot right now, so I just feel self-conscious all the time.”

“I’m not smart enough.”

“I’m not pretty enough.”

“I’m not talented enough.”

“I’m not thin enough.”

“I AM NOT ENOUGH.”

I empathize with these statements. They’re in my head all the time too. And these statements can either be speed bumps, stop signs, or straight-up brick walls in the way of a person’s joy. There’s no way on this planet I could have gotten up to sing improv if I listened to all of the voices in my head, and accepted them as truth.

My solution? Practice Accepting the Inner Monologue of the Sad Dragon, Noticing it’s Presence, and Using it for Motivation to Move. 

Negativity and self-doubt ARE in your head for a reason, but they don’t have to be manifested into a Stop Sign or a Brick Wall. Let’s explore further.

Let’s say you have a mental roadblock with running your first 5K.

Sad Dragon: “I will never be good enough to pull this off. I am too unhealthy and I will never have enough motivation to look as good as everyone else out there. I tried once before, and I’m going to fail again, so why try?” 

That’s some nasty mind-language. How can you change it?

Step 1: START THE THING. Put on your running shoes and go outside, even if you feel like crap about it.

Step 2: DO THE THING. Start moving. Even if it’s just a walk. Just go.

Step 3: SAY HI TO THE DRAGON Acknowledge your Sad Dragon’s monologue in your head. Say hello to it, and try to separate your emotions from it. Remember, you are NOT your Sad Dragon. It’s just one little piece of you.

Step 4: DONT STOP DOING THE THING  Keep moving.

Step 5: THANK THE DRAGON Give that sad language a mental hug and THANK IT. Offer it some GRATITUDE for being there to give you the motivation to get outside and try something that’s hard. (Because remember, you’re already outside, aren’t you?)

Step 6: CHANGE THE DRAGON’S LANGUAGE (This is the tough part, so be patient with yourself.)  The hard part is to switch the language in your head. “I acknowledge that I don’t feel as healthy as I would like to be, and that’s why I have these negative feelings about myself. But I signed up for a 5K which is a step in the right direction. I am so glad I took this chance on myself because I am giving myself an opportunity to grow.”

Step 7: LEARN AS MUCH ABOUT THE THING AS YOU CAN Do your homework, and find new ways to improve and get motivated. For this case, get a new running app, subscribe to a blog, or find a super fun race you can do with a buddy.

Step 8: KICK SOME ASS Run your race and watch change happen.

Never EVER EVVEEERRR let fear or self-doubt stop you from running after something that you want or need. No matter how small that little thing is, you will never get to sing your song for others if you’re too scared. Your voice matters. So give your Sad Dragon a hug, tell it to speak the right language, and give yourself the chance to sing your face off.

Keep training, my friends.

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Your Life is Not a Math Problem

Something odd happened to me the other night that I felt might be relevant to the interest of potential readers. I was set up to visit someone I had not seen in a long time– an old flame, if you will. He contacted me. We texted a little bit. And then he said he wanted to “catch up and get a beer.” Now to be honest, this is NOT what I’m focusing on at this point in my life. I am genuinely trying to zero in on my career, my blog, my own personal growth AWAY from all things that have to do with dating. But, I’m a girl… no…. I’m a HUMAN …. and when a person decides to show interest in spending an evening with me, I am going to want to follow up. Who wouldn’t?

So, the evening of our meeting came up and I strutted around my room, planned a little extra time to get ready, thought about all of the questions he might ask, and the questions I wanted to ask him.

I left my house feeling optimistic and excited to share how successful I have been the past few years because DUDE, I work for a CHILDREN’S THEATER COMPANY (Putting my Theatre Arts B.A. to work, WHAT?!?)

Also, I’ve been running 10Ks, and lifting weights… so let’s go ahead and entertain the idea that I might look better in my jeans than the last time I saw this person.

I hadn’t felt so confident in weeks, and I was enjoying the crap out of it.

Finally, I got the place where this old flame was (a gathering with many old friends). I smiled and said hello. He gave me a hug– the first hug between us in probably four or five years. I waited for him to bring up where we might meet later.

Nothing happened.

Hours went by.

I kept looking at my phone to see if he was trying to be coy about it, and text me instead of asking in front of everyone.

Nothing.

I continued to talk to my old friends, catching up, pretending as hard as I could that I was interested in everything they had to say, when really I was just mortified at the idea that I was being ignored by the one person who I came to see— because HE SAID HE WANTED TO SEE ME.

Needless to say, it became apparent that he was 100% uninterested in catching up with me. He was distracted. He didn’t make much eye contact. He was heavily hanging all over some other girl, and she quickly turned into the personification of my insecurity. Because, you know, she was pretty.

After another half an hour or so of inner-turmoil, I decided to say a quick farewell, and I walked back to my car, alone.

I walked away feeling vague and disappointed that I even entertained the idea of “going out” with someone in the first place.

And then, the Sad Dragon showed up.

You are an idiot. 

Oh, hey there Sad Dragon.

You told yourself you weren’t interested in dating. This is just karma for going back on your word. How could you be such a moron? 

Shut up, I was just trying to do something fun.

A lot of good that did you. Nobody even wanted to talk to you. These people were not your friends then, and they’re not your friends now. You’re the same loser you were back in college, just trying to get attention from some guy. You’re repeating your old mistakes! So much for your journey on personal growth!  

Shit. You’re right. I’m a failure. This has been a failure of an evening. I could have been writing, practicing, exercising… anything but this.

But you didn’t! You chose to be stupid! Congratulations, Stupid Face! Now you and me get to feel stupid together! Now who wants a gallon of Ben and Jerry’s and a bottle of red wine? 

My Sad Dragon wanted to eat me from the inside out and I did everything I could to stop crying– tears mostly from disappointment in myself, rather than the situation at hand.

Now lets put a magnifying glass on this situation. What did I do to let the Sad Dragon out? Because believe it or not, I have control over the things it says to me… because, let’s face it… it IS me. What about this situation ruined me for an evening? Why did I beat myself up with self-hatred when all I was doing was dealing with the information that I had?

In my head was a simple equation:

Single Girl Trying to Get the Most Out of Life + Ex From the Past Wants to Hang Out =  A Super Duper Great Time!

But, here’s the thing. Life is not a Math Problem. Life is more like improvisation. We write the story as we go. We can’t control the outcome of our situation because we can’t control the people around us. All we can do is say yes to the facts we have at hand, and make a choice. We don’t always know how people are going to act, how we are going to be treated, or what our choices might amount to in a given day.

The equation is closer to this:

Single Girl  + Ex = Potential for a Great time  OR  Getting ignored  OR Being manipulated OR All the Bars are Closed  OR  We Have a Heated Argument  OR  We Fall in Love and Get Married  OR  I Get Sick and Throw Up all Over Him  OR  He Gets Sick and Throws Up All Over Me   OR  We Get Eaten by a Giant Spider  OR  He Kidnaps Me and Takes Me to Vegas

….. The list of possible outcomes is endless. Sure, some are more likely outcomes than others… but the best way I could have shut up my Sad Dragon that night, would be to simply celebrate the fact that I said YES to something.

I chose to open myself up to some kind of potential. The results weren’t great… but I went somewhere, instead of staying home. I caught up with people I haven’t seen in years. I confidently walked up to a building, and actually felt attractive. I made like, three new Facebook friends! It’s not all bad. So I didn’t get a beer with Mr. Whatever-His-Face. It doesn’t matter. I can move on. I can keep saying “Yes” and keep making new choices in every single moment.

And the Sad Dragon can’t win if I stay open to all possible outcomes of any given event.

Life is still fine.

And I can still say “yes” to any equation that comes my way.

The Day I Got to Slay a Dragon

The Day I Got to Slay a Dragon
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Every once in a while I truly feel like God, the Universe, Destiny, the Higher Power (whatever it is you prefer to call it) taps me on the shoulder and says “Hello.” This story we performed at work made me pause, for obvious reasons.
I work for a children’s theater company that takes story submissions from schools, and then surprises the authors by bringing their stories to life. It’s a really fun, creative job. And I get to play a myriad of different characters in a single day!
Now, the fact that I got to play the girl, and not the dragon was magical indeed. I’m tall. I have long, lanky limbs, and a big loud voice. Thus, I usually have to play the dragon. But on this day I got to be the little girl. Mia. The Dragon Slayer. Yes, I was performing for a bunch of little kids. Yes, it was really silly as I pretended to shove an imaginary sword through my scene partner while he pretended to light the city on fire.
But, damn, did I feel like a badass playing that character.
My favorite part of this child’s story is:
She got her armor on and went to slay the dragon. She tried but she knew she couldn’t do it. Although she knew that if she didn’t it would terrorize the city.”
It’s quite a no-brainer concept, but it speaks volumes to me and the story I’m attempting to write for my life.
Then, she said to herself ‘I can’t let that happen’ so she didn’t give up.” 
SHE DIDNT GIVE UP. 
Even this little eight-year-old girl gets it! She understands in her sweet, young mind, that we have to do something to stand up to evil when no one else is willing to stand up! She understands that it’s ok for us to have doubts about our abilities. She understands that we need to stop self-doubting because others need us to put on our amor. Or our big girl pants. And she understands that when we fight, incredible results will come from them.
It’s amazing to me how much we innately understand about ourselves when we are young, and yet as we get older, we get affected by the world and start overcomplicating our lives.
We give up on relationships.
We get lazy.
We stop imagining.
We stop believing in the vibrancy of existence.
We give up.
When I was a little girl, I remember putting on dresses, prancing around my living room, and feeling like the most gorgeous creature on the planet. I dreamed of being strong and of running free in open meadows. And then I became a teenager, and got angry, and got interested in boys, and started caring about what other people thought of me, instead of living my own damn life. I chose not to fight the dragons of my city anymore, because it was more important to impress boys, or impress teachers, or impress parents. Life was about proving a point, rather than fighting for what truly mattered.
Stupid dragons trying to mess up my village for me.
I just don’t have the patience for that crap anymore.
I encourage everyone to think like they did when they were young. Spend some time thinking about what your life might look like if you un-learn all of the crap and self-hatred and dejectedness.
Even when things get ugly and stupid, DONT GIVE UP.
It’s one thing when the Dragon is terrorizing you. But when it goes rogue, you better put your armor on and fight that thing.
You never know who is depending on you.
Until next time, friends!

So What is a Sad Dragon?

Welcome friends to the first official post of my new blog, “How to Train Your Sad Dragon”!

Now… You may be wondering… what on Earth is a Sad Dragon? Simply, it is your inner demon(s). But Inner Demons can take many forms, personalities, and ways of expressing themselves.

I like to call mine The Sad Dragon for a number of reasons, but these are the main three:

1. I am a self-prescribed emotional love bucket  Meaning, I frequently have “all the feels.” I cry a lot, I’m super sensitive, and when I feel something, I feel it HARD. I’m working on being proud of them rather than feeling the need to stuff them down or pretend like they don’t matter. And when I imagine an image or personality for “The Feels” I often see a big, sad, cartoon lizard crying giant tears on a tree stump. Don’t judge, aiight?

2. A Sad Dragon doesn’t seem unconquerable Take a good hard look at that Cartoony Sad Dragon in your minds eye. He may be a big old poop face, but he’s kinda cute, right? He’s approachable! He’s manageable– We tend to get stuck on the idea that our sadness or our difficulties are like these giant, unconquerable mountains of death. But they’re not. They’re just little dragons with big feelings.

3. A Sad Dragon is cute enough that you just want to love the crap out of it  Look at that big, sweet face of your Sad Dragon! You don’t want to kill him or ignore him. And that’s because he is a part of you. He is that piece of your personality that feels and feels BIG. And you should NEVER want to kill that part of yourself. In other words, you don’t have the SLAY the dragon, you have to TRAIN him. This blog is about letting him be sad, but knowing how to kick him in the pants when he’s slowing you down.

This blog is going to be all about the big and little things I have learned or experienced that keeps the Sad Dragon in check. And my friends, my Sad Dragon can get fierce. Sad Dragons (also known as depression— though I really try not to use that word) run in my family. Sometimes it seems like the Sad Dragons are the ones in charge of the people I love the most. It’s hard to get out of that mental head space. But it’s definitely not impossible!

So pull out your excalibur and get in the ring because it’s time to Train Some Sad Dragons! (See what I did there?)