Posts Tagged :

self confidence

Are You Scared Of Being Accomplished?

I sat down to write a singing-related newsletter but all the topics kept falling flat (no offense, singing, I still love you, but that's the truth).

At this moment, on the verge of 2017, my mind and heart are seated on the metaphysical equivalent of a Six Flags rollercoaster.

There's a fine line for me to walk with respect to divulging personal thoughts. I don't want to veer too far off topic -- you most likely found me online and enjoyed my singing lessons and info, and Dr. Phil moments might not be your thing --

But what the hell. Maybe we can relate to each other and stuff. 🙂

Here goes.

Accomplishment scares the sh*t out of me.

On the Grand Staircase of Life (I don't even know what that means? But let's embrace this architectural metaphor for a second) I do this thing where I painstakingly climb to a new, higher step, look around, smile, feel the accomplishment, take a breath....

...then feel the blistering altitude, the ensuing vertigo, clutch my pearls*, start screaming "It's too high! It's just...too...high!" and summon all my willpower / recite every motivational mantra / close my eyes and sway softly in order not to tumble straight back down.

(*I don't actually wear pearls.)

Bottom line: fear makes every accomplishment feel risky.

I'm pointing this out because this is way more subtle than I, and maybe you, ever thought. I always thought fear was OBVIOUS, like a villain in a movie. Sneering and greasy and wearing dark clothing and speaking in vague accents.

But in real life, fear works undercover. Fear stages subconscious sabotage. Fear dresses up as "common sense."

Fear isn't a monster. Fear is familiar. Fear tells us:

"If I [ACCOMPLISH X] then there are downsides. Better stay safe."

"And if I DON'T [ACCOMPLISH X] then there are actually many benefits! Life can stay warm, fuzzy, comforting, and status quo."

Here are some examples taken from "Fel's Fear Brain," a mysterious and baffling entity:

  • "If I become more confident, then there are actually downsides. I could turn off my friends, my customers, my family, and be a lonely, confident weirdo."
  • "If I DON'T become more confident, at least I know I'm taken care of, and life will stay normal and steady and familiar."
  • "If I perform more, then there are actually downsides. I'll seem like a stuck-up, attention-seeking nut. Worse, I could make a fool of myself, and invite ridicule, and make people think I *think* I'm so amazing, when in reality, I'm not!"
  • "If I DON'T perform more, at least I can stick to what's working, and not suffer any embarrassment or revelations that I actually suck."
  • "If I grow my business, then there are actually downsides. I'll lose touch with the people I love (you, my students), I won't have any time, I will stop being genuine, I will become a greedy freak, I will grow a goatee and laugh maniacally."
  • "If I DON'T grow my business, I won't have to worry about more responsibility, or any competition, or any other conflicts. I'll stay small but familiar, and unthreatening."

....I think you get the idea?

But even though I'm shaken and wary, I feel hopeful. Why? Because I'm NOTICING this dynamic.

Noticing fear's subtle UPSIDE/DOWNSIDE tactic is the first step to moving beyond it.

So I'm asking you to ask yourself, on the verge of 2017, to do the same.

Time to engage in a long, hard, intimate, maybe even sexy stare at your fears.

Ask yourself:

  • What am I holding myself back from doing?
  • Is it...singing more?
  • Making time for myself?
  • Taking care of my body and exercising?
  • Performing in front of others?
  • Auditioning for that local musical?
  • Speaking in front of coworkers?
  • Giving a lecture at a nearby school?
  • Asking for a raise?
  • Changing careers because WHAT THE HELL?
  • Starting my own online business?
  • Writing that love letter?

Fear will act accordingly. It will show you all the DOWNSIDES of acting up. It will also show you all the BENEFITS of staying exactly as you are.

But we know better now, don't we?

When you're on the "Grand Staircase Of Life" (lol this metaphor), and you summon the courage to take one step higher, before you leap back down, take a pause and remember:

  • You are not alone. We are all secretly worried, wondering, seeking, embarrassed, and winging it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
  • Acting with faith and courage is (1) easy to write in a social media quote, (2) really f*cking hard to do in real life. ("Leap and the net will appear" -- YEAH OKAY HOW ABOUT NO?) 🙂 But it will get easier.
  • Have patience through the fear. If you can feel fear or discomfort and not run from it, often you can literally change the feeling. A daily meditation practice (or daily singing practice! for many, singing = meditation) can help you hone in on these fearful feelings, and ultimately release them.
  • You are contributing to a higher good. When we elevate our state, and move toward joy, we elevate the mood of the planet. (Example: "Auditioning for that local musical means I will move closer to my dream of performing, which means I will live with more joy, which means I will encourage others to do the same.)

Here's the moment where we all take a long, cleansing sigh.

This felt good to write. I hope it also felt good to read.

I want you to know that I'm here for you, and that each and every one of us has a vital mission to move toward joy and the highest version of ourselves. That doesn't necessarily mean the big bucks, or the best grades, or the best house, or the best resume --

It means having the strength to perceive fear, and take each new step anyway. It means having the courage and faith that we've all got each others' backs.

I'm here for you. Thanks for being there for me.

Love,

Fel

P.S. Leave me a comment about anything at all. I'll read every single one.

The Sexy Party: Part 2

(Read Part 1 here)

The wine bar where Becky hosted her party was large by New York City standards, which is to say, two people could stand side by side in between the bar and the wall, if those people were okay with touching intimately. There was a separate area in back with couches, rugs, and low-hanging exposed lightbulbs, the kind that indicate that this wasn’t your run of the mill bar, this was a sophisticated bar where you might hit your head on a low-hanging exposed lightbulb, but not even care.

Becky’s fiancé Phil greeted us at the door with large engulfing hugs. Phil went to Yale with me and was in my secret society (don’t tell anyone) so we have a pretty great friendship groove already carved out. Waiting with him was Marshall, my fiancé. Two fiancés in a wine bar! They’ve been known to pal around. Once I witnessed a 45 minute conversation in which Marshall and Phil discussed teaming up for an “Apocalyptic Extraction” business, wherein the super-rich could get flown away by helicopter in the event of a zombie uprising.

“Hello, ladies!” they both said, almost in unison. The four of us retrieved wine from the bartender and we toasted the occasion. Meanwhile, the room was filling with people. Instantly I spotted some familiar faces.

This is going to be a great party!


I believe staunchly in the power of a positive outlook. I’m not socially anxious, but I did go through a couple years when I had panic attacks that seem to come on for no reason. The memory sometimes hangs in the back of my head. But in this case I felt great, so I downed some wine and embarked on my first small-talk adventure, in which a girl named Stephanie explained that she was completely overwhelmed getting her Masters Degree.

White wine is perhaps my favorite drink. I don’t go out often so when I get the chance I like to maximize the feeling that this is a swanky experience. In this way, wine glasses really do it for me. I hold mine daintily from the stem, not only because it is refined, but because I once read that it helps keep the wine cold.

“Felicia!” said a man I sort-of recognized. His name was Ronaldo. We started chatting and I learned that he, too, went to college with me. It was then that I realized I was surrounded by Yale graduates. There was the girl who sat next to me in a seminar but used to play video games on her calculator. And the boy who used to walk into the dining room in a towel and flip flops. I even spotted a guy named Jesse, who was a few years older of me and had led my weeklong pre-orientation, a Freshman camping trip on a farm with no running water, after which I needed to take a pill for my constipation.

By all accounts, this was a Yale party. In theory, I fit in just as much as most people. I gripped my glass’s stem and watched the liquid swirl.

“…and that is when I realized I wasn’t ever going to do ecstasy again,” said Ronaldo. “So I moved to New York City.”

“Incredible.”

Since I am, by nature, introverted, I like to think of conversations with new people as special challenges. As a downside, I tend to blame myself if they are boring. If only I’d been more interested in hearing about Ronaldo's spiritual walk-about through Napa Valley. But I was doing my best, and everybody seemed to be having a great time.

I regrouped with Marshall at one of the side tables. He’d found a giant cheese plate, so we both ate a bunch of cubes on pita, the cheese sticking to the roofs of our mouths.

“You having fun?” Marshall asked.

“Oh totes. You?”

“Yeah,” Marshall said with a shrug, and I knew we were both on the same page.

We agreed to circulate and meet back for more cheese in T-minus fifteen.

As soon as Marshall had meandered away, I spotted my ex-boyfriend, Matt, sitting at the bar. He caught me looking and waved.

“Ow!”

I smashed my head against an exposed lightbulb. Rubbing my scalp with one hand I waved back with the other.

Matt and I had a horrendous breakup, but since then we'd gotten back in touch with the occasional email, phone call, or, when one of us was in town, coffee. It was supremely civilized and much more enjoyable than I ever could have predicted on the day when I told him I never wanted to see him again and threw my cellphone into a sewer.

As I approached the bar I saw Marshall looking at me from across the room. You okay? He mouthed. For a brief moment I thought about his and Phil's Apocalyptic Extraction idea and wondered if it applied to wine parties.

I’m fine! I mouth back.

“Hello there,” I said, sidling up to the bar, noticing that my voice sounded tinny.

“It’s good to see you,” said Matt. “Lots of Yalies here.”

“I feel like I know all of them, and yet know none of them,” I said.

Matt squinted a little. “I think I know what you mean.”

Things weren't awkward. Not really.

“I feel like our group of friends were really separate from the rest of the school,” I said a little bit later in the conversation. “Kind of in a good way. Not that we had only the same friends. You know what I mean.” How much wine had I had? “You know, the theater kids, and the a cappella dorks.”

“How could I forget?”

“I don’t know. Everybody is really nice, though.”

“Yes, everybody is really nice.”

“Hey, you two!”

In swooped Jesse, my pre-orientation leader from many years past. We all hugged.

“This is Harvey,” he said, gesturing to a man with a slight underbite and a furrowed brow. Harvey bowed his head, which I took to mean hello.

“Hi, Harvey,” I said.

“Harvey is a philosopher,” said Jesse.

“Oh! Like as a job?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What do you philosophize?”

Harvey laughed, I guess you could say, but it was actually a screech, a car attempting to peel away on a patch of ice. I was still waiting for him to answer when he walked away.

Matt, Jesse, and I talked a bit about our lives, where we were now, what we had accomplished in terms of marriages, jobs, cities traversed. The Reader’s Digest version. I thought about how after college you still maintain a kind of resume, and I wondered if that was good or bad. At one point I left to forage for some more cheese, all the while wondering, was this what college had actually been like? Or had it been different? Many of the same people were here, and maybe none of us had changed. Or maybe we had changed too much.

When I returned, Matt and Jesse were debating the question of: could every single thing in the universe be quantified or expressed by a mathematical equation?

I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or cry, so I laughed.

“What do you mean quantifiable?” said Matt, hunched over. “Using what criteria?”

“Described by a numerical value,” said Jesse. His tie was loose, his hair mussed. "Think about it. It's impossible to find something that isn't a number."

What?

Being amongst Yalies it was simultaneously unsettling and comforting to see we had reverted to our roots: talking about something detached from reality, purely hypothetical, a topic that was interesting on paper, but failed what I call the “gut-test” (if your gut says something is ridiculous, it’s probably ridiculous).

(My gut had some highs and lows during my four years at Yale.)

Somehow Harvey had returned without my noticing, but there he was again, directly to my left, his underbite somehow more pronounced now.

“Okay, name one thing that can’t be expressed mathematically or through a quantity,” said Jesse, smirking, and Harvey smirked too, but bigger and crooked, like a reflection in a funhouse mirror. I think this meant everyone was having fun?

“Friendship!” said Matt. “Color! Anything!” Matt was borderline frantic. He was in graduate school for the humanities; Jesse was a mathematician. (What’s that saying about how anyone will argue for things that affirm their beliefs?)

“Felicia, back me up here!” Matt rallied.

“Okay.” This was easy; I knew where I stood.

“I mean, you’re both right, to an extent,” I said. “But c’mon Jesse. You can’t quantify feeling. You can certainly decide to describe something complex with a concrete value, but it takes away the experience of it, so it isn’t equivalent.”

“I disagree,” he said.

I charged on. “For example, a number can stand for a life, but it isn’t the same as a life. Does life equal one?”

“For the purposes of my argument, it does.”

What?

“A note of music,” I replied. “A note of music vibrates at a certain frequency, but that isn’t the same as music.”

“I just think that it’s so important to be able to quantify everything, to know for certain,” said Jesse, his hair waving in the air like a flag. “You can do that with anything and it’s right. That’s how progress is made. That’s how civilization advances.”

Harvey made another noise, a grunt, which I think indicated agreement.

“Okay, what if I brushed your arm? Could you describe that with a value?” I ran my finger along Jesse’s arm and he tugged it away. “Sure you could try, but it would be entirely different from the act of observing it. You can intellectualize something all you want but you’re taking away the joy and beauty of living. And what would be the point?”

Jesse took a long pause and looked at Harvey, the impenetrable being that he was. Then he exhaled and turned back to me.

“Harvey is so bored by what you’re saying right now,” he said.

I felt a small explosion in my brain. The explosion ignited a fuse down my spinal cord, which ended at the tip of my toes, and my feet caught fire.

“What?” I whispered. I cleared my throat. “No seriously, what?”

“Ha ha, I’m an asshole,” said Jesse. Harvey was still smirking.

“Wait, what? I’m sorry, I’m just not sure I heard you correctly.”

By which I meant to say: I can’t believe one human would say this to another human at a wine party.

“Forget it.”

My feet would not stop tingling. I could feel part of me wanting to shut it down -- to just forget it -- maybe this was the part of me that could quantify things.

But the other part of me…my heart…my body on fire…

“But why is Harvey bored, Jesse? Are you saying what I’m saying is boring?”

“Hey, Felicia, whatever.”

My head, my heart…

Just forget it.

Stay strong, Fel.

“It seems really whack that you decided to insult me because I disagreed with you. It’s really rude.”

“Hey, I’m an asshole. I’m going to the bathroom.”

In moments, he was gone. Somehow Harvey was too. For a philosopher who believed staunchly in the quantifiable, Harvey had the almost mystical ability to evaporate and materialize at will.

“What the hell was that?” I said to Matt after a moment or two.

“That,” he said, “was the part of Yale that I’ll never understand.”

“Yeah.”

“Cheers.” We took a couple more sips of wine.

I could feel my feet still tingling. It was a another familiar feeling that was slightly unsettling.

Sometimes feet tingles would descend before a panic attack, when I used to get panic attacks. But this time, it was different. It wasn’t a signal of frustration, or fear, or a general sense that I had to run away. It was like a positive charge on a battery. A surge. In numerical terms, somewhere near 1,000 volts.

Maybe I would never feel entirely comfortable at sexy parties. Or maybe it was better not to feel completely comfortable, as long as I felt like myself.

“Hey, it was good to see you,” I said to Matt when it was time to go and Marshall beckoned to me from near the exit.

“Yeah, good to see you too.”

“Happy birthday, boo!” I said to Becky. Her hair still looked amazing, even after three hours.

“You good?” Marshall said as we got our coats.

“I have a lot to tell you,” I said.

“Oh, same,” said Marshall.

Marshall and I clasped our hands together, and I appreciated how it felt, the experience of observing it. My feet were still on fire, but it made me feel...period.

It made me feel.

The Sexy Party (Part 1)

In spite of all that I learned in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, to this day when I get ready for parties, I picture a best-case scenario. There will be a permanent underscoring of laughter and light jazz. Everyone will find instant familiarity, gripping each others' shoulders and forearms, performing double cheek kisses, like a bunch of vital Europeans.
In my ideal world, charades and other Victorian party games evolve naturally. No one has to explain the rules, and everyone is delighted when I act out Titanic by pretending I'm standing on the bow of a ship. Conversation feels less like talking and more like confession, even revelation. No topic will be too shallow, or too profound. There might even be a sing-along.
In my ideal world, we are all confident in ourselves, and for this reason we can be light, generous, and open with sharing who we are.
"I wish I had your hair," says my best friend Becky as we both stare into her bathroom mirror. We are getting ready for her birthday party together, which starts in 3 minutes at a small wine bar in NYC's West Village. Neither of us is fully dressed. Sprawled on Becky's bed is a bright red jumpsuit with an off-the-shoulder neckline that she just retrieved from the dry cleaner. When it comes to fashion, Becky is the definition of confident. She is the only person I know that dresses like a movie star in real life.
Personally, I am wearing jeans.
"No, you don't want my hair," I say.
On some level we are partaking in an ancient modesty ritual among girls -- putting ourselves down, picking our friends up -- but mostly I really mean it. I have a ton of thin, light brown, salon-highlighted hair, and it frizzes, knots, and is just generally unwieldy in all scenarios. Also, anytime I have asked a stylist to cut my bangs they curl up aggressively and tightly, like Home Depot blackout shades.
Becky makes the comment about my hair without any irony. It's bizarre, because she has the best hair imagineable: long, thick strawberry blonde hair that's never once been dyed or processed. It air dries with a subtle wave, similar to Jennifer Aniston's in her Friends years. Tonight, however, is special, and she has purchased a new curling iron from the drugstore.
"I don't even know how curling irons work," Becky says as she shreds the stiff plastic packaging. She crosses her wrists awkwardly and starts grappling with her own hair like it is a duel. The iron's jaws clamp down on a giant mound of hair and I hear a light sizzle. She starts to twirl up and around, fighting gravity, the hair coiling around itself, tangling into a double helix.
I swoop in.
"Wait, can I try?"
"God help me."
I make my way from side, to back, to side, explaining my technique of curling AWAY from the face, allowing the ends to stay unclasped, and how when you get to the front, you have to curl IN to frame the face. The result are soft, easy waves.
"Holy crap! How do you know how to do this? I thought you never curled your hair even a single time."
"What? I curled my hair this morning."
"But I thought you were like Alexa Chung!"
"Explain."
"One time in an interview Alexa Chung said she literally just washes her hair and it turns into easy ringlets."
"What? No. I learned this technique five years ago when I took my actor headshots. The stylist gave me a tutorial. Now it takes me like five minutes to do. But it's a technique. It's not natural."
(My headshot, by the way, is a photo of me mid-laugh, like I'm shouting "Oh no you didn't!" Sometimes I like it, sometimes I think it's the worst photo of all time. At least it is an archival record of my very first good-hair day.)
"Nutrageous," Becky exclaims, and I know she is shocked, because she never says "nutrageous" unless she means it.
"So you don't just wake up with that hair?"
"Nope. Alexa Chung is full of shit."
This is when I start to feel it.
A deep pit of frustration.
I don't get frustrated unless something needles me on a personal level. And I realize that I've been needled.
It takes me a second to understand the feeling. Then it hits me.
I'm tired of a world that peddles the "Faux Natural."
Cosmetics are designed to make your face look exactly like your own face, but without imperfection -- like a photo-retouching in real life. You cake on the foundation so the fine lines disappear. The more expensive the makeup, the more it proclaims to be "invisible." Cover it up, but don't show the man (or, I guess, woman?) behind the curtain. It's exactly like those articles about celebrities who have insane bodies that say, 'I don't watch what I eat, I just eat to feel good. Oh, and sometimes I do situps.'
But it's like…no you don't; you have a personal chef and a personal trainer.
To clarify, I don't believe there is anything wrong with putting effort into looking your best. Do it up, sister. All I'm saying is: in the aftermath, don't pretend it was no effort at all.
You don't have to be superhuman. You just have to be honest. Because being honest -- and confident in that honesty -- is maybe the most superhuman feat of all.
"My name is Felicia, and sometimes I use a curling iron on my hair," I say, breathing heavily. I realize I've been ranting to Becky. "I mean, if I don't admit it, other girls with frizz hair and bangs like blackout shades will feel alone and ashamed. We all just need to band together, Beck. We need admit that sometimes we wake up looking like shit!"
"Bangs like blackout shades!" Becky says. She is shouting, too. "That is a great simile!"
"It's like this other time I was in Lululemon at the mall and a girl that worked there had an amazing, elaborately styled hairdo -- we're talking Taylor Swift ringlets -- and when I complimented her she dropped what she was doing, turned to me and said, 'People hate me, because it's natural!' Because it's natural! It wasn't natural. It just wasn't. I wanted to run away from the store screaming! Which I eventually did, because Lululemon is so expensive!"
"It IS!" says Becky.
I take a deep breath.
"Anyway. I should probably keep getting ready."
As I fill in my eyebrows with a brow pencil, I think about how my eyebrows look a bit more like eyebrows now, but in an uncanny way. In the mirror my resting face looks noticeably more wry, like I could be laughing silently at myself.
Maybe Faux Natural hits a nerve because I never really felt comfortable in my looks and body until the past couple of years. Because my former career working in theater made me look at myself from the outside-in.  Because I'm still working on being un-self-conscious about my appearance. Because it's two steps forward, one step back.
"You look fantastic," I tell Becky as we regard her reflection together.
"Stop. You look fantastic."
I'm in jeans and a chiffon blouse. It's a pretty good look. Becky is fully jumpsuited, and her hair falls in subtle, loose curls. It's like it might have air-dried that way, entirely on its own.
"Shall we?" she says, and I nod.
Together, we stride toward the door.
* * *

 

To be continued...