Brave Wandering Practice

10 23 15

I’m winding my way through the Quest2016 Questions…Here’s some pondering on last week’s prompt from Todd Henry, “foremost voice and authority on how teams and individuals can execute brilliant ideas every day.” He’s also author of a lot of good sounding books*. Here’s the question at hand:

It takes bravery to know your strengths and operate diligently within them. Are you running your race, or someone else’s? 

Races imply finish lines.

That would imply that I have been training and signed up for something and I stood with bated breath at the starting line when the gun went off for some sort of competition. That I am running among some crew of people that are vying to cross some sort of finish line first. Argh. All of that competition makes it so easy to get off course. I know that is not what this question is getting at, but why do I have to be running a race? The competition, the anxiety, the stress, the singular focus?

I know – it’s a metaphor. I get it. It’s probably mean and snarky that I’m saying it doesn’t work for me.

But that helps me hone in on what this question does mean.

If I were to re-write the question, it would ask: It takes bravery to know your strengths and operate diligently within them. Are you charting your own back-country trek, or someone else’s? 

You see, I don’t know exactly what I am doing here. So ‘race’ just doesn’t seem like the right metaphor**. I’m not on a course. It’s not a 5K or a marathon. And it’s not that I’m just not in a race, I don’t particularly want to be racing. That just implies some sort of short term over-exertion followed by a finish line.

I want practice.

Regular. Daily. Practice.


Practice. To get quiet. To tune in to the voice inside. To play. To uncover my strengths, and through repetition, repetition, repetition – hone them to become as easy as breathing deep. So that when there is a race to run (an article due, a house to design, a poem to write, a prompt to respond to, a book to write) it’s second nature to line up at the starting line and stay focused and sprint in a totally-perfect-to-me-way on that one jaunt – and then recover and keep training and be ready for the next race.

Because this isn’t just one race. And if I face whatever this one creative life is as a race – and not a wonder-filled and wandering journey – if I pretend that I already know the route and the destination – I think I’ll be selling myself short. Just think of all of the trees and skylines and vistas and sunrises and sunsets that I won’t see if I am just focused on one thing ahead.

So, instead of #BraveRace, maybe it’s just #BraveWanderingPractice

*Todd Henry’s books:

**Okay, so I am on a little bit of a race. Today is Day #352 of the #365Quote Project, which is really just a year of very specific, yet not-very-specific practice. If this were a race (which is isn’t, because I just can’t quite see it ending on January 10th) that day would be my finish line. And, what have I learned in this race? I’ve learned that I need practice. That it take a lot of wearing-my-blinders kind of practice to stay honed and centered on what my voice is. What it feels like it coming from me, and not what I think others want to hear. And, to stay tied to that feeling of authentic curiosity and creativity that is sparked from within, and from DIT – not just from following some LEGO kit***.

***Building with LEGO kit instructions makes kids less creatives (Psychology Today)
+ Why You Should Care About LEGO and Creativity (Note to Self)
+ Are Legos Stifling Creativity? (UW Business School)


In Service of Clarified Butter

2 9 15
Early on in the #365Quote Project. February 9, 2015.

For this (I’m-super-behind) Quest2016 prompt CHRIS BROGAN asks us

How will you better clarify whom you serve and what you do for them in 2016?

I’ve noodled this. I’ve put it off for a week. Because 1) there is no oomph for me right now – everything in life feels temporarily very stuck – including words and feelings, 2) all the answers are (unabashedly?) selfish feeling and 3) all I can actually think about is clarified butter.

So let’s start there, with the butter – because there is nothing better than butter. I swear it runs in my veins. I’m not kidding. Butter, unlike liquid oils is part fat, a small portion water and 1-2% milk solids. Because of the milk solids and water, it doesn’t take nearly as much heat to brown or burn butter – when compared to other fats. So, clarified butter just the fatty goodness of butter, without the water and milk solids – and it’s required if you are, say, frying or high-heat-long-time cooking something in butter. (Let’s just pause here and say – YUM).

In theory, making clarified butter is easy. In theory, almost everything is easy – no? Throw your butter into a heavy pan, heat at a low temperature until it melts. Until the (totally delicious) milk solids float to the top and some of the water evaporates off. Skim off the milk solids, strain the liquid through cheesecloth – voila – clarified butter. But, cook it too hot, you get browned butter (still delicious, but not what you are going for). Cook it too hot and too long, hot burnt mess. Don’t cook it long enough, just a pile of melted butter. And, you’ve gotta skim, and pour – and anyone who knows me can voice that I am terrible at pouring anything. So, it takes some attention. Some focus.

Distilled. Impurities removed. Clean. Clear. Condensed. Powerful. Refined. Purified. Specific.

Clarified butter serves a very specific purpose. High heat. You can’t really use it for baking. It’s not so much fun to spread on bread.

But, you’re probably getting tired of the butter analogy, so I’ll move on.

And here comes the selfish part – when I think about who I serve and why – the answer is me me me me me me me. (Oh wait, more butter.)

This has been a clarified butter year for me. Literally. I have been tending to my one hundred and thirty five pounds of butter on the stove. Heating it up. Melting it down. Watching for the white, crackly, solids to float to the top – and skimming them off. Tending to temperature and skimming and timing and – yes – even efficient pouring.

I’ve been finding my voice by standing over that pot and skimming off the tiny bits of floating white. I’ve been distilling my sense of self into something understandable, translatable, powerful, potent and useful for me. I have been refining this thing that I am, stripping away water and milk solids and all of the other things that brown and burn at high heat and intensity.

And all of that time in the kitchen, over the pot of melted butter, has made for one very selfish feeling year. Maybe my most selfish year. (Well, ask my parents what I was like as a teenager, maybe this is nothing like those years). My most selfish adult year. I have, literally, been focused on serving myself. I’m behind on thank you notes and birthday cards and (now) Christmas presents. To say the least.

This past year I have been serving myself. The year ahead…I will still be serving myself. And what – what do I do for this little audience of one?

I write and I hone and I clarify and I craft. Because, as Brenna Layne says it so powerfully: “Writing is how I make sense of the world.” I do it because the writing itself is the process of warming and skimming and pouring that butter through the cloth. The writing is the only way that I can process and filter and file everything soaked in through these six sense (you know, the heart is a pretty big sense). And, quite frankly, it’s all begging to be shared. Maybe the it isn’t begging, but there is something in my brain that just wants to share it. Without even thinking.

Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert. Maybe it’s because I live alone in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it’s because I have always been this way. Maybe I am shy. Maybe I just feel most own-it, confident, brazen, brashly myself with pen in hand instead of telling stories at the dinner table.

It doesn’t matter. I write because it serves me. It helps me iron out the wrinkles of the day. It helps evaporate the water in the butter. It let’s the irksome milk solids float to the top.

It doesn’t matter if any of it is good. It (most of the time) really doesn’t matter if anyone reads it. It’s about the process. It’s about making the time to make life make sense. It’s about living firmly rooted in a practice. Because all of those things help me stay present and distilled down to the important, heat-tolerant stuff – and help me keep moving forward. Boldly and bravely.

And here’s the thing, the thing that confuses and bowls me over and blows me away. The times when I write and I am most grounded and most me and most present and vulnerable – those are the times when the most people respond. Respond to something that I have written. And that sets me back to the pot over the stove, to stir and skim and continue to focus on this practice. The practice of being grounded and clear. The practice of sharing.

I will continue to clarify my own butter in the year ahead. To stand over the stove and melt and stir and distill and purify. Because in that clarity, when I make that space for myself – then I can hear and share my own voice most effectively.

And, why does that matter? Because each day as I write more and more, and share more and more, and get braver more and more, and try to find and stay in that place of authentic me-voice-self-ness – I need more and more to be able to find that real voice within myself. The voice that translates and processes and makes sense of everything that I see, and the voice that gets written publicly to share all of those thoughts back out. Because, I need to stay continually grounded in my self and my perspective to avoid getting pulled away by the gusty winds of well, what do they want to hear?*

*Whew, in seeing that on the page, it’s a double whammy. The intention was about my writing. Because I see how lackluster and dull and antiseptic and cloying and boring and dead it is when I try to write with that question in mind. AND, in seeing those words there – holy how if I am now a recovering super-duper-people-pleaser.

The #Serve message from Quest2015 lives here: In Service of Happiness

CHRIS BROGAN explores how people use content and community  to build marketplaces around areas of belonging. He is CEO of Owner Media Group , providing simple plans and projects for business success. He is also a highly sought after professional speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of eight books and counting, including his forthcoming book, Insider: Strategies and Secrets for Business Growth in the Age of Distractions

Questing, Merrily. In Summary.

Hi Friends.

You’re probably here because we’re questing together. If you don’t know about Quest2016, you can find the basics here.

Some days it’s hard to decipher if I like plumbing my own depths to answer these question, or if I like reading the responses of others. Let’s just say I’m leaning more toward reading the writing of others. Holy cows, this is an amazing pack to run with.

Some highlights from the #MissMe prompt – which really seemed to pierce, puncture, and rough up us all. More below.

Read, read, relish, repeat.

Katherine Reynolds, Would they miss me?

You see I’ve already left the planet once.  From what I can piece together from all the information I have, my heart stopped on the surgical table after I was attacked in 1987.  The surgeons familiar with the case during rounds would tell me I was a miracle, that I should have died, that I was a lucky girl, that I was a fighter. Their eyes would shine as they smiled at me while teaching my case to the medical students. The EMT guy who held the artery closed with his finger in the ambulance told me he’d never seen anyone cut as deeply as me survive. He fully expected me to be a DOA case in spite of how hard I’d screamed at him to keep me alive in the ambulance.   So,  death has jumped up at me out of the dark suddenly, and I’ve lived to tell about it.


Stan Stewart, Mus 4 Now. What if?

I don’t want you to miss me when I’m gone.
I want to live the sort of life that invites you
To be the biggest, best you possible.
My one, shining wish is that my life

Would be enough of a beacon to let you
See the brilliance that is your beauty
And your gift to the world.


Podcasts that Keep Me Sane: Importance of Creative Expression by Suzi at Blue Car Painted Green.

Woo, because we all know podcasts are the best!


Author AK Anderson. Missed Me, Missed Me? (this is just the intro, her voice gets EVEN better!)

Dear Seth, You must have really hated Existentialism. I’ve read this prompt five times. I keep imagining you in college, feeling the nausée  for the first time, and desperately wishing you could leap back in time and punch Jean Paul Sartre in the nose.  I don’t know whether you were studying him in French class, or in Philosophy. Philosophy, I think. A Sophomore-level class. No earlier. No later, certainly.  Phil201.  I imagine you curled up on a stained rug being angry at a dead French guy that we can’t ever really know what other people think of us. And there’s nothing we can do about it, even if we did.


The tender-hearted Brenna Layne misses sweet Dijji, and calls it like she sees it. Plus, dinosaurs and other tiny things on Stay Tuned.

She was the one who witnessed (or at least slept through) the creation of everything I wrote.


Suzi Banks Baum on Laundry Line Divine, Missing, again. Quest 2016 with Seth Godin, again.

In closing, I dare you to show up for yourself this season. Take better than usual care of yourself. Sidestep the open maws of guilt and shame that yawn in our direction. Keep on your path towards simple beauty and connection. Be truthful where you haven’t yet found the courage to be so. Open your journals and then write. Let yourself enjoy solitude if that is what is calling you. Sit under the stars with your people and feel the magnitude and the gift of this dark time. And then, send some love to someone else on the planet.

And, please don’t finish this without reading Suzi Banks Baum’s #MissMe from last year.

These are responses to #Quest2016 coordinated by Jeffrey Davis and the amazing folks at Tracking Wonder. This is a smattering of responses to Seth Godin’s questions…“Would they miss you if you were gone? What would have to change for that question to lead to a better answer?” (Oh so strikingly similar to last year…)


True Stories.

#365quote note, *been. xoxo from dreamland

A post shared by vanessa jean (@maketimefarm) on


May 24, 2015

The country radio station is pushing out noise behind my head (Girl you better get your red head back in bed before the morning), old writing notebooks line the arm of the sofa, on the footrest the same set of markers that have inked my words for years (Hey mom, your daugher’s gone and there they go again. Hey-ehh!), the black dog who has been around long enough to be both my present and my past stretches off the sofa and onto the woven rug below my feet, a weekend in the brave company of an artist I have respected and admired for fifteen years, letters this week from friends I’ve known since childhood. I am looking backward in order to look forward.

A dear writing friend from Portland posed this question as part of her quest: What does it mean for a story to be true?

When I first faced this question earlier in the week, my quick response was “There is something really striking about The Moth tagline, something about ‘true as remembered by the storyteller’. There is something about absorbing your experience and retelling it that makes it real, and authentic, twice-over.”

Lucky me, I got a second nudge on the same question, with a letter from Peggy that arrived in my mailbox Friday afternoon (a glorious mail day, enough to last through the long weekend, and providing today’s quote too). A second opportunity to reflect on her prompt. On truth. On true stories. And after a weekend of full-ness, of recognizing that I am plodding the same route over and over, and meeting the same lessons on repeat, and moving in some weird uphill spiral that may be walking in circles, or growth or both…that maybe the truth is in the stories that stick. The stories that stay the same over time. The lessons we keep learning, in distinctly more detail each time around. Woven with the gold thread of our own selves that stays constant through years. That traces back in time to our roots, and routes back to the deepest cavities of our own heart.

In pulling Spilling Open off the shelf last night, I held in my hand a book that got me through the tumult of first heartaches and coming out. The book that showed me there is a place in this world for my type of creativity and thoughtfulness and words and questioning and solitude. That I belong. A book that I didn’t write, filled with pictures and words that are not mine, that somehow holds a weighty collection of my own memories. I’ve carried it with me from the east coast to the south to the west to the east and to land here, with me, in this place in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the country, the center of my heart.

Yesterday was a back dive into creative-presentness. Last night was a toe-dip into nostalgia and a tsunami of emotions welling up behind my ribcage. Today was an auspicious, serendipitous love-fest with a gallery of strangers becoming a room full of friends who generously handed me everything my heart was craving but I didn’t know I was missing. If I am still looking to understand grace, today it finally hit home. And it all flooded loose this afternoon, on the painted concrete floor of the gallery, amidst my scissors and a spread-out pile of scrap paper and words and ink. The rush of water, and tears, breaking loose stones and boulders and logs and everything jamming up the feeling that was still stuck. Not stuck anymore, sending forth the frayed edge of that sparkling gold thread for me to grasp, and thread back into the pin-point needle of now. Ready to stitch it back through the fabric of my life. Deeply.

That thread connected me to the hand-painted walls of my childhood bedroom, with Jack London quotes and floral patterns and collections of ephemera from the antique stores of South Pasadena. (I may have been the strangest, youngest customer in that stretch of stores. What must they have thought of me, perusing the pull-out drawers of letterpress typeset and wooden fruit crates and Beatles buttons?) I burst with memories of painting furniture by hand in the driveway, thinking I want to do this forever. I don’t want a real job. I don’t want to wear a suit. I don’t want to sit behind a desk. It knit me to the questioning and depth that came out through awkward high-school-age art. My scrawly cursive handwriting still the same, with undertones of quiet authority-questioning and insecurity and simultaneous bravery. How, even then, it felt like a safe way to express everything that couldn’t come out through my mouth. Or at least, looking back, I see the purpose it served. My words have caught up to me now. The collages of college. A crafty small business by hand. Making art as display for the man. The miles of words since then, like kite strings, set forth in notebooks and piles of letters. It’s been there all along, this creativity and this yearning.

It must be true if I can look back and see a trail stretched miles into the past. If this golden thread is thick enough to weave a life into place, into being, it must be true.

Life dreams are perpetual. They get me out of bed in the morning – they get me through my day. I still dream of the same things I did as a child, a quiet house by a river in Vermont, a quiet life, art, solace, water, wandering through days with fits and spurts of passion. Creating, tending. I still have that vision. And that’s all it’s ever been, as firm as an oil painting on the wall, one emotional glimpse of the way things should be. In the intervening twenty years the dream has grown to include a farm, chickens, a dog, writing. Sometimes a woman, once a family, but I usually settle in to a dream of myself, gazing alone into a snow-dusty sky, quiet solitude.

That is the dream I have not let go of. It may be the default image after pressing the reset button on life, it may be an idealized childhood emotion for peace and a still heart that I refuse to let go of. Or it just may be the way things are. There is always this disparity, this distance between the comfortable dream, the longing, that which our soul knows to be true


that of which we convince ourselves, with a tightening heart, pushed and pulled by the things around us that seem dream-like but don’t fall smoothly into the true vision we have for ourselves. And how easy it is to get off track, to stray from the dream.

This is the only dream I have not let go of. It may not be Vermont, there may be no river, no squawking chickens and only a tiny spot for growing heirloom tomatoes – but the peace of this dream I will not let go of.

In thinking through this idea of truth is the thing that persists, my memory fell upon the above response to a writing prompt from my time in Portland. When our creative-writing-through-food-class turned into a delicious-writing-group-of-dedicated-women. We met monthly for words and sharing – tasty morsels on the page and on the buffet table. It was the dark depths of winter, dormancy. And my heart was resting after a thorough thrashing, and my whole self was re-grouping for the proverbial spring ahead. We gathered in the second-floor apartment of M, before she set out on yet another adventure (as this woman defined adventure), before she left town for good. The evening’s theme: dreams. The kind we experience during sleep and the kind that we hold in our hearts with the hope they bloom in the future. I quickly scrawled out the words above to the prompt, “Life dreams. What do you dream of? What dreams have you not let go of?” The passage above could have come out of my pen in the last six months, verbatim. But instead was written seven years ago.

I thought of this all today, as my new friend T scrawled out for me “She went home to the farm, where love lived” without knowing the weight of those words, in a round of Exquisite Corpse. These are the words today that launched the freeing avalanche in my heart. That somehow spring-boarded me backward in time. I remembered so clearly how my words looked on the thin-set lines of that most favorite writing notebook seven years ago, and the very clear vision those words describe. A small room, me, solitude, wilderness outside, full-ness. I can picture it as clear as a painting, and now I can envision it as my life. And as my notebooks are dotted with these notions of solitude, creativity and (in the last ten years, farm) I now recognize they are all metaphors. Symbols for my self, my truth, the gold thread of creativity. The place that I long to come home to, the roof under which I yearn to live. 

she went home to the farm.jpg

These are the things that are true. The stories that arrive on repeat. That are timeless within us because they are ours. Stories that have become part of our own narrative, vision, dream, and help us to return to our core, our best selves. The stories that we keep reliving, throughout different years, with hodge-podge people, at distant dots across the map – these are the truest stories of ourselves.

– – – – –

This is a revised version of the #365Quote Project newsletter sent in the wee hours of last night. After two days at a Sabrina Ward Harrison workshop, I was cracked open and raw and moved and completely content.

Crackled.Sparkling.Ephemera was started to house my writings for Quest2015. It was a stop gap container engaged with no long term planning. Then the #365Quote Project happened. Then the associated daily newsletter happened. (I’m practicing just letting things happen, can you tell?) It’s wonderful to have a daily writing practice, with some sort of quiet agreement with newsletter readers that something will happen every day. But, it’s meant few things are translated beyond preliminary thoughts, and into this space. Maybe more to come, in the mean time you can find me here every day.

I Did It

I did it. I met my post-every-day-for-a-week challenge.

And now I am tired and want to take a break.

But still, there are some stories that are just so good one cannot resist sharing them into the world. So, here’s a recent post from Becca Deysach at Cultivate Clarity, with a short excerpt below – because we should all be on our way to yes. Cheers!

I am going through an accelerated period of growth. And it’s as expansive as it is awful.

My body never grew quickly as a kid, so I have no idea what growing pains feel like to the bones of people who’ve actually gotten more than five feet off the ground, but the kind of growing pains I’m experiencing feel like a ride through a washing machine—fast, wild, out of control, yet impeccably timed and cleansing all at once.

I’ve lived a pretty self-monitored, self-controlled, goody-goody life for the past 38 years. But recently I made a big, hurtful mistake. I fucked up in a way I’ve never fucked up before and hurt someone very dear to me in the process. And it suuuuuucks.

Read the remainder here.



The Quest2015 finish line is in sight. The penultimate prompt is brought to us by personality visionary Sally Hogsead

[OK, I admit that I started this post in the end of 2014, providing myself a template to easily answer the question below. And then…I landed back in Wisconsin (from North Carolina and Portland) and the day-to-day changed and this question sat patiently in the back seat. Temporarily at first. Gently tugging at my sleeve for attention at intervals. Perching atop the ‘to do’ list. Then the priority shifted, the prompt toppled off the ‘to-do’ list and knew to sit quietly in the back-back of the car. (Did anyone else have a rear-facing seat in your station wagon, the back-back?) Being back at the farm, with the chores and the incessant sweeping of dog fur, along with the big work event, and all of the thinking and figuring* – I can’t say it was overwhelming, but it was a period of contemplation. And it still is a peaceful C O N T E M P L A T I O N.

So, I am not a quitter (more to come on that**), and I always intended to finish the Quest…before moving on to the next Quest…and whatever comes after that. So, here goes the end. It may be slapdash, under-thought, poorly crafted, full of spelling errors, or long and rambling – who knows. But it will be, and finishing is what counts most at this point. So, back to it. The prompt from Sally Hogsead…]

What is your most valuable personality trait – and how can you bring it forward in your best work in 2015?

This is hard to answer, mostly because it involves saying nice things about myself. Or at least showing my hand about how I see myself. It’s hard for me to speak highly of myself, in public, because then you are on the record…and it’s so easy for every other person out there to pick that apart so easily. (Really? She really thinks she’s a good listener? Well, she should try listening to this…) OK, so I get that this is the Negative Nancy sitting on my shoulder trying to bring me down – but sometimes it is downright scary to say good things about yourself, in public. (Did you know that I squirrel away compliments for a rainy day? One golden word of praise or professional commendation really does make a big, sunny impact. Of course, one, tiny criticism shatters me like the atomic bomb.)

So, taking the hard road and really saying what I really like about myself, my most valuable trait. That’s scary! It’s especially scary since every positive has its downside too. Especially if you can be, um, a little unbalanced like me sometimes. Energy is great! Too much energy and people look at you like you’re nuts (I’m also OK being perceived as nuts).

I just ended a particularly strong and uplifting professional week, so I’m likely to score myself a little higher than usual in some categories. So here goes… It’s a combination of: energy, passion, listening, confidence with myself and determination (aka, non-quitting-stubborness**). Determined. Energetic. Generator of big ideas (sometimes, most of the time, too many). Eternally optimistic. Positive. Smiling. I like all of these thing about myself, in fact, I love them. I think of this as the recipe for my delicious best self. Yay, let’s celebrate me! (I say that because we should always celebrate our best selves and the best parts in each other. Because what else are we to aspire to if we don’t know what the feel-good, best-self is?)

So, before my brain can stumble into how I can bring this best trait forward this year…I have a confession. My brain doesn’t look at that list of awesome characteristics and stop there with a pat on the back. Instead, my brain gets all a-ha moment stuck on the glaring fact that these best traits are only a trigger hair away from my worst traits.

For example, “eternally optimistic. positive. smiling.” is just a few smiles and nods away from being too nice, and we all know how that one goes. Energy, high energy, leads to spells of incredible productivity and focus, which is awesome. But…without certain balances of, say, a good night’s sleep or remembering to eat meals, life can get a little out of whack and imbalanced. Hardly sustainable in the long run. Generator of big ideas (not to mention over-committer to many an interesting sounding project) is just a short skip, hop and jump from scattered, unfocused and wholly-disorganized. That just leaves me feeling unsuccessful at a handful of things that I should be excited about…not to mention the feeling of a lingering to-do list that keeps me perpetually a bit on edge. And the anxiety, it’s a double-edged sword. It keeps me sharp, motivated, moving, one-step-ahead. It can also be pins-and-needles gut wrenching, gnawing, mind-warping and distractingly, pessimistically persistent.

So maybe, the trick for this year is not about bringing these good traits forward, but cultivating them in a way that maximizes their potential, and mine.

– – –

Let’s change directions for a bit. I feel like there is a super-real-life application here. I do have some strengths that I want to incorporate into my creative-business-person self, but I don’t really know how – yet. So, how do all these positive traits manifest?

Here’s an example from my job-life. I was in charge of planning a large conference which we hosted on Thursday. I was working with the best ever planning committee, and we executed a near-perfect, one-day event. I love existing behind the scenes, dealing with details, crunching numbers, putting the framework in place, creating a seamless event or resource or experience. But, I find the actual event exhausting: all the schmoozing and small talk and smiling and being on all the time. Exhausting! I prefer to stick myself in a hidden place or work the registration table with one specific task ahead of me.

But somehow, I always end up facilitating, speaking, emcee-ing, standing at the front of the room. Any you know what? Turns out I am kick-ass when you get me behind a microphone and in front of a large group of people. [Yeah, I just called myself kick-ass – deal with it.] I have this alter-ego personality that I can turn on, and she just channels every ounce of genuine-ness, energy, smile-cakes and people-connecting that she can muster…and she gets rave reviews. It’s a weird, almost out-of-body experience. I am being the least like myself, yet the most myself at the same time. Like someone gave her a few shots and unhinged all of those introvert tendencies for a brief stint. I feel like I am faking it, but I really am being no one other than my truest self, (bolstered by a a captive audience stuck with me!). My late night musing guesses it’s a combination of three things: reading the audience as I talk, not actually caring if I make mistakes (we’re all human) and not being afraid to be myself. [For the record, that’s the highest volume of nice things I have ever said about myself publicly. I am super uncomfortable with this, but I’ll let it stick here, and I am guessing I won’t die because of it.]

So, how do I harness that skill, quality, characteristic (what do we call this?) to do something other than facilitate meetings about school food and policy and local food systems?

Yes, I love those topics, and I intentionally set myself up with a career that matched my passions and interests…but it would be so much more fun to be able to talk about something else, something more personal. Something more in the realm of what we are all searching for on our Quest.

– – –

Our Quest pack was introduced to Sally Hogshead and her How to Fascinate system. Not gonna lie, I love a good personality quiz. There is nothing more flattering than a quiz. A quiz could tell you that you are the biggest piece of poop on this planet, but will deliver the results in such a flattering way that you are so excited to be the biggest piece of poop in the galaxy. Flattered, no matter what. I was skeptical, but curious.

So it turns out that my classification is “The Subtle Touch”. Yea, I know that means nothing! In this matrix my predominate advantage is mystique (listening and not revealing too much about myself) and my secondary is passion (no definition needed). In the How to Fascinate matrix this distills down to:

“The Subtle Touch. Tactful. Self-Sufficient. Mindful. Unexpected. Profound. You prefer an understated excellence to outright flashiness. You’re able to connect with others easily but sometimes you prefer to remain reserved. When others need guidance, they come to you for your profound ability to read between the lines.”

So, the first thing is…could this be any more complimentary? There is nothing better than a survey that sweeps you off your feet and tells you all the things you want to hear about yourself. So, therefore, I take it as a grain of salt. But let’s just say, all that positive stuff…that is what I strive to be. I am reserved. Seriously. And, I pride myself on being a good listener. I love listening to people. When you listen to someone, really listen, you are doing the single most important thing on this planet: allowing someone to feel heard and validated. (Which, as far as I am concerned, is the most valuable thing we can do for each other while on this planet.) But, you also learn a lot, A LOT, when you actually listen to other people. When you really listen, there are no secrets, you get all the puzzle pieces, you can understand. Even better, when you ask questions, and then listen, there is so much to learn, glean, understand – it’s the best ever. I could spend hours talking about why I feel this way, but I will spare you. In the mean time, one last thought. OK, actually two.

1. My fascination analysis states my dormant advantage as “POWER”. It’s called dormant because it’s the least likely to impress or influence others. Let’s just say that this is 100% true. When I act from a place of power, I stumble all over myself. Not only do I set myself up for a pretty big fall (or fail), but I also feel genuinely out of touch with the best parts of myself. This is something to explore further.

2. (and I promise to end here before you poke your eyes out with your pencil. If you’ve even made it this far.) Each set of personality characteristics also comes with its own set of downsides. So, I give Sally points for trying to make us our best selves by handing over some powerful medicine for self improvement. In my case, my Double Trouble (sort of like the dark side, the bad side of your best side) is…(drumroll, please)…

“The Deadbolt: Unemotional. Introverted. Concentrated. Mystique tends to be secretive. You rarely share information about yourself, but too much secrecy can negatively impact your trustworthiness. People may wonder whether you have something to hide. Avoid becoming too introverted and unemotional that you completely shut others out. This can make it hard for others to work with you.”

Um, yea. That’s sort of a family gene, no? Anyone who knows me really well understands that this is my downside. Maybe figuring out how to merge that outward, honest, microphone-happy self with my shy, quiet and keep-it-under-wraps self is the work for the year ahead. A different kind of honestly.

Maybe just openness. Maybe it’s just about working toward balance. Prioritize passions, be realistic in what I can accomplish, share more than feels comfortable and just be here now (and maybe relax every one in a while).

Curtsy. Exit stage left.

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*More on this to come too. In tackling, researching, and pondering the bonus prompt from Scott Dinsmore, I was pause-struck by his blurb-article about what to do amidst a major life change. I won’t spoil it here, but suffice it to say, there is a lot of contemplation, but other than the fully-lived-day-to-day, that’s all the action that is going on. Peace to that! More to come.

**No, really, the whole not quitting thing is a big deal. It’s a dangerous mix of stubbornness and toughness that has almost killed me twice (no, really), and led me to numerous episodes of unnecessary struggle, unhealthy habits and bad matterns. This is on the ponder list.

Nothing to Miss

I’m giving Seth Godin‘s prompt a second shot. My first response was true, but I don’t think I dug deep enough. There’s more to uncover. So, here’s a second attempt for Quest2105 Theme Day 10, which comes to us with care from bestselling author and visionary Mr. Godin :

Who would miss you if you were gone? If you didn’t show up to work, didn’t send out that newsletter, didn’t make that sales call, didn’t tweet that tweet… who would miss it? How does your answer shape how you’ll live out 2015?


The Literal Response

Who would miss me? My parents. My brother. My dog. That’s about it. That’s probably not true, but those are the people that confidently come to mind. We are all resilient, and the missing slows down, and changes, and morphs and lessens. Missing changes to memory to sweetness. It’s how we talk about Nana or Grandpa. Less missing, more remembering over the course of time. What is missing, anyway?

This is not a question I think about. Not a topic I ponder with frequency, if ever. Not because I am afraid to think of my end, not because I am afraid to think of the sadness of others. Mostly, because it’s a hypothetical question. Or, more appropriately, a question that’s not mine to answer. In graduate school, I learned you can’t ask hypothetical questions on a survey if you want statistically significant or meaningful results. I think the same applies here.

I am here now, one day I won’t be. Thinking about who will miss me seems to slim the fullness of life and its opportunities. Does it create attachments that don’t propel growth? That limit actions?

I’ve left a lot of people, place and things over the course of my little life. I left my hometown for as-far-away-as-possible college (literally, but not intentionally). Left my college town for a long bike ride cross-country. Left behind a small business making duct tape fashion accessories to move west and pursue new things. Left behind friends. Lived far from family. Not because I am running from anything, but because I am seeking something, and I am not afraid. (Or, more appropriately, I am afraid, but facing that fear is a provoking and growth-filled action). Have people missed me? I don’t know, it’s not my place to say. What I do know is that life goes on, regardless.

Except for the departure that comes with death, the leaving is optional. It’s always a choice. In fact, maybe it’s even a privilege, a blessing to practice the non-attachment that allows moving and missing. There is something in the fear of leaving, the fear of others missing you, which holds you back. Sometimes the thought of what you will miss holds you back. It’s all of that attachment to people, to places, to potential, to avoid hurting others – that holds us back, from leaving, from writing, from publishing, from being full practitioners of ourself-ness.

Is it selfish to not think about who would miss me? Too self-focused? Too determined to practice non-attachment and to let go too easily? Is it some sort of emotional self-protection, or self-devaluation?

The Creative Missing

On the micro scale, I don’t think about who would miss me because there is a part of me that so often wants to be hidden and quiet and behind the scenes and not missed. I fear there is ego wrapped up in the spotlight, or in being missed. I don’t want to be loud, a nuisance, a burden, a centerpiece. I don’t make a fuss unless backed into a corner. I do yearn to be recognized and valued, but my guilt about striving for that acknowledgement and success, for wanting it, keeps me muted. Is this a constant battle between my ego and non-attachment or whatever the opposite of ego is?

I am repelled and repulsed by the idea of self-promotion, and I don’t know to what degree that holds me back from being missed. How much of that is fear of the spotlight; how much is lack-of-confidence in my ideas and writing and creativity; and how much is just my personality. If we want to be creative business people, there is a certain amount of self-selling and self-advertising and self-involvement that is part of the process, no? What is the line between sharing a genuine creative product and pushing an empty creative product that is more about you and a snazzy head shot and pretty website? Are we selling ourselves, or our creative work? (Man, that sounds snarky, and I apologize). I am so skeptical and afraid of selling myself.

I’ve always been a proponent of the concept that good ideas rise to the top, catch fire, and take off. But I am guessing that doesn’t happen in a totally organic way, there is strategy and self-promotion and a million other striving-related things involved, not to mention work and practice. But does my genuine self, my best self, my core get lost in this process?

In some ways, I’ve become shy. I want to be appreciated by my true merit, not because of my luck of being born into a certain family, or how people perceive me to look. There is this separation between myself and my ‘work’. That it’s not about me, but about the value of my ideas, contributions, merits, creative ventures – writing, ideas, passion. I guess maybe I need to feel 100% confident that I’ve earned anything miss-able that I produce.

The heart of it may be that the louder I am, the bigger I am, the more confident I am in my story, my voice, my contribution – the more likely that someone will call me out for being a fake. This scares me. I have all this passion and memory and perspective on my experience, from the birdsong to the freeze-dried canary grass to the first kisses and pen pals and big dipper and departures. But what if my memories are all wrong, off, not-mine and rejected by the big world? I can’t even agree on the contents of a conversation I had last week, how can I know my feelings are right, and that in sharing them they will be respected? What if my story-telling-self doesn’t get it right (and, on this topic, listen to this great TED Radio Hour interview with Daniel Kahneman on “how experiences become memory”).

Plus, there are a million other creative, inspired writers, business people, leaders, and artists out there. Big hearts, big people, big personalities. Lovers. Winners. Inspirers. Communicators. A billion places to go for that kind of inspiration. I feel like peanuts. An imposter. A novice. A rookie. And that everyone can read my counterfeit nature from a million miles away. What is the value in what I have to say or create, when a million other people have already done it? What makes mine different or worthwhile? Is there anything worth missing in there, and would anyone actually miss it?

And how did these awesome, existing creative souls make it. And what does making it mean anyway? People liking what you create? Working into a situation where you can do what you love for a living? Acclaim? I’m thinking of some of my favorites like SARK or Sabrina Ward Harrison, these totally inspirational creators who have such a presence!

I put pen to paper (and brush and glue to paper, and pigs and chickens to pasture) because I like love it. It helps me clear my thoughts, capture feelings and moments in time. Magnify and memorialize. It is, primarily, an act for myself and about myself. It doesn’t really get any more selfish than that, does it? And so I censor myself to avoid this ego. And as soon as I stop writing from my heart, when the gold thread from my insides no longer pours out as the ink of my pen, everything I write feels limp and unreal and fake. I self-censor either by limiting what I say to avoid hurting others. Or because I don’t have sufficient faith that my feelings and experiences are valid or will stand up as “real enough” to the judgment of others. That someone will stand up and say, “It didn’t happen that way, you are wrong. That doesn’t count. You are a liar.” Because memory is fallible. But the biggest self-censoring comes from this: sometimes I sit down and write what I think others want to hear. Because why is my commentary on the newest Weight Watchers commercial interesting, who cares about what my heart feels, what could I say that hasn’t been said?

But anything produced through that censoring filter, when I don’t write for my own heart-audience of one, it all sounds like crap. A big pile of crap that no one is going to miss. Myself included.

So, after this very long-winded answer to who would miss me if I were gone, on writing and missing and big personalities and self-promotion and why-I-write – I have come to this conclusion. And, of course, it’s a question:

Are we to give the world what we think it wants, or are we to give the world our purest, most intimate, most real selves? Perhaps if we give the first of the two, there is nothing for the world to miss?

Maybe I don’t value myself enough to be missed. Maybe it’s time to do something about that.

#missyou #Quest2015