Cancel Culture? Or Compassion?

This week Saturday Night Live announced three new cast members that will join the show this fall. Among them was a local comic who has lived in Philly and is big in the scene here. It’s always amazing when someone local makes it big, and there was a lot of excitement about their casting on the show.

And then a video came out.

It was a video of a podcast they had recorded a little over a year ago in which they used racial slurs in the context of making a joke. Then it emerged that there were other videos of other podcasts where they used more racial slurs in the context of making a joke. And then stories began to emerge of their live sets and how they used even more racial slurs, along with homophobic and misogynistic language. A general picture began to emerge of the kind of comedy this entertainer offered.

And then the backlash began.

But not necessarily the kind of response you would think. Many in the local comedy scene sprung to this comic’s defense. “It’s comedy!” “This is what we do. We push boundaries!” “If you listen to the slurs in context they were trying to make a point!” “If we can’t challenge the status quo, what good is the art form?” And just as immediately everyone coalesced into two opposing sides… The side of embracing and defending this comic for using slurs, homophobia, and misogyny in their act as an integral part of the experience, and the side that says it’s not necessary to use the words to make your point. And by using the words you are perpetuating the very stereotypes you are trying to tear down. Each side made their case, with each side labeling the other “snowflakes” or “nazis” depending on who was on which side.

And then they were fired.

SNL put out a statement that they were not moving forward with hiring this comic to be on the show. Which spurred even more arguments online about how “the haters got what they wanted” and “no one can make a joke anymore” and “this isn’t comedy”. I was especially drawn to these kinds of comments. Are audiences being too sensitive? Is it possible to craft jokes using slurs and charged language to make a point and elevate the discourse? Was “cancel culture” just a bunch of whiny snowflakes who don’t understand humor? I think it’s important at this point to examine what “cancel culture” really is.

The staggering majority of opinions about this topic fell into two monolithic camps… one that is completely and totally against “cancel culture” and feel that it unfairly targets those who are attempting to generate discussions and elevate debate, and the “cancellers” themselves who are calling attention to past thoughts and actions and demanding accountability and acknowledgement. Where was I on the subject? As a human being with thoughts, feelings, and emotions, I was definitely finding myself squarely on one side of the argument. But I realized as a coach and someone who has trained to be an objective observer and questioner I was falling short of what I needed to be doing. Looking beyond the emotions and arguments to examine what (I believe) was the real issue. And then as I scrolled through Twitter I saw it. Someone (and I apologize to the author as I didn’t catch their name so this thought is not mine originally) had tweeted the simple phrase ‘What if cancel culture = compassion?” That was my in. What was “cancel culture” and how did it become something so toxic to some and so important to others? So that’s where this article will attempt to find meaning.

Wikipedia defines “cancel culture” as follows…”a form of boycott in which someone (usually a celebrity) who has shared a questionable or unpopular opinion, or has had behavior that is perceived to be offensive called out on social media is "canceled": they are completely boycotted by many fans, often leading to massive declines in celebrities' (almost always social media personalities) careers and fanbase.” Semíramis, an author on Medium, goes into detail about the history of cancel culture and how it wasn’t always used by the masses to call out bad behavior. She writes ”Before black Twitter users started cancelling morally wrong behaviors, culture and media had long been practicing the complete erasure of certain people and ideas. The only difference is that they weren’t erased because they were racists, or homophobes, or abusers, or rapists. Quite the contrary, the people who were erased were often minorities, their only fault was to be black, or female, or trans, or gay, or all of the above. Their contributions didn’t matter because they, as a person, couldn’t matter. They weren’t allowed to take space; they were, to all intend and purposes, cancelled.”

So as cancel culture was used historically to erase those deemed less than, it has been repurposed to hold accountable those who are acting or speaking in a morally egregious way. It has become a tool for the masses to defend the minority, call attention to, and demand action from. But as is always the danger this kind of mass action can be used in a way that wasn’t intended. And the term “cancel culture” can become a negative term for overacting, oversensitivity, dramatics, and attack. But who are the people so vocally opposed to “cancel culture” and why do they care so much?

To revisit the online posts and messages about this particular comedian, it becomes clear who the prominent and most vocal defenders are… men. Especially white men. Those who have had the power and leeway to use any words they want, reference any group of people they want, and make any kinds of jokes they want without repercussion or reprisal. A recurring theme in many of the posts was of “how times have changed” and “everyone has gotten too sensitive”, and the most telling “cancel culture has gotten too powerful.” But knowing the history of “cancel culture” and how it is being used today, why would the shift in power dynamic matter so much to this part of the population? As we all know, when someone calls us out on something we’ve said or and action we’ve taken, our ego immediately takes the blow. I’ll dare you say I was wrong! You don’t understand! You’re just being sensitive! I’ve heard some variation of these phrases too many times to count in my life. And every time it was meant as not only salve for the ego being bruised, but as a weapon to hurt back. And when we are challenged and our ego bruised, the last thing we want to do is open ourselves up, connect, and start a discussion about what happened and how we can be better. So we close ourselves off and circle the wagons with others like us who feel attacked as well. The need to protect the status quo is a strong one. Especially for those who have the most to lose in the change.

And that brings me to the question, “Why do the words matter so much?” If the term “cancel culture” is so tainted and negative, what if were reframed as an aspect of what it was meant to embody… compassion? What if calling attention to racist quotes or homophobic jokes in a set weren’t seen as trying to “cancel” someone, but rather calling for more compassion and forethought? To examine the specifics of comedy, when a stand up or comedic actor take the stage they have a captive audience who are listening to everything coming from that stage. Not just the words, but the body language, the emotions, and all the subtle cues we give off with every thought we relay. The thoughts we put out there matter. The words matter. And as we all know from living in America in 2019, the words people in the spotlight use and the thoughts and beliefs they share can and will influence large groups of people. And comedy has long been the vessel through which subversive ideas and oppositional thinking has been delivered to the masses. It’s because of this that comics and comedic actors have a higher obligation to their audiences. Comedians can be positive change agents, but that requires a full and complete examination of what we’re really trying to say, the change we want to enact, and the words we use to make it happen. And when a smarter and more compassionate audience gets a whiff of insincerity, that’s when more attention and scrutiny begins.

I don’t think audiences have become more sensitive, they have become more aware. They are more informed and more connected, and as a result they expect more from their entertainers. And viewed objectively this isn’t a bad thing. Resting on your laurels or becoming lazy with your writing or acting can and does happen to everyone who takes the stage and puts themselves out there every night. But we should take this as a positive challenge and examine how we can improve our message every time to make ourselves better comics and actors.

Comics do have a responsibility to their audiences, to not only be funny but to make them think. The great comics always made their audiences think. I would offer that the best way to do that is to examine yourself. Don’t just use the words, but ask yourself why you have to use them in the first place. The payoff is in the examination and discovery. Because it’s through that process that the comic finds out more about themselves, and the audience questions more about themselves, and everyone gets incrementally more curious. And then we all begin to talk to each other to learn more about each other. And eventually we discover we don’t really need to use the slurs anymore. At least in a perfect world.

Hey Dude, Stop Ordering People to Smile

“Hey, you should be smiling!”

“C’mon, gimme a smile why don’t you?”

“Why aren’t you smiling!?”

“SMILE!!!!!”

As a male-identifying cis guy I don’t have to hear any of these missives on a daily basis, but I know literally ALL of my female-identifying or presenting friends deal with hearing this daily, if not hourly. And as a guy, the feeling that everyone should be “smiling god-dammit” is in my head all the time as I walk down the street. For example, as my partner and I were taking our regular morning walk, I noticed everyone walking their dogs, and I also noticed they all looked miserable. I even commented out loud “Jeez, why isn’t everybody smiling?” I was even doing my part and offering up a big smile to everyone I passed with a short but cheery “Hey!” or “Morning!”, but still no smiles in return. And I could feel myself getting resentful. Why isn’t everyone responding to me? I demand you all smile!!!

And then it hit me. Omg I’m that guy. I am owed a smile from everyone I pass because… why? Why am I owed anything from these strangers who are thinking their own thoughts and planning their own days. Why am I demanding anything from strangers who are completely autonomous adults who I’m sure would tell me that smiling at a stranger is quite low on their to-do list for today, or forever for that matter. Why is a smile from a random person so important to me or my feelings? Who was I to judge or demand?

For women and those who identify or present as women, it’s not just a simple question. In her opinion piece for the New York Times “An American Woman Quits Smiling”, author Lisa Ko writes “Smiling when you don’t feel like it has been proven to make you feel good by producing actual feelings of happiness. I’ve tried it, and it does work, but I don’t want to be ordered to smile. If a smile is the appearance of happiness, then to be commanded to smile takes away our right to our own feelings. We must appear happy, even if we’re not. A man told my friend to smile, for instance, on the day that she found out her father had died.” And writer and activist Bené Viera told The Huffington Post“The sexualization behind telling women to smile is alarming. It makes women feel that we are only meant to be happy and pretty and it’s a passive way to engage into an unwanted conversation. Asking a woman to smile is a selfish act and it’s rarely in a caring tone; it’s condescending and it turns a simple gesture into something sexual.”

The hard truth is men don’t see this side of the conversation. We feel like we are helping by telling a woman to smile, and who doesn’t like to smile? We feel better when everyone is smiling, right? But as these two authors point out, it’s not asking. It’s a demand that carries with it a truckload of connotation and baggage that the majority of men either can’t understand or understand all too well. Tie it back to the idea of toxic masculinity of you must, but really it’s just guys being total assholes and making another autonomous human being feel bad.

So guys, just say hi. Give a head nod. And move on. Stop ordering people to smile. It’s gross.

When Talking Becomes a Full Contact Sport

I would rather scream at you than listen to what you have to say.

Turn on the TV. Read the paper. Check your favorite news sites. Scroll through social media. Talk to your friends and family. The signs of conversational breakdown are everywhere. The mere idea of “civil debate” has packed up its suitcase and hopped on a plane to Antarctica. Our cultural discourse has devolved from shades of gray to a binary choice… you are either completely, 100%, no questions asked right… or you’re completely, 100%, no questions asked wrong.

Talking to anyone who isn’t in your camp or “on your team” about any topic can quickly and assuredly devolve into red faces, hoarse voices, and hurt feelings. I’m right. I know I’m right. And you, my good friend, are so unbelievably wrong on so many levels it will take me the next hour of screaming at you to MAKE you see the error of your ways. And this isn’t to say that there are topics where someone can’t be wrong, like being sympathetic to white nationalists or rapists or people who want to hurt other people for no good reason. I’m talking about all the other topics that make up the hours and days of our average lives. Healthcare. Education. Civil rights. Equal pay. Religion. The environment. Neighbors. Topics that are ripe for a spirited debate and civil discourse. But at this moment in time that seems to be a dream that’s just this much out of reach.

And I believe the way we couch our discussions has a lot to do with it.

I’m currently reading the book I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers. It’s main focus is on how to have more civil political conversations, but there is a passage that I believe can be applied to conversations in general. And it has to do with our love affair with sports. In chapter two, the authors write “…We take our sports too seriously because someone has to win and someone has to lose. That’s why there’s a big problem with behaving as though politics is a sport when we are focused on winning as a political imperative.” They go on to say “When our jerseys inform everything, it stifles our creativity.” I love that last line because it points right to the heart of the issues we’re having talking to each other. We are all sorted onto teams and given our jerseys to wear, then we are sent out into the world to evangelize for our team. And whenever possible, we find someone wearing a different jersey and immediately switch into sports mode. We square up, stiffen our spines, ball up our fists, and start reciting our beliefs in bullet point fashion, scoffing at the other person’s list as often as we can. And all the while, in the back of our minds, the scoreboard in our mental stadium is keeping track of points scored, fouls committed, time outs called, and we may throw in a halftime show during a bathroom break.

And no room is made for real thought or genuine curiosity. Because our jersey won’t allow it. Wavering from our stance or entertaining a different point of view is seen as weak. Who’s side are you on, anyway? Why would you even begin to think about what it’s like for the “other side”? Empathy is for suckers. Empathy is not going to win us this game. Empathy is something losers do. And our team isn’t a loser. It’s a winner. But why isn’t their room for empathy and curiosity in our current societal environment? Because sports isn’t an empathetic place, and has no need for curiosity. What’s there to be curious about? We’re not here to have tea. We’re here to trounce the other team and win the game.

Now let’s play “what if”… What if instead of wearing jerseys, we wore our own clothes? What if instead of being on “teams” we tended to agree with certain ways of thinking over others? What if we threw out our bullet points and asked the other person “what do you think about this?” What if there were no sports references in our conversations? What if it wasn’t a zero-sum game? What if we enjoyed the civility of debate? What if we could empathize with someone who’s thinking wasn’t as aligned with ours?

My challenge to you is this: if you’re not currently playing on a field in an actual sporting event, stop thinking in sports terms. Instead of winning or losing, what about learning one new thing a day and connecting with one new person?

How Old is Too Old?

“Am I too old to do that?”

I find myself asking that question to no one in particular at least once a day; checking in with the universe about my choice of shorts, my choice of drink, my choice of shows to watch. The cultural police person in my brain wears their judgement on their face when I finally decide what I’m going to look like as I leave the house. A far cry from the Ralph in art school who rolled out of bed and threw on whatever didn’t smell to run to class. And that makes me think about going back to school for more education, which I then think I’ve aged out of as well. Some may say I’ve grown and matured. Some may say “Who cares? Roll out of bed and throw on whatever if you want.” I guess what I want to know is how old is too old? And why do we care?

This post came about for a few reasons. One, my love of Madonna will never die and her new album just came out this past week. I’ve grown up with her and now as she ventures into her 60s we’re all getting to see what happens to pop royalty who dares to get older. And in this case, a pop icon who built her empire on being an outspoken woman who fully and unapologetically embraced her sexuality. There aren’t enough pearls in the world for some people to clutch or cluck their tongues at an artist who refuses to “act her age”. But who’s to say how to act at any age?

Another reason I wanted to write this post is two articles I saw this month that both point generally to the same question. One was a BBC article that announced the first art exhibit of a 98 year old woman from Venezuela. The other was a LADBible article about an 85 year old retired priest who is now a porn star and is having mind-blowing sex for the first time in his life. Granted these three stories could be considered galaxies apart, but they all address an inherent bias in society. How we should act or what we should try to accomplish as we get older.

There are unspoken rules we all adhere to as we age; some for each phase of our lives. There are things that are expected of us as teenagers, as a 20-something, 30-something, and 80-something. All dependent on our calendar age. And we are rewarded by society for following the rules. We fit in. We belong. We don’t rock the boat. The trouble starts when someone doesn’t conform to those unspoken rules and blazes their own trail. Teenagers who are book smart and conscientious about the future. 20 and 30-somethings who want to travel and don’t start a family. 60-somethings who continue to push boundaries and ask questions with their music. 80-somethings who begin a career in adult films. 90-somethings who land their first art exhibit. These people are outliers. Why?

Maybe because they challenge what it means to be a certain age. Maybe they challenge our perceptions about what we should be “ashamed of”. Maybe they challenge gender norms. Or maybe they are making us think about our age and what makes us comfortable. I don’t think any of us want to be confronted by our journey to old age, but I am heartened by people who refuse to “act their age” and pursue what makes them happy and fulfilled.

I love reading about older people doing amazing things. They inspire me. They also make me feel lazy. But I’m sure we all know older people who are doing their own thing and are undeniably happy. Each one of them inspires someone else to be amazing no matter what age they are. Then we all slowly begin to stop listening to that cultural police person in our heads. We wear what makes us comfortable and happy. We go back to school in our 40s. We make music in our 60s. We get our first gallery show in our 90s. And we all deserve to have mind blowing sex way into our 100s.

Falling in Love With Someone Who Doesn't Exist

I was recently watching an episode of Black Mirror on Netflix and one of their more recent story lines (without spoilers) was all about catching feelings for someone online. And this after reading a really interesting Metro UK article about Digisexuality and falling in love with people who don’t exist. This all got me thinking about humans and our drive for connection. And how we satisfy that drive in an age of “disconnected connectedness.”

Digisexuals are defines as people who fall in love and/or have relationships with machines or AI/CGI models who never existed. Case in point from the Metro article is the story of Lil Miquela, an Instagram model with over a million followers and post after post of adoring fans professing their attraction and love. The only thing is, Lil Miquela isn’t flesh and blood. In fact, she isn’t actually physically tangible at all. She is totally CGI and exists only as bits of information. But this hasn’t stopped her from becoming a successful model who has participated in ad campaigns for major companies.

So even though this model doesn’t exist, fans are still connected to her and interact with her daily like she is a living, breathing person. And even in this post I keep referring to her as “her” even though inherently she has no actual living biological gender. The power of perception and what we believe to be reality shapes the world around us and in turn how we then interact with the world. And Lil Miquela isn’t alone. There are other virtual models with their own successful careers and legions of fans.

Thinking more broadly, what does this mean in terms of connection and relationships? Yes, Digisexuals prefer to have relationships with machines or CGI representations of humans, but what about someone who craves connection with other living, breathing people in a time when the majority of our connections to others exist solely online? Yes, in the real world in general the people we meet and talk to online are real in the sense that they exist autonomously and have their own lives and families and careers and dreams. But we don’t know any of that. We assume. We extrapolate. We fill in the blanks from our own experiences. We don’t know what they sound like, how they laugh, what makes them cry, what they do when no one is watching.

So in this regard, how are our friends we know only online any different than a CGI model made only of ones and zeros? Where does imagination stop and reality begin? And until now I’ve really only been thinking of Facebook friends or those we know through networking sites or business interactions. Expand the discussion to dating or hookup apps and the question gets even more interesting. We have an idea in our heads about who we’d like to date. We have an idea of who we are and we craft our profiles to portray that ideal self image. But is that online representation truly us? Are the profiles we look at and swipe left or right on really the people they are representing? What is it that we are really connecting with… another person or the idea of another person?

And if we do happen to find someone online we connect with and decide to meet in person, the image we have constructed in our heads and the actual reality of the person will inevitably collide. Or are we content with interacting with the idealized representations of other people we can see, judge, and quickly scroll past on our personal screens.

I know this post isn’t a post so much as it’s a string of questions, but I think that’s my point. I don’t know the answers to any of this. And honestly, do we want to know the answer. I think for me the joy is in the unanswered and the lingering hypotheses. What are we connecting with when we truly connect with another?

The Big Reveal

Why do we love reality make over shows so much? Is it our voyeuristic tendencies coming out to play watching someone lose massive amounts of weight, or get a wardrobe update, or have their house transformed, as we watch from a safe distance? Is it a lurid fascination with seeing someone we may think of as in need of help and learning about how they got to where they are? Is it a genuine curiosity about improvement in general and how we can better ourselves or our environs? Is it seeing the transformation?

I think in some way all of these ideas are at play in varying percentages. Who doesn’t love to watch a doctor pop a huge pimple, or a run down house gutted and rebuilt into a beautiful retreat, or a larger home-bound person transform into a healthier version of themselves? We are enthralled with the whole timeline… who are these people? How did they get where they are? Why didn’t they get help before? And then we get to watch the process of change happen.

For me, the most interesting part is watching the process of change happen. Seeing the person tell their story of why they are where they are on their journey, realizing they can take a step in a new direction, and then starting on that journey is engrossing. And as a coach, I especially love to watch shows where the person is improving on themselves in some way. I listen for the emotion, the hidden reasons, the words or phrases that indicate how invested in the process they really are. And I don’t think it’s just trained coaches who do this. We all have the capacity to tune into these subtle cues.

So if we are all watching reality TV, and enjoying the process and the transformations, what are we getting out of the whole experience? Is it just mindless entertainment, or is some of it sticking with us long after the show has ended? And are the shows we are drawn to watching a reflection of work we think we need to do on ourselves? As I mentioned, I love watching make over shows where the people change their wardrobe, or lose weight, or get a haircut or new look. And honestly, I’ve thought all these things about myself. I could stand to lose a few pounds, and buy some new clothes, and change what I do with my beard. I also love watching home makeover shows where they completely gut the house and transform it into a show home. Mainly because I have rooms in my house I’d love to do the same thing to.

Am I getting ideas about diet, exercise, clothes, and bathroom sink finishes? Absolutely. Will I be inspired to try a new moisturizer or go to IKEA to look at bathroom sinks? Sure. But the one thing missing from all the ideas and inspiration I’m gleaning from these shows is time. These journeys all take time… more time than an hour long TLC show can fit into an hour block. So they fudge the timeline. They have an army of people behind the scenes finishing projects, shopping, and building. TV magic is hiding the cold hard truth about any shift worth taking. It’s not going to take an hour. And it’s not going to be easy.

And I think that’s why these shows are popular, and on the same token they are helping to dash dreams and knock people off of a healthy journey they would like to take. It’s a fantasy being sold as “reality”. When you decide that you want to lead a healthier life, that is a big life shift and a substantial goal to set for yourself. And this new journey is going to take time, effort, and struggle. You will get knocked down. You will be disappointed. You will want to quit. And those struggles are the reality these shows don’t really dig into.

Reality make over shows are fun to watch, and we can be inspired by them to make changes of our own, but we also need to understand “reality” isn’t reality. Be inspired, but be logical. And be smart in planning your own new journey.

How Do We Jump In?

Over the last decade of teaching improv classes, I’ve watched hundreds of new students as they dipped their toes into the performing arts pool. Some are timid, ask questions, and carefully lower themselves in, while others are bold and confident and dive into the deep end. And as I’ve dug deeper into performance theory and acting styles and confidence builders I’ve started to discover that there isn’t just one approach to getting into the pool. Everyone’s different, and for me it’s part of teaching a good, value-rich class to notice how students approach a new skill and learn within their personal framework. And through research I realized I was starting to think about learning styles.

Becoming popular in the 70’s, learning styles proposes that all people can be classified according to their “style” of learning, although the various theories present differing views on how the styles should be defined and categorized. And although there is ample evidence that individuals express preferences for how they prefer to receive information, few studies have found any validity in using learning styles in education (Wikipedia). And I’m sure you’ve seen the test you can take online that will tell you if you’re a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner (do you process info better from looking, listening, or doing). There isn’t any real science to back up the claims that tailoring your teaching approach to an individual’s preferred way of learning will make any substantial difference, but there could be value in the individual having a better idea of how they like to learn.

For example, I have recently been teaching “thinking A-to-C” in my classes and training actors on how to pick apart a word or phrase and wring as much creative inspiration out of it as they can. When an improviser gets a suggestion from the audience to start the show (a word or phrase or location) they go through a process in their heads in which they analyze the word and take a few steps away from it in their heads to arrive at a new point of inspiration with which to start a scene (thinking A-to-B-to-C). This makes the scenes more rich and interesting and helps the actors have more room to explore. So, if the audience gives the suggestion of “apple” to the actor, if they just took the word at face value and did a few scenes about apples, you’d probably end up with a boring 20 minute show all about apples. And you as the audience would want your money back. However, if the actor got the word “apple” and then thought A-to-C, they could think “apple makes me think of fresh baked pie, and fresh baked pie makes me think of a county fair” they could now have an interesting scene about two people working a ring toss booth at a local fair. A lot more interesting than watching two people talk about apples for 20 minutes.

But what went through my head when I was thinking of the word “apple”? Did I visualize a freshly baked pie sitting on a windowsill to cool? Did I picture the word and begin to shuffle through other words in my brain-rolodex? Did I smell the apples and immediately smell cinnamon and pie crust? Did I feel the apple in my hands and begin to imagine holding other apple related objects? What was the path my brain took to arrive at a new inspiration location? That’s where I landed as I was teaching this concept. And for me this is a fascinating place to explore.

As I ran through this exercise with my students it became obvious that everyone had a different approach to exploring the idea. Some were visual, others auditory, and others felt the ideas in their bodies. And noticing how you explore an idea is helpful in making the act of exploration easier and more valuable. When you are mindful of how you explore, what you notice, and what you eventually glean from a new idea or concept the act of learning isn’t just about memorizing new data, but being actually curious about it and being open to explore and hungry for more. And this concept isn’t just valuable for performers, it can translate to any line of work. Notice what path your brain takes when you hear a new concept or take on a new project or puzzle. Do you visualize the issue and roll it around in your brain? Do you see the words or picture Excel sheets? Do you need to grab a pencil and begin to write out ideas or draw flowcharts or schematics? How do you easily and most effectively process the information so that it’s interesting and supports your innate curiosity?

In other words, how do you jump in?

Impostor Syndrome and the Fear of Success

You don’t deserve what you have.

People will find out.

You’re a fraud.

Sound familiar? It does to me. For the entirety of my professional life, I’ve had a voice in my head telling me I was a faker. I didn’t deserve the success I’ve worked for. I didn’t have the right to hold the positions I’ve held. I’d be exposed as a fraud and everyone will FINALLY know that I am a liar and should go back from wherever I came from. And this voice would not be subtle. It took a lot of energy to turn down the volume, look past the roadblock, and continue on my journey to success and happiness.

This voice has a name. IMPOSTOR SYNDROME. The term, introduced in 1978 by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes, defines impostor phenomenon (or syndrome) as an individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness (Wikipedia). Basically thinking you are a fraud. And the numbers indicate that almost 3/4 of us have some degree of impostor syndrome at any given time. And as I’ve felt in my own experience, this feeling can spawn stress, anxiety, fear of failure, loss of confidence and a host of other self-sabotaging feelings and habits.

So how do we overcome impostor syndrome? As the old saying goes, “Old habits die hard…” Once impostor syndrome becomes a part of our routine, it becomes an extension of our comfort zone. Stepping outside of our comfort zones is difficult, but it’s the one and only way we learn and grow. Here are a few ways we can push past that voice in our heads and begin to enjoy our success:

  1. Remind yourself of your successes - We work so hard that we sometimes forget why we work so hard. To achieve success. It’s easy to list all your failures. Take time to look back and list all the things you’ve done right. Embrace those wins, and make room for more wins in the future.

  2. What’s holding you back? - We think the thoughts that hold us back, but never examine those thoughts or where they’re coming from. Who’s voice are you hearing when it says you’re a fraud? What belief do you hold that is sabotaging your future? What would happen if you actually won and were successful?

  3. Accept Yourself - You are who you are and you do what you do. Stop comparing yourself to others successes. Everyone’s journey is personal, so comparing what you’ve done to others is pointless. Use yourself and your past as the comparison to the here and now.

Trust the universe is showing you the correct path.

Body Positivity vs Body Acceptance

For female-identifying people the struggle with body image has been a long and storied affair, documented in every magazine, movie, and tv show we’ve seen. Much emphasis has been placed on being thin, young, and flawless. And anyone straying from a very narrow band on the spectrum runs the risk of being mocked, shamed, picked apart, and left drained, dejected, or even suicidal. The weight loss industry has grown to tap into the culture of fear and self-consciousness about our bodies to the tune of $66.3 BILLION in 2017 alone.

There are signs of change happening, but in 2019 the norm is still young, white, and thin.

A similar issue that is now making its way into the spotlight is male-identifying people and their struggle with body image. A discussion of body image in male culture cannot really be separated from a discussion about toxic masculinity and the toll it takes on young men on a daily basis. But for the sake of this post, I’d like to focus specifically on pop culture representation of what a handsome, virile, relevant man is supposed to look like. And much like for the ladies, the ideal for men is more often than not young, muscular, and white with a full head of hair.

The men’s hair loss and replacement industry was valued at $2.3 BILLION in 2017, with 397,048 hair loss replacement procedures happening in 2014 alone.

Men are just as vulnerable to the images of what a “real man” should look like as women are to what a “real woman” should look like. However, men are less likely to talk about their insecurities or seek out help and will instead struggle alone with the personal effects.

As a queer man, I have seen this issue from a unique perspective. Straight men will definitely get more of a pass from society in terms of what an average body will look like. Just look at any sitcom like “King of Queens” where a skinny wife is paired with a larger husband. But even in this regard, there is an assumed inherent comedic sight gag to having a “beautiful” woman married to a “fat” husband. In gay culture, a premium is still placed on being well muscled or rail thin. Anything that deviates is considered a subculture, like bears or daddies, and isn’t really considered a norm.

No matter your place on the gender spectrum, body image is something we all struggle with.

A heartening trend that has appeared in recent years is the body positivity trend. Models and advocates who don’t fit into the narrow bands of what is usually thought of as “beautiful” are being more visible and more vocal in terms of loving their bodies and making the case that you can be healthy, happy, and attractive no matter your body type. Although this call to love yourself is a step in the right direction, does it really address the underlying issue? Is forcing yourself to “love your body” at all times really a healthy alternative?

I recently read an article “Should We Swap ‘Body Positivity’ for ‘Body Neutrality” and it raised some valid concerns. In the article, the author writes “…instead of fighting to love our flaws, we learn to just accept them. For many people, the idea of loving their bodies unconditionally just isn’t achievable, but celebrating our bodies on the days when we feel good, and accepting it on the days when we don’t, is the positive premise that neutrality presents.” As a life coach, this resonates with me on many levels. Body positivity has the connotation that we should love ourselves no matter what. And any phrase that has the word should in it rings alarm bells for me. Yes, there is value in loving who you are, but when it becomes an imperative to be positive about it at all times there is more room for “failure” and a backslide into unhealthy thought patterns and habits.

On the other hand, body neutrality or acceptance doesn’t include any stringent requirements. With neutrality and acceptance, you can embrace and love your body on days when you’re feeling it, and on those days where you aren’t quite at 100%, you can still look at yourself in the mirror and accept yourself exactly as you are. Because people aren’t perfect. Bodies aren’t perfect. Those celebrities and models who are held up as the examples of what “perfect” is…really aren’t. They have armies of make up artists, and trainers, and nutritionists, and photographers helping them look “perfect”. It’s their job to look as perfect as they can. They get paid for it.

But what about the rest of us? Without the armies of help to look our “best”, we are all left as the universe made us… natural. And the more we all can begin to see ourselves in that natural light and ACCEPT that image, the more we can reach out and accept each other exactly as we are, and the more the weight of trying to be perfect and all the “shoulds” begin to melt away.

And that is a solid step on a new path to happiness and success.

New Season, Who Dis?

Did spring catch you off guard? Have a growing list of to dos and not enough time to do the to dos?

Here are three points to ponder when considering what to do next…

Prioritize!
What do I need to get done first?
Is any one task on the list connected to other tasks that will move forward if this one is done?
What’s stopping me?

Set smart goals!
Are your goals too broad?
Too vague?
Too far off in the future?
Put one foot in front of the other and set small attainable goals. You’ll start flowing in no time!

Celebrate the wins!
Did you check something off your to do list?
Finally de clutter the clutter?
Make a molehill out of a mountain?
Congrats! Take a victory lap!

Take your time. Take a breath. Take the reins. You got this!

Need support? Schedule a FREE focus session with me TODAY!

...and so it begins

Journey. Jaunt. Expedition. Road Trip. Whatever you want to call it, I’m on it. And I have been for the last 43 years. Seein’ the sights. Doin’ the thing. Just like everyone else. I’m growing and changing and becoming the thing I was always meant to be. And I could pretty it up with new age language and soothing whale song in the background and talk about how the answers came to me while holding my breath underwater in my bathtub.

But I won’t.

Cuz it didn’t.

Listen, I’ll tell you right off the bat I’m just like you. Full of my own brand of doubt, neuroses, nervous ticks, and crappy inner voice. I take the subway everywhere. I like tacos and red wine. I’m noticing new things about myself every day and studying on how to make smarter, healthier choices. And I’m not going to be that guy who pretends I popped out of a coaching melon from the enlightened farm fully formed and ready to heal the world.

But there is one thing I’ve always been able to do better than most anyone else… listen. People have always come to me to unload about anything and everything, and I was always good at helping them feel heard and acknowledged. And I’m actually interested in what they had to say. And genuinely curious about where they are and where they want to go.

I am a storyteller.

And I love to hear people’s stories.

So I became a comedic improviser and have spent the last decade teaching and coaching and directing improv all over the US. And learned how to listen, ask questions, and be curious at a whole other level.

And then I found life coaching. And began training how to listen, and ask questions, and be curious at still another level.

So now I want to make my own luck. Here. With this training. This business. This moment. This jawn. I’m ready to listen. And tell you when you’re being an ass. Cuz that’s what you deserve.

Will some say this blog is a bad idea? Sure. Will some say I’m coming off too unpolished and uncoach-like? Probably. Will I win any awards for my linguistic grace? Nope.

But what this blog WILL do is help me find my voice. It’s in there. Among all the training, and classes, and shows, and workshops. Mingling with the knowledge, and the skills, and the facts. It’s on its own journey… finding its way to the surface. And I’ll help it any way I can. Writing these posts. Sharing my journey. And hoping that some of you will connect with that journey and want to connect with me to support you in yours.

Let’s see where this jawn takes us, yeah?