What “I Should Write a Book” Really Means — and Why You Want It

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 11.31.54 PMThe desire to go big hits people in very different ways.

Some people have always seen themselves in the spotlight and won’t rest until they are on the set of the Today Show.

But for many others it starts smaller, humbler. Like, “I should write an article and pitch it as a guest blog,” or “Maybe I’ll start my own blog.” Or, the big one: “I should write a book.”

It all comes from the same desire—the urge to be heard.

But what do you do? You wave it away, like oh no no no not little ol’ me.

I was that way, too. I would think, oh, I don’t need that much. A little attention would be nice, but no need to go crazy. That was insecurity talking. The fear that I couldn’t possibly be worth that much so I wouldn’t ask for much.

How silly. You could write and self-publish your own book, sure. And no one would read it. And you could tell people you wrote it, and feel good that you checked that box.

But, see, that frustrates me. Because what is the point in all the effort to go big with an idea, if you’re not going to, well, go big with an idea!

I tell you this because I want you to make your effort worth it. And because I’ve had my brain in the media space, what with the launch of Lights Camera Expert, a course I’ve created with my friend Paula Rizzo, to specifically help people do that—snag major media attention. (If you want to learn more about that, and get access to our free 3-part video course, by the way, get on the list!).

And when we asked around about why people hadn’t sought out more media coverage, we were shocked at what we heard.

One small business owner said, “Oh, I didn’t even know you could pitch the media. I thought the powers that be just decided who would be featured.”

And I completely understood how she might think that! But it’s not true!

I’m telling you this now: Please stop underestimating your ability to take what you believe in to the world’s stage. Because media is the only way hear about anything, except from one person directly to another. Or, like, shouting out your window.

Let’s be honest: Even if you do a teensy tiny blog on organic gardening, don’t tell me you wouldn’t want to reach and connect with more people if given half a chance. You would!

It’s not about whether an idea or work is “worthy” in and of itself. Don’t do that. That’s absolutism and it’s stultifying, because then you decide whether to share your idea or business or book, only based on whether it is in itself good or excellent or even genius. When in fact, the way you present a thing is EVERYTHING. And this is how people so often get it wrong. They don’t know how to position the idea to get attention.

You can’t “just” rely on media to grow a business, of course. That wouldn’t be smart. At all. You have to create relationships and network and ask questions and ask for the sale. But that tug, to do a thing and share it from one to many vs. one to one, that’s just another way of saying “the world needs to hear this.” And maybe it does.

All roads lead to media, because in this day and age, we don’t just share one to one.  In my mind it’s crazy NOT to take your idea or opinion out there into the world in a big way. Maybe not “everyone” will care. Most won’t. But. Only when you go big will you be able to reach the people who really DO want what you have to offer. They’ve been waiting for it.

(Oh, and yes, if this sounds fun to you and you’re dying to learn how to position yourself in the media, get on this list asap and I’ll be in touch.)

Does the Idea of Selling Yourself Make You Sick?

SellingYourselfI get extremely motion sick. Literally, in anything that moves. Bus, boat, airplane, New York City cabs, regular cars (sometimes when I’m driving), and yes, even the train, that gentle old aunty of land travel. Some people take lip balm with them when they leave for the day; I pocket a few loose Dramamine. In fact, I need to take one sometimes just to plan my travel.

And yet, I go places anyway. I’ve taken a bus around rickety hairpin turns in Israel, a leisurely riverboat cruise through the Netherlands, and even a cruise through the Greek Islands (though I almost lost it all at the blackjack table, and I don’t just mean my chips).

I know plenty of people who get the same head-spinning, gut-churning nausea at the very notion of promoting themselves. It’s true.

Guess what? Doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it. Any more than I can get somewhere in real life without moving. I find ways to make it palatable, even enjoyable (yay drugs!). If I said, hmm. I’d like to avoid nausea at all costs, so I guess I won’t leave my house, well, I wouldn’t have much of a life.

And you can’t have much of a business, brand, or career without being able to tell people why YOU—why someone should listen to you, bet on you, invest in you, choose you.

Here are the three things people say to get out of selling themselves:

“But…testimonials! Can’t other people say it for me?”

Testimonials have their place. We all want third-party reassurance. But that doesn’t mean you get to go mum about who you are and what you offer.

“But…my work/reputation/experience speaks for itself!”

It stands for something, no doubt. It’s incredibly valuable. Your brand is in part what you’ve done, but also what you say about what you’ve done. It’s also your brand PROMISE—what you will do, deliver, create for the person who invests in you. Do you know what this? (Sorry, “great service” doesn’t count.)

“But…I don’t want to be salesy. It’s not who I am.”

The words “salesy” and “sleezy” sound suspiciously similar. It’s a shame that a few bad salespeople and sales tactics have spoiled the lot. Fact is, anyone who’s not in sales tends to, well, hate sales. Or think they hate sales. (Even some of the people who make their LIVING in sales think that.)

So, forget sales. Think of it as something you have no problem being: A better, clearer, more compelling communicator. Why wouldn’t you want to do that?

There’s one surefire cure to alleviate the nauseating effect of trying to put yourself “out there”:

Know what makes you different, and worth knowing, and share it from a place of giving, not getting.

Simon Sinek has famously said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Yes–100 percent.

But you also need to know how to explain to someone why they should choose you, based on who, what, and how you can help them, make their lives easier or better than they were before.

Do you think a first-grade teacher is worried the kids in her class will think she’s trying to “sell” them on reading? Of course not! You better believe she has to sell it. She has to make it appealing and fun and worth doing, to reward them for it, because it will change their lives.

That’s what you have to do. Get outside of your head, your ego, your fear, and focus on That One Thing that you know you can deliver, something the other person cares about (not just you).

Put THAT into words. And you’ll never loathe the “Why you” question again.

I’m about to launch my first-ever virtual workshop on JUST THIS TOPIC. It’s called the Why You Workshop, and it’s running for three consecutive Wednesday evenings: 8/10, 8/17 & 8/24 @ 7:00 p.m. ET. It will be held via phone (low tech!), and the calls are recorded (so you don’t have to be live on the call).

 

….Now, do I feel nauseous about the fact that I just asked you to check out something that I’m selling? That I just promoted a thing to you? Meh. Mild, tummy rumbling, but that’s ok. We should always have that inner gut check. After all, I had to get over this fear myself!

But I’ll tell you this: This work, helping people figure out their thing, which I’ve previously only done 1:1 with my clients, has been so rewarding and helpful, for me and them, that who am I NOT to tell you about it? It’s what I do, and I do it well. What am I going to do? Sit on it and hope you ask me about it? You won’t! I have to say it.

So I just did. And you can do the same thing in your business.

If this strikes a chord in you, seriously, sign up now—the calls include live Q&A and on-the-spot laser coaching and walk you through this process to land the right positioning. You’ll not only feel more confident every time you explain what you do…you’re less likely to lose your lunch or suffer fits of dizziness, loss of vision, you know. The usual.

Join me and get yourself a hot seats while they’re…still hot!

 

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The Real Definition of Entrepreneur

Man jumpLet’s face it: There’s nothing sexier than describing yourself an an entrepreneur. It’s like a hot leather jacket that everyone is trying on for size, including me. If it’s not a fit, maybe you like this simpler style, called solopreneur. Or maybe this tiny little handbag, called micropreneur instead. Or, this briefcase-slash-diaper bag called “mompreneur.”

Point is this: We are bending the term to make it mean what we want it to, need it to. I defined myself as a solopreneur, even had a video show and podcast by that same name…and then Grant Cardone called me out on Twitter and was basically like, that term sucks. “It’s too small.”

He’s right.

(And forget freelancer. Don’t get me started on what a horrible term that is.)

So what IS an entrepreneur, really? An editor at Shopify reached out to me to ask me what I think (and he wrote about it in this thoughtful piece here).

Fact is, there is one definition of it, and it’s this: a person who operates/runs a business, and takes on considerable risk to do so. Traditionally, we think of the entrepreneur as a person who finds and exploits a need in the marketplace, and either invests his or her own money, or more likely someone else’s, to fund this vision, product, service, company, and if it goes well, everyone makes a ton of money. It traditionally entails hiring people and renting office space and negotiating big pricey deals with vendors, etc.

You May Be One Yourself

Fact is, entrepreneurship has changed so much in the past decade that you may not do any of these things. You may never have an office or a staff, you may never raise funds from investors or regular people. But chances are you, don’t do this all yourself. All you need is a laptop, an internet connection, and a bank account to do business and rightfully call yourself an entrepreneur, and many do.

So if I am going to take liberties with the term, or at least tease the nuances, I would say that an entrepreneur is less defined by the business she runs or the amount of money they raise, and more defined by vision, risk, and character.

An entrepreneur leads with the solution to a problem, not with just a need to make money. An entrepreneur doesn’t just “organize” a business in my mind, but fuels it, directs it, and creates it. I hesitated to call myself an entrepreneur for a long time because I thought you had to have a Harvard MBA. I was so wrong.

Entrepreneurs are: scrappy and disruptive, creative and unruly, strategic and unstoppable. Sometimes they make lousy students and difficult employees. Some literally propel themselves on the force of their personality and the appeal of their promise, and other people help them carry it out and make it happen.

I’ve heard more than a few people say that entrepreneurship means “freedom.” I don’t know that I agree with that as the defining element. Maybe you don’t want debt. You know who else doesn’t have debt? A homeless guy. Is that what you want? You know who has a lot of freedom? An unemployed person. There are lots of ways to be free, and in fact, taking on the risk and investing yourself in something the way an entrepreneur does may be exciting and empowering, but “free” is not what I’d call it.

You’re free of the constraints of a corporate job, sure. That’s what people love. Look, we live in the land of the Lone Ranger. We love the idea of this rabble rouser, out conquering a new frontier. That’s romantic, and yes, many entrepreneurs slave away in solitude. But plenty don’t. The smart ones never dream of doing it on their own.

The entrepreneur is a maestro, a leader, but knows the value of team, too, and can lead and inspire. To my mind, I am not so hung up on the “prerequisites” for being an entrepreneur. Because I believe most can’t help themselves. And that’s why they do it.

In this way, they’re more like artists: They are compelled to make, create, connect—and that is why we are in love with them, aspire to be one or be like one. I can’t think of a better reason.

So. Is that you? I’m thinking I’m liking the fit myself.

 

Interst out the Creative>>Founder Lab at NY Media Center - applications due 5/23/16

Interst out the Creative>>Founder Lab at NY Media Center – applications due 5/23/16

…By the way, if you DO dream of pursuing a business idea and becoming an entrepreneur, check out the Creative>>Founder Lab at NY Media Center. They’re accepting applications now for their 8-week intensive running June-July 2016. I’m one of the instructors, leading a session on vision and mission, which I’m psyched about. Check it out!

Your Job is to Be a Magician (Like This Guy, Kind of)

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at freedigitalphotos.net

It’s not every day you have your mind blown.

I was in Vegas last week giving a talk to a group of (very) sober HR execs about why HR needs a serious brand overhaul (admit it, it does).

And at the cocktail party they had this magician who blew my fucking mind. None other than the Amazing Shimshi, a handsome young Israeli who pulled some shit I can still not get over.

But I’ll just tell you this one thing he did, as I WAS STANDING RIGHT THERE TWO FEET FROM HIM, not out in the audience somewhere. He took my friend Megan’s wedding ring in his left hand, made a fist, and then with his right hand, waved a lighter under his hand—without flinching, which is crazy enough.

Then he opened his hand—and the ring was gone.

I know magicians distract and deflect, but he didn’t stop to do a hat trick or say “What’s that over there?” He just took the ring, lit his hand, and then POOF. GONE.

I half expected him to pull it out from behind some girl’s ear like my dad used to do with quarters. But no.

He says, There it is.

We all look down–and it’s tied in a knot IN HIS SHOELACE ON HIS OWN DAMN SHOE.

I have two theories. He:

1. Had an identical ring made before the party and had already tied to his shoe when he walked in that night before ever meeting Megan; or

2. Froze time, like the girl does in that Discovery card commercial, rendering us all unconscious for a few moments while he bent down and tied it to his shoe.

#1 is clearly impossible. I’m going with #2. I think the Amazing Shimshi has some crazy secret power that he’s wasting at the Wynn when he should be using to stop Trump and save our nation from extinction.

(Watch as he does this trick on video, on some other chick.)

I’ve now watched this video a bunch, and have developed a third theory which takes me 75% of the way there (he quickly pockets the ring when reaching for his lighter or when returning the lighter to his pocket). But the remaining 25% of my theory requires that there be a tiny Shimshi in his pocket who climbs down his leg and ties it to his shoe at astonishing speed.

What does this have to do with anything?

Now. I have made nothing disappear in my own life except money and socks. But you and I both have SOME kind of magic, something you do that no one else does. Ok, maybe it doesn’t make people do spit takes or go into shock, but there is SOMETHING you do that someone else can’t even imagine.

That, my friend, is your business. Your brand. Your thing. Your bit of magic, if you will. And helping you find it happens to be my specialty.

I call it magic because you do it so well, so effortlessly, so flawlessly, that it impresses others, who say they could never do that. And so in that way, it kind of is.

If you don’t have enough money or clients or business or growth, I don’t believe it’s because you’re not “good” enough at one thing, or there isn’t enough opportunity out there. I call bullshit. It’s a sign that you haven’t landed it yet, or conveyed it powerfully to others.

Which means you’ve got a little branding problem yourself.

Spend some time thinking about that this week: Either what that magic is, or how you can better communicate it. What is that thing that makes people go, Wow! When you know what problem that solves for them, it practically sells itself.

(And if you want help figuring that out, why, that’s what I do!)

Meantime, I’m going to go make some snack food disappear.

 

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The Real Reason You’re Afraid of Being Lonely

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 5.18.16 PMThere’s no shame in being lonely.

That’s what friendship expert (and friend!) Shasta Nelson, founder of GirlfriendCircles, said to a group of women at the launch of her second book, Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness.

And yet, the word “lonely” itself is scary. Even those who love and treasure their solitude (um, me) don’t like the word lonely, and certainly won’t cop to it. Why? Because of the horrible picture it paints. No matter who or where you are.

If you’re married and lonely, well, something must be ‘wrong’ with the marriage or with your partner, and you’re not having your needs met;

If you’re dating and lonely? You haven’t met the right person or are wasting time with someone(s) who can’t fulfill you.

If you’re single and lonely, well, it’s your fault. You worked too hard and didn’t put enough stock in finding your perfect match. (If you own a cat? Forget it.)

There’s the rub: If I admit I’m lonely, then I have to admit that something’s wrong with my life, or me. And that I may in fact be doomed to a life of it. And so we do everything we can to point away from loneliness: “I can’t possibly be lonely! Look! I’m up to my ears in work! I have been out every night! I have friends up the wazoo!”

Most of us don’t say we’re lonely because of what it would imply: That we’ve done something wrong or that our lives and its brimming obligations and people aren’t cutting it. That it’s all a sham. And that’s scarier, perhaps, than loneliness itself.

And yet, it’s not true.

Loneliness is a symptom, not a disease

Shasta said this, and it is brilliant: Do you have a problem admitting when you’re hungry?

Of course not! If I’m hungry, I say, Gee, time for food. Let’s see what I have here in the fridge. Nothing? Out I go. (This is a very common occurrence.)

The urge to connect with people, to be heard and seen and known, is as normal and regular as basic hunger.

If you cannot admit that you’re hungry, you’re going to have a very big problem, very soon. And plenty of people DO struggle with hunger and what it means. And they suffer dearly because of it. They need medical help. But most of us answer the call and put food in our gullets.

However. If we cannot admit to bouts of loneliness, be they a blue moment or a soul-shaking cry, we have a real problem. And Shasta says that it’s this inability to look our loneliness in the eye and accept it for what it is, a basic human hunger, we cannot and will not be able to address it.

And therein lies the problem.

I’ll start.

Yes, I have a full, busy life full of friends I can call, a close relationship with family. I go on dates and get invited to events and have my share of professional and personal attention.

And yet, sometimes I feel lonely.

While I put a premium on alone time, sometimes I feel that tug, that wanting to be known, seen, touched on the shoulder. Someone who says, “Come and meet me. I need to see you.”

We all need this, and as with real hunger, there is no end to it. Not in this life. And that’s ok! You’re not doomed to a life of loneliness. Anymore than you’re doomed to a life of hunger just because you missed lunch.

(I’ll add that women are terrified of coming off as “needy,” and are told it’s a bad thing to need, so many of us put feelings and need on lock-down, which has just as damaging effect. “Neediness” is a drowning person who will take you down with them, and no it isn’t healthy. But need is different. Dismiss need and you will also ward off connection.)

When loneliness shows up, as it has, does, and will, take note. Don’t create a narrative around it (unless you find it useful for your novel or opera, sure.) Instead, say simply, Huh. Guess it’s time to feed my hungry little soul.

Then: You reach out, give attention, show some love. Call and text and email folks. Invite someone out. Show up to something. Raise a flag. Let people know you’re there and interested in what’s going on with them.

You don’t need to post on FB that you’re lonely. Do you do that when you’re hungry? No. You simply go find something that nourishes you. And the beauty of the transaction is that when you give what you need most, you have plenty to go around.

Are your friendships as fulfilling as they could be? Take Shasta's quiz to find out!

Are your friendships as fulfilling as they could be? Click here to take Shasta’s quiz and find out!

 

Take Shasta’s quiz to find out if your friendships could use a little more love.

The Cure for Boredom (You May Not Like It)

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 12.15.06 PMI’m not an incredibly patient person. I have a short fuse and I bore easy. It’s bad. I think it makes me good at a few things, like keeping people entertained and engaged, but makes me bad at other things, like coping with slow restaurant service.

Over the holiday break I turned away from the world a few degrees. I didn’t call anyone; no one called me. It was wonderful for a while. And then I thought: Why don’t I have anything going on? Why isn’t this person wondering what I’m doing or why does that one not seem to be interested in seeing me? There’s an underbelly to boredom that’s ugly indeed, because it reveals our neediness, our impatience, our hunger for attention.

But here’s what scares me most about boredom, and should scare you, too:

That I’m letting it dictate what I do. I get bored, restless, worried, anxious, and then I bail—not just on people, but on projects, situations. I lose interest and wherewithal and wander away. I make assumptions about it that aren’t true, all in the name of giving up because it fails to keep my interest. Right. If I subscribe to this theory, I’m saying that boredom shouldn’t happen, and that life only has meaning if I leap from peak to thrilling peak.

We give boredom perhaps a little too much power: We end up leaving instead of sticking around. Do something easy instead of something hard. Write off people who shouldn’t be written off.

Boredom has a role, no doubt. (Read what Bertrand Russell says about it in this piece on his book on Brainpickings). We need to get bored, to tolerate boredom, in order to appreciate real highs, real moments of deep, soul-filling satisfaction. But more than that, we need to wait out boredom for what’s on the other side.

On the other side of boredom is not just thrill and excitement. and it’s not busy. In fact, busy is not the opposite of boring, even though at first glance you think it is. And yet busy is what we do to combat it.

Sometimes to get past boring, you have to be the opposite of busy.

Our problem is not that we get bored (which our culture of distraction seeks to eliminate), but that we let it unseat us so easily. It’s that we aren’t willing to wait it out.

In Big Magic, a powerful and moving missive to creative souls, Liz Gilbert cites the wisdom of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, who says that the biggest problem with people’s meditation practices is they quit too soon, or, “just when things are starting to get interesting.”

Gilbert writes, “they quit as soon as it gets painful, or boring, or agitating. They quit as soon as they see something in their minds that scares them or hurts them. So they miss the good part, the wild part, the transformative part–the part when you push past the difficulty and enter into some raw new unexplored universe within yourself.”

What’s happening is that we’re not hanging in there long enough, past the breakers of inhibition and self doubt. I’m guilty of this, and likely you are, too. The mistake is believing that interest, like an iPhone, starts to depreciate the moment you walk out of the store with it.

Not true. Interest is the opposite of depreciation. You pay back a loan with interest. And what Gilbert is saying is that it can grow in your own life, if you hang with it long enough. We have it backwards, just as we have passion backwards (a point I make in my TEDx talk, “Stop Searching for Your Passion.”)

You can’t “busy” away boring; you can’t distract away boring. Boring dissolves in the unblinking eye of attention…it’s just that we usually aren’t willing to wait that long.

Do you know how many times I’ve started to write a book, and got all excited about it, and then got bored? My problem was I burned up all my energy in the prospect of it, instead of allowing it the slow, steady burn of attention to ignite.

But I’m starting to change that. I’m not looking at just the goal, the prize, the finish line. I’m looking at the road. The road is far more interesting. It really is.

I am not trying to “finish” a book. I’m simply writing one. Don’t ask what it’s about, because I don’t know yet. And I find the most interesting part isn’t talking about or imagining, but doing it. Writing it. And seeing what happens.

So consider making yourself that promise this year:

That rather than flee from boredom too quickly, see it for what it is: discomfort, internal conflict, fear. Decide instead to wait it out, to stick it out. To stoke the fire of your energy enough to keep you going. Take a cue from Pema Chodron and be willing to see what happens after.  Because that’s what’s most interesting of all.

I Almost Got Into a Fist Fight

fist fightDid I tell you about how I almost getting into a fist fight?

It didn’t happen in a Starbucks, or over the last pair of half-priced boots at Macy’s. It was on the football field. That doesn’t make it ok. But still. I was wearing cleats.

I don’t pick fights on the field. When I’m playing in my touch football league, which I do on Sundays in the spring and fall, I apologize when I step on a foot or bump a shoulder harder than was intended. I’m not interested in conflict. This is supposed to be for FUN.

But.

During game two of the playoffs, the championship game, there was one aggressive little sprite (I’m trying to use the kindest words I can muster because the others are not appropriate) who saw fit to get quite physical — with everyone she came into contact with.

She pushed my teammate Kristina and dared her to push back (which she did, and then this brat called foul on her). She pushed Andre, who outweighs her by about 80 lbs. And then she pushed me.

We were ahead by a slim margin and I knew that she was a solid receiver; we were one misstep away from losing the game. I’m not great at defense as a rule, but if we’re playing man vs. zone,  I’m relentless and will make a nuisance of myself.

She didn’t like it. Not one bit. And as I chased her downfield, trying to get ahead of the ball, I might have ridden her a little too close.

“Get OFF me!” she yelled, shoving me, and I chased her into the end zone where the ball came sailing (knew it) straight into her arms. Despite my lame attempt at tackling her, which I’m sure is illegal, I fell to my knees as her team cheered.

“How do you like THAT,” she said, like the brat she is, trotting back to the line with a vengeful spring in her step.

Dear reader, I’m not proud of what I said next.

But I was absolutely boiling with rage. My knees burned from the turf and if I could have shot flames out of my eyes I would have.

“You’re such a little bitch.”

I shocked myself in saying it, the words peeling out of me like bitter rinds, spat out onto the field at her feet.

I was rattled and wild and despite my teammates suggestion that I might like to take a break, I said, “NO F*&! WAY.” Because, well, no way.

When our team got the ball, I ran straight at her and felt her hard, mean little shove. Oh, it’s on.

On the next play, she flopped (it’s a thing; I looked it up).  She basically tipped over like a paper doll, on purpose, as I ran toward her, to make it look like a foul on my account — and in doing so, took me down with her.

“WHAT IS YOUR F–NG PROBLEM!” I was really, really losing my shit now. Ben, a tall, even-keel guy with a voice like a cool compress, attempted to keep me level. “It’ll feel so good to win,” he said. As in: Calm down, we got this.

And he was right. Moments later, we had in fact won the championship, and beat the other team by a handful of points. I’d lost the battle, but we’d won the war.

Despite the thrill of the win and the effects of a post-game hard cider, I vibrated with rage. I couldn’t believe how angry I was, how beset by something, and someone, so silly.

I walk around like the classy lady I imagine myself to be, but scratch that well-groomed surface and you find, well, an animal. It reminded me that for all my cultivated, considered ways, I’m this close to unfettered fury, spite, and the potential to physically hurt someone else.

That is, to say the least, alarming. I don’t know if it’s internal stress or that palpable thermometer of threat soaring upward in this city, this country, this age. We’re all on a hair trigger — not just me.

I often wonder what I would do if someone took out a gun at a movie theater or a shank on the 2 train. How would I get away? Could I take down an attacker?

I am forever envisioning acts of heroism, self defense, planning paths of escape. I know there are people out there who break the rules to the detriment of everyone else.

I’m not proud of how I handled myself on that field. Acting rash does no one any favors. And I realize that my rage wasn’t a factor in winning that game — it was a side effect.

The thing I don’t know is this. Am I afraid of my rage? Or am I comforted that I have that capacity for defense?

On the home stretch of this season and this year, it’s easy to get triggered, whether you’re on the football field or at the mall or in your mom’s kitchen. The holidays have to go “right” and be perfect. Out of nowhere, one of the many unseen wires connecting you to your sanity gets tripped, and in an instant you’re riled and furious, over something so silly—a passing comment, a roll of the eyes, a veiled insult.

Why? Because we project meaning onto those gestures, and weigh ourselves in their balance. And fear we’ll come up short.

So I say this to you and to myself:

Pause before you react.

Think before you spit words you can’t take back.

Pull a few punches now and then.

Not because the other person doesn’t deserve it, but because you risk lighting a fuse that will burn you from the inside, and the smoke makes it harder to breathe.

And you must, above all, breathe.

Your Fears Are Boring

FearWhen she was eight years old, Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat Pray Love) was so upset by the ocean that she begged her parents to get everyone out of the surf and back onto their towels, where they belonged. She was, by her own admission, afraid of everything—the dark, the deep end, babysitters, board games, grass, you name it.

I can relate. When I was eight, I didn’t like swimming in the ocean, and didn’t love the pool, especially with lots of other people in it. I was afraid of amusement parks and diving boards and going anywhere without my mother. I was terrorized by bees, and bugs, and dogs. When urged to go out and play, I famously responded, “What good is a house if you can’t stay in it?”

In her new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert says that despite all the attention we give fear (and we give it a lot), the real turning point for her was when she realized the fear not only didn’t define her, but if it did, she was a real snooze:

“Around the age of fifteen, I somehow figured out that my fear had no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture. I noticed that my fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist or an unexpected ending. My fear was a song with only one note–only one word…and that word was ‘STOP!'” My fear never had anything more interesting or subtle to offer than that one emphatic word, repeated at full volume on an endless loop: ‘STOP STOP STOP STOP!'”

Not only that, she writes, but what’s worse is that fear was not only one-note and predictable, but it was just like everyone else’s. There’s literally nothing interesting about that. And yet for years, she says, she fixated on her fear as if it were the most interesting thing about her. Fear isn’t the most interesting thing about anyone.

Part of what I do, for a living, is to help other people make themselves and their messages more compelling. And yet, people fight me on it, try to convince me of why they can’t do it, and it’s because of fear, of course. Often it feels as if I’m a personal organizer and their fears are a set of broken beach chairs they simply won’t part with. I know they think I don’t hear them or don’t understand, but in fact I do. I know it too well.

Fear is not a problem to be solved, because by design it never will be; fear has its own survival tactics, dirty ones at that. At its most extreme, it can paralyze us, and at lower levels, it worries at our edges, making us more and more dull.

Here’s the truth: Fear doesn’t make any of us stronger, better, or more lovable. But what if instead of clinging to fear as a life preserver, keeping our heads above the unknown, we saw it for what it is: A millstone around our necks, dragging us to the very depths of boring, to the lowest common denominator of our personalities. Because that’s what it is.

So, no, you don’t want or need to get rid of fear entirely. You can’t, and you shouldn’t. When Gilbert embarks on a creative journey, fear comes along for the ride, but it does not get to drive. It doesn’t even get to touch the radio. But if you wait for your fear to stop doing its job so you can do yours, you’ll be idling there a long time.

 

How to Be a Better Person Than You Were Last Year

Every holiday I drive up the Merritt Parkway feeling hopeful and upbeat. Who doesn’t want to have a relaxed, enjoyable break from the workaday week and stuff themselves silly? Um, I love that. Images of me having a great, easy time dance in my brain. And yet I have ruined many a holiday, mainly for myself, simply by being a jackass. By being too impatient, too reactive, too…everything. Why? Because: I’m stressed, she said this, she thinks that, and so on. Stupid bullshit.

So every year I think to myself, “Can I be a better person this year? And most importantly, how?” Because my moods and triggers are well-worn grooves at this point, and the trip wires of my personality, my fears and insecurities, are largely set. As are yours. But that doesn’t mean you can’t decide to act differently, to pump the brakes and coast through, with the goal to leave yourself and others unscathed.

Every family has its pressure points and aching joints, and it takes only one errant twist or yank to cause a spike of pain or resentment. That’s because the family is a body, and when you assemble yourself, around a table, specifically, you’re no longer this woman with a high powered job or that man with all his shit together. You’re…family. You fall into your old roles.

You may be the boss in your other life, but here, you’re the leg with the trick-knee that gets bent out of shape when talk of politics comes up. You could be the sexy, single catch in your world, but assume your place at the table, and you are the aching shoulder, bearing up under the tension between your mother and your sister. Or maybe you’re the ears of the body, channeling everyone’s complaints and problems and you leave with your whole head ringing.

I happen to have lucked out in that I get zero flak from my family for the life I have chosen, which looks striking different from theirs. And not just by several thousand square feet, but also because I’m the only one in the family who has never been married and has no children. I get to be the fancy aunt, breezing in from Manhattan on a wing, and that back a few days later. Not bad. And I have many friends who don’t get this kind of support.

But even I feel the old strain in the psychological musculature. And you know what? I’m doing my best to ignore it, let it pass, slide, evaporate. And while you don’t need me to tell you that trying to multitask is a bad idea, I’ve found my patience with my own family goes up tenfold when I’m not also “trying” to do something else. Like: respond to an email, write something, do some other kind of work. The less productive I try to be while with them, the less jumpy and agitated I get.

Do I have some magic advice for you this holiday season? Just that. That you’ll feel old aches, and sometimes a fresh, searing pain. And while it’s easy to wish she were this way or he were that way, you know what? If you had a different family, you might not have these particular aches, but you’d have others.

Every year, rather than coddle those pains, I try to do the opposite: Stretch my patience, tone up my good will, keep blood flowing through the most generous parts of me. The holiday season is a long, exhausting haul. You’ve got to make sure you’re in shape.

Worst case, take a hot bath. It works, every time.