Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Spill happens

I have an exercise for the folks I coach to help give them the courage to be fearless - to take risks and not be afraid to make mistakes.

I put a little milk in a plastic glass.

Then tell them to knock it over.

Spill the milk.

Visibly shaken, terrified, and afraid of what their mothers and fathers will say or do to them, they break through their fears and muster all their will to push the glass over.

Spill milk. On purpose.

Deal is, as soon as the milk is spilled, I give them paper towels and a sponge to clean up the little bit of liquid that has rolled out.

Spill the milk, clean it up.

You spill milk, you clean it up.

That's pretty much life.

Some people are terrified to even touch the glass, let alone tip it over.

But as I explain to them, our bodies are changing all the time. As little kids we're not only uncoordinated, but one day our arms are 12 inches long, the next day they're 13, and we're still used to reaching just 12 inches, so chances are we're going to bang into whatever is beyond 12 inches.

If that's our glass of milk? It's spilled.

No big deal. We just have to clean it up.

Sometimes parents overreact to the results of normal changes. That overreaction is what we recall and that's what scares us.

But when we understand that physiological changes are normal, that spill happens, we don't have to overreact, we can simply clean it up.

It helps our attitude when we're around our own - or other kids when they grow up as well.

If people are not understanding when we accidentally spill milk in a relationship and refuse to let us clean it up? It's a sign that the relationship couldn't hold water to begin with, let alone survive a little spilled milk. And that's unfortunate, but it's better to find that out earlier than later.

Spill happens.

In almost all situations, you can clean it up.

Don't be afraid to risk a little spilled milk when you explore something in which you believe, an emotion you feel you must express, or go after something you want, something you want to do, love to do, wish to do or for which you have a passion.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wanna be courageous?

Long ago I said "the way we deal with fear defines who we are. When abject fear strikes, the courageous or the coward immediately emerges."

As living people and as characters created by writers and actors.

When we find that nexus, where the fear hits the fan, we've defined the core of a person - created or real.

I love talking to my younger actors about this because I ask them, do you want to live in fear, or do you want to be courageous.

They *all* want to be courageous, of course!

So how do you do that?

Because we all hit the wall of fear, and often.

All we need to do is take action.

I don't mean to take a BIG action, because that it in itself will only generate more fear. I mean to take a little action. Tiny, even.

Asking a tiny question might be a good start. Like, "Why am I so afraid?" Just asking that question is taking a big, courageous step, because the answer is going to tell you exactly what action needs to be taken.

Say you're afraid to find out if the person you're dating really cares about you. You're afraid to outright ask because she or he might not care for you as much as you care for him or her. The thought of outright asking only generates more fear.

Honestly? If you have that fear? Um, you may be looking at your fear to look at the truth you know in your heart of hearts.

While you might be afraid of "losing" this person - trust me, living in the truth feels a heck of a lot better than being afraid of the (certain) future!

You have to trust your gut feeling. If something feels wrong, like something is missing or not being said, you need to find out why something feels wrong, what is missing, what is not being said.

You can take tiny actions that take you out of the fear, like ask a simple, single question that would give you an indication of what you are dealing with. Mind you, if your partner really cared about you or were genuinely functional, he or she would simply tell you instead of going into a turtle shell about .. whatever is actually going on.

Remember, when we are afraid to give someone bad news or tell the truth, it's never really about them, much as we want to believe it's about sparing their feelings. It's really about the fear of dealing with the perceived reaction of the other person to what we want to do or say.

The simple, single question to ask might be as short and clear and truthful as, "Something feels off with us. Are you afraid to tell me what's really going on?"

If it's "no," and they share, relieved that you've given the opening, you can prepare for the best - to learn what you need to help create a happy, functional relationship.

If it's "yes," they're afraid to tell you, you can prepare yourself for the worst, including how to communicate about the situation or problems, or make plans to move on, even if it hurts like hell. Who wants to be around someone who doesn't want to be with you? If you do, unfortunately, you appear desperate and massively self-esteem-less, even if you believe you are "meant for each other."

If you are facing a huge problem, how can you break it down into TINY particles to solve, rather than taking on the whole issue at once?

If you're facing a huge homework assignment, how can you break it down into TINY tasks you can complete, building up to the larger assignment completion.

If you're Captain Jack Sparrow, you can you protect yourself by taking on the weakest would-be assailant first (say, the wee monkey), before fighting the bigger guys. Or detect the weakness in an opponent before fighting his/her strengths (which, hopefully, you won't have to because you will have taken advantage of his weakness enough to outsmart, outwit and outfight him!).

Break it down.

And here's another secret: you can take a tiny action about something that has nothing to do with the problem to build your courage!

You can take an action you find simple or easy completely unrelated to what you find difficult, hurtful or challenging, and find that you feel more capable ... and courageous.

If it's a difficult thing you have to say to someone? Have the courage to tell the person honestly - without making honesty a weapon. What you may do is break down what you have to say in a way that makes you responsible for your own feelings and going for what you want without blaming anyone else; and prepare yourself for whatever response you receive.

Better to experience the pain of courage momentarily than live in the agony of fear and/or shame forever.

As our close literate buddy Will Shakespeare put it, "A coward dies a thousand deaths, the hero only one."

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Are you happy? (part deux)

Responses* to yesterday's happiness essay were twofold:

First fold: spot on! Great blog! So true!

The second fold is the subject of this blog.

It's the concern that sometimes we indulge ourselves in the delusion that happiness is an excuse to do nothing. To simply accept everything going on around us no matter how dysfunctional, abusive or empty.

Um, no.

Genuine happiness means we know and are pleased with who we are, how we treat others and are treated and how we live. That doesn't happen if we passively let life happen without participating, therefore letting life itself pass us by.

In fact, the reason I believe that happiness should be such an important component of our lives is because when we are happy - we are true to ourselves, we're energized, we excel, we are industrious, we are caring, generous and loving, we are forgiving, we do what we were put on earth to do - for ourselves and others.

Fundamental happiness is created when we dig in, discover who we are (our true identity) - like and even love the person we find - recognize our life's passion, determine how we want to live, the type of people with whom we want to surround ourselves and how we would define our personal state of joy.

None of which necessarily comes easily or without cost.

True happiness takes courage.

Don't like your job? It's making you unhappy and you wish you could quit. Think of the courage it takes to speak up, to try creating a more positive atmosphere, better personal interactions and performing tasks in a way that would not only make you happy but please your coworkers and boss?

Most people would rather stand by and allow whatever miserable developments take place - and remain unhappy; quitely accepting a miserable working circumstance; waiting nervously to be laid off or transferred.

The worst dilemma takes place when there is a buyout.

A medium-sized local company - where employees were over the moon happy - was bought out by a very large company with the promise that the healthy positive working culture would continue as usual.

Loyalty and hard work were supported 100% by every employee at the company being bought out because they were included in all decisions that would affect them, people were allowed to be creative and were actually rewarded for speaking up about problems they saw or were concerned would grow. The very reasons the company grew so much, so quickly.

The pitch was that the financial support from the mega-corporation would only boost business, create more possibilities to be innovative, expand the number of employees, yadda yadda yadda.

I warned someone working at the local company that the buyout corporation has a wretched reputation of being greedy, cold, inconsiderate of non-executive employees and having serious customer service problems.

Despite that, my friend told me they were "guaranteed" that the fantastic working conditions, creativity and freedom at the company would continue. As usual.

Ouch. I knew avoiding the truth would leave everyone consummately unhappy. The mega corporation has a reputation of not just buying out companies, but of crushing them.

Sure enough, the megacorporation changed a healthy working environment from literally feeling lucky to show up for work (on time) into fear; employees no longer felt important or part of the process but just lackys expected to execute orders - and not very interesting tasks at that.

Mega corporation executives who knew nothing about the smaller, successful company or its culture were placed in key positions and dragged it down rapidly with their inappropriate rules and treatment of the employees. And last, but not least, these formerly happy workers found themselves fielding ridiculous customer complaints they never had to deal with as part of the original business.

The quagmire: whether to continue unhappily, to challenge The Powers That Be (which was seen as useless or they may be seen as a "complainer" or "troublemaker") or to quit.

Having experienced a genuinely healthy, happy working situation before the buyout, the vast majority quit.

Not everyone found employment right away - some remained happily unemployed until they could find a new position at a healthy enterprise; some became entrepreneurs, creating their own businesses - willing to ride the rough tide as they worked to establish themselves pursuing their passion.

In short, they loved themselves enough to find their passion, to love what they do, who they are with and how they live.

If simply showing up to do the tasks assigned for money so you can go home and live a rich, rewarding life makes you happy? Kewl. That's your definition of a happy life and you're living it!

Of course the same is true of relationships.

It can feel way easier to live from day to day without paying attention to your needs, wants or desires; without paying attention to your partner's needs, wants and desires; or without paying attention to your relationship's needs, wants and desires.

While you might present yourselves to the world as "happy," you know exactly what is going on behind closed doors.

I don't feel lonely. That is, I don't need to be around people to feel OK or not alone.

However, the only time I did feel lonely was when I was in a dysfunctional relationship. I felt extremely alone and unhappy.

It takes tremendous courage to step up and discuss these matters because it may mean the termination of the relationship.

True, but it can also work the other way. It can strengthen the relationship if both people are equally as invested in the relationship - finding new ways to make each other and themselves comforted and happy.

I confronted a relationship in which I lost trust - a relationship I did not want to lose, but the thought of being treated in a way I experienced as neglectful, untruthful and disrespectful was worse.

The relationship ended.

After grieving its loss, I found myself surrounded with people I not only trust, but who treat me very well, indeed.

I've also discovered happiness is dynamic.

The more we understand it, the more successful we can become at re-defining what happiness is, how it feels and what it looks like.

Being in touch with ourselves and our feelings can give us the courage to seek what we need to be happy - finding and living our passion and enjoying the company of others who share those values.

Caveat: The one person whom I have known to never recover from trauma and unhappiness is the adult who loses a child. No matter the age of the child, no matter the reason. To them, I can only say I hope you find some comfort in this lifetime before you, hopefully, join your child in a more peaceful, loving place.

*Please feel free to respond to my blogs by clicking on "comment." Thanks for the emails - they are wonderful! But feel free to share your thoughts with the community as well. Incredible readers from 68 nations read my blog!

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Everyday heroes

I'm coaching a really special guy.

He's a newbie stand-up comic and he's going to make a significant splash when he starts hitting the major clubs.

I've mostly been working with his writing, since he's got a lot of natural presentation talent and just needs some technical direction here and there.

His name is Earl (really!) and what makes him so special is his point of view, his increasingly fantastic writing and sense of humor.

Like all great comics, he talks about his life and how he experiences it - its sense and nonsense. And how others perceive him and his life.

There's nothing phony about Earl - and he doesn't scream or push his material on us desperately trying to entertain.

He just talks to us, telling us his truth. His whole, unvarnished truth.

Deal is, Earl has a bizarre, rare, debilitating, excruciatingly painful terminal illness.


The *perfect* time to create a new career!

"They" said he'd be in a wheel chair long before now, but guess what? He's still strutting his stuff on his two legs; he'll be hitting stages around Seattle first, then I have no doubt he'll make his way up the stand-up food chain sooner than most!

For no other reason than the guy is hysterical!

I'll announce his first paid gig on my home page.

I also have no doubt he will get his life's wish (hopefully decades from now) - to die laughing.

That's the bad news.

The good news?

He's taking us with him!

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