I didn’t want to do this one again. I just didn’t. Nope. No, thank you. I did it once and it turned out great so I’m gonna lean towards the big “HELL NO” in my head and respectively decline.
But then…There’s this other voice in my head...a much softer, kinder, nudge of a voice, whispering...
What are you really afraid of?
I’m afraid no one will listen. I’m afraid of looking like a fool. I’m afraid of falling on my ass because standing up while playing my guitar on a crowded subway train, while the train is moving, is dangerous. I’m afraid I’ll give up after one try. I’m afraid of crying like a little girl at feeling unnoticed.
There!! Are you happy, inner voice?? Isn’t that a good enough reason!
Nope. I have learned there’s always something more to discover underneath that fear.
Last Tuesday evening, with my guitar on my back...I just decided to do it again. And in this instance, the fear was much more intense than the first time.
I pulled out my guitar and introduced myself, “Hey guys...I’m Charlene and I’m gonna sing you a song that I wrote and you can listen or not...and here goes!” (or something like that, I don’t remember verbatim).
Then I start singing. And the train is going Express. Which, if you’re a New Yorker, you know what that sounds like. Really loud, awful noises start interfering as we’re speeding through stops. If you’re not familiar, that noise resembles a steamroller mixed with a long horn and scratching rails. It’s awful. I couldn’t hear me. They certainly couldn’t hear me. So, I kept singing louder. Then, it stopped. And now, they can hear me screaming...I mean, singing.
I, awkwardly thanked everyone for listening and began to travel to the next car. As I leave, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turned and it’s a man handing me two bucks! TWO BUCKS!!! He must have felt sorry for me
(side note: Why do I always have to go there? Why can’t I just accept that maybe he liked my singing?)
I thanked him and went on my way.
I made the decision to continue to sing from car to car until I reached my destination: home in Brooklyn. And in case you’re wondering...that’s a LOT of stops.
As I continued my stint of Subway Songstress, I began to get good at it. I introduced myself. I sang. I tried different songs to see if one would be the “hit” of the subway-singing-experience. I tried to make eye contact. I smiled. I waved (I think I did). And I kept moving.
Some people would hand me a couple of buck as I left, and others didn’t even look up. In fact, I noticed one man leave the subway car as soon as I started to sing, just to move to the next one.
So, I followed him. I had this idea that I would stand right in front of him while BELTING out one of my tunes. But, instead...I sat down and watched him from across the way. He just wanted to read his paper in quiet. I get it, Dude. And I moved on.
As I got closer to my destination, I started wondering: Where’s my big ending? This can’t be... it?
Then, I heard that voice again: Why do you always need a big outcome? You just sang and played for over thirty minutes without taking anyone’s responses personally. You behaved much braver than you did the first time. That is enough.
I sat in silence. My heart was beating a mile a minute. I was drenched in sweat. It was as if I had just gotten done with a workout. I mean, didn't I?
I packed my guitar back in it’s case and I realized two things: One, it doesn’t feel good to be ignored/unseen. It just doesn’t. I started to think about what my life would be like if I never felt seen. What if my parents didn’t love like they do? Or what if I wasn’t attractive, by societal standards or what if I had no talent or no positive reinforcement and so on and so on.
I felt really lucky that I am someone who walks into spaces where people are actually happy to see me. In fact, I built my life around feeling seen, valued, appreciated, admired.
And the second realization I came to is: when that big, loud voice is screaming “NOOOOOOOO, don’t do it again!” it’s usually because there’s an unhealed wound, probably from childhood, that doesn’t want to get triggered.
That’s what this voice was trying to protect me from. Because I did begin to tear up when I walked from subway car to subway car....feeling ignored. Emotions are funny that way. They force us to notice where we still need healing. And the difference now is I felt it, and I just kept going. And that's all we can do.
I left the train and this experience feeling expansive. More open. More compassion. More fueled with love.
Since I moved into a new apartment building at the beginning of the year, introducing myself to all my neighbors - this time around - didn’t feel scary at all. In fact, there’s only four apartments in our entire building -- SCORE!! I’ll be done in twenty minutes. Tops.
I walked across the hall, knocked on my first door and no one answered. Hmmm... I’ll come back later. I went down to the second floor and I heard some music and talking in the background. Knock-Knock. The music stops. I hear footsteps. The door opens and I begin, “Hi...I’m your new neighbor upstairs and…” He interrupts, “Oh, we’re so sorry if the music's too loud, we’ll turn it down.” “Oh, no, the music is fine...I just wanted to introduce myself since I just moved into the building. (I hold out my hand) I’m Charlene.” He looked surprised, “Oh, nice to meet you. Welcome, this is my wife” (as he pointed to a woman in the background). An awkward silence. “Well, it was great to meet you both.” I offered. “Yeah, you, too!” Done. Awesome.
Two more neighbors to meet. Not so bad. And this time around, I was going to keep knocking until I introduced myself to everyone.
One night, as I walked into our building, I saw a young woman gathering her mail from our mailbox. I wait, and opened the door for her. “Oh, thank you!” She says. “Of course!” I smiled. “I just moved into the building. I’m Charlene, and you are…” (aaaannnnd...I can’t remember her name!!!!) "It’s nice to meet you.” “You, too!” She walked straight into her apartment and waved goodnight. Nice. And I didn’t even have to knock on her door!
The next day, I walk across the hall to my neighbors door, knock again and no one answers. Weeks go by and after numerous knockings...there is still, no answer. Hmmm...could it be vacant? I wonder what this person does for a living? Are they alive? Just what is going on over there across my hall?!!!!
Then, one early morning, as I’m leaving, I hear something coming from the “vacant” apartment. SOMEONE’S HOME, I thought!!! QUICK - GO KNOCK!!! At this point, I’m a bit nervous as to what or who I may find on the other side of this door.
Knock-Knock. I hear footsteps. I hear loud noises. Suddenly, I hear Alfred Hitchcock music in the background (in my head, of course). What if it’s a PSYCHO? No wait -- this is my imagination...let’s get creative...it could be a really hot dude just coming out of the shower...towel around his waist...dark, thick hair dripping with…(Door opens) “Ohhhh, HIII!!” (It’s definitely NOT that visual). Just a man answers. “Hi...I’m, uh...I moved in next...across, I mean, I’m your new neighbor! (uncomfortable giggle, on my part). I live across the hall! I’m Charlene… And, YOU are?” (my one eyebrow raised). He shakes my hand. “Oh, Hi there… nice to meet you. Yeah, I’m never really home...I’ve had this place for years, I’m usually...away.” (Long pause) Away, I thought? I continued, “Well, I’m glad I caught you. Have a nice afternoon!” I shouted. As I turned towards my door, I wondered...did he even say what his name was? And just where is “away?” But I didn’t want to pry. After all, sometimes, those details are better left….behind closed doors.
So, maybe going back the second time doesn’t end up with a sweet Mother inviting you into her home. Oh, well. At least I know all my neighbors...well, sort of.
The first time I walked into Planned Parenthood, I wasn’t prepared. I had an idea, an impulse, an inspired thought...and I acted on it. That day. And that’s what this challenge was about for me. Instead of overthinking and waiting until later. Which many of you know could lead to...N-E-V-E-R.
But, when I walked in, I didn’t realize just how nervous I would be. In fact, I started to have the same feelings that I had all those years ago when I walked into that music manager’s office unannounced.
You know how fear + projected rejection + am-I-crazy-for-doing-this shows up in your body? You get the shakes. Your heart starts to feel like it’s about to pop out of your chest and you just may have peed a little in your pants. That’s what I was working with the first time. (If you don’t know about my first time, go back and read about it on my blog). It’s no wonder that guard turned me away. I wasn’t ready. I probably needed someone to perform a meditation on me!!
But we can always go back and do it better. And so I did.
I walked into Planned Parenthood the second time with a plan. I was going to find out who I needed to talk to about proposing my idea of giving a meditation to the women in the waiting area.
I walk in, “Do you have an appointment?” the guard asked. “No, I was wondering if there’s someone in administration that I could talk to about proposing a volunteer-based meditation to the women in the waiting area.” “Oh, try the building next door.” Awesome, dude. Thanks. I wasn't even in the right building the last time.
Walked into the next building and spoke to another guard. This guard, asked me three different times to explain what I wanted to do. He just didn’t seem to get it. But he called his manager to come out and meet me. “Oh you should probably talk to “Jackie.” Awesome! But “Jackie” was in a meeting. I left my card and decided to try again the following week.
I come back, the guard recognizes me (thankfully, so I don’t have to explain myself again). He calls his manager who comes back down to speak with me...again. Oh, “Jackie” is now on a conference call and can’t speak to me. But he’ll let her know I stopped by again. Great. I think.
I let a few weeks pass, and I show up again. “Hi, it’s me again... Is “Jackie” available?” No. Again. “Does she have an email I can send her a note?” Sorry, we don’t give out emails or phone numbers.
The manager comes back down again. “What is it that you want to do again?” I explain. Again. Each time, gaining more and more confidence. He offers me a brochure how to volunteer for Planned Parenthood. No, sir. That’s not what I want to do necessarily. “Jackie” will give you a call. Right. That’s what you’ve been saying. I got that.
Then I start to rethink the idea altogether. Maybe I need to go back to the original source, where I first got inspired: Beth Israel Hospital.
I show up to Beth Israel, where I stood in line to get my first Mammogram, and asked who I needed to speak to. This time, I give her my personal story. I amped up all the feelings and emotions and I told her I am a yoga instructor who can teach meditation....I'm sure YOU get it by now... Isn't there someone I can talk to about this?
“Oh, you should speak to my supervisor,” she says. “Let me see if she’s available.” She calls said supervisor. I wait. She hangs up. “She’s in a meeting right now but you can leave your card.” Now I’m getting frustrated. “Is she really gonna call me back or am I wasting my time?” “Oh, yeah, she will!” I gave her my card and left.
Weeks pass...no calls. I show up again. This time, I just want answers. Something. ANYTHING!! I’m not leaving until I get to someone who knows something!!!
“Hi...I came a few weeks ago about meditation or even yoga classes for patients." A new lady chimes in, “Oh, you should speak to administration downstairs!” Perfect. Thank you.
I go downstairs and finally, I speak to someone who has some answers. FINALLY. I share my story again, she gives me two phone numbers to call. One is the Spiritual Care Center for Beth Israel and the second is someone who teaches yoga classes to cancer patients. I thank her profusely. I feel a mini-victory come over me, but I don’t get too excited...YET.
I call and leave messages for both people. Thankfully, one calls back. It’s “John” from the Spiritual Care Center. I explain, again what I wish to do. He really likes the idea. He thinks I should become a volunteer for the hospital but warns me that this could take some time. Right. Time. That’s seems to be the theme here. But, I feel like I’ve gotten somewhere. So, I start to get excited. He tells me I should be expecting a call from “said-name” by the end of the week. End of the week comes...no call.
I call, again. He says, “Oh yeah, that figures. We’re doing a lot of restructuring here. I have a new supervisor. I will give her your number so you can speak directly with her on what it is you want to do.”
OY VEY!!!!!!!! I’m so tired of being sent to this person and that person when all I’m trying to do is HELP people. That’s it. Give my services away. MY GOD!!!!! I almost wanted to give up but instead I said, “Do you really think she’ll call me back?” He says, “Oh yeah, she will.”
She calls me within thirty minutes. WOAH. I'm impressed. We speak. I explain, AGAIN what it is I want to do. This time, I’m drained, I’m dispassionate, I’m matter-of-fact about it. I'm almost numb about how I feel anymore. She says:
“Well, I just got this position and need to figure a few things out. Can you call me back in two weeks? I just need two weeks to see how all this works. And I just want to say, I turned Forty this past year and had to get my first Mammogram and I completely understand everything you’re saying. I had all those feelings and I just want to THANK YOU for being so thoughtful and wanting to do something like this…”
Wait - what did you just say???? YOU ACTUALLY THANKED ME???? I almost cried. Finally. FINALLY. A woman who understands and appreciates and ACTUALLY CALLS BACK!!!
Deep breath. Big siiiiiggggh. Thank you. There's nothing better than someone who actually gets you.
Two weeks. I can wait two weeks.
I could have waited to post what happens when we do speak (this was two days ago). But, I wanted to share this now because many times, we give up too quickly.
Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s time consuming. But, getting this far feels like a VICTORY.
And again, I want to celebrate these moments. This is what I know for sure, Oprah...
No one can tell you how many times to go back and try again. No one can tell you when to leave a relationship or a job or a career or anything. And, no one can tell you you’re “crazy” for doing something that you believe in. Anyone who did anything that made a difference always looked “crazy” at first.
This year has made me embrace my "crazy." And I kinda like it.
Forever Fearless & EXTREMELY Patient…
Eight years ago I did a really brave thing. After waiting and waiting to hear back from a big-time music manager about becoming his receptionist, I showed up to his office unannounced, and said:
“I didn’t move to New York to become a receptionist. I came here to be an artist and I want you to help me.”
I had never felt that kind of fear before. My body was tingling and pulsing from the inside out. I felt on FIRE. I felt on PURPOSE. I felt ALIVE. I also felt like I had to pee in my pants and throw up at the same time!
The courage it took to get me to that moment was a culmination of years of struggle; of settling into jobs that were nothing more than a paycheck; of taking what was given instead of asking for what I was worth. That moment was so much bigger than me. It was a promise to God/Universe...I will never give up on my dreams. I’ll do whatever it takes.
It also happened to be days after I had just gotten mugged. I was shaken, vulnerable, and angry. Mostly at myself. The the voice inside my head wasn’t “How could this happen to me?” It was, ”What do you really want from your life? Stop playing small. GO GET IT!”
The real epiphany came after re-telling that story to a friend.
“Don’t you think that was my big Behind-the-Music special moment?” His response, “No, that’s after the TENTH time you do it.” You mean I gotta do it another nine more times!! (and for the record, I did go back another time).
So, as I was thinking about my final act of fearlessness, I wondered: What would it feel like to go back and do some of my most scariest acts...again? How would it feel differently? Easier? Better? Worse? And would the outcome change?
In the next few weeks before my 41st birthday (Can you believe it’s been a year??) I will share what happened when I went back and....sorry, you'll just have to wait and see which ones I did again!
I’ve learned so much during my Fearless journey, but perhaps the most pressing lesson has been about compassion. Deep compassion. The stories we tell ourselves that cripple us into not going for what we really want...are really just “stories.” We all have them. The details of your stories may not look like the details of mine, but they still feel just as real.
The courage it took me to pose nude in an art class or hand-deliver love notes to strangers... is the same courage it took you to…(fill in the blank). It’s all courageous when you’re acting in spite of feeling the fear, shame, guilt, or embarrassment. No one is better or greater than the other.
I realize that now as most of my scariest acts were often a surprise to me. The fear seemed to uncover a deep, unhealed wound or shameful story about myself. And midway through my challenge, I started to feel different. Vulnerable. Exposed. Humbled.
I discovered a whole lot I didn’t know about myself. I discovered judgment where I didn’t think there was any. I discovered shame where I didn’t think there was any. And I discovered love...a deep capacity to love and be loved. For everyone. For the people in my life that hurt me, for the people I’ve held judgment towards and especially, for the deepest part of myself that felt unworthy.
I look at a fellow busker on the subway and think, how brave. I think of someone going to an AA meeting or a Cuddle party and think, how brave. I look at a homeless person sleeping on the side of the street and think, how brave. I wanted to understand my fear and by doing so, I've become more understanding of people that seemed "different" than me.
I will say one more thing about the above-mentioned story. At the time, I didn’t share that story with my parents or some of my friends because it didn't produce the "outcome" that I wanted. But, what needs to be celebrated is the action itself. I'm sure there are a million stories of courage that are never talked about or shared because of some story or rather, society telling us since they didn't produce the results we wanted, they aren't worth celebrating.
Who we are and who we become are a collection of these stories. These acts of bravery. These moments of choosing to act in spite of feeling fear. We do it all the time. We just don't think much of them. And that needs to change.
In the comments below, please share what courageous action you are presently taking, or have taken that forced you to act in spite of feeling fear. Let us all celebrate these stories in each other. That’s what I hope this journey will inspire. Compassion for all and the courage to share our brave stories.
These blog posts are part of my #40daysoffearlessacts Challenge. When I turned Forty on June 6th of this year, I decided to STEP-UP my life and created a "40 Days of Fearless Acts" challenge. Follow along as I step out of my comfort zone, do things that scare me, that I've never done before and/or are just plain silly and make me laugh!