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.
You're probably thinking two things: what exactly is a cuddle party and why would I want to go to one? Well...I decided to sign-up because I was curious (and if you’re wondering, I found the group on Meet-up) and because the thought of cuddling with strangers in a non-sexual way felt really scary and let's face it, kinda weird.
When I walked into the party, I immediately felt my guard up. Normally, when I walk into a room full of people, I'm extremely open, friendly and full of smiles. But here, I was the opposite. I felt cold, distant and generally, bothered.
A woman invited me into the kitchen. ”How many letters...” “Excuse me?,” I said, as I was expecting a different welcome response. “How many letters in your name?” “Uh, I dunno, I can spell it for you…” As I spelled my name, I got a peek into the living room. Blankets on the floor, pillows in place of chairs and two couches pushed towards the walls. I started to wonder what I got myself into.
Once she handed me my name tag, I escaped to one of the couches and sat as close to the armrest as possible. Arms and legs crossed; a "Hello...My name is..." sticker on my long-sleeved, zippered-up hoodie with absolutely no cleavage...I was as open as you could possibly imagine. Alright, cuddle-monsters, let’s get this party started!
According to the cuddle party rules - which were announced at the beginning of the 4-hour session - a cuddle party is a playful social event for adults to explore communication, boundaries and affection. How can touching and hugging and spooning be non-sexual? That’s what this “cuddle party” promised. The rules explained...
First, you must ask permission AND wait for an answer before you touch anyone. Second, a "Maybe" is really a "No" meaning, if you're unsure, just say "No." Third, you have every right to change your mind while someone is touching you and tell them to stop. Cuddling is about staying present and honoring what feels right to you. (I was beginning to like these rules and wondered if could steal them for some of the guys I’ve been dating). Fourth, you don’t have to participate in any of it; you can read, sit and talk, meditate, if you want. And, if you wanted to leave after the rules were read, you would receive a full refund.
The next statement piqued my curiosity: Laughter and tears are welcomed. I started to think about this one. Was this silly? Yes. Could I imagine myself laughing? Yes. But, tears? As I eyed everyone in the room, I started wondering about these people. What if you are someone who has never been cuddled before? Or you were socially awkward and never received a hug, or loving touch before? Or what if you weren’t attractive by societal standards or you had intimacy issues or were just plain lonely? I realized in that moment how this group was needed.
We then did a bunch of role playing. I turned to the guy next to me and we practiced asking, "Can I kiss you?" and our reply was, "No." We did this twice as to practice what it felt like to say "No" and to be told "No." It was also explained that while it is normal to feel attracted to someone and as a male, even get "excited" while being touched, we just couldn't act on it. It wasn't one of those parties...if you know what I mean ;-)
After the rules were read, I ran to use the bathroom. When I returned, seven people were off spooning each other; others were giving each other back rubs; one was getting a foot massage; and...where was I? I was in conversation with two other people...who weren’t touching anyone.
I realized this experience was about me exercising my “no.” If someone asked for a massage, or to spoon behind them, I kindly said, “No, thanks.” While I certainly enjoyed the conversations I was having, I just didn’t feel the need to touch or be touched by anyone. I decided in that moment that I just wanted to leave.
When I announced to the group I was ready to go, one cuddler said, “Oh, why don’t you stay a bit longer...C’mon, be fearless.” (I told them about my challenge and why I was there). I replied, “Oh, just being here and witnessing all this...is fearless enough!”
I was a bit annoyed that she used my verbiage to try and coax me into staying. But, then I remembered...this isn’t about her, it’s about me exercising my voice and saying “no” when I mean “no” and leaving when I wanted to leave.
Even though I didn’t actually participate in any of the cuddling, I received the biggest lesson of all: how fearless it is to walk into a situation and mid-way through realize it’s not for you and ACTUALLY leave; how fearless it is to say, “No” consistently and honor that. And how absolutely fearless it is to learn what you feel comfortable doing and what you don’t.
And, I realized I like to keep all my cuddling...private.
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!