Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Fearless Creativity

 Last January (yes...meaning over a year ago; Timeliness isn't exactly my blogging strong suit.) I attended my first annual meeting at my company. Our entire office gathered together for an afternoon, and after some awards, some speeches, and some business highlights, our CEO came up to speak. She shared with us that she had recently done something she deemed terrifying: take trapeze lessons. I guess her sister (and niece) really wanted to try it, and they dragged her along with them. She hates heights so was more than a little reluctant to do it, but in the end she went for it, and had a blast. She was so proud and inspired by the experience of being out of her comfort zone, that she decided to challenge us all to do the same. She (and the rest of our company's leadership) set up a program they called "Fearless Creativity" to encourage us to try something new. Each associate got $100 to spend on anything we wanted...with two caveats: It had to be something that takes you out of your comfort zone, and you had to do it with another company employee.

I was blown away. $100 isn't a ton of money, but multiplied out by every associate, it was a decent investment. But more than that, I loved the idea that they were truly "walking the walk". They didn't just tell us to try something new, or encourage us to build bonds with one another- they set up a system that rewards it. I couldn't wait to figure out what I was going to spend my fearless money on...and I had the extra bonus of a built in partner (one of the many perks of working with my husband!) Dustin and I thought for a bit, and decided we'd take music lessons: banjo for him, mandolin for me.

Fast forward a year later...the annual meeting was coming up, and they put a call out to all associates asking us to share our Fearless Creativity experience. And for some reason...maybe before I could think it all the way through...I volunteered. I submitted a draft of my three minute speech, and they accepted it. Oh...and asked me to play the mandolin. That I hadn't planned on. Committing to speak in front of 350+ people was already another fearless experience for me (I joked that I should get an extra $100 just for talking) but playing (and singing!) downright terrified me. But...I still had my partner (/husband) along for the ride and somehow we decided it would be fun. Or worth it. Or...something...

We had two weeks to prepare, and I pretty much practiced my speech and my performance nonstop (I'm fairly certain I played the mandolin more in those two weeks than I had in the entire year). Dustin's role was to play the cajon (a box drum) so he was far less nervous than I was, but he still served as my cheerleader, encouraging me that I would be great, people would love it, and that I would most likely not pee my pants out of sheer fright. The girls even got into the action: Fin took iphone videos of me practicing, and Piper encouraged me: "I made you a picture. It says I love you, and it means you're the best singer in the world", and "You can do it, Mama. You'll have Daddy with you, so you can do it!"

So with my cheering squad behind me, I convinced myself it really would be fun. Or worth it. Or...something...

Finally, the day arrived:

Yeah, did I mention it was at the Southern Theatre? Not exactly helping support my "no big deal" outlook...

So with my knees knocking, and my voice shaking...we took the stage.
I couldn't see a was all bright lights, and then pitch black, so that was a bit unnerving. But I made it through the talk with only a few stumbles (The crowd was pretty forgiving...probably because I referenced Star Wars early on, and included some crazy cat pictures in my slide show. Gotta play to your audience). And was time to play. I couldn't hear myself at all (no sound monitors, just a mic projecting our performance out into the abyss) so that made things a little tough, but beginners can't be choosers- I won't blame the set up. I wasn't aiming for perfection, but if I'm being honest, the song went far worse than any of our rehearsals. At one point I looked at Dustin with my "I want to sink through the stage and die" face. (He gave me his "You're fine, keep going, you got this" face in return). But the entire subject of my talk was about trying things...even if you might the show went on. I don't remember much from the performance- I do recall people clapping along at least, so that was a good thing- but our plan to keep things short paid off, and it was over before I could melt into a puddle of my own mortification. There was a ton of cheering, which I didn't think was entirely out of pity, and we made our way back to our seats, slightly sweaty (me), thankful it was over (me again) and looking forward to drinks at the after party (both of us).

Overall, I was proud of what I had shared, even if the performance didn't go exactly as well as I would have liked. What I wasn't expecting, was the reaction I got from my coworkers. Part of the reason I was so nervous (besides being entirely unqualified for the task) was because I work at an advertising agency: a place known for being on the cutting-edge of cool. Me and my tiny-stringed hobby don't exactly scream "hip" (or whatever the kids are saying these days). I was scared I'd be terrible, but worse than that, I was scared they'd think I thought I was good. Its one thing to play for my kids in the living room, or even to sing in front of our church...but a front row of NYC-based designers, all wearing flat brimmed hats? Eeek.

But to my (very thankful) surprise, everyone couldn't have been more supportive. Seriously...I don't say this to brag...people were exceedingly, overwhelmingly kind. Yes, part of it was that I was now known as "that girl who played mandolin on stage", so they may have felt like they had to say something when they passed me in the hallways, but mostly, people were truly and sincerely complimentary. So I basked in the attention a little (can you blame me? a little flattery feels nice!) but truly I was touched that so many people seemed to really connect with what I shared. I don't think it was because I was exceptionally good at the mandolin (I'm not), and I don't even know that it was entirely the power of the message I prepared. What I think people really responded to was the vulnerability. They related to wanting to try something, but being scared of failure. They watched a super-regular girl push herself to do something scary because she believed it was worth it, and they saw a piece of themselves. Person after person said that it was so brave, and that they never could have done that. But they also said watching me made them want to try. I heard about dreams people had that they never felt like they could attempt. I heard about bucket-list items they were considering more seriously now. One guy even told me his wife signed them both up for guitar lessons that night.

And that is what I'm proud of.

It's not about what I did; how good I was, or wasn't. It was about having an dream, believing it was worth something, and despite the fear of failure, having the courage to try.

What's your version of the mandolin dream? And what's stopping you from pursuing it? Go...sing, play, do, try. 
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