The fear of being misunderstood and criticized has driven many of us long enough. We want what our soul desires and to share our talents because it lights us up. No more explanation needed.
I posted pictures earlier this summer I was cautiously pleased with, and that changed…
On a rainy June day I dragged an old crate out of my closet and dumped it into a glorious colorful smear onto my living room floor. There were pictures of plays I’d done, play programs, photo shoot pictures, class certificates, and behind the scene photos from creative adventures. They felt like they were from a lifetime ago. With good warm fuzzy feelings in my chest and conflicting loud voices in my head, I grabbed the back of my neck to rub a thundering ache of thoughts away.
Rifling through paper remnants of accomplishments I had forgotten about, my fingers whisked by some black and white photos that took my breath away. My eyes watered and softened, holy hot hell, I thought.
Leigh Kiernan | Photographer
My mind spun backwards years ago into the time frame the pictures were taken. I was new to town; my support system was nearly non-existent. The life I'd experienced up to this point made me absorb limiting ideas and snarky or jealous comments people would toss my way. Not knowing I could question what I was hearing, I multiplied that gross feeling energy inside myself. It felt like the world around me automatically assumed that if it looked pretty, then it had no problems, struggles, and was supremely confident. The way I appeared and the way I felt did not match. In my search for answers, I constantly explained my puzzling mental mess and the gravitation tugs in my soul to people that inquired and to those people that were in my corner. Often receiving dead end responses, I felt so confused about what I was discovering in myself. My belief system was on autopilot and like a high powered vacuum cleaner sucked up every poor quality story outside myself that held me back and pushed me down. With few good internal tools and meager positive reference points, I clung to those external negative narratives like the last life boat sinking with the Titanic. It’s no wonder the modeling I attempted didn’t go anywhere…
If you could go back in time to encourage your younger self, wouldn’t you just bear hug yourself and verbally impart mustard seeds of self-worth, self-esteem, confidence, and belief in yourself? When these photos were taken, I couldn’t see, feel, or believe I was capable of the creative story calling me from my soul. Nor did I really know how to value what I had, elevate or support my talents, and share them. So I thought, anyways.
Reflecting on these pictures and past accomplishments, I began to feel a fiery pride in every pore. of. my. skin.
Hot tears leaked down my cheeks. Feeling weirdly dizzy, I saw my younger self from the outside looking in. I realized this younger self didn’t know I’d learn to snowboard, mountain bike, travel all over the country, and some places outside of the U.S. I didn’t know I’d discover acting and be cast in over two dozen stage productions, act in six independent films and a dozen film shorts, attend film acting classes in LA and Portland, model for photography, make new friends, and have many more creative adventures! I didn’t know I’d experience the resilience of making a life after a heartbreaking failure of marriage and friendships and relationships, handle my borderline eating disorder, be a scrappy single mom living hand to mouth, or be with my dad through his cancer and passing. I’d also go through so many other life challenges that would bring me to my knees… only to heal, rise up wiser, stronger, and even more gorgeous in spirit. The younger self I saw in those pictures didn’t know or believe the power of my creative and life story resided within me -in words I say to myself and those that I chose to live.
When I sense a wild heart discontent that makes me feel like my teenage self who skinny dipped in the wooded lake areas of Minnesota and smoked cigars after too much whiskey, it’s time to take that feeling and grow. Digging deeper in myself these past months to own my life story, talents, and evolve acting skills with more radiance and confidence, I grabbed that old crate of pictures. Mining through the photographic bones of my past, I was looking for clues to open a vulnerability to myself I had long shut down.
Connection to others is messy, wonderful, often unpredictable, and confusing. The connection with myself is no different. I’ve tried so hard to keep connection compartmentalized, all neat with little bows. As you might guess, that, just doesn’t work.
After too many months of comparing how I’m vulnerable with myself to how other people do it, I figured out, as usual, I need to do things my way. Vulnerability, a seemingly elusive transparency that allows other people to see us --how we really are and also how we see ourselves. My vulnerability is messy, sad, nonsensical, funny, curious, and is often embarrassed to ask for help. My close friends, some family, and a few random human angels have been saying, ”you got this” and have graciously offered safety, listening ears, wisdom, and patience to help stabilize my floundering struggles.
As I rediscovered the amazing inside myself in these pictures and programs of shows I‘ve done, I felt myself appreciate my accomplishments for a minute, and then pretend I didn’t see them. It was a splendid (and friggin’ exasperating!) never ending game of hide and seek. I hide myself… from me.
Leigh Kiernan | Photographer
I have a deep need to hear sweet external encouraging words about myself and the artistic story I’ve been creating. These pictures (and programs), however, made me focus on words I’ve said and say to myself… Why have I had one hell of a hard time creating remarkable words consistently inside myself so I can hear them clearly AND believe them? I don’t have a perfect answer. The best one seems to be that I’ve had a paralyzing fear of being criticized or misunderstood so I stop owning my natural & cultivated talents, intelligence, and experiences -and pretend they don’t exist.
Rubbing the teary mess off my face and closing my eyes, I felt a strange but awesome prompting to bless and honor my younger self. My shoulders unhooked themselves from my ears and a delicious buttery sense of pride made me grin ear to ear. I had followed my intuition. I started pursuing a form of artistry (modeling) and I didn’t quit exploring, living, learning, achieving, falling on my face, and getting up regardless of what life threw at me or choices I made to discover myself as an artist. That, was SO brave. Declaring this to myself deep down, I sensed I had planted a flag on the moon that no one could take away.
Discarding narratives that do not serve my soul as I keep finding my way as an actress/artist is bold and courageous. I am meant to do and be something here on the planet; I am worthy, have valuable talent to contribute, and to share. It takes guts to admit this to ourselves, feel it deeply, and to allow ourselves to really fall in love with believing we are totally capable of creating from the story in our soul that guides us.
Self-vulnerability that recognizes and accepts our own assets, whether we are born with them or have cultivated them, feels somewhat magical and may be the missing ingredient in your own internal narrative.
There are two basic stories we tell ourselves in our own head: you suck (fear) and/or you are capable and wonderful (love). Putting those traits and experiences you consider brilliant about yourself into the love story you tell yourself about you… is brave self-vulnerability. I feel embarrassed, and silly sometimes, with how long it’s taken to put way more of my personal story building power inside myself.
I’m giving myself the warm bear hug I needed and still need now by evolving my beliefs about myself through mindset shifts and energy changes in my spirit. Using these transformations, I’ve been swapping out old narratives in favor of improved ones that support me.
It’s interesting and surprising how posting those pictures recently, now with support of good friends, family and some life experience, helped me start rapidly re-scripting even more of my emotional narrative from the ground up. Being recently inspired by a quote from Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, “When we bury the story, we forever stay the subject of the story. If we own the story, we get to narrate the ending.” has helped strengthen my focus inside myself.
Having boosted importance for narrating my story internally (with support for it from the outside) and owning what I’ve done so far is what these pictures clarified in me. They re-lit a sparkling fire of passion as an actress and emboldened my artistic voice to continue creating more vulnerably with all my talents and experience.
I’ve waited for the right time. I’ve waited for someone to allow me to feel and or tell me how begin that narration. I’ve waited for someone to answer the 'am I enough question in my story.' I’ve waited for critical narratives to stop and waited for other people to ’get’ what I’m creating. That narration begins, and began, when I decided it did AND it is what I desire it to be. No more explanation needed.
As I stepped into the premiere last month for “What Separates Us,” I felt sucker punched in my gut with a ton of pain and emotion; it was hard to breathe. I panicked to sift and sort it out fast as I was celebrating a fantastic day with friends and family. I didn’t want to wreck it. For a few minutes off and on, I stopped moving and stood frozen, almost paralyzed. My thoughts raced… my heart pounded in my cheeks. I felt hot and held in an insane urge to pee. Why was I feeling this on a day of celebration,?? I thought. Well...
48 months ago… my dad was diagnosed with liver cancer, my daughter broke her kneecap and a loved ex-family member was in the hospital fighting for her life and buried a dear family pet cat. Vivid memories of sleeping in the hospital and doctor's offices, death, chemotherapy, and surgeries pelted my brain.
15 years ago… I got divorced. I started single parenting life with my daughters. I felt like I a scarlet letter D had been painted on my chest. More hot redness filled my cheeks.
2 years ago… I went through round one of two very painful breakups with a guy that cost me nearly the same heart pain as my divorce. My heart felt like it slid down my body and smacked onto the floor with a soft, very painful thud.
My body conjured up those sobbing emotional pains as if they happened yesterday. And that’s only a very short list of the sh** that’s hit the fan in my life. I went from feeling an on top of the world winning feeling to feeling confused, panicky and pained in a matter of minutes.
Perception is everything. I fought to steady my breathing and refocused…
48 months ago… I got to be with my dad, one of my life heroes as his body fell apart piece by piece through cancer, chemotherapy, and diagnostic surgeries. He taught me so much more about the spirit of bravery through his dying. My daughter taught me so much about the fight for recovery and stayed after her athletic goals after she had surgery and rehabbed a cracked-in-half knee cap. I opened my heart for more forgiveness paths than I thought possible with my ex-family as supported my daughters as their grandma was dying. My other daughter taught me more about the power of presence as she spent time with my dad and her grandma as they both were dying as she simultaneously finished her senior year in college.
15 years ago… I braved into a new world of being on my own while sharing custody of my daughters with their dad. With the help of a federal Displaced Homemakers Loan, I purchased a home for us. We learned to communicate more clearly through a ton of emotional heartache which happens every time a family breaks up because of divorce.
2 years ago… I learned I loved so fully and was so committed to a man in relationship that I lost myself. With my soul broken open, I took every tear I cried and turned it into valuing my life, my love, and the world I created. Through the second break up which happened a year and a half ago, I learned to repeat to myself, “I am lucky to have me” on a frequent basis. Every day I made the courage to look love in the eye again.
Two views played a mad game of ping pong in my head. On one side was the devastation, hurt, panic that I felt when things go wrong and on the other was the thoughtful life reflection of what I made out of it. Re-framing perceptions of how I feel about those hard-to-handle life events fueled my resilience and decisions to keep moving.
Tonight…My best friend was here from North Dakota. One of my daughters, my mom, bestest ski buddy, soul sister friend, hiking buddy, dear work friends and SO many other close friends made time to come. Plus there were so many people there in spirit and offering distance support. People around me were happy. Our film group overcame so many odds and obstacles to get to this point. The film had won best picture in Alaska. Personally, I have more artistic projects in the works. AND I have on a hot dress, cool shoes, amazing hair and nails, and I am healthy… so WTF is wrong with me? I fought back buckets of tears. Tonight things were going great but I felt the same out-of-control emotional bursts inside that I felt when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and I went through divorce and breakups.
I managed my panicky pain by gliding around talking and greeting people, signing posters, seating family and friends, and reminding myself what time and space I was in. It helped, but I couldn’t figure out what the hell was wrong and it was getting worse. THIS WAS A GREAT DAY!!! …echoed over and over in my head. I finally made a beeline to the bathroom.
As I paced in there, I mentally grabbed every calming thought I could get. Then a question popped into my mind. So where does winning start? F*** it, I thought, hot tears rolling down my face. I don’t know!! Then that part of me, my inner champion, speaks from my heart to my head, it started when I made the leap of faith to make something good out of the crazy fireworks that start off in my mind, heart, and body because I care deeply. And it started when I made the choices that I deserved to be happy and to be proud because I earned this!
Heaving out a heavy breath, I made that faith leap and chose to win out over the panicky emotions. I took those out-of-control feelings and decided I was going to celebrate full out and started to clean up my face. I realized too that I was winning even when the negativity hit. I was a winner engaging the mad ping pong head game. I was a winner because I got back to celebrating a huge accomplishment!
These past four years making this film included some extremely difficult times and woven through those things was a film I acted in and helped create! It makes my heart glow big and warmly with pride. And in the past 15 years, I have stayed the course growing myself as an artist. All of those emotional fireworks from all sorts of events in the past years fuel my passion for bringing my art to life. Cheers to celebrating it!
Photo credit: Claire Reitz Shout out to my editors & inspiration: Rachel Riitano & Jaime Lue Inflore
This post would not be complete without the preacher in my head jumping on the pulpit.
Every person you meet is fighting for value, balance, and life
Some are fighting diseases like cancer;
Others fight for daily balance with chronic illness or physical debilitation
like diabetes, blindness, missing feet, or recovery from accidents.
Some are fighting to find and hold their value in this world
because of their gender, race, age, or religion.
Some are battling mental & emotional hardships.
Some are holding three jobs
to make their world just barely stay upright.
…and this only touches on a few.
Be a badass and choose to love yourself kindly and gently
Make a second choice: let that love spread into kind action to others
Holy cats, I have been on a huge wild learning curve this summer with several different film projects. With so many different hats I wore both in front of the camera and behind it, figuring out what and how the heck to say things is really hard sometimes, especially if you want to guide, direct, present an opinion, teach, share your feelings, or allow for discovery… and saying it in such a way that feels authentic, heartfelt and assertive is a whole other level to consider.
I arrived on set a few weeks ago of The Big Muddy Web Series to meet new and returning cast & crew. I always have stomach butterflies from excitement and anxiety before every artistic endeavor. It matters to me to bring my A-game each and every time in art…and in life!
As we rolled into the first scene location, the director instructed me to rehearse actors and set up some basic blocking and threw me the reins. Even though I worked with the director and crew last year, I still feel it’s new every time. I felt my throat lump up, so I took a huge gulp and called the actors needed for the first scene.
After having them read through the lines a few times, I staged them approximately where they might start at the beginning of the scene. We discussed where the set exits and entrances were. We talked about the actions each one might be doing.
I noticed slight blank and puzzled looks at times so I kept re-phrasing my words again and again to see which line of communication I put down would be picked up. My head was swimming. I had two lines of talking going on, the one inside my head connecting me to my soul and the other line directing my outside communication to the actors.
I observed differences in acting experience and body awareness. I kept thinking and honestly sort of panicking, how am I going to get these guys to link elbows and express their character when the camera rolls? All them had focus and determination, which gave me a starting thread to weave them together.
I kept thinking, you can do this, you can DO this! Playing with creative muses is great fun and they seem to have their own timing when it comes to expression. Then the light bulb went on…be fiercely encouraging, both in my head and in my rehearsing game (fiercely...meaning hang onto that inner hellion in you that wants to win and share that win with others).
Being fiercely encouraging means communicating in a respectful, truthful, uplifting, sometimes funny way to allow for growth, discovery, and expression so we can create some pretty badass things in art and life. When I choose to communicate this way, I also heal myself and it can lift us all back up into a place of openness, trust and sharing.
As I kept running the scene rehearsal (and every scene rehearsal after that) I focused my energy best I could to encourage everything that went right and figured a way to carefully phrase how an actor might consider another choice when things felt stuck or needed more development. As we gained momentum rehearsing, I was tickled to hear about character discoveries actors made to apply in their scene. I appreciated and listened to their ideas and concerns making them a priority in rehearsing scene movement and action.
As sappy as it may sound, I was honored by each person who shared their trust and allowed me to rehearse and co-create. Every actor brought their life experience and willingness to learn. I couldn’t have been more proud to work with this bunch (and you can see that by the smile on my face, thanks Clayton for snapping the picture!)
My faith in sharing and making some things transparent about my thoughts and creative processes is that it will resonate with you solidly and empower you to get your buns moving on a project or goal that has been calling your name. Be fiercely encouraging talking to yourself and kick it up a notch, two or three. Get after it, live out loud in life and art with love.
Uggg, creativity, what are you going to do with it? I’ve sat down to write a bunch of times and have flung the pencil down and quit. Every time I tried to write, my head throbbed in the soft spots on either side of my head. One side of my brain fired out brilliantly lit ideas complete with glitter and sound effects, the other side open fired back with filthy negative shards of glass. Irritated, I crumpled my nearly dozen efforts and hurled them onto the floor. I will get to it later.
It’s later. It’s time…and I’m determined.
Kicking the floor mess aside, I firmly sit down at my desk, focused. I really, really want to write something important, make an impact, be spectacular, uplift, encourage, motivate… write something that makes me sound smart. Before ideas evaporate, I speedily write down one idea per page. However, I can’t get more than a few supporting lines written under each one before I hear a high pitched noise in my ears. I crumple up more paper ideas and chuck them on the floor. With my teeth grinding, I sit and stare at yet another fresh blank piece of paper. About a half hour goes by. More topics pop into mind but nothing is blowing my hair back.
I pick up a pen, a marker, and for fun, a highlighter. All of them end up on the floor. In bursts a thought of, colored pencils! Yes!! That’s what I need! Paper with no lines. I can draw an idea first and it will inspire the words. I am so excited I pop up and down like a jumping bean on my seat. I pick out the sharpest one and draw a hefty horizontal line. Feeling the pencil drag across the paper, I think, yeah, this is IT! I feel a warm, fuzzy feeling fill up my stomach. Smiling, I lift the colored pencil off the paper and wait for more inspiration.
The heater in my house kicks on. I hear the tick-tocks from the living room clock. About 20 more minutes pass. Well…where the hell is more inspiration? Hellllooo, I am waiting, waiting here for that perfect idea, that one idea that will spark off the chain reaction of brilliant words that will knock everyone’s socks off. I want that inspiration. Right now.
So I take off my vest and socks, toss them onto the floor…maybe I need to be more comfortable. I feel hungry so I make a pb&j, grab a glass of water, eat and put the dishes on the floor. With a heavy sigh, I pick up another colored pencil, I lay my sleepy head down and feel the stiff paper on my cheek. A short bit later, I wake up, rub the drool off the paper. Oops, not making very much progress. More one-line ideas and very loud veto’s in my head. Abruptly, I sit up and pitch my head backwards and beg God, oh, for the love of me, can I pllllleeeeeease, can I please just have one idea…just a really, really, really good one?!!
I got up, snatched a few books for motivation. Another half hour goes by as I quickly snap them open and closed and fling them on the floor. I don’t want anyone else’s inspiration leaking all over my writing. It's so quiet in my house I swear I can hear dust building up on the furniture.
More ideas zip into my mind and blow up. I feel a huge deep wounded pain in my chest. I do not want to fail. I just. Want. To. Be. Goooood at sommmething. Be smart. I want this one perfectly right idea. Crrraap, why can’t I come up with one, just one, really, really good idea? What the heck is wrong with me? I stand up rubbing my chest and stomach. Grrrrrreat. Indigestion.
Another half hour of what feels like airport time goes by as I fidget, get edgier, angry and stomp around.
I plop down cross-legged in the middle of the junk on the floor. I couldn’t help it, I started crying. I lay down in the mess of paper snowballs, books, and dishes. I start moving my arms and legs making a carpet angel. My mind was pounding the hell out of me. I have no idea worth sharing. I will not be able to write a damn thing this month. I can’t, I can’t, I Can’t, I CAN‘T… have a “perfect” idea …there’s no such thing. I can… maaaybee express what’s in my heart. Cheesy. Maybe. Maybe that will be ok. My very pathetic crying slowly turned into bits of soft giggles.
In the middle of my creative mess, I am thunderbolted with the same a-ha I’ve had a bazillion times. You don’t need to be perfect, just be real and try. It’s ok. You’re ok. That “perfect” little shadow friend knocks you on your ass and kills your expression every time. I throw my arms across my face blubbering out loud that I thought I fixed this nagging icky piece of myself. I feel a little ridiculous for getting this worked up, ok, maybe alot.
Yup. Ok. Time to give this a break, get out and run around, shake it off. Let me be ok.
I know I am not the only one having a great big heart that wants to do everything perfect. If you are being beaten down by your “perfect” little shadow, take my idea and take a break! Change the channel of what you are doing and thinking. Get out. Play. Connect with people, do one of your favorite things! It’s ok. You are ok. You and I are both perfectly messy, human and that’s...awesome!
PS...I have rewritten this blog and corrected it about 18 times, I am going to need a BUNCH of play time ;)
Six or seven weeks later ~ I'm still here! Heck yeah, holy cats and wow! I think, that me writing today, is cause for celebration! I got on my positive pants and determination boots.
Self-talk. It's one of those things we do. And it's so talked about that sometimes I roll my eyes when I hear people reference it. Blah-dee-friggin' blah. Yeah, I talk to myself. I talk to myself in the shower. All good stuff :) I talk to myself out loud when no one's home. I do a pretty good job cheerleading myself through the day. I talk out loud to drivers when I feel they need a consciousness check...I like positive framing for things, so I call it “road irritation.” ;) Under my breath, I whisper about frustrations while I’m at work. I coach myself when I'm working out or doing things that I really want to be good at... I talk to myself silently in my head all day long. We all do.
Every so often, I am able to hear a deeper running repeating sound bite in my head, loud and VERY clear. Sometimes, it’s productive. Sometimes though, yuck, not so much.
When I was in Nicaragua last summer, I sat for long periods of time looking at the ocean listening to the waves hit the shoreline. At first, it was relaxing and sort of mesmerizing. It made me curious. I wondered what kind of sea life could be swimming right out in front of me just below the surface, living their life. I've always had a deep fear of the ocean. Ocean life, from plankton to whales, living in that deep opaque water makes me want to pee my pants. I imagine that anything in it could swallow me up in one gulp, if I dared to even walk out ankle deep.
The longer I sat, I noticed the world around me becoming more and more still. In the stillness, I heard this loud, crappy voice. I looked around wondering who was being that loud. But it wasn’t a voice outside me. It was a voice inside me. It was an incessant run of thoughts… “You're not skinny enough. You're not tan enough. Why did your relationship fail? Why are you so weird? Why aren't you farther along in life? You should be more fit. Why didn‘t you see earlier that your dad‘s health wasn’t so good? Why are you scared of the ocean? You’re too old to learn to surf. Why aren't you making use of every minute of every day to be productive? And on and on and on and on. I let it run for awhile thinking, “Oh this has got to have an end to it sometime soon. I am on holiday and having fun.” It was deluge of silent self-cutting so intense my eyes were frozen in a wide-open stare. I started shaming myself because I know better than to talk that way to myself that way. I shamed myself more because I wondered why I didn't have full awareness each day of this negative chatter. And then I became embarrassed about why I didn’t stop it. The words swimming below the surface of my skin were swallowing up my goodness and positivity.
Eventually, tears rolling down my face, I finally said to the voice, “Stop it, for some whatever reason I can’t figure out, I love you”… and in that minute, it stopped. “Holy crap.” I thought. “Saying something nice to myself, stopped that deep non-stop negative thought line pooping all over my day.”
I decided I wanted to be better…better just for me. In the past month’s of drowning in a lot of heartache pie, it became my inner champion’s mission to improve that negative running thought line. No small feat if you have ever tried this.
I didn’t want the insanity of too much self-absorbed navel gazing nor did I want to spend a mountain of time tracing the bread crumb trails back to the ultimate culprit. So I decided, for lack of a better way to phrase it, to keep my beach learned simplicity. I chose to begin a lot of months ago, to recognize and tell that running negative critic voice, I love you, it‘s ok.
I didn’t choose to do this for the rest of my life. I chose to do it just for one day. And then one more. And then one more. And then one more…
Sometimes it’s a simple thing that gives your vibe a boost. It’s awesome to see how my improved self-talk lights up other people’s faces that I am dealing with all day long. The improved feeling in my own heart and mind is pretty good too.
If I could wave a magic wand and lift that unproductive self-talk outa you, I would! (I still believe in magic :) Consider yourself hugged though and be encouraged to tune into your thoughts today. Just for one day, today. For the love of you, say to those runaway negative thoughts, “I love you and it’s ok.”
PS: A day after I wrote this, my friend Jaime posted in her blog about a project that a bunch of us did in Taking Back Pretty for a Big Sky Dance Works class. A class designed to share struggles and celebration to boost self-esteem in life and in performance. I wrote this letter to myself as part of that project. What a good way to give yourself a break of understanding ~ Check out her blog as well! www.decomposingjaime.com
In sharing my heart and growth through blogging, stories, and poetry, I have faith you'll find possibility, empowerment, and inspiration to create like a champion in your own life.
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