Why can’t you answer this simple question?!
One of the checkboxes in my current “always be improving” wheelhouse is how to be concise yet overflowing with insight, inspiration, or entertainment. Or better yet, with insight, inspiration, and entertainment.
I’ve always been an above and beyond person. I waited ten months to be born to be sure I was cooked to perfection. Curriculums for my two-hour courses are enough to lead six-month courses. When I first mapped out my TEDx talk, for which I had twelve minutes, it ran 45. My weekend long Sleepaway Camp could last two weeks with the Plan B folder of activities I Camp Counselor around.
Best Friend shakes his head when he sees me hunkering down. “Classic Saybo!” (Don’t ask – our weird pet names; Peebo & Saybo sounds like a traveling circus act, no?)
I exist in a “would rather have too much then too little” sphere. Characteristic move of mine to shrug and say “HCP!” (high-class problem)
Not to mention, I love the editing process. Moving words around, finding stronger synonyms, deleting redundancy. That light-bulb moment of puzzle pieces fitting together perfectly is a high I unabashedly chase.
So I have this tendency to create too much.
Initially, this led to presentations where motor-mouth me would unleash on the poor audience via both voice and image. Being spewed at is not an enjoyable experience. Hat-tip to Brene Brown’s vulnerability TED talk which imparted many wisdom pearls including the magic of nothing. I learned the muscle of stillness, silence, and empty space – a work in progress, but I’m bettering.
One of the paths to betterment is continuously challenging myself. Thus when I was asked to answer a huge question – “Where am I?” – in two minutes, I thought, “That sounds hard and ridiculous. Ok.” That was 2014, my first 20×2 foray.
What happens when you take twenty handpicked creatives, give them each two minutes before a live audience and the same (fuzzy) question to unravel? That’s the premise behind 20×2, the popular event staged for the past seventeen years at SXSW.
20×2 also takes the show on the road, which is how I wound up at Schuba’s answering “Where am I?” I recently had the chance to return to the 20×2 stage, this time at the Virgin Hotel, answering “What’s The Story?”
My maiden penning of my answer, of course, Classic Saybo, was thirty-seven minutes. To the chopping block! Again! And again! And again!
I deal with having all this overflowing goodness that often doesn’t see initial daylight by creating material that’ll eventually end up in my New York Times best-selling memoir (say your dreams enough they become reality… right?) and that I share via other avenues. Like the blog.
So here’s the extended version of my two minutes, answering “What’s the story?” Graphics you see were slides in my presentation (or ones that ended up on the cutting room floor).
What’s the Story?
Normally, I’m a sweet, encouraging person, often mistaken for a matchmaker, therapist, or life coach.
Normally, I hold and pat your hand as I lead you down scary yet for your own good paths.
Normally, I don’t swear.
I want to shake you by the shoulders and yell “For the love of God!”
You exasperate me.
When I ask
don’t answer “Nothing,” “I don’t know,” “I don’t know,” “I don’t know,” shrug, “I don’t have one.”
So you haven’t run a marathon or a company.
So you don’t have a phD or an exposed-brick condo.
So you haven’t had mind-blowing sex.
So you haven’t struggled with infertility, debt, or the death of someone close.
So you don’t have a Hero’s Journey of beating cancer.
So you’re in a job you don’t like.
So no one has ever held a boombox overheard and blasted In Your Eyes outside your window.
So your favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla.
So you haven’t traveled the world or even to fucking Galena.
You dump-truck piles of what you’re lacking, why you’re afraid, where you’re deficient, why you’re uninteresting yet can’t answer “What’s the story?” — which breaks my heart. And infuriates me.
You are interesting.
You do possess something to contribute.
You have a story.
But think you’re white bread, you are bland, forgettable, and nutrient-lacking.
And I will try to escape you at a party. My eyes will peer over your shoulder. My phone will “vibrate” with a “call” I “have” to take. You will be that person.
If you ask me “What are you good at?”, “What interests you?”, “What brings you joy?”, “What are you proud of?”…
And I’ll need 23 more minutes.
Not because I’m anyone special with any special talents or experiences.
But because I grew tired of silencing myself. Feeling unworthy. Hiding. Waiting. My excuses.
Now I’m tired of your excuses —
I get it. I was you.
Everyone was skinnier, funnier, smarter, richer, less blemished.
I thought playing it safe was playing it smart. I nodded my head with whatever you said even when I disagreed. I kept my skeletons deep in the cedar chest. In an improv class I forced myself to take, during an activity where, standing in a circle, the only action required was to say a word when it was your turn, I froze and couldn’t think of a word. Any word. Because I was fearful: “What if I say the wrong word? A stupid word? A non-funny word? A word that’s too high-brow? A word that makes it seem like I’m trying too hard?” So I mutely stared at everyone staring at me and wished I was dead.
And you know what I had? Not friends. Not dates. Not joy. I had a family member who asked “Why doesn’t Saya ever laugh?” and a depressing “This can’t be it” cycle of work, TV, bed.
Then I began to unapologetically incessantly wear flip-flops because that’s how I feel comfortable. I vehemently voiced to 200 strangers that if you’re over 27, your bed should have a headboard and no longer be in the corner of your room. I removed my number from my business cards and website because the phone makes me heave. I went places solo, muzzled the internal “You’re a loser!” voices, and stopped giving weight to the external “You’re a loser!” voices. I shared how much I weigh, how my heart’s been broken, that I simultaneously love and loathe my mother.
I did the hard thing and that’s when life became easy. Not “Money is raining down on me!”, “This pill made me lose 60 pounds!”, “I’m always fucking happy!” easy. But “random, surprising, and affirming doors continuously open for me” easy.
When I emerged from the wings, I grew wings.
Because I felt invigorated.
At ease. Stretch marks and all.
These sensations are intoxicating, addictive, and infectious. You want more of them, people want more of you, you want more of people.
When you grow wings, you find a story. When you find a story, people clamor to listen. When people clamor, you emerge further.
How does one emerge and grow? It’s not easy. But it is.
Have a strong sense of self
Tell me, with conviction, what makes you you. The banal, the embarrassing, the inconsequential.
Your ability to burp at will.
Your quirk of sneezing when full.
Your dream to be on Dancing With the Stars.
Your fear of cotton balls, sinkholes under your home and office, pet birds, and $.99 stores.
Your fascination with cult leaders and YouTube makeup tutorials even though you don’t wear makeup.
Your pet peeve of adults who include high school clubs and awards in their LinkedIn profiles or of TV actors drinking from obviously empty beverage containers.
Your guilty pleasure of clipping your big toe nails or looking at (but of course not following) all of the Kardashians on Instagram.
Be comfortable with and value whomever you are even if whomever you are is someone who is weird, searching, a work in progress.
View your details as gifts
When I ask “What’s up?”, “What’s new?”, “How are ya?,” don’t answer “Nothing,” “Nothing,” “Fine.”
What I want to hear —
Be the person I can’t get enough of.
Be the person I share with others.
Be the person you’d want at your dinner party.
Be the person I hear through the noise. The person I see through the haze. However the F you want to poetically put it — be memorable.
You know what I’m thinking when I ask “What’s up?” and you reply “Nothing”? My insides sigh heavily and I dejectedly roll my sleeves up for a conversation where I have to exert exhausting effort to create something out of nothing.
If marble rye, tucked sheets, and searching for your car can win an Emmy, your nothing too can be gold.
Evernote your sunshine rays
Compliments, awards, thank you notes, selfies when you look super-fine. So when you’re having a loser day, when you’re hard pressed to come up with anything good about yourself, you can peek at your “I’m a badass!” note and water your roots.
Sure, it may be weird when I ask “What’s up?” and you hold up a finger as you take out your phone to reference Evernote and then reply “Oh yeah! The sales presentation I gave at work on the merits of incorporating improv into client pitches was really well received and netted my company thousands of dollars in new revenue and me a heartfelt Thank You card from my boss.”
But I’d rather that (awesome) weirdness than “Not much.”
Cease thinking you’re the only one
We’ve all got cracks. Own your cracks. Cracks are how the light shines through. When you share your cracks, you water others.
You know when you’re reading a book and it’s as if the author is in your head, sharing your story, feeling your feelings, wording your words? How good it felt when they mentioned they too used to inhale Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield adventures or had trouble inserting a tampon the first time first seven times?
When you get someone to “Me too!” familiarity and comfort bounce between the pair of you creating connection which is all most of us want in life.
Share your in progress story
We often share our vulnerability and triumph post-journey. When we know the outcome. When we can say “If my husband hadn’t cheated on me, I never would’ve met the love of my life! So grateful!” We share our ick in reflection because we know we climbed out of it — it’s safe.
To share your ick while you’re sitting in it? “My husband cheated on me last week and I’m hurt, mortified, and don’t know what to do.” Uh yeah… that’s hard.
But as I learned when I shared my weight at the start of a weight-loss journey, not yet in possession of a smiling “After” photo showing the results of all my hard work, and quite possibly never going to be in possession of said photo, not only is having real-time cheerleaders a powerful motivator for yourself but their pom-poms additionally motivate those around you.
Make the unbearable bearable or even gasp enjoyable
Surround yourself with sources of clarity and invigoration, not of cloudiness and depletion.
Don’t tolerate —
- people who take advantage or make you feel less than
- doing for others in ways that undo yourself
- feeling that you have to be not you
Have a friend who always makes you doubt yourself? Yeah. That’s not a friend. Bye Felicia.
When I ask “What do you do?”, don’t bristle or retreat cause you hate being asked that question; you’re going to be asked that question so find a way to answer it that doesn’t create a situation from which both parties want to bolt.
I know, I know — “Your job doesn’t define you.” Sure, great. But it does say something about you even if that something is YOU’RE LIKE SO MANY OTHERS IN A JOB YOU DON’T WANT TO BE IN BUT DON’T KNOW WHERE TO GO IF YOU LEAVE (OR YOU KNOW WHAT’S NEXT BUT ARE SCARED TO LEAP).
Don’t answer in a tone that says “It doesn’t matter. I don’t matter.” Don’t shrink and try to take up less space. Don’t avert your eyes or cloak your words in apology. Don’t bottle how you really feel.
If you think your situation is shameful, I’ll think it’s shameful. If you view yourself as a failure, I’ll view you as a failure. If you hate small talk because you deem it superficial and painful, it’ll be superficial and painful, for both of us. The fastest way to get me to think you’re uninteresting is for you to think you’re uninteresting.
Do you know how a pearl is formed? An irritant works its way into an oyster, mussel, or clam and in defense, layer upon layer of a coating cover the irritant and eventually transforms into a pearl. Pearlize your life. Take an aggravation and convert it into a gem.
Write and live up to the best version of your eulogy, now
Imagine what people will say at your funeral. That’s when we realize how wonderful we are. Er, were. And it’s too late.
Find your formula
To ensure you don’t transform into a narcissistic, lopsided meathead, find your “What’s the story?” formula. Not the formula; your formula. For a balanced, empathic, living existence.
How can you show empathy? How can you be comfortably and appropriately vulnerable? How can you celebrate variances yet magnet to others through parallels? How can you unravel someone else’s story simultaneously unraveling yours? How can you stand tall without casting shadows?
It’s not easy. But it is.
Don’t tiptoe through life. The wings, the sidelines, the harbor are no place to live. Stop waiting for a sign, a change, a better time. Forgive the guy. Forgive your dad. Forgive yourself. Let go. Of the wrong, the hurt, the wall.
When I ask, be able to answer “What’s the story?”
It’s not easy. But it is.
Have an answer
Searching for the answer will often give you an answer. That’s all you need – an answer.
That might change.
That might not be right.
That might ruffle feathers.
That might go against the grain.
That might not be definitive.
That might show cracks.
Ok. Agreed. Great. We’re all on the same page. Now what?
Choose to remain sitting in “This is hard” shit or choose to shower the shit off.
Or choose to ignore everything I’ve said. If you’re happy, keep on doing what you’re doing; keep on being private, closed, stagnant, silent. But if you desire more, if you desire different, stop with the excuses and step up to the mic.
Or maybe Michael Jordan said it. Or Elmo. It doesn’t matter. You get what it’s saying.
If you desire different and always do A, try B. Or mother-fucking Q
There’s no law that says B has to follow A. When you forge your own path, there’s no doing it wrong.
Your details matter.
You have gifts.
You deserve goodness.
You’re entitled to opinions.
You’re allowed to want and to need.
You can say yes.
You can say no.
You are enough.
What’s the story? It’s whatever the F you want the story to be.
Hopefully not shrug.
Hopefully “My cat makes me happier than any person ever has” OR
“I once shat my pants running a 5K” OR
“I don’t feel I have a story so I’m searching. Stay tuned…”
What’s your story?
Always nice to be memorialized via your embarrassing truths. Oh well; at least I’m being memorialized.
This article “8 Brutally Honest Truths You Need To Hear If You Want To Get Your Shit Together just came on my radar. Seemed fitting to include.
If you like “I’m sick of your shit” Saya, take my bootcamps (offering one & offering two). Where I don’t let you get away with your excuses.
If you’re one of those “but I don’t have a story” folks, the storytelling class I teach is for you. Next one starts in September. Back to school with me?
I mention Evernote — don’t know what that is? Need to get organized? Evernote is a digital filing cabinet that’ll help you stop feeling like a hamster in a hamster wheel. I run a webinar on this favorite though overwhelming tool; check here to see if there are any upcoming offerings. If not, get on the newsletter list and/or follow me on social to learn of future offerings.
I fucking love this. Could not be better timing…
Perfect response Leslie. I forgot how nice it is to cuss sometimes.
This was right on time for me. An incredibly empowering (and chastising) read, Saya. I love it! Thanks
Would love to hear any change you make (even if it’s tiny!) Daphne — you got this! Don’t slide backwards.
Thank you, Saya! This really hit me in the best way possible! This year has been a roller coaster and finally started doing the things that i’ve always wanted to do….starting with working in a real kitchen! Thank YOU for being YOU!!
That makes me sooooo happy to hear Margaret! Life is too short, as I know you learned recently. Cliché but cliché for a reason. Can’t wait to see your new journey unfold.
Saya, i really appreciated your words about having an interesting response to ‘what’s going on’. I am starting to live a life that’s more ‘look at all my awesome let me hear about yours too’
Yassss! Eli, love love love.
Another great article Saya. What hit home for me was ‘share your in-progress’. Being a professional procrastinator, I am using ‘one more thing’ to feel prepared to jump in; instead of diving in having only learned the basic crawl stroke. Maybe I should hire a coach…. maybe go back to school… get my Masters…. take another class…. go on vacation…. watch TV…. read a book…. Anything but put myself out there and go for where I know life is leading me. Maybe I can do all of these things, but not wait for them to get out there. How to… Read more »
You know I’m all about ‘just jumping’ — just jump girl and do that big, scary thing and share it as you go. So simple yet so hard, right Cheryl? Gah.
But I know YOU can do it!
Yes! Love this. So much.