Two of my dearest friends, Carrie Dinow and Jonathan Nadlman (wife and husband), just launched the first segment of their 13-week radio show last week. The show is called, “He Said, She Said” and is, in their words, “an invitation and a dare to dive into the juiciest and most vulnerable parts of our lives. Our intention is to provide a forum where you, our listeners, call in to share your stories, reveal your struggles, and consider alternate perspectives that may offer insight and healing.” It’s a brave and necessary endeavor, and the culmination of a dream that Carrie has held for 17 years to share her insights and counseling work through the medium of radio.
I’ve watched Carrie prepare for the launch over the past several weeks, diving full body and soul into the practical and spiritual work of bringing oneself into the broader world. And true to the way she walks through life, tends to her relationships, parents her daughter, and works with her clients, she approached this new threshold with grace, commitment, and courage.
When I spoke with her the day before the launch to see how she was feeling she said, “I’m not anxious! I know anxiety well and this isn’t anxiety. I’m nervous, yes, as to be expected before doing something new. But I’m also excited. And when I stay connected to my intention for the show and let go of the outcome, I feel grounded.”
“What’s your intention?” I asked.
“To offer our 40 combined years of experience to a broader audience. To create a safe place for people to share their deepest struggles. To have fun!”
“Yes, when you can come from that place of giving instead of what you might get from it, it frees you up to have fun, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, exactly. And since both of our practices are doing well, there’s nothing we need to get from this. We’re seeing it as an offering and a manifestation of a vision that I’ve had for a long time.”
And that’s what they did: they offered themselves with skillful compassion to their radio audience, came from their hearts, and had fun.
These are two of the primary keys to approaching any new endeavor without anxiety: to focus on what you’re giving and to let go of the outcome. Another way of saying this is that, for many people, when they start something new – whether a term paper, a marriage, or a new job – they operate under the belief that they’re not allowed to make a mistake. The inner critic-perfectionist is at the helm, thrashing away with the endless running commentary that says that the job must be done perfectly. This, of course, creates anxiety, for as soon as we’re motivated by an external source – “to do it perfectly” – we lose touch with the intrinsic motivation that initiated the action. And this internal pressure usually creates the opposite of what’s desired: instead of doing the job “perfectly” (because, of course, there’s no such thing as perfect), we seize up inside, shut down, and lose the spark of life and joy that creates meaningful action in the world.
Here’s another example:
I have a young client in Germany who has dreamed of attending acting school for several years. When we first began our work together, she was plodding through her university classes, getting through but not passionate about her studies. She struggles with a powerful and nearly incessant inner perfectionist, but on a whim, she decided to take the risk and audition for drama school. In German-speaking areas there are fourteen drama schools and each year they only accept 8-12 people into each one (with 600-1000 people auditioning), so it often takes people several years and dozens of auditions before they get in. Well-aware of the odds, my client decided just to have fun with the audition and to connect with her joy for acting without any attachment to the outcome. Happily, she made it through the first round. With disbelief, she made it to the second round. Still connecting to her intention, she continued on to the third round. Miraculously, she made it to the end and was accepted into the one of the finest acting schools around. And it was because she had successfully kicked her perfectionist out of the driver’s seat so she could let go of the outcome and stay connected to her joy and authentic expression.
And an example from my own life: When I was in graduate school, someone once asked me how I wrote my papers for school so quickly and effortlessly. Learning for the first time that many people struggled with writer’s block, I started to think about what allowed me to write freely and with great joy. I realized that, when I was in high school, I had inadvertently stumbled upon the key: I would often stare at the blank page, scared to begin, scared it wouldn’t be as good as the last paper I had written, thinking about the grade and my addiction to receiving an A. But then one day I gave myself permission to write the worst paper I had ever written. I said to myself, out loud, “This doesn’t have to be perfect. Just say what you want to say.” I started to say those words before every paper I wrote and to connect with the intrinsic joy I felt when I expressed my thoughts and insights through words. I no longer have to say it out loud, but somewhere in my positive commentary I’m saying these words to myself: Let go of the outcome and connect to authentic expression. It’s okay if it’s not brilliant. You’ll offer something of value and even if you only touch one life, that’s enough.
What happens when you consciously replace your own negative running commentary for something compassionate and forgiving? What happens when, the next time you notice that your engagement anxiety or work anxiety is caused by the voice that says you have to do it perfectly and you’re not allowed to make a mistake, you replace it with these words: So what if I make a mistake? So what if it’s not the best thing I’ve ever done? If I mess up, I’ll learn. What do I have to offer? How can I give?
Or, as Susan Jeffers succinctly states it in her book, “Embracing Uncertainty”:
“If we can transfer the feeling of upset, even panic, about the future into the understanding that we can learn and grow from it all, we will have made great progress.” (p. 17)