Archive by Author

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Confront Pain as we Age

back pain

back painOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I went to see a neurologist recently. I suffer from migraines. And while they aren’t nearly as bad as those endured by some of my friends – i.e. I don’t vomit, I’m not light-sensitive, etc. – they aren’t pleasant.

I really should have done this awhile ago. My migraines have been steadily increasing in frequency and intensity for several years now. But you know how it is:  you need to go see your /primary care doctor, get a referral, and then block out the time to actually deal with the problem, rather than just suffering through.

But because I really didn’t want to overdose on Ibuprofen, I finally took the plunge and went to see a specialist. (I also finally broke down and went to see the dentist about a different but equally persistent problem I’ve been having with my teeth.)

If – like me – you’re avoidance-prone where pain is concerned, here are five reasons not to ignore the problem any longer:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Low back pain via Wikimedia Commons

Life Lessons from Philip Roth: “Believe in Your Own Crap”

Philip Roth

Philip RothI was scrolling through my list of podcasts the other day – listening to podcasts being my latest hobby – when I came across a New Yorker podcast devoted to the late author Philip Roth.

Roth was a very controversial author, and not everybody’s “cuppa” (as my mother is wont to say). While I haven’t liked everything of his that I’ve read, I count American Pastoral among the most awe-inspiring books I’ve ever encountered. (My husband, who has read each and every one of Roth’s books, says When She Was Good is his all-time favorite.)

So I came to this podcast mostly to see if I would learn something about the recently deceased  author that I didn’t already know.

I did. But it was not what I expected. I expected a celebration of Roth by some of his contemporaries and a reflection on his contribution to the canon. There was that, to be sure.

At one point in the podcast, Radio Hour host and New Yorker Editor-in-Chief David Remnick asked Roth a question we should perhaps all ask ourselves as we get older: “What did age give you?”

Initially, Roth answers that age gave him “Patience. Patience to stay with your frustration. The confidence that if you just stay with it, you’ll master it.”  But then he goes on: “Over the years, what you develop is… patience with your own crap. And a belief in your own crap. That if you just stay with it, it will get better.”

Roth is talking about writing, of course. And in many ways he is merely re-stating what writer Anne Lamott famously described as one of two secrets of being a writer:  shitty first drafts. As a writer and writing coach, I wholeheartedly agree. You need to learn how to live with the utter rubbish you put down on the page and believe that somehow, with time, as you work on it a bit more, you will transform it into something better.

But Roth’s insight about what he has learned through time and experience is also applicable to life itself.  As someone who only recently  – 30 years in – figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I’ve often berated myself for not having sorted all of this out much earlier.

But applying Roth’s observation to my own professional journey, I now see that the entire process – every wrong turn, every partial fit  – was all part of learning how to be patient with the “crap.” By which I mean, learning to endure the series of “rough drafts” (read: jobs) that ultimately merged and metamorphosed into my current calling. Which I love.

As the man says, it’s all about trusting the evolutionary and organic process of self-knowledge and self-improvement, being willing to take risks, and then…waiting. (Could I possibly transform this into a pithy strap line to go above my desk, she wonders?)

And with that profound reflection, I wish you all a happy new year.

Image:  Roth photo by Bibliotechque Municipale de Beaune via Flickr

Portfolio Careers: The Psychological Dimension

portfolio

portfolioA year or so before I broke up with my therapist, I arrived at one of our bi-monthly sessions one day, plopped myself down and announced that we’d be discussing career change. It was a few months after I’d been laid off from my job and I was beginning to contemplate my next professional move.

“I just don’t know how to pull it all together,” I moaned. “I mean, how do you combine writing, editing, coaching, delivering insight and project management all into one job description? What job is that?”

She looked at me quizzically. “Why would you want to do only one thing with your life?”

To paraphrase Buddha: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

With that one simple question, my therapist got me thinking usefully about portfolio careers again.

 

The Rise of the Portfolio Career

Portfolio careers have been the new black for some time now in the work world. Technological change, flexible working arrangements, the demand for highly specialised skills and the evolving appeal of work-life balance mean that more people now have jobs that blend a number of roles. In the UK where I live, for example,  one in five British people are expected to earn money from a secondary form of employment by 2030.

Portfolio careers are proving particularly appealing with older workers, (a category in which I proudly count myself.) Precisely because we’re all living longer than ever before, there’s no reason for people to start working at 65 – or 75 for that matter!

And who knows how long current pension schemes will sustain us?

 

Diversifying Risk

Many workers, like myself, are pursuing portfolio careers out of economic necessity. As marketing guru Dorie Clark argues, it’s the best way to hedge against financial risk.

My own portfolio career as a communications professional comprises three main verticals, with a fourth in development. My main income stream comes from offering soft skills training of various sorts, principally in writing, speaking and blogging.

At the same time, I supplement my training work with a fair amount of editing.

I’ve also started work as a writing coach. This is a hybrid of the first two. It combines some of the line-editing and writing tips that come with being an editor, with the motivational aspects of the workshop facilitator.

Finally, I’m also training as a public speaking coach, a fourth income stream I hope to leverage in the new year.

 

Finding Balance

I think a lot of silverpreneurs embrace portfolio careers for reasons that extend way beyond our pocketbooks. As we age, portfolio careers also offer a greater degree of autonomy…and fulfillment.

In my own case, I’ve never fully managed to reconcile my manager and maker selves in one integrated whole. So doing a job that combines the deeply-focused, puzzle-solver of the editor with the animated cheerleader of the coach and the supportive nurturer of the teacher is a perfect blend of who I really am.

I’ve also come to realize that although personality tests repeatedly confirm that I’m an extrovert, there’s an introvert in there screaming (quietly) to assert herself as well. The intravert welcomes those days when she gets to stay at home in her pajamas poring over a text to make it read better. She doesn’t always need to be on the stage. She likes downtime and peace and quiet too. So that sort of balance is equally important to me in this new phase of life.

I used to think that finding the right career simply boiled down to figuring out what you like and what you’re good at and where those intersect. I now think it’s also about finding a job – or, more precisely, set of jobs – that speak to the different strands of your personality as well.

Image: Another pile of accordion file folders by Kasaa via Flickr

Giving Up My Addictions in Middle Age

cell phone addiction

cell phone addictionI stopped using my cell phone for several weeks last summer. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. What I really did was to stop checking my phone incessantly.

I didn’t do this voluntarily. My house was burgled and they took all of our phones save one. Which meant that for a couple of months  – while we waited for the insurance claim to come through – I shared my phone with my two teenaged children.

Sharing your telephone with two adolescents is worthy of a blog post of its own. If not ten. But that’s not what captured my attention most during that period. What’s really struck me was how amazingly freeing it was to not be tethered to my phone all the time, because someone else was using it.

This shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve read Andrew Sullivan’s amazing account of what it was like when he cut himself off from technology for a year, including a stint meditating in the wilderness. I’m familiar with all the studies detailing why digital addiction is a real thing and exactly how it works. Just this morning, I heard a report on the BBC about the fact that theaverage British adult checks his or her smartphone every 12 minutes.

I’ve always smugly considered myself to be above that fray. When I write, for example, I keep the phone in another room. I can go hours without checking it. When my family goes to bed, none of us brings a phone upstairs. (Hence, the robbery…cough. They didn’t even need to leave our living room to make off with plenty of bounty).

But still, it’s been instructive to realize just how often I check my phone and how much happier – and relaxed I am – when I’m not on it.

Which got me thinking – pre-new years resolution season – about what else I might usefully abandon – or at least curtail – in the interest of personal wellness.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Rawpixel via Pixabay

How I Finally Found Time for Podcasts

podcasts

podcastsI was a bit late to the podcasting party. I did binge-listen to Season One of Serial when it came out. And as a former Chicago Public Radio employee, I’ve been a faithful fan of  This American Life since the show was launched in the mid 1990’s.

But for someone with a background in radio, it was strange that I didn’t listen to more podcasts once they became all the rage.

The main thing stopping me (or so I thought)?

Time.

When I got laid off a year and a half ago, I’d already committed to reading more. I made the conscious decision that I would continue to read fiction at night, but would begin reading more widely in the non-fiction arena every morning, even if that just meant reading for 15-20 minutes. I really wanted to stay up to speed on developments in the longevity space, and this was the only way I could figure out how to do it. It worked.

I made a similar decision about podcasts a few months back. I kept hearing about all these fantastic shows from people whose tastes I really admired, but somehow I wasn’t finding time in my day to listen.

So I took the advice I give other people (not terribly original, but useful nonetheless), who often ask me how one makes time in a busy day to contemplate career change…or start writing a book…or take up the violin. I told them about the “15 minute rule”: find 15 minutes in your day to experiment with this new thing. Not everyone can find an extra hour in their day; but everyone can find 15 minutes.

That might mean waking up 15 minutes earlier to tackle said activity. It might mean re-allocating 15 minutes you currently apply to something else to this new thing. Or it could mean multi-tasking, if the two activities, like exercise, can be done simultaneously.

In the case of podcasts, I took advantage of two windows in my day: first, the time I set aside for my old-lady stretches. That’s at least 15 minutes every morning and every evening a piece that could be prime listening time. Second, because I don’t have a car, I do a lot of walking around London, especially to and from the local tube station (in addition to the local swimming pool.) Boom. That was another 20 – sometimes 40 – minutes of daily listening.

Before I knew it, I had a whole bunch of new podcasts in my roster and people are now asking *me* for advice on which ones to listen to! (Quick plug for my monthly newsletter: I recommend one podcast a month).

I’m always reassured when solving a problem turns out to be so much easier than I imagined it would be, simply by applying some ingenuity.

How about you? Have you ever sworn that you didn’t have time to do something new and then learned how to sneak it into your day without it overwhelming you?

Share your lessons in the comments section.

Image by Colleen AF Venable via Flickr

 

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips for Managing Your Workload

deadlines

deadlines“Do as I say, not as I do.”

So goes the famous saying uttered round the world by everyone who’s ever been a parent. Lately, however, I’ve also been finding its relevance to my role as a teacher.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m currently teaching a course entitled “Life Skills for Offices” to a bunch of Masters students in the statistics department at the LSE. I’m having loads of fun with the course, where we cover everything from interviewing skills and project management to teamwork and cross-cultural communication.

But after a recent workshop in which I introduced the students to assorted strategies for managing their workload, I realized that I was not practicing what I preached. I’ve had an incredibly busy month, waking at 5 am to get a jump on my day more times than I’d care to mention. I’ve also worked straight through the last three weekends.

It all came to a head yesterday, when I was meeting with one of the members of my personal board of directors and I confessed to her that I was struggling with work-life balance. She reminded me that being my own boss enables me to control the balance in my life; I do not report to anyone anymore.

It was a good wake up call. So, today, in an effort to align my message with my behaviour, I am sharing five tips for managing your workload so that you don’t get overwhelmed:

a. Use an Eisenhower matrix. One of the tools I introduced my students too for prioritizing their workloads is the so-called Eisenhower Matrix. This deceptively simply tool builds from a speech in which former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once famously said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Eisenhower apparently used these two dimensions to organise his own workload, and they have since morphed into a matrix in which all tasks can be sorted into four categories, each with its own decision rule: urgent and important (Do!); important but not urgent (Plan!); urgent but not important (Delegate or postpone!) and neither urgent nor important (Delete!) The matrix is particularly useful for calling attention to how much time you spend doing things that are urgent but not really important (e.g., email). It also forces you to see how little time you allow in your schedule for things that really matter, but aren’t pressing and thus slip off the radar until they ultimately come back to bit you in the rear end. This technique empowered me to ignore a bunch of stuff sitting in my inbox and focus instead on what really needed to get done (e.g., business development for generating new clients).

b. Deep work. But even if you recognize those super-important items on your To Do list that aren’t urgent but await execution, you still need to set aside time to tackle these “biggies.” Here, I advised the students to engage in deep work, a strategy that allegedly explains the productivity of everyone from Albert Einstein to Bill Gates to Toni Morrison. Deep work simply means setting aside large chunks of uninterrupted time to do those important but time- and labor-intensive pieces of work that require intent focus. According to productivity gurus, chunking your work day in this way enables you to allocate your energy where it’s most needed, while leaving the rest of the day for the less important tasks that need to happen but don’t require as much concentration (e.g. meetings/email.) In my last office job, I mastered this strategy to the point where I was able to dump all meetings into three days, leaving two full days for the deep work of editing. I need to remember how great it felt to be on top of my workload.

c. Work backwards from your deadline. This one is so obvious that I shouldn’t need to remind myself of it. But when I recently found myself staring at five, 2-3 hour workshops I’d somehow managed to commit myself to delivering over one week in February, I realised that I needed my own refresher course in project management 101. The basic idea here is quite simple:  as soon as you have a deadline, work backwards so that you know exactly how much time you need allocate to that project each month/week/day etc. to hit that deadline on time. As I told my students, there are two important corollaries to this old time management chestnut: 1.) First, be sure to factor all non-work obligations into your planning, such as public holidays, vacations, conferences, doctor’s appointments, etc; and 2.) Second, be sure that you actually block out your calendar to prepare for these deadlines so that you don’t commit time you don’t have to other projects (See b, above). Oh yes, and get thee to a Gantt chart.

d. Schedule virtual coffees. This was a suggestion from my fellow kitchen cabinet member during our catch-up yesterday. I was complaining that there were so many coffees I wanted to schedule – whether for networking purposes or just socially – but that I really didn’t have time right now to spend half a day schlepping up and back from central London to make them happen.  So she suggested that – as she and I had just done – I begin scheduling virtual coffees. You still get the caffeine fix, you still get the stimulation and face-time, but you don’t lose all those precious hours (and pounds/dollars/name your currency…) commuting. I’ve got my first one next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

e. Just say no. Really, just say it once in a while, both to work requests you don’t realistically have time for and to social requests you really don’t really have energy for. It will add hours to your day. And it feels great.

How about you? How do you get your workload under control? Share your secrets in the comments section!

Image: Deadline by Geralt via Pixabay

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How I Finally Came To Enjoy Work In Middle Age

molting

moltingI’ve got a confession to make:  For the first time in my life, I’m enjoying work.

I realize that’s not exactly a shocking admission for those out there who find their work to be fulfilling.

But I’m well into middle age and have been working for the better part of three decades. And it’s only in the past few months that I wake up and truly look forward to the day ahead.

 

Wearing a Costume to Work

It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed the various jobs I’ve held over the years. I feel privileged to have worked across multiple sectors:  academia, the government, the media, non-profits. Each job I’ve held has been an enormous learning experience, not to mention the source of life-long friendships.

But I never felt 100% myself in any of those jobs. It was always as if I were wearing a costume to work. And waiting for someone – possibly myself? – to rip off the mask and reveal the real me cowering underneath.

Taking time off for self-discovery

So after I was laid off from my last job, I made a determined effort to sort out this whole work thing for once and for all. To do this, I formed a sort of chrysalis around myself. Much like the butterfly, who needs to form a hardened, outer shell so that it can finish growing before it emerges, fully formed, into the world, so too did I feel that in order to properly check in with myself, I needed to check out with others.

So I stopped talking to other people about what I wanted to do with my life and spent more time pursuing a range of activities designed to help me gain clarity on my professional future. (I even uploaded the image of a chrysalis to my Facebook page to be sure people knew where I was “at” psychologically.)

It worked. One of the many things I did last year was to spend time as a visiting fellow at a local university. Mostly, this meant writing my book in a different environment. But it also meant attending seminars around campus on topics I was interested in, blogging here and there, (as well as fantasizing that I’d been cast in a remake of Brideshead Revisited…)

But the more I began attending workshops by assorted academics around campus, the more I would find myself subconsciously re-structuring these talks in my head. Why didn’t she start with that slide? I’d wonder. Or: Wow. This is a potentially interesting topic but I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes and I still don’t know why I’m here.

The same thing happened with blogs I would read by academics read that were written by academics from all over the UK. The content would be brilliant. But the blog would read more like a short essay or – worse – an academic article, footnotes and all. Somehow, all these great ideas weren’t translating into engaging content.

One day, sitting in back of a lecture hall, I realized I could help.

Back to the Future

Last spring, I launched my own communications consultancy . The goal is to help people write, speak and lead more effectively. To do this, I offer a combination of personal coaching and group workshops. So far, I’ve worked mainly with the higher education sector, although I’m beginning to branch out into the private sector as well.

It is, in many ways, a perfection combination of the assorted skills I’ve honed over a lifetime:  writing, editing, coaching, and public speaking, with a bit of improvisation tossed in for good measure. But my new business also draws heavily on all that social science training I got back in the day – the side of my brain that craves order, logic and coherence.

There’s nothing weird here at all except that  if you had told me 20 years ago when I left the higher education sector that I would be back teaching at the university level – and enjoying it – I’d have laughed you out of the room.  And yet, here I am, going to the library and preparing lecture notes and helping students of all ages improve their writing and communication skills.

More importantly – and to come back to the beginning of this post – it’s fun!

Molting into the Integrated Self

So maybe the punchline here – if I can beat the butterfly metaphor into the ground – is that molting in adulthood doesn’t have to be about a radical break with the past.

I thought that professional reinvention meant doing something I’d never done before.

It never occurred to me – although it should have – that for me to be happy at work, I’d need to do something that was not only authentic, but integrated. That the secret to professional fulfilment lay in integrating my manager and maker selves; to incorporating, as the saying goes, “something old and something new.”

One thing’s for certain: I’m no longer wearing any costume.

Image: Cocoon butterfly insect by GLady via Pixabay

Tips for Adulthood: Five Highlights from The Longevity Forum

new old age

new old ageOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s been a long time since I attended a conference where I found myself looking forward to every single panel. But that was precisely the feeling I had this past Monday, when I attended the launch of The Longevity Forum, the latest organisation to emerge on the UK’s burgeoning ageing scene.

The Longevity Forum takes a two-pronged approach to the demographic realities of a globally ageing population. It is, on the one hand, interested in the potential for current scientific research to extend the lifespan. But it is also focused on the social and behavioural changes needed to adapt to this age of longevity.

The inaugural event to launch the Forum was invitation-only, so this blog shares five interesting ideas I took away:

Read the rest of this post over on the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Smart Phone Face Man Old Baby via Pixabay

Halloween in London: Why I’ll Never Make It As A Brit

jackolantern

jackolanternToday, in honor of Halloween, I am re-running a post I ran seven years ago about what it’s like to be a grown-up American running around London in a Halloween costume:

So today is Halloween.

And like all good Americans, I arose early and donned a costume.

Neither of my kids’ schools were dressing up this year. But Halloween is increasingly popular here in London, especially in neighborhoods like mine, which are home to their fair share of Americans. So even though my kids weren’t putting on their costumes, I thought: “What the heck?” and threw mine on for fun.

And that’s  – as we say over here – where it all went a bit pear-shaped.

You see, for the past five years I’ve dressed up as a witch on Halloween. This basically amounted to wearing a large, black, pointy hat, a black sweater and some black jeans and boots. But I was tired of being a witch. Plus, my hat had started to droop. So this year, when browsing for my son’s costume in a local shop, I decided to go crazy and buy a wimple.

For those in the know,  a wimple is that black and white thing that nuns wear around their faces.(Think Maria, pre-Captain, in The Sound of Music.)

From there, it was just a  matter of rummaging around in my closet for a frumpy, over-sized, white turtle neck, a plain, black skirt, some dark tights, a pair of clunky shoes, a semi-gaudy cross and – within minutes  – I looked just like my father’s Irish cousin, good old Sister Claudette.

Needless to say, I was extremely pleased with myself. (It’s amazing what can impress you when you’re unemployed.)

But then I went outside. And that’s when the fun really started.

You see, no one realized that it was a joke. That was fine, when I was walking through my neighborhood at eight a.m. past all manner of  harried parents, construction workers, commuters and shop owners. They could be forgiven for thinking that I was either a real  nun or just…a bit strange. But by the time I hit the school run and – STILL – no one had gotten the joke, I knew I was in trouble.

The first person I ran across was a good friend – (and fellow American, though she’s lived here for 15 years) – who was rushing to catch a train. I greeted her with something on the order of “God Bless you, my child,” at which point she did a double-take and paused to take me in.

“Are you going to wear that all day?” she asked, somewhat aghast.

Then I hit the school gate. After a few odd looks on my way in, I found myself standing in line behind a recent immigrant from Lebanon with the improbable name of  – wait for it – Jihad. It was Jihad’s daughter’s first day of school and he had all sorts of questions for me. I got so caught up in orienting him about the school that I completely forgot that I was dressed as a nun…until, of course, I turned to introduce him to my daughter and I noticed that he looked a bit uneasy.

“Oh! Right!” I chuckled, glancing down at my habit. “This is just a Halloween costume. I’m American,” I added, by way of explanation.

“It’s O.K., Madam,” he answered, smiling politely but looking over his shoulder as if a taxi might miraculously present itself within the school yard.

At line-up time, I ran into another acquaintance. While not American, she’d lived in the U.S. for at least five years. But when her gaze fell upon my costume, she looked positively grief-stricken.

“It’s for Halloween!” I said, clapping her on the shoulder, thinking that she didn’t recognize me and was wondering why my daughter had been escorted to school by a nun.

“Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “I thought that maybe…maybe…” Her voice trailed off.

You thought that maybe I’d gone into the convent over half-term?

I left my daughter’s school, dejected. No one seemed to get the joke. No one seemed amused. They all seemed perplexed…and mildly concerned.

Of course, I should have been prepared for this. I’ve appropriated a lot of things during my five years living in the U.K. – The BBC, The NHS, even a fair bit of British slang. But one thing I’ve never quite internalized is the whole buttoned-down, reticent thing.

For better or for worse, I’m loud. I’m chatty. And, no. I’m not afraid to walk around dressed as a nun at nine o’clock on a Monday morning in October. Especially if it’s Halloween.

On my way home, I ran into one of my son’s ten-year-old friends who did recognize me, wimple and all.

“Bless you, my child,” I said, half-heartedly making the sign of the cross.

He studied me carefully, looking me up and down.

“But that’s not scary!” he finally exclaimed.

Oh, my dear, you’d be surprised.

Image: Halloween pumpkin lantern by Barnimages.com via Flickr

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Why Acting Classes Are So Hard for Grownups

acting class

acting classI’ve often wondered how many of us out there have fantasized that in another life, we’d all be professional actors.

I know I have. My mother was an actress when she was young, and I was one of those classic theatre geeks in high school, playing everything from Helen Keller to Elizabeth Bennett.

For whatever reason, once I went to college I became far too serious for acting (or so I thought), and abandoned it in favor of my studies.

For a long time, I was plagued by that dreadful “What if?’ that we all apply with increasing frequency to the roads not taken once we hit middle age. Now that I’ve returned to taking acting classes in mid-life, however, I’ve come to realize that I was never good enough to be an actress. And the reason I’m not good enough is that I’m way too protected emotionally to take the kinds of risks required to be a truly good actor.

I know this with 100% certainty because I spend three hours every Friday evening taking an improvisation class with a bunch of other adults. Our teacher is steeped in the Meisner tradition, which means that we begin every class doing Meisner’s classic warm-up, the Repetition Game.

For the uninitiated, the Repetition Game amounts to standing opposite someone else for what feels like an excruciating period of time (but is probably only five minutes) and “calling” the other person’s emotional state, in the moment. The other person repeats exactly what you said until something shifts emotionally in one of the two players and then that gets called out, repeated, and so on.

So it might start like this:

“You’re happy.”

“I’m happy.”

“You’re happy.”

“I’m happy.”

Until eventually that gives way to something like:

“You’re defensive.”

“I’m defensive.”

“You’re defensive.”

“I’m defensive.”

And so on…

Sound easy? It ain’t. Meisner apparently wanted “to eliminate all intellectuality from the actor’s instrument and to make him a spontaneous responder to where he is, what is happening to him, what is being done to him.”

Wow. I don’t even know if “intellectuality” is a word, but Dear God, I cling to it for all it’s worth. It is SO hard to be truly “in the moment.” And that’s coming from someone who is an evangelist for mindfulness.

I know I’m not the only person who runs like hell from the nakedness of their emotions as a grown-up. I was comforted to read an account of the Meisner technique by a young, University of Chicago adjunct business school professor named Jean Paul Rollert. Rollert sat in on four acting classes in an effort to unpack the concept of “empathy.”

In addition to noting (correctly) that “acting classes tend to attract the same assortment of individuals who often congregate in adult education programs: the curious, the bored, the lonely, and the strange…,” he also goes on to observe that “Meisnering” is the equivalent of being “whipsawed, smacked, dunked, tripped, and kicked down a flight of stairs—all in the course of a scene.”

It is, in a word, brutal.

I’ve been doing this technique for close to a year now. And while I’ve had glimmers of success with the technique (though my teacher would shoot me for applying such normative judgments to the process), I find it incredibly hard to access my emotions on demand. My teacher tells me that even my body language betrays this truth about myself. Apparently, I tilt my chest backwards from my hips and push my head forward during the exercise, as if I am literally trying to run away from all feeling and lead with my brain.

I did have one breakthrough moment a month or so ago. I was doing the Repetition Game with a guy in my class who normally laughs a lot as a defense mechanism. All of a sudden, his own underlying sadness came through. And then mine did. And for just that one moment, the whole world seemed utterly and unbearably painful. Because it was.

It was – in equal measure – both an exhilarating and a terrifying sensation.

But after a minute or two, it was gone. We both retreated to safer pastures – he to his laughter and me to my brain.

I really want to challenge myself to feel more during these classes. It feels like the right way to live my life, in my ongoing quest for authenticity and all that good stuff.

But Damn, is it hard.

I wonder what Helen Keller would do.

Image: Miki_peleg_rothstein_in_Our_Class_2 via Wikimedia Commons

 

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