Monday, July 29, 2019

Promotion Commotion

YES! Gymnastics today!!

As I passed the gym on my way to drop off the attendance sheet, I pumped a fist in the air when I saw mats, balance beams and bars set up. Mr. Grant waved from the far side of the gym.

"Your time to shine, Sheevani!"

I smiled shyly and waved back. I loved gymnastics days in gym class. Being a gymnast with Borgo Sisters since I was 4 years old automatically made me Mr. Grant's go-to demonstrator for all things tumbling, balancing and bar-flipping. Since I sucked at every other sport we played in gym, I was thrilled to finally be of use in that space where the lunch tables folded down from the walls. 

At recess later that day, I was sitting on the play structure with Barb and Julie, my best friends... although, the two of them shared the two-piece Best Friends silver necklace that connected like a puzzle. Barb was BE FRI and Julie was EST ENDS. I told them I saw a 3 part necklace at the mall, but they didn't seem interested. 

"We're doing gymnastics in gym today!!!" I exclaimed.

"I know," Julie said as she flashed a look to Barb.

"What?" I asked.

"Sheevani... you brag too much." Julie's freckles bunched together on her scrunched nose. 

I stared at the two of them, confused and suddenly a bit panicked. 

"What do you mean?"

"Whenever we do gymnastics in gym, you totally show off," Barb said.

"I'm not showing off, I just know how to do a lot of things... because I take gymnastics. Mr. Grant asks me to show the class."

"I mean, that's fine that you know things, but you don't have to brag and show off all the time."

"I don't!" I could feel the familiar combo of throat-lump and tears materializing, "I just like to do gymnastics and I'm good at it!"

"See? Bragger!" Barb said.

"Shut up!" I yelled. 

Julie tugged on Barb's arm. They jumped down onto the wood chips and walked toward the swings without me. Did I brag all the time? Am I a show-off? I began to run through the gym classes where Mr. Grant took me by the hand to show the class the proper form for a somersault, cartwheel and roundoff. There was one time he asked me to demonstrate a back handspring and I jumped up and down afterwards. Maybe I shouldn't have done that. That was pretty braggy...

"Hey, um... I don't mean to be braggy. I just like gymnastics." I was kicking the dirt around the swings where Barb and Julie were twisting the chains up to the top and unwinding around at dizzying speeds. 

"We know... it's just annoying sometimes." Barb's curled bangs stayed completely still as she swung left to right at the end of the untangled chain twirl. 

"Sorry..." I said.

... 

"Sheevani, come on up here and show everyone how to do a backwards somersault."

I slowly rose from the gym floor and walked over to the mat in front of the class. My gaze stayed down, careful not to meet Barb or Julie's eyes. I executed a flawless backwards somersault and walked back stone-faced to my spot. 

"That was perfect! Did you all see how Sheevani put her hands right by her ears as she rolled back? Excellent!"

I kept my eyes downward as Mr. Grant praised me. Don't look proud, I thought... don't be proud.  

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I have chosen a path where self-promotion is a bare necessity. And that's how I feel; totally bare and exposed to the world when I try to say, "Hey! Look at what I'm doing!" It's not like I'm promoting a corporate process created by a team or a cool new product in which I've had zero influence. For me to be successful in this creative career, I need to sell my voice, my thoughts, my face, my mannerisms, my talent...  and well, that's something I've been pushing away pretty much since I was made to feel like a braggy gymnastics diva.

My husband gifted Reshma Saujani's book, "Brave, Not Perfect" to me this past Mother's Day. I had written about her in a previous post about being imperfect, so reading this book has been more of a peek into what perfectionists struggle against versus an "ohhhh yeah, I get that," feeling. While there are many things about which she writes that seem foreign to me (ya know, like crushing college, law school and a career), one constant theme she is trying to get women to push past is the pressure to minimize our accomplishments, talent and confidence. To that, I can relate.

Much of her book focuses on these pressures that the patriarchal society put on us as women to make us feel smaller. She writes about studies that show how girls are taught to be more polite and nurturing from a very early age, while at those same ages boys are given more leeway to brush off failures and try again. Instead of paraphrasing her entire book, the gist is that boys learn to grow from their mistakes and girls aren't allowed to make mistakes. This grooming leads to girls feeling less confident and proud of their abilities, especially if their talent may outshine their male peers. Be small, polite and humble... always.

I've always looked up to fearless women who are unapologetic about their talents and strengths, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I've also been jealous of some of my peers who dive headfirst into their self-promotion. "Ugh, who does she think she is?" would be my first thought followed quickly by, "You know what, she believes in herself and that's more than I can say." Those envious thoughts were nothing more than a projection of frustration with my self-promoting shortfalls. I've since gotten over the jealousy and rather admire those women in my life who are really going for it... even if I'm not into their particular brand, I'm happy they are invested in themselves. Life is too short to think you're not good enough.

Producer Flaws
I recently competed in an improv competition called, "Denver's Next Improv Star." Since I made it to the finals, I was one of the lucky contestants who had to compete in Producer Wars for the penultimate show. Within one week, I had to produce a show... everything from creating an original concept, directing and rehearsing with a cast and technical director, designing a flyer and marketing the crap out of the show. It was... a lot.

As I survived week after week during the run of the show, I knew Producer Wars was getting closer and so I kept a pretty loose list of ideas of shows I wanted to put up should I get the chance. Except, I left off the only show I've thought about for years... a show that features one of my characters, Jacinda Cooper. Ever since a random midnight show at Go Comedy back in Michigan where I improvised this cheesy radio personality who was as pathetic as she was optimistic, I have fantasized about creating a show around her. So, here was my chance! I could finally show off this zany character in a way that was totally under my control.

Alas, Jacinda didn't make an appearance that Saturday... instead, I chose to create a show that was more of an ensemble focus. Don't get me wrong, I'm still proud of what I put up that night. The marketing campaign I created was solid and our set went very well. While on the outside I could chalk this up as a success, I also had this nagging bonk in my brain that I didn't showcase the best weapon in my arsenal. In her FAQ email to us contestants, our Producer Wars mentor Denise told us, "If you have a magic wand... USE IT!" 

Jacinda Cooper was my magic wand, but I didn't use it. I pushed her aside because... you guessed it, I felt uncomfortable having the show revolve around me and my character. In the weeks since that show concluded, I've thought about that reasoning and cringed. I didn't want to come off as narcissistic, I didn't want the set to be all about me, I didn't want to be the focus. But here's the thing: it was supposed to be all about me and my talent!!! I had earned my spot for that week, but to me that was less important than acting as a conduit to showcase a cast of people more than myself. Once again, I minimized my abilities for the sake of optics rather than following my gut.  

One Woman No-Show
An ongoing and sometimes maddening project that's been in the works for a few years now has been my One Woman Show. I've envisioned so many different tones, styles, formats and narratives, but as far as getting down any sort of path of progress, I've fallen short time and time again. A show like I want to produce takes a ton of work and discipline, but that's not what I'm shying away from... instead, I go through ebbs and flows about the why of the show. My production will be a biographical collection of sketches that tell personal stories, both funny and dramatic, and paint a picture into where I've been, where I am and where I hope to go. I can visualize a sort of movie reel of clips where I make the audience laugh, cry, laugh again and then walk out feeling better about something in their own lives. These concepts are alive and well in my head, but as far as allowing myself to take action on them is my struggle.

What could be more self-absorbed than creating a show entirely about myself? Maybe a blog all about myself? Shit... well, I get into that in the next section of this post. This is the mental pothole that breaks my progress to get this thing off the ground... that I'm a total attention whore and why the hell would anyone give a shit about my stories. Only, those thoughts aren't my own. Those thoughts are ones I am anticipating about my eventual show. I'm letting the handful of people in my life who I'm convinced just wake up everyday looking for shit to be angry about, have this power over me and my goals. So dumb. I know it's dumb, yet I give in and believe them too often.

My intention for this show is to entertain people. Pure and simple. Sure, I want it to be a success and hopefully become something I can travel the country doing, but it's with the purpose of making people happy. As corny as that sounds, it's the truth. I'm not going to cure your disease, design your house or strengthen your investment portfolio, those aren't my strengths and quite frankly, that's not why I was put on this planet. As I said in my post about self-worth, I'm here to entertain you through my writing, acting and comedy. And one day, there will be a show with where I stand on a stage and do that for about 2 hours. I PROMISE.   

Weekly Blog Flog
I cannot believe I am a blogger. As I wrote in my 25th post, this blog came about at a time where I felt creatively stifled by others. When I began writing my first post, it felt like I was taking control of my own creative path. It's hard to explain, but I could almost feel a push to do it... like the undercurrent of a river as it nears the waterfall; there was no stopping me. Writing these posts has not only been therapeutic, but it has been a reminder of what I am capable of... I went through so much of my life just dismissing every challenge as insurmountable. I know now it was just me denying myself permission to try.

Still, with every push of the publish button, I experience a wave of panic. Sometimes that is caused by a myriad of reasons depending on the topic of the post, but one consistent feeling of dread is that I'm pushing this personal agenda onto others and how egotistical I am. Yet again, these judgements are what I imagine those negative drips will feel and yet again, I give them power. Temporarily give them power, that is. As scary as it is to put myself out there every week, I silence those imagined criticisms and make it to the other side of self-doubt. And I can honestly say, as soon as I get over that wave of panic, there is a such a content stage of pride which makes it all worth it. Believe me, I've judged myself enough to cover the population of the Americas.

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I know who I am and I know who I am not. I am not an egomaniacal person who is trying to get a ton of attention without backing it up with real talent. When I promote my shows, my blog or hell, even a selfie where I look half decent, it is only with the intent to share something that I think will make people happy or spark some thought. Okay, the selfie may be just to get some attention and I can admit that. I have vanity streaks from time to time, but rest assured, they are perfectly balanced out when my phone camera opens unexpectedly on my face at a low angle. Gah.

Everyone has to self-promote in their lives, whether it be in an interview, self-evaluation at work or while dating. It's also true, at least in my experience, that we are our own worst critic, so telling the world you are awesome and that what you're selling is best option is never going to be a comfortable venture. As an actor and freelance writer, I'm trying to make my peace with all this self-promotion because I know it's part of the gig. 

Confidence is attractive... but so is humility. Believing in yourself is inspiring... but so is lifting others at the same time. Loving attention for your hard work is totally okay... but not if it comes at expense of others. Self-Deprecation can be funny and grounding... but too much can get exhausting for everyone around you. All these balancing acts swirl around in my head as I try to navigate this career. I don't think I'll ever silence the judgmental comments completely, but I can drown them out by turning up the volume on my true intentions.

Also, the below commercial just started airing today in Colorado... no big deal.