I was having tea with my good friend Miriam in San Francisco the other day. She was just about to fly off to New York City for an intensive theater program after quitting her job as an accountant. I was gearing up for another gig. We were having one of those existential conversations that I seem to be having pretty regularly these days. The kind of conversation that always circles the “am I headed in the right direction with my life?” pond. I found myself admiring her bravery at leaving her steady, well-paying job for the thrill of the unknown and to deepen her artistic training. I also found myself starting to feel…trapped? I thought, no matter how badly I wanted to travel with my music, I simply couldn’t leave the job I have now for my own pursuits. I felt the world wouldn’t have me in my current artistic state. Miriam responded with her own apprehension about how the world would take her after she finished with her studies. We discussed. As we did so, Miriam and I found ourselves repeatedly mentioning a word that started to stand out after a while. The word was “permission.”
This word had been creeping into my environs steadily and, after recognizing its potency, Miriam and I decided to give it the stage. We exchanged meaningful quotes that have stuck with us through the years. These words gradually assumed the frequency of mantras that we would regularly gravitate towards for one reason or another. I seemed to do so during periods of doubt and self-evaluation. These quotes are the friend one invites over to serve as a buffer during tea or luncheon with the neighbors. A reminder that you have all that you need already. All you need, when the neighbor starts questioning your lawn, gardening or parenting skills, is to look over to your friend and watch her nod confidently into your eyes. “You got it, sister.”
You know when you are in the middle of a conversation and you think of something murderously witty that could either send everyone into fits of laughter OR damn you for all eternity from that social circle? And for a moment you hesitate. You think “Should I say that? Would they think me crude or unsophisticated? Or WORSE! Would they think me a racist or that I have a limited view of a woman’s role in society?” That entire conversation takes all of a 10th of a second. But it decides for you. It becomes your mother. You need to ask it permission to say or do something that seemed to want to come naturally at first. Permission. That nod. “Go for it sister!” If you don’t have any of these quotes in your arsenal, or any form of encouragement from your past that you keep for just such occasions, where does this internal nod of confidence come from?
Please allow me to share with you some thoughts that were exchanged between my dear friend and me at our tea-date:
To paraphrase a 70+ year old lady figure-drawing model from a short documentary film I recently saw-“The one thing we give ourselves in life is permission.”
What? Of bloody course. The one thing we do that separates our ability to act from our self sabotaging, self-preserving instinct to play dead is giving ourselves the “Go for it!” I don’t know when I decided that I needed to look outside of myself for that nod. It probably happened during a particularly traumatic moment on the playground in elementary school or in the lunch hall in high school.
Here is one that Miriam mentioned that I had never heard: “There is a vitality, a life-force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” -Martha Graham
How beautiful is this one? To take the responsibility of an action’s or creation’s impact SO blatantly off of the creator or “actor” is so blissfully liberating. Empowerment is thick in these words and I believe empowerment is what one needs to take action.
And lastly, the famous speech from Nelson Mandela. This one Miriam and I were both very familiar with: ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…Your playing small does not serve the world… And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”- Nelson Mandela
There’s that word again.
I want to do that. I want to help inspire people to do their greatest. Be their most generous, contributing, beautiful, artistic, intelligent selves whenever they have the chance. I want to inspire people as MY mentors and heros inspire me. I truly believe that by inspiring each other to do and be our best even in the face of failure, that we can not only serve the world, we can save it. I also believe there is no other way.
So, if it will help you, please take the quotes with you wherever you go. They may help you give yourself the permission you need to do what you love (as Miriam has) and thus inspire someone else (as Miriam has inspired me) to do what they love.
So, when the time is right and I have my act together, I will hit the road and sing my heart out for anyone who will listen.