Putting the “suck” in “success”

So last week I had, what was for me, a bewildering array of successes; and this led not, as you might think, to celebration and delight, but to the worst throat infection I’ve ever had. I’m not kidding, it was BAD! It felt like someone had taken a wire brush, heated it so that it was red hot and was using it to exfoliate my tonsils. Worse, my uvula (hate that word)—anyway that thing that hangs down in the back of my throat got so swollen that it was just sitting on my tongue. I know! Gross, right? And it felt like—well honestly, it felt like constantly servicing a certain male appendage, which at times I don’t mind—but not without surcease. Frankly, the whole experience got me a little edgy. 

It also got me to thinking. How on earth could having some things that I’ve been working toward finally going right wreak such havoc within my own system? What the hell? 

Here’s what happened. Last year, I took a class on how to make video blogs from the incomparable Jessica Steward. One of the things we had to do was to make a video to post on our websites. So after much procrastination, I did that. I made a short one about how to get over procrastinating when it comes to creativity. This was last March. And then I procrastinated on posting it to my site because I couldn’t figure out how to do it and I didn’t want to ask for help because I felt like such an idiot, so I gave up. 

(Once you see the video, the irony will feel even deeper. If I could figure out how to link you to it, I would. But I can’t. See reason above. If you really want to see it, just click the damned button on my website!)

So anyway, I finally asked Jessica to help me post it last week, and the response from coaches was just nuts. It got shared and re-posted and in my world, was kind of a big deal. Suddenly, people I’d never heard of wanted to be my friends on facebook and were writing me these lovely emails saying how much they appreciated the video and how inspired it had made them. This was delightful; and also, it completely freaked me out. 

On the same day the video went out, an interview I did got posted about a cabaret that I’m putting together for a coaching summit that’s happening in March. Suddenly, there was all this buzz about the show. I had done a run through of it that week that and it had gone really well. All signs were that it would be a lovely experience for people to share. But instead of feeling excited and proud, I felt nauseous and sweaty. I couldn’t catch my breath. People were talking about splitting the cost for tables in the front row. I didn’t even know there would be tables up front, much less that you had to pay for! And don’t they know I might suck? Auugh!!! 

During the same time, I had 4 new potential clients call me in one day. I usually see about 3 clients in a week—I like keeping things easy and I like a lot of time to do creative stuff. Actually, I say I like a lot of time to do creative stuff, but what I really love is a lot of time left open wherein I could be doing creative stuff—but then use the time for dithering about how I should be doing creative stuff. I usually end up going to Target at these times and buying absolute essentials like cheese spreaders and soup tureens.

On Friday, when I got notice that one of the biggies in the business coaching world, Pamela Slim, whom I’ve never even met, had posted my video on her site, I had an absolute panic attack. Shallow breathing, shaking, sweaty palms, the works.

Having clearly lost my mind, I went and pried my 10 year old son, Anton, off of his video game and asked him to talk me down. This must sound weird if you haven’t met Anton. But—well, you’ll see.

I had a pad of paper so that I could write all of his nuggets down. It went something like this: 

Me: (whining) I’m nervous! I’m scared it won’t go well! (I was meaning the show; he thought I meant with new clients. Even though we misunderstood each other, I thought his answer was worth relaying for any coaches who might be reading this.)

Him: Well—you should just say it’s your client’s fault if your coaching sucks or if it doesn’t work. Just say they’re not doing it right. I mean—you’re just giving advice—if they take it or not, that’s their own business. Also—about being nervous, Mama? Don’t talk if you don’t have to. I notice that when you and I get nervous, we talk a lot.

Me: (whimpering) But what if the show is bad? What if I’m lousy?

Him: Remember the last Academy Awards with James Franco and—Oh, what’s her name…Oh yeah, Anne Hathaway. Well, they were CRAP onstage—but they still get work. They probably don’t even know if they’re crap. Some people won’t like your show. But some people will. I mean, some people even liked Bush. 

Me: What should I do if I forget words and lyrics? 

Him: Well—if you hear yourself saying stupid stuff, just say you did it on purpose. Lower their expectations. Say: “This might not be very good.” So if you suck, that’s okay, and if you’re good, they’re surprised. And if you forget words, just shorten the hell out of the speech. You’re an actor, you know how to improv, right? 

Me: (wailing) But what about songs? I can’t just improv songs!

Him: If you forget words, just keep on going. If you can’t get back, you skip to the end. Make sure you have a signal with Cassie (my accompanist) and skip to the end. And this might sound weird? But if I have hard assignments, sometimes I tape them to my pillow and just beat the crap out of them. You should do that with your script. Say: “I’m not afraid of you!”

Me: (fearful) What if people are jealous?

Him: If people are jealous, screw them! (I’m not sure he knows exactly what this means. He hears his granny say it. I say it too, but in the expanded “f” word version…)They came to see a play, that’s all! And Mama—you always say this stuff and it never happens. It’s always fine. You don’t actually need all this worry.

Me: What if it makes me uncomfortable to succeed and take a compliment?

Him: (rolling his eyes) Okay, we have two problems. One: That’s crazy. Two: Just say: “Okay, thanks. Now go away.”

He’d had a touch of the flu that day. He said: “Your whole person is like my stomach right now. Jumpy and worried about the future and not sure what will happen. But anyway, that should cover it. Just be frank, Mama. Frank but funny. Like I am with you.”

Indeed. I asked my daughter Zosia to also offer advice about being nervous. She looked at me in confused disbelief. “Why would I know? I’m 8!” Then she thought for a minute. “I can tell you what Holly would do!” That’s her friend down the street.  “Holly would throw up,” she said.

“Great!” I’m thinking, when she went on: “And I would probably cry. But—then you’d just have to say, excuse me, I feel ill—and then keep on going.”

Tempting though it was, instead of throwing up, I got the throat infection. I’m doing some mind/body coach training with the amazing Abigail Steidley, and decided to ask my miserable throat directly what on earth was going on.

Its message was: Yes, feel the fear and give voice to it. But stop giving voice only to the fear. Also give voice to the exultation. To joy. To excitement and pride. Or your voice will be inauthentic. You’re not fear only.

I’m not fear only? Oh, right! I’m not fear only!! I forgot about that…

In coaching, we often say: Dare to suck. I thought this would only apply to trying something new that was hard. But—I guess it also applies to learning to succeed gracefully. This is not something I’m used to, this sort of success. This weekend, I totally sucked at it. But—it wasn’t bad enough to make me not want to try to succeed again. Maybe next time, I’ll only get the panic attack and won’t have to have the infection. I don’t know. But what the hell.

So here’s the thing: I invite you to think of something in which you’d like to succeed. And then I’d like to invite you to not feel alone if you totally suck when you get the success. I’m here to tell you: getting what you want might be uncomfortable. Sometimes, it might not seem survivable. However, so far at least, it’s…navigable.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 at 8:01 pm and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Putting the “suck” in “success””

  1. Everett Goldberg Says:

    Hey Sonja, 
    As much as you might think you're crazy I can assure you that you're not.  I think success is one of the most nerve racking things on earth.  I dreamed and prayed and put everything I have into my dream of kicking and then I got a scholarship for it.  At first it was amazing and I had never felt better, but then reality set in and i realized that I was now essentially getting paid to do this and I had better be darn good at it.  The pressure of that made me stressed and made my performance on the field wither because I was so worried about what would happen when I got to Norfolk.  The first week of practice here I SUCKED! But after that I calmed myself down and realized its still just a football going through as set of posts.  You've done it so long that the only thing in the way is your mind and once you let it go or "silence the lizard" everything falls into place and you have the time of your life.  I know I had more fun in this season kicking at NSU than I ever have in my football career and I think your cabaret will be a huge success.  We're proud of you out here and thanks for always putting a different perspective into my mind.  
    Love you,

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