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Third Grade Courage

Many women I work with can point to a moment in childhood when they got a message that they weren’t good enough or smart enough or talented enough.

I spoke to fellow author and creativity coach Eric Maisel recently and he said, “so many creative folks are still not creating because of something their third grade teacher said.”

I had a teacher like that: Mr. Hellbock. He was my physics teacher in high school. He told me I wasn’t smart enough to ever succeed in science because I was a woman. I felt so stupid. His words attached to a belief that had already taken root earlier in my life. It fit my narrative so perfectly that I carried it for a few decades as true. I am not smart enough. When I was in graduate school I needed my courage in order to be brave enough to process the feelings I had about this story. My courage wanted to express itself in performance. I created a short performance piece to examine the moment Mr. Hellbock told me "I'd never" and I performed it in public. Performing it gave me space to express my anger and grief, and move through that story to begin to create a new narrative over time.

In college, actor and writer Maddie Corman told me that having her essay rejected for entrance into a coveted writing course fed her belief that if she didn’t get approval for her work, she must be bad. In order to avoid being seen as a bad writer she never wrote again. Then one day twenty five later, she needed her courage to work for her. And her courage wanted to express itself in words. She wrote a one-woman show about a traumatic event that upended her world. Those words became a script. She performed her show. The script was published and optioned for a film. Don’t you think that if you had the fortitude to survive your childhood - to grow yourself up as competently and as beautifully as you have - don’t you think you would have the courage to move in the direction of your heart’s desire? If the answer is even a tentative yes, that’s a start. Becoming the creator of our life is a hard. We are so used to letting circumstances and our old beliefs dictate our direction, our mindset, our mood. Fortunately, changing our trajectory is fundamentally a creative process.

And that means you can bring all of your creativity to the challenge of writing (or dancing, painting, drawing, music-making, film-making, directing, acting) this next chapter of your story. ________

Can you take one small step at at time? Can you be curious about what you don't know?

Can you listen to your intuition?

Can you ask for help and/or collaborate?

Can you be playful?

Can you take time to feel your feelings all the way through - with support!

Can you laugh at how big it feels?

Can you test something - produce a rough version of whatever it is you want to try?

Can you ask for feedback?

Can you say YES to an invitation?

________ You will have some uncomfortable feelings when you step into NEW territory. That's just part of the deal of change. It's a process. The key to enduring the discomfort along how well you can practice self-compassion.


This morning I had a talk with my son about victimhood. He was feeling very "woe, is me." I too felt very woeful the past few days. I wondered if I was getting my peri-menapausal-once-in-a-blue-period. I wondered if my partner wasn’t being supportive enough. I wondered if I didn’t have enough time to write. Etc. I was searching for something to pin my woe on.

What I really needed to do was bring in some compassion to the part of me that was scared that I wasn’t going to write a good book. The part of me that felt she wasn't smart enough, talented enough, good enough. When I do that, when I allow the vulnerability to have some space, my courage has room to take shape because my fear has been tended.

Years ago I studied with a wonderful teacher, the late great Debbie Ford. She said, "we are all things." We have within us degrees of the winner and the looser; we are kind and we are mean, we are in degrees and at times good, bad and ugly.

Your courage is one of "all the things" you can call upon to take one small step in the direction of your desires.

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