Consider these two pictures:

Above, the experience I would have liked to have, below, the experience I actually had.

It started out simple enough. The Mermaid Challenge: Between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox, swim in one river, one lake, and one ocean. Anything that affirms my mermaid status is good in my book. And I like to swim. A lot. The camping trip I just returned from, to Crater Lake in Oregon and Big Lagoon on California’s coast, seemed like the perfect time to check off at least two of the Mermaid Challenge requirements.

The day of the Crater Lake swim dawned like any other. I mean, aside from the fact that I’d had a really rough night’s sleep the night before… rougher than usual. Yay camping. My friends and my lovely husband, Noah, knew my goals. There’s only one place where you can enter the water at Crater Lake, and in the height of summer it’s going to be crowded.

We drove around the park, biding our time until it warmed enough for us to consider swimming in the frigid water. And then things started to unravel. Our plan to all hike down to the water together was thwarted when we realized we couldn’t bring the dog down the steep, dusty trail. After a little strategizing and adjusting, our group split up so that someone could wait with the dog while the others went down to swim in the water.

Then when we reached the bottom, it became clear that the most popular way to “experience Crater Lake” was to jump off a ledge 18 feet above the water and plunge into the incredibly deep and incredibly frigid water below. My heart froze before it ever touched the water.

As I stood and watched, over and over again people of all ages, races, and nationalities made the leap off the rock, including two of my wonderful and amazing friends (see the first picture above). I stuffed the growing fear I had as I watched them, thinking This! This is it! This is the supreme, ideal way to complete the Mermaid’s Challenge. What better way than to embrace bravery and fly off the edge into the unknown?

One problem. I’m not good with heights. I was terrified. As I waited for Noah to join me so that he could be part of my triumph, as I watched 6-year-olds line up and leap, my fear continued to grow. But I had ruled out all the alternatives. Anything less than leaping would be a failure. I had already begun pushing myself, terror and all, to the edge of the rock.

When Noah arrived I declared we were going to jump off the rock and into the water together, even as I cried because I knew in my heart I was too scared to complete the challenge as I’d (completely arbitrarily) decided it should be. I had formed a picture in my mind of my ideal self and she looked nothing like the person I really am. I had set myself up for supreme disappointment.

Even before I got to the edge of the rock, I knew I would not be able to jump. But I gritted my teeth and pushed myself to the edge to look down into the blue abyss. I stood there and cried as Noah held my hand, and felt the pressure of a hundred people waiting behind me for their turn to jump… and I didn’t. I couldn’t. In my mind, this was failure. I’d faced my fear, stared it down, and turned away, completely disappointed in myself for not achieving the goal.

But who set the goal? What was the goal anyway? How did I get from “swim in a lake” to “jump off an 18-foot ledge”? And why, if I know myself, would I do that to myself?

I finally stepped away from the ledge (the real one and the one I was leaning myself aggressively over in my mind) and reassessed. The goal had never been jump. It had only been swim. I was the one who had moved the target. I was gas-lighting myself! And now I had to grieve a loss of expectation. It took a while to get there, but I finally did.

I recognized that I was supremely disappointed in myself for not being able to jump, but I could still swim. And that had been the true goal, the first goal. So eventually, after a lot of fuck this is cold! I managed to ease myself into the lake in a shallower area and tread water for three or four seconds (it was fucking freezing). Success! Less glamorous? Sure, but I achieved the goal of swimming in a lake. Maybe I pick a warmer one in the next month to give myself a longer, more luxurious swim.

But I was still stuck in a cycle of self-deprecation. Why couldn’t I bask in this moment? Why couldn’t I recognize that I had faced my fear by standing at the edge of the rock and contemplating the jump instead of flatly refusing it in the first place? I regularly set high expectations for myself, unreasonably high expectations, and then torture myself for not meeting them.

In reality, I achieved so much. I met my goal. I contemplated a scary thing. I was with my friends. All these things matter so much more than jumping. But I had lost sight of that. I had suddenly had a seismic shift in perspective that equated my self-worth to whether or not I could jump, when in actuality, standing on the edge of fear is so much braver than blindly flying past it.

I faced my fear, and that’s a start. I held the hand of my life-partner and felt the love and support of my friends. I’m learning to give myself grace to do things in my own unique way, no matter what those around me are doing. And that’s the best I feel I should ever need to be. Willing to look out, willing to step up to the edge. Willing to learn something new about myself and to love myself no matter what I learn. Willing to grow, however small the increment.

 The next day, though it was chilly and we had no swimsuits with us, Lauren and I stripped down to our underwear and took a dip in Big Lagoon, completing another part of the Mermaid Challenge. It was an excellent experience, a memory I will cherish. The next day, though it was chilly and we had no swimsuits with us, Lauren and I stripped down to our underwear and took a dip in Big Lagoon, completing another part of the Mermaid Challenge. It was an excellent experience, a memory I will cherish.

I’m back. Back from the land of Utopia… the conference where, last year, I found my inspiration and decided to publish myself for the first time. I had a good time at the conference this year, too. An entirely different experience for me, though. I mean, I came away motivated, just like last year, but the whole experience was different.

I had friends! That was the first big difference. When I went to Utopia last year I didn’t know anyone. I forged some amazing relationships there that time. And over the past year I’ve continued making connections with some really special people. Then this year, when I returned, I knew people! There were people who were so happy to see me again and people that I was so happy to see again that it made the whole place feel like home. I was so much more comfortable in (and grateful for) the moments when I had a little solitude and independence because I knew that I belonged.

Of course I made new friends… that’s sort of the important thing about attending a conference, always forging new connections. And I think that the quality of my connections remains consistent. I may not know who the big name people are in any given group, but that hardly matters. The people that I connect with are valuable and important and we have lots to offer to each other.

That’s important to me, feeling like I have something to offer. I don’t always feel that way, and a lot of times it’s because I have a giant doubt-monster talking me back into a safe dark hole away from the world. But Utopia is no place for that… and so when that inevitably happened to me at this conference I forced myself to get out into public space so that I could be swept away again by the enthusiasm of the other attendees.

And let me tell you, the enthusiasm is highly contagious. The people who attend Utopia aren’t messing around. In an introduction to one of the keynotes, Janet Wallace (Utopia’s visionary) said:

Don’t follow your dreams. Drag them kicking and screaming into reality.

It’s an important distinction, and one that we forget so often. Why wait for your dreams to tell you where to go? If you want to be a writer, go be one! If you want to be an artist, don’t wait for someone to tell you you’re good enough. Just go make art. Being an artist, being a writer, even without someone else’s permission or validation, it’s scary stuff! But you can and you should give yourself the chance you need to live out your dreams in real life. Otherwise, what’s living for?

This is what I get out of Utopia. I get re-empowered every time to do the things that I dream, to not take no for an answer, to not let someone else tell me I don’t measure up. Because I am here, I have something to offer to the world and I want to share it.

And I believe that is true for you too.

Now that I’m back, down from the mountaintop so to speak, it’s time for the rubber to meet the road. It’s time to make good on all the inspiration that I have had up until this point and make my dreams, scary as they seem, a reality.

Carry the flaming torch of your bravery with you into the darkness to light each step of your journey. – Janet Wallace

It’s not without fear that I open the Word document that contains my manuscript and resume the revisions that I need to complete before I share Trea and her story with you. And my doubt-monster says again that I have nothing to offer that you will want to hear through this tale. But I can’t for one second believe that is true. Because if I do then I’ll close the document and walk away. I’ll let the dreams fade back into my subconscious. I’ll never reach my goals. And it’s not an option.

So be on the lookout for the novel. It’s coming. I promise. I want to share my story with you! And I hope you’ll share your stories with me, too.

Want to know when the novel comes out? Join my tribe.

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 Pre-race tutu selfie
Pre-race tutu selfie

I started a long post last week, intending to write to you all about the reasons I support the action that President Obama took for transgender people last week. But it’s a weighty thing, to talk about being an ally, especially when I come from a conservative background and I know that at least some of the people reading this post won’t agree with me.

And for now it’s ok if you don’t agree with me. For now. But I hope that you do agree with me. But whether you do or don’t agree, I want to make sure I get it right… want to make sure that I’m saying helpful, informed things that lift others up instead of frustrated, unbalanced things that cause more pain and suffering to those who don’t need any more pain and suffering.

So look for that post to be forthcoming, maybe even this week!

Instead, I thought I’d share a few pictures of what I did this past weekend… I ran Bay to Breakers! San Francisco has been hosting this annual race since 1911, a run from the Bay Bridge to the Pacific ocean. More people than the population of my current home town gather together each year in May to dress up in wild costumes (or no costumes at all… i.e. naked!) and run from the bridge to the sea in one giant party. It’s a hilarious event. No seriousness involved at all… although some people (cough, cough, Lauren) try to run it seriously.

 My B2B girls (aren't we cute?) and my beautiful collie (he did NOT run the race, choosing instead to take a leisurely stroll through Golden Gate Park and then bark at the B2B participants as they approached the finish line).
My B2B girls (aren’t we cute?) and my beautiful collie (he did NOT run the race, choosing instead to take a leisurely stroll through Golden Gate Park and then bark at the B2B participants as they approached the finish line).

I didn’t break any records, not even personal ones, this year on this race, but I did manage to run most of it (except for a couple of moments on Hayes Hill)… and when you count all the people you have to dodge, it’s almost 8 miles of gentle sloping running and one really horribly ridiculous hill.

Running, by the way, has proved to me that if I want to do something, if I really set my mind to it I can do it. Three years ago I was no kind of runner at all. The idea of it made me laugh. Today I’ve run a half-marathon, done Bay to Breakers three times, and am pretty certain I want to run a full marathon before I turn 40.

The other thing running has taught me is how to let go of comparison. There will always be someone out there who runs faster or further than I do. Even here in my own little town, on this very quiet street I live on, there are people who can run faster and further than me. And if I beat myself up for not being what they are, for not running at their pace or their distance, I get horribly discouraged. It can really screw up a good run if I let my inner monster tell me I’ll never be as good as the person who just breezed past me on the bike path, never mind that they’re ten years younger than me and have been running since they were a tiny child.

But, if I can keep my focus on what I am doing, on how I’ve improved over the weeks and years, then I reach the end of my run with a feeling of accomplishment and the desire to do it again. And more importantly, I can achieve the goals I set out to accomplish, instead of falling short and being eternally frustrated. So, look out marathon distance (26.2)! I’m coming for you!

I have a card on my mantle that an excellent friend of mine gave me. It contains this quote:

Dreams can change, if we all stuck with our first dreams there would be a lot of cowboys and princesses running around.

— Stephen Colbert

I was thinking back to who I wanted to be when I was young. I had a cowboy outfit, but I pretended that I was a horse a lot. I may have been a bit confused as to what states of being I would be able to achieve when I was a child. I’m sure my parents are breathing a collective sigh of relief that I didn’t actually pursue the dream of becoming a horse… I don’t think they would have been able to support that kind of alternate identity in their oldest daughter.

I haven’t always known who I wanted to be. There was a time when I knew what I did not want more clearly than I knew what I wanted. I have muddled forward in the in-between land, somewhere equidistant from the dreams of being a dolphin trainer, or a veterinarian, or a missionary and where I am now, a freelance editor who is publishing a novel this summer.

The vision I had of my future self has changed so many times over the years, sometimes as a choice made freely and gladly, and other times as a result of doors closing or more jarring and painful circumstances. Each time I lay down an old dream in search of a new one I suffer loss and the opportunities that I’m choosing to leave behind. But I also experience great joy at the possibilities that lay before me.

If you choose to let your dreams go, or if you have to for some reason or another, new dreams are a happy discovery. Because you can’t ever stop… dreaming that is. At your lowest point, or at your highest, there’s always some state of being that we long for. Whether it’s comfort and security or quiet solitude and an escape from pressure and expectation, we all want something, want to be something.

One important way that my vision of my future self has evolved… instead of thinking about who I will be “someday” I focus more on who I am now? My lovely therapist wrote a blog post in which she posed the weighty question, “Why not now?” If there is something I want to do, if there is someone I want to be, why not be that person now? Why do I need to wait for someone’s permission or for a specific amount of time to pass or…? What’s stopping me from being who I want to be right now?

Sometimes the thing stopping me is the identity/dream/goal I haven’t let go of yet. Sometimes, in order to achieve the thing you really want (or to discover what that is at all) you have to let go of what you never thought you’d ever lose.

I wanted to be a horse (be a horse, have a horse, same thing, right?) when I was a child. I’ve always loved horses… so when I found the opportunity to ride and a generous soul who was willing to let me work for time on horseback, I dove in with open arms to receive that manifestation of my dreams. For a while, riding horses consumed my life and I was ever so happy.

And then, gradually, I started to fall out of enchantment with horses. There were other things (like writing and my editing business) I wanted to spend my moments on, and continuing to prop up an old identity was starting to chafe. I realized that the dream wasn’t for me, but it was painfully difficult to let go of an identity that I’d cherished for so long, since I was a child. I had friends and daily rhythms tied up in the idea that I was a horse-person, and I hated to lose them.

When I finally let go of the old dream to make space for new ones, I didn’t lose my friends. I didn’t lose my sense of self, either. Instead, by pruning what wasn’t working for me anymore, I grew. But it was scary. And painful. And I had to say goodbye to part of me, and grieve the loss. Still, it was only through putting aside a dream that no longer fit anymore, that I had grown out of, that I was able to embrace something new and become more me than I had been before.

So what about you? Who do you want to be now? What about tomorrow? What about five years from now? Not sure? Let’s find out together!

 It's never a straight line to get where you want to be... not if your dreams are brave. If you're reaching out and achieving everything you set your heart to right away, I'm going challenge that you're not dreaming big enough.
It’s never a straight line to get where you want to be… not if your dreams are brave. If you’re reaching out and achieving everything you set your heart to right away, I’m going challenge that you’re not dreaming big enough.

Last year I read a book by Seth Godin called What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn). It’s a great book. In it he talks about his views on entrepreneurship and how to achieve your goals more efficiently or… at all, really.

The main idea Seth wants to drive home is baked into the title of the book. It’s your turn. Now. It’s never not your turn. Do something.

This was revolutionary for me (and maybe it is for you, too). The desire to be “the chosen one” is universal. Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Cinderella, The Matrix, The Sword in the Stone… I could go on and on naming stories, myths, archetypes from all throughout the history of storytelling that point to the same need in all of us. We want to be chosen. And for some of us that means a lot of waiting and painfully watching while others achieve what we had always hoped for.

I have spent so much of my life waiting to be given permission to live. When I was a teenager, I didn’t do anything without permission. Well, I wasn’t supposed to, at least… so if I did and it ever became known I’d suffer consequences for it.

Those consequences reinforced the need for permission from anyone and everyone to be able to act. So instead of making art or writing fiction or doing anything that I wanted to do simply because I wanted to do it, I waited for someone to tell me I was allowed to.

Growing up, I had bathroom mirror fantasies (you know, where you lock yourself in the bathroom and have imaginary conversations with your reflection? Anyone? Just me? Ok…) that I had been discovered by someone who would make me a famous model, or actress, or just a member of a richer, more “hip” family. The keen desire to be singled out, to be chosen, has lived inside me my whole life.

What I wish I’d known then, what Seth Godin drives home in his book, is that if you sit and wait for someone else to pick you, the odds are you’ll never get to “go” at all. If you want to play the game, if you want to be chosen, you have to pick yourself.

It took me almost 4 decades to discover this truth. When I think about the time and opportunities I wasted by waiting for someone else to tell me I was allowed to live I get a little sad. How much more could I have done if I had realized early on that I could fill my own need by choosing myself?

You don’t need a permit or a blessing or any sort of permission to decide to take your turn. You only have to open your eyes and look. And then choose.

— Seth Godin, What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn)

These days I’m bolder, I dive in and take more risks without waiting for someone to give me the go-ahead. I make messes and sing out of key and am publishing my first novel this year because I’m not waiting for anyone to say “It’s your turn.” I already know it’s my turn. I already know that I’m going to get picked for the team I want to play on because I’m the one doing the picking. I pick myself.

What about you?

There are so very many reasons why Amanda Palmer is my hero. The more I learn about her life philosophies and her journey to becoming the amazing woman and artist that she is, the more I wish I could have found her when I was a timid, broken teenager desperate for love and affirmation. Because though Amanda would probably admit that she was also desperate for love and affirmation as a teen, she was anything but timid. She was, and is, larger than life, taking up space in the world, making no apologies for who she is, going after life with every ounce of her energy and her fathomless heart.

If there’s one thing I want my teenage self to know, that Amanda Palmer reminds me of every time I hear her music or read her blog, it’s that it’s OK to take up space in the world, to make noise, to make a mess, and to be different. When I was growing up, the only thing I wanted more than to be accepted was to be noticed… by anyone. But I was so afraid of the negative sides to being noticed by the “wrong” people that I spent all my time being as small and undetectable as possible.

Amanda Palmer is the exact opposite of that, and I think that she always has been. I love her for the way that her music, her art, and her life philosophy encourages me to step out of my own comfort zone and to take up space that was meant for me. Everyone needs someone like that, a larger-than-life hero that inspires them to be brave. And the world could use more artists who make space for other artists, who lift others up as they reach for the stars themselves.

So when I realized that AFP herself had shared my blog post about not shaving, I want you to visualize exactly how that moment went down for me.

 If you haven't seen  Kristen Bell melt down  over the fact that a sloth was coming to her birthday party, I highly highly recommend it!!
If you haven’t seen Kristen Bell melt down over the fact that a sloth was coming to her birthday party, I highly highly recommend it!!

When your hero takes the time to not only read what you’ve written, but also to share it and her supportive comments with her entire network… that’s an emotional moment. I’m not even a little bit ashamed that I was so overcome with joy.

But I mean seriously, who could ask for a better hero than that?

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