Strolling through my neighborhood recently, I walked past a piece of art on the street that says, don’t be afraid to act like you f*cking care.
I laughed out loud and whipped out my phone. A life coach should definitely have something to say about this, I thought. I’ve been an ontological—read: being-based—coach for almost six years now, so I know what’s working for my Instagram.
But I couldn’t let this one go once I posted it; too much truth. We are so afraid to act like we f*cking care. Hell, we’re terrified. It’s counterintuitive, because in order to produce anything in life, we have to first care about it.
When did caring become uncool? Before the alt-right and Russia took over our internet and I was scared to tell people I wanted to vote for Hillary Clinton, it’s been uncool to care. People get scared when you care.
This starts early, so to find some answers let’s take a trip through time together. In middle school, it is a sign of weakness to admit that you like someone. There may be no purer example of how dangerous it can be to care: being twelve years old and everybody knows you like someone who doesn’t like you back. To compound the shame, you’re surrounded by other twelve-year-olds whose response to their own fear and shame by proxy to you is making fun of you and distancing themselves. It is truly a terrible time for caring. Note to future generations: invent a way to skip middle school entirely.
Anyway, our little twelve-year-old selves learn from this. We develop a very cute, very effective armadillo-style protection system over time. We look at people who take big risks—running for senior class president, for example—and in our misplaced jealousy we secretly enjoy their plight when they lose. How dare they put their desires on loudspeaker. How dare they ask the world for what they want. This insulates us from disappointment, but it ultimately makes getting what we want extremely difficult.
I didn’t intend for this piece to be about how we poison ourselves against other women, but I guess, here we are, addressing the impact of the patriarchy. Uninterrupted, it rules our lives, denies us deep connection and belonging, and keeps us from our full artistic expression in the world.
So, here we are at the worst part: when we turn it inward. When we get so concerned with how we, or our art, will be received, that we stop. We whittle down our joy and expression. We become tiny little walking black holes of possibility.
Heartbreakingly, the only way we actually can get what we want is to f*cking care about it. Caring fully makes us vulnerable to disappointment. It’s risky. It’s much safer to not.
However, if you bring your rebel artist heart to the table with me, we hold the key to a quiet revolution.
If you are an artist, you are a leader. What is more courageous than following your idea all the way through until it comes to life in a way that is meaningful?
Leadership is seeking feedback and support when needed, but ultimately choosing what serves the highest expression of your idea. Only you have the answer. You have to f*cking care so much that you go beyond that inner patriarchal critic in your head.
Personally, my inner critic is saying that this will be a more legitimate piece to publish once I’ve made it big, as if commercial success will make my story more legitimate or compelling. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, down to earth celebrity tell-all about their struggle up to the top of the ladder.
Stories like theirs are important. We need to hear ourselves in the women we see out in the world so we are compelled to keep going.
But we need more stories about those of us in a different region of this world of creative pursuit: those of us who are messy and passionate and doing the best we can to feel like ourselves in this weird world. There is a special place, currently uncelebrated in our cultural zeitgeist, for women delighting in their talent and doing whatever the f*ck they want with it.
I will lead the charge. Here is my story.
My parents raised us on show tunes. I was going to be a famous actress. Family reunions were just an excuse to make everyone in my extended family watch an extensively choreographed performance. I was cast as Annie at summer theater camp when I was 12, and I wasn’t even surprised, it just felt completely natural. Such a Leo.
When I got to high school, things got confusing. It seemed my voice was not up to par and I was up against a larger pool of people who, for reasons unclear to me and my ego, were getting more attention. I got so stressed out about being good enough and developed vocal nodes. I got self-conscious and concerned that I didn’t look or sound like I was supposed to.
And here are the parts of this that I don’t even want to put in writing because it makes me so sad.
When it came time to apply to college, what I wanted in my heart of hearts was to run around the country and audition for BFA acting programs. Go be trained with the best. But I couldn’t work up the nerve to even ask this of my parents. I was so afraid of being let down and the whole thing just felt too hard. Instead, I said that theater studies was for me, and marched off to my freshman year at Emerson College, doing the academic behind-the-scenes work next to the BFA students. And how did I cope? Pretending like I didn’t f*cking care, ultimately switching schools, and getting a bachelor’s degree in political science, of all things.
The other little piece of this that I don’t want to share with you is that I have a younger sister, with a healthier voice, who got her degree in musical theater. Ouch. I had to really hunker down and pretend like I didn’t care then because you can only look like an asshole if you make your sister’s success and joy mean something about you. That jealousy and fear became my little black hole, and though I continued to perform in student theater, it no longer felt like it was for me.
Fast forward to today. I am having a lot of fun with my scratchy-sounding voice and working with an acting coach. I have a lot of projects cooking in the oven, all the time. To outside eyes, they are—and consequently, I am—mediocre as hell. But to me, they mean the world. They are my treasures. They are my secret corner of the world where it’s all about how I want it to go, which chord progression I think sounds the yummiest, which teenage memory to call upon in angst.
Our culture does not yet recognize this rebellion, this beautiful celebration of self, talent, innovation, life.
So, we must.
Ontological coaching taught me to be more interested in the experience I wanted to have. I have become less preoccupied with, or attached to, what would happen to my ideas once they were out there for other eyes and ears, which is what had me stopping.
Less controlling, managing, pushing, forcing.
None of that is fertile ground for a healthy relationship with your creative side, which, much like a child, needs to be encouraged and nurtured.
So, keep writing. Keep reading. Keep painting. Keep staying up late and drinking too much coffee and writing poems that make you cry. Keep doodling and framing it as art. Keep getting curious and creating beautiful shit that sets your heart on fire.
Be an advocate for yourself and all of us by refusing to let your creative output be about the outside world.
What matters most is what it means to you. This is leadership on every level: choosing to be, all the way up and all the way down, a walking, talking, loving embodiment of that which you love.
Savor the process and what it awakens in you. And most importantly, absolutely do not be afraid to at like you f*cking care about it.
Author: Laura Westman
Author Bio: Laura Westman, PCC, ACCC is a creative coach living in New York City. She is a huge nerd for helping creative, ambitious women speak their truth, demand incredible results in the world, and take full advantage of their talents and skills. A creative at heart, Laura has been on faculty at Washington Improv Theater, been a featured performer with Generic Theater Company, led the One Song Productions Board of Directors, and co-wrote and produced a web series called “Womance.” Laura’s passion is helping people fall in love with who they truly are… separate from who they think they should be.
Link to social media or website: http://www.laurawestman.com