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|Publisher:||New World Library|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
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HEADGEAR, HAIRY LEGS, AND A QUARTER LIFE OF HUMILIATION
It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for. It takes years to find your voice and seize your real estate.
— AMY POEHLER
By the time I was in the third grade, my teeth were a disaster. I had sucked my thumb since shortly after busting out of my mother's womb, so by the dawn of my tween years I had a serious overbite, a shallow palate, and heaps of crooked teeth. My mom and orthodontist were in cahoots. They wanted immediate and aggressive action.
First, since I had a tongue thrust, I received a ... wait for it ... tongue thrust corrector. A couple of metal spikes were put into a device that was then lodged into my upper palate. Its purpose? To cut my tongue each time it came forward and teach it to stay in the back of my mouth.
Second, we had to treat my overbite. In my upper palate, another device was implanted to realign my jaw. It had a spot for a key, and a couple of times a day I would turn this key to bring my jaw back into its proper place.
Third, I got braces. Because what kid has ever gone to the orthodontist and not been told she needs braces? (Also, I feel it's important for you to know, I thought it would be really cool to match the rubber bands on my braces with my glasses, so for a couple of years, between my eyes and mouth, I was rocking a lot of turquoise.)
And last, but most certainly not least, I was gifted with headgear. As you are visualizing, be sure you don't mistakenly picture headgear's slightly more attractive cousin, neck gear, which you could pretty effectively mask if you had long hair like I always have. Nope, I got the silly-looking strappy hat contraption which, even though it was pitched to me as blending in with my hair, most certainly did not.
So, to recap — tongue thrust corrector, jaw realigner, braces, and headgear. Shortly after my postapocalyptic makeover I was tasked with giving my first speech, a current-events presentation. I dreaded this day like a toddler dreads bedtime. Only substitute a tantrum for paralysis and alcohol withdrawal–like shakes.
When the day arrived, everything felt as if it was happening in slow motion. The twenty minutes of presentations that preceded mine might as well have been twenty hours. When it was finally my turn to speak, I made my way up to the front of the room and looked out at the sea of faces in my third-grade classroom. I took a deep breath, opened my mouth to start, and ... nothing came out through my metal accoutrement.
Okay, that's not entirely true. A nice visible driblet of drool did.
I closed my eyes. I took another deep breath, and as I attempted to begin again I realized that my classmates were now rocking in their seats, shaking, really, as they tried to suppress their mounting laughter. At me.
By this point my heart was beating so loudly I'm pretty sure it was heard a zip code or two or twenty away. I could feel the sweat running down my arms, and my knees knocking together, and meanwhile my words were still utterly trapped. Finally, I got something out, despite my quaky voice, and waded through the rest of the speech I'd prepared. Now all my classmates were audibly laughing, my tears were flowing — definitely with more ease than my words had — and I vowed that I would never put myself in a position where I could feel humiliated like that again. Sadly, that didn't work out, but not from lack of effort.
I didn't make a conscious decision that day to start disappearing. To rarely raise my voice for fear of shaking up the status quo. To overplease and behind the scenes seek to overperform. What I know with absolute certainty, however, is that as a result of that first, brutal speech I created a story for myself that I was a lousy public speaker. For too many years, whenever I had to get up to talk in front of a group of people, heck, many times when I was merely answering a question, I suffered from heart palpitations, body sweats, and self-talk so nasty it would have made Amy Schumer blush.
And of course, as stories are known to do, mine created my reality. Without fail, when I opened my mouth to speak, a part of me would time-travel back to that first speech, my voice would quaver, my body would shake, I would feel myself turning red, and often I would cry. And each time this happened, I wrote and later archived another chapter in my running narrative about my lousy communication abilities.
But alas, the more I feared humiliation, the more I excelled at attracting it. From accidentally peeing onstage during a dance recital to falling and breaking my arm in the middle of a school carnival, most days I felt like I was competing against myself for the Most Embarrassing Moment Award. And I kept on winning.
Then, the summer between sixth and seventh grade, I went to Space Academy. And things got even hairier. I was into math and science, so my dad had called the fine folks at Space Academy and told them, despite my age, which made me a better candidate for their younger Space Camp program, that because of my straight As, and my fierce work ethic, they should make an exception and let me join the older kids. Access granted.
I loved Space Academy, for about half a day. At the start of the program we took a test to determine our roles in an ongoing mock mission. When we got our test results back shortly after, I learned I had scored middle of the pack — impressive, given that I was testing alongside kids one, two, in some cases three years my senior. Not impressive, however, for a twelve-year-old whose self-worth was inextricably connected to her academic performance.
My score, or lack thereof, meant that I spent the rest of my four days in activities with the other "average" students — who happened to be the cool girls. Most of them had long blond hair — magically untouched by the Huntsville humidity that was making my brown hair look like I was camping without a tent in a hurricane. They rocked sinfully sweet Southern accents, and they had legs way smoother than mine. We'll come back to that.
While to my face my girl crewmates dripped with kindness, every time they had to pick a mission buddy, they picked me last. In the dining hall, the first girl through the food line always managed to save a seat for everyone but yours truly. Then there was the night in my room when the girl in the bunk below me pulled a Swiss Army knife on the girl in the opposite bunk and I peed all over myself in bed while pretending to be asleep. Fortunately, my sleep performance was compelling enough that nobody noticed. (And while this episode has zero bearing on where we are headed, I'm throwing it in so you can appreciate why I stayed as far away from a science classroom as possible once I got home. Girl crew plus blade plus another unintended peeing mishap equaled "I hate science" in my tween head.)
Fast-forward to the last day of Space Academy. Everybody in my girl crew was exchanging her Academy yearbook, and every time I asked if somebody would sign mine, I was greeted with a painfully overenthusiastic, "Of course!" Yet nobody asked me to sign her yearbook in return. The good news is that by lunch I had figured out why. The bad news is — by lunch I had figured out why.
That final day I decided I would do anything to sit with the girl crew, so at lunch I skipped the food line, went to their table, and put my yearbook down next to the other ones that were reserving seats. And that's when I saw it. The inside joke that had bonded the girl crew together. Next to my picture was a note, the note, that revealed all.
Had so much fun. We'll always remember our Little Hairy Beast!
Simply typing the words Little Hairy Beast today feels as much like a sucker punch to the soul as it did when reading those words back then. Except when I was pregnant, I've been pencil thin my entire life, and I was lucky to escape the body shame so many adolescent girls experience, and perpetually experience, once they curve and fold in new ways. But being called hairy and discovering I hadn't been oversensitive, that I had in fact been ostracized, also emboldened me. Unlike my friends, who often felt enslaved as their bodies betrayed them, I realized I could do something immediately about my beastliness.
When I got home early the next day, I promptly went into my mother's bathroom, grabbed her razor, and shaved every inch of hair (and at least a few centimeters of skin) off my legs. Over the next year, I'd shave my armpits. Then my arms. Then the stray hairs above my upper lip. I won't keep going, but you should know. I. Did. Keep. Going.
My current-events speech, complete with headgear, was humiliating because I performed badly. Space Academy was humiliating because of the mistreatment, sure, but also, and more important, because of who I concluded I was. Or wasn't. Therefore, like an addict who transcends her pain every time she gets high, through my teen years and into much of my twenties, I similarly got addicted to my version of emotional numbness. I would temporarily rid myself of my congenital beastliness (thank you, Eastern European Jewish father and Greek mother) by shaving my body hair. But of course, within a couple of days, the hair always grew back. And with it came a new wave of self-hatred — and a desire to disappear that no amount of shaving could absolve me from.
Thankfully, although I had a codependent relationship with my razor until my midtwenties, when a couple of guy friends staged an intervention, my high school and college years were considerably less humiliating. (Although when I won the Miss Junior America Pageant at nineteen, I froze a little too long after hearing my name called because I was wondering, Are the cameras from America's Funniest Home Videos here for a gotcha moment? It was that inconceivable to me that even freshly shaven I could win the one and only beauty competition I had ever entered.)
The Birthplace of Moxie
What I know from telling stories like these during my keynotes, and from sharing them privately with clients who are struggling with their own visibility, is that as wackadoodle as I can be, my inner monologues were not, are not, aberrations. They are actually the norm. Sometimes our worst visibility fears do come true. People laugh when we speak. Or tell us that we are wrong. That we're not smart. Attractive. Funny. Or deserving of a seat at the table.
Whenever I speak with clients or audience members about their communication, I'm struck by how almost every one of them (even those like me who had a phenomenal education and a ton of privilege or who I know were the kids laughing at classmates' speeches and gossiping behind so-called friends' backs) has had a headgear or a hairy-beast moment. And as a result has slipped into a self-defeating narrative about who they are and their potential to use their voices in the world.
But can I let you in on the truly heartbreaking part?
Most people allow how they perceive their own voices to be determined by one or two moments in their histories. That moment when they spoke up and didn't get the response they wanted. Or stayed mum and allowed something unjust to happen. Those fleeting moments have become the stories they replay, often unconsciously, over and over again. And I get it. I did, and sometimes still do, the same thing — despite the many moments in my life when I have been more than moxieful.
What story have you been carrying around about who you are as a communicator?
Give yourself an opportunity to sit with that question for as long as you need to. Journal on it. It's an important one. For until you know the narrative that underpins how you talk to yourself, nothing I tell you about how to step into your moxie will matter — because it will be treating the symptom rather than going to the source of what's standing between you and the consistent, empowered use of your voice in the world.
Then it's time to assess your story. And I don't just mean in terms of its validity. Whether your story is true, kind of true, remarkably untrue, or somewhere in between, ask yourself:
Is that story setting me up to show up, speak up, and be seen in the world?
I recommend that you go back to your journal and freewrite on this too. Because if your answer is anything other than an unequivocal holy yes, it's time for a rewrite. For the way we communicate with ourselves fundamentally shapes the way we communicate in all facets of our life. I know, not rocket science. Which is fortunate, because as you also know, my hairy legs precluded a career in science.
Here, however, is the bigger story. The meat and potatoes — or for my plant-based friends, the kale and quinoa — of it all. It's possible to shift your internal communication so that the self-talk that arises, moment to moment, sets you up to think, feel, and speak from a place of moxie. The problem is that most of us attempt to address our self-talk without doing the deeper dive into identifying the story (or stories) that trigger the self-talk in the first place. As a result, we might tell ourselves affirmations like:
My inner beauty creates my outer beauty.
I've got this.
I am the hero I've been waiting for.
I am a vessel for love.
My flatulence makes me powerful.
While these words in and of themselves are not necessarily flawed, they usually don't stick. And sometimes, unfortunately, they actually prompt us to communicate and act in ways that undermine our moxie. They can make us want to puff up and project a confidence that is ego-rather than heart-driven. They can make us pursue external success, thinking if we simply check off more items from an achievement list, then moxie will finally be ours. As a result, we hustle harder for other people's approval — losing more and more connection to our authentic voice along the way.
Let's stop doing this, uttering words we haven't created the context to believe, psychically stabbing ourselves for failing to believe them, and then abusing ourselves by going out and behaving in ways that don't serve our highest good. Instead, let's go deep — and delicious. Let's identify and release the stories that are giving rise to the most important communication we do in the world — the communication with ourselves.
Find Your "Come to Jesus" Moments
Before we go any further, please know that what I'm about to ask you to do has as much to do with Jesus as Christmas often does. And please know, I love me some Jesus. And God. Our conversations have gotten me through some dark, complicated times — many of which I'll invite you into as we continue our journey together. But if the Big J, God, or religion freak you out, or run counter to your beliefs, make what I'm suggesting work for you, and don't scrunch your face up and get all hot and bothered over terminology.
When I invite you to consider your Come to Jesus moments, what I'm requesting is that you identify moments in your life that brought you to your knees, humbled you, made you surrender, and in hindsight (because during them you undoubtedly were miserable), you know played a role in cultivating your voice, strength, and resilience — even if you haven't always (maybe not ever) seen these times this way. Whether you are Greek Orthodox, as I was raised, Jewish like my pops, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, or anything else, I'm confident you've had moments that have tested your faith — at least in yourself. This is what I want you to mine.
Okay, no more disclaimers. Let's do this. And seriously, do this, and all the other Moxie Moment exercises that I share. I want you to get the aha's you picked up this book for! (If you prefer to download the companion worksheet, visit AlexiaVernon.com/MoxieBook.)
THE FIVE Rs
(Recall, Relive, Reframe, Release, and Reapply)
Directions: Identify three to five significant experiences ("Come to Jesus" moments) that have shaped how you think of yourself, your voice, your presence, and your purpose. First, in your journal (or in your downloadable worksheet), you are going to Recall these pivotal experiences. On the left side of the page, list them, naming each one so that you know what it represents. Next to this name, on the right, you are going to list some basic details of what happened as you Relive (or reexperience) the journey you went through — as I did with my current-events and Space Academy stories. Don't worry; I won't leave you in Relive for very long. But you have to go into your story to get through it and heal it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Step Into Your Moxie"
Copyright © 2018 Alexia Vernon.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
Part I: Fall (Back) in Love with Your Voice
Chapter 1: Headgear, Hairy Legs, and a Quarter Life of Humiliation
Chapter 2: Critics, Cops, and Cheerleaders… Oh My!
Chapter 3: Bunnies Don’t Belong Here (But Cheetahs Do)
Chapter 4: Words, Words, Words
Chapter 5: Your Gut as Your Guide
Part II: Use Your Voice, Everyone Else’s is Taken
Chapter 6: Declare Your Desired Destination
Chapter 7: Go for the Holy Yes
Chapter 8: Your Spotlight is Waiting
Chapter 9: What to Say When the Spotlight is Yours
Part III: Put on Your Big Lady Britches and Be the Leader You are Waiting For
Chapter 10: Conflict is the Pits, Until It Isn’t
Chapter 11: Susan B. Anthony Didn’t Fight for Your Right to Be a Meany
Chapter 12: When the Universe Bits Your Bum Bum, Don’t Let Her Steal Your Voice
Chapter 13: Your Legacy is What You Leave Behind
About the Author