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January 1, 2016

Embarrass Yourself Now

Embarrass Yourself Now

Here I am bringing in 2016 with the most common thread in all the write-ups on best resolutions. The good news is that this nugget of advice is what I share with our Mo’ Motion kids regularly both on and off the court. The bad news is that while I am usually good at doing what I say, I don’t always execute on this one across all areas of my life.

Here it is – as repeated over and over in social media:

Do something (healthy) that scares you.

Do something that makes you uncomfortable.

Do it so that you don’t repeat the most common regret that was revealed this year in a survey of the dying.

Don’t say that you spent most of your life living in fear.

Identify whatever scares you, look it in the eye and go right at it. Whether it be meditating, exercising, swimming, dating, journaling, dieting, public speaking, quitting smoking – pick a healthy habit that you will do if not every day, as often as possible, on a regular basis.

Even if at first you feel embarrassed because you think you are no good, even if you think you don’t have the time, even if others say you are no good or think you are crazy; and even if you are, in fact, time-strapped, not very good and crazy– stay the course.

As an entrepreneur and ex-hoops player, risk-taking comes with the turf. You either go all out or you get off or you get kicked off.

However, as tough as I was on the court and I now am on the sidelines, I know for sure I don’t apply this embracement of discomfort across all areas of my life. The proof is not just in my being single in my 40s. That’s a different story that doesn’t fully apply and will be left alone for now. (My sister is saying, “Thank God.”)

But there is clear evidence that in August of 2007, I stopped getting uncomfortable in an important area of my life that used to mean so much to me.

In July 2007, I stopped writing. It wasn’t just one day. It was more of a slow death. A long break-up. I felt great satisfaction when I did write my books and freelance stories, but I did it less with each passing month until I didn’t see the point anymore. The “Who cares?” question that torments most writers turned into a stubborn fact: “No one cares.”

Why did it happen? I think it was the exhaustion I felt after my mother died. It took me years to talk about my mother’s battle with pre-senile dementia, which started in her 40s. She was diagnosed at the age of 54 and she lived with it for seven difficult years. To this day, I still feel conflicted when I tell people that my father left her immediately after her diagnosis, and that he is now married to his third wife. Only close friends know the impact of my mother’s loss on me emotionally, financially and professionally. I was a free-spirited, liberated woman who had to call a time-out on her career, rack up her basketball, move home, and put on a caregiver hat. And only my brothers and sister know the good times that are so easily forgotten when a seven-year storm sweeps away the woman who brought you into this world, and how you somehow are never the same.

What just kills me now is that I think my mother would be disappointed if she knew that her battle sapped my ability to do things she loved to see me do.

In her mind, she always saw us doing these three things together.

First, after years of not understanding me and my drive to compete, my mother lived through her daughters’ sweat when we were out there playing hoops. The freedom, passion and the love of the game was something she knew intimately not as an athlete because she was denied the opportunity to play sports. She understood passion and compassion as a nurse who loved to take care of people as much as my sister and I loved to win a basketball game.\

Second, when I was in grade school and high school, she always offered to take my papers and type them on the typewriter between shifts at her second job in the college infirmary at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. My mother used to give away my books for free to anyone who would ask (and say she’d pay me for them later). She apologized for never taking her kids to see authors (between working double shifts for most of her life). She loved to tell people I was a writer.

And third, my mother loved music. She loved to sing even if she didn’t know the words. If my father was on her case or there was tension in the house, she just started singing a song or humming at the kitchen sink. When she lost her ability to speak, I used to jack up the music in the car like we were teenage kids. She sat in the passenger’s seat and wiggled around dancing and clapping. My mother was at my first lindy hop dance class out in Evanston, IL – the week we found out Dad was leaving, and we were driving home to start our backwards lives together as caregiver and patient. She was there when my dance partner, a heart surgeon, missed his catch of me after assuring he was strong enough to throw me. He dropped me flat on my back. Instead of trying to help me up, he stood up and checked his hands. With her hand over her mouth, my mother breathed again as she watched me hop up from the floor. Then we both stared the doctor down.

So now what? What’s the take-away of all these mom flashbacks? What is my “Call to Action” that I’m asking myself this New Year’s?

1) I can coach. My mother was prophetic when she saw me training for hours on end – running with a weight vest, sprinting up hills, beating up my knees, playing in full court games with big, strong men regularly. She assured me several times over, “You are going to pay for this someday.” Seven surgeries later, I realize she may have had a point. I am much safer when I put myself on a leash and remain on the sideline. It is there where I ask my fifth and seventh grade boys’ teams to do A, B and C and they nod their cute heads and go out there and do X, Y and Z. The irony is that I’m begging them to play the perfect game and the truth is the only way they can get there is by making several embarrassing mistakes first.


2) I can write.  Every day. Instead of getting lost in the “Who cares?” quagmire, I need to stay above ground, put on my big girl panties, suck it up and write in the same way some folks need to persuade themselves not to grab that piece or pie and drag themselves to the gym. I will persevere, even if I have an off day with too many typos and a word-count that is no longer acceptable. (Tomorrow’s piece will be shorter, I promise.)

I will write even if I am flagged by the brilliant Howard Tullman, a superhero who makes me feel like such a slacker. I am lucky to have him as a friend who will rip me (gently) for my mistakes, and still love me anyway. Also in my head when I post will the reaction of my sister, Meghan Holohan. After she writes, “I can’t believe you wrote that,” I will ask for forgiveness first, permission second, the first amendment third.

3) I can dance. After I overcame my addiction to lindy hop about eight years ago, I took a tap dance class in Harlem. There weren’t enough adults, so I ended up in a kids’ class with about five kids under the age of 11, a mom and a mentally handicapped man. I had no idea until the third class that we would all be in a recital at the end of the year in front of sold-out house of 750 people. I tried to sweet talk my way out of it. I failed. Literally when we took that stage, I felt like I’d jumped off a cliff. You could hear the collective pause and then a chuckle of 750 people. I send the tape to my close friend every once in a while, and she laughs so hard that she cries. I can’t even get through it. Now, I torture myself by going to a hip hop class in Harlem where I now live. The dancers are incredible. It is awesome to see them and mortifying for me all at the same time. I often apologize to my lovable, dynamite teacher, Titi. I often can’t look at myself in the mirror. I have no other resort except to just embrace the fact that I am getting lost in discomfort, and somehow walking out of that dance room feeling better about myself.

If I do the things above that I am perfectly capable of doing – hence the “I can” – then I will be able to say at least I did it, right?

Even if my cute boys lose by 40 points to every team in Harlem.

Even if my writing is weak and unedited.

Even if I shake it like a white girl.

It beats by a long mile saying I didn’t have the time or I feared failing or what people would think about me.

Please try it with me. Tell me about the risk you took.

We pass this way only once.

Earn it and own it in 2016.