Song and Dance, Pt II

On my boyfriend’s birthday, we sat down to breakfast overlooking beautiful Caribbean ocean. Palm trees, green and blue waves, birds everywhere. A relaxing setting for a relaxing breakfast. The couple next to us was discussing whether to jet ski or snorkel. Another table was gently gigging about last night’s black jack game. Me? I was intensely recalling the first time I met our community vice president. After meeting me, she concluded that I wasn’t “really a community leader.” That she didn’t feel like she had “really met Emma.” When in fact, I actually was the community lead. Nonetheless, she didn’t get that when she met me. She got someone different…someone less authentic.

I sighed remembering the day: we closed the store because of a hurricane, but I had call with my regional manager and area community manager. They told me that I didn’t come off as a community leader during a dinner we had attended with the vice president earlier that week. “Community” meaning strongly rooted in our company’s brand philosophies of authenticity, giving without expectation, and operating from a place of love that is void of ego. Instead, I came off as flighty, dedicated but ungrounded. When I hung up the phone, I burst into tears, then quickly changed into my workout clothes and went downstairs to run out my emotions.

Just your average birthday breakfast conversation.

My boyfriend paused and looked over at me. I can see that, he said. I caught my breath, surprised. Have you seen me act that way before? I asked. He nodded, cautiously. My heart started racing. I stared into the water. But I’ve been working on this for years, I replied. Years! My whole region helped me work on it. They even had a name for her – the woman who didn’t sound like the authentic me – Aurora. By the time I moved regions, I thought I’d squashed this problem, but it’s a difficult problem to work on because it doesn’t come up so much with my coworkers or friends. It happens when I feel like I have prove something. To impress someone. When I feel like I’m being evaluated… I over-explained my greatest personality hurdle. He stared at me intensely. I know, he said.moneytree

I wanted to leave the table, angrily slam my chair in, grab my bag and march away. He didn’t know anything! What do you mean you know? I asked trying to be calm. So you’ve seen me act that way? I have. When? I asked sharply. He gently reminded me of a time when I had met one of his brother’s friends and hadn’t acted like myself. He remembered being surprised and wondering why. It didn’t happen again soon enough to seem like a real pattern, however, he hadn’t forgot about it. Sometimes he thought about it when he saw traces of that women in other situations.

Someone kill me, I said out loud. Emma, he protested. That’s dramatic.

But how incredibly frustrating and disheartening and monotonous and deplorable and harrowing to be working on something for years, and still not able to completely overcome it. Is something wrong with me? I wondered. Am I destined for a life of intermittent pain caused by hapless self-sabotage? I felt hot tears filling the corners of my eyes. Sweetie, am I upsetting you? he said softly. I really didn’t mean to… I sighed. No, I am upsetting myself because even after years of working on it, I can’t stop doing something potentially detrimental to my professional and even personal relationships. I took a drink of water.

My boyfriend put his hand on my arm. We all have those things, baby, but most people aren’t ardent enough to continue working on it. I tend to agree that many people are neither hyper-aware nor motivated by self improvement enough to a) receive candid feedback b) examine the part they played to elicit such feedback c) enlist a team of friends, coworkers and family members to help them overcome the source of the feedback and d) persist, persist, persist. On the flip side, some people just change more quickly than other people. I am the queen of learning the lesson the hard way. For me, it takes a few times of the same feedback and then many failures in implementation before I change. And when I change, I relapse and relapse and relapse.

My saving grace is a wonderful support system. People who aren’t afraid to say, Yes, my love, I have seen you do that Aurora thing. Friends who can honestly articulate feedback and generously share their examples of failures so I don’t feel alone. I may be a self-sabotage repeat offender with a song and dance default mode, but I am surrounded by genuine, successful people. People who love me. With that in my back pocket, I soldier one. It’s a little trickier than overcoming fear of public speaking or stating your opinion in a more diplomatic way. The offenses can be quite nebulous; the feedback esoteric. But my truth is a fully expressed and authentic version of myself, so soldiering on is part of the journey. But should you see Aurora song and dance through a post, feel free to leave a comment.

It takes a village.

Emma Dinzebach

Photo: A girl and her money tree. 

Song and Dance, Pt I

About a week into my first store manager role, my bosses boss flew in town for store visits, and I was her first stop. We were seated in the red adirondack chairs outside my store. The sun was shining on her angelic blonde hair while I had my knees childishly tucked into my chest. I thought for a moment that maybe I should act more professional, but I was drained. My new store was a wreck. My old store was closed. My friend had just died. My then boyfriend didn’t think I was “handling it very well.” In past conversations, I had attempted to put my best foot forward. Today, I spoke with succinct candor. The life wasn’t sucked out of my tone, but the effort was. I couldn’t impress her even if I wanted to. I didn’t have that left in me. Emma, she said to me, This feels like the first time I’ve had a conversation with you – not the song and dance version of Emma, but the real Emma.

Song and dance? Hmf. glittertoungue

Later I darkly joked that of course my friend has to die and my new gig hit rock bottom leaving me near desperation for my authenticity to reveal herself. Calm down, Emma, my friend said. That’s not what she meant. She did mean that in two years of sporadic interactions with me, she hadn’t met the real me. Yes, my friend replied. So maybe that’s something to think about…or maybe not.

When I was about six years old, we built a big house in the suburbs. I didn’t know anyone in these suburbs. No one knew me. When I met my backyard neighbor Erin Ackerman, I told her we had just moved from the city (true), and I had a twin sister in L.A.  who was an actress (not true). My new house was just past her backyard (true.) My sister was coming to town any minute (not true). You have a twin sister in L.A. whose an actress? Asked Erin, wide-eyed. Yeah, I said casually. I’ll have her come over when she gets here. Actually, she is probably here now! I exclaimed, turned around and sprinted across the yard, into my house, up the stairs and threw open my closet.

I rummaged through every article of clothing I had looking for something “L.A.” When I found the perfect neon shirt and cut off shorts, I quickly changed. I snuck into my mom’s bathroom and lined my eyes with her blue eye liner. I put on lipstick. I tied my hair into a hight and tight side ponytail. Looking in the mirror, I smacked my lips and put one hand on my hip. Then I ran back down the stairs and threw open the sliding doors to the back yard. But instead of sprinting, I sauntered across the lawn to Erin Ackerman’s. She was still standing where I’d left her on her rusty scooter beside her playhouse. She tilted her head to one side and squinted her eyes as I approached. I’m Kelly! I said in my best valley girl voice. Emma’s sister from L.A.

Song and dance.

The days following my conversation on the adirondack chairs, I woke up early. I quietly crept out onto my then boyfriend’s balcony with my journal hoping to find some answers to the actual reason I do a bit of song and dance. Is it because I want to impress people? Do I think the regular ‘ol me isn’t good enough? But doesn’t everyone do a little of facade-ing? I rationalized. Across the courtyard, a neighbor was just back from his run. He was wearing a sweat stained t-shirt and stretching on his balcony. For a moment he stopped and stared off into space. I sipped my coffee, closed my eyes, and turned inward. When I opened them and looked over, the guy had his shirt off and his hands raised, saluting the sun. His face looked certain, satisfied. He didn’t think anyone was watching. I didn’t think anyone was watching. In these early moments before the day closed in on us, we were ourselves. No frills. No song and dance.

Maybe it is one of the great ironies of life that we are our most real selves when no one else is watching, and thus, few people see our real selves. When we find ourselves engaged not because of the song and dance we do for other’s approval, but because we are intrinsically compelled. When we help others not for a charity to add to our LinkedIn profile, but from our heart. When we pick up garbage because we want our neighborhood to be clean. When we choose the quiet dinner at home over the glitzy social hour.

For me, that person is still lively and energetic. (I once dislocated my shoulder dancing with my dog in the living room.) I’m still a perfectionist, but I’m also more forgiving. I exhibit style, but might let a day with chipped nail polish slide. (But probably not.) But I’m also softer and more purposeful. My boyfriend will tell you that sometimes I’m pensive, and he thinks something is wrong. Actually, I’m just tired of talking. Alone, I need more time to rest, more time to recharge the battery it takes to maintain this omnipresent song and dance.

Emma Dinzebach