Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
~Anais Nin, diarist, essayist, novelist, short story writer
That day I purchased her Book of Whole Meals and proceeded to cook through it from front to back, trying out every recipe.
Many years ago, nutritionist, cooking teacher, and author Annemarie Colbin gave me my first opportunity to teach about healthy food and its preparation at Natural Gourmet in New York City. In the previous chapter on Becoming a Mama Bear, I mention that I took her classes, not because I didn’t know how to cook, but because I was on a quest to find out about healthy and nutritious food and the difference it could make in my own life and that of my family. After the first class, Annemarie asked me, “What are you doing here? You know too much to be in a beginner cooking class.” I explained that, yes, I had grown up around good food and loved to cook, but my motivation was to find a way to support my son Reid in getting stronger and dealing more effectively with his asthma. I wanted to see if changing his diet could make a difference. I shared with Annemarie what I was already doing, both in terms of foods and other healing modalities and practices. She made several important suggestions. That day I purchased her Book of Whole Meals and proceeded to cook through it from front to back, trying out every recipe. It was a thirty-day meal plan and included recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What happened was that in those next thirty days, with the addition of this revised diet, Reid was weaned off his steroidal inhalant. It felt like an amazing triumph and inspired me to want to learn more…much more. So, I continued taking classes and experimenting.
Somewhere along the line, I invited Annemarie to my home for dinner. I had grown up in the restaurant business in New York and had studied with many great chef-teachers, both in the city and abroad. Over the years I had become quite an accomplished cook. I remember distinctly what unfolded after dinner as if it were yesterday. Annemarie came up to me and said, “You really can cook. I’ve decided that you are going to teach for me.” My first reaction was pure fear. I told her that I didn’t know enough, that I wasn’t good enough, not to mention that I was terrified of standing up in front of people and speaking. She looked at me and said something I have never forgotten, one of the biggest AHA! moments of my life, words I have carried with me always. She looked at me and said, “The world is in too much trouble for you to make yourself small.” She insisted that, because I obviously know what I know, it was absolutely essential that I share this gift with others. That’s how I began to teach cooking…and more.
To this day, those words, more than any others, give me the impetus and courage to put myself out there, give voice to what I know as well as attempt new things, pick myself up when I make a mistake, dust myself off, and move beyond my fears and self-imposed limitations.
Over the course of my lifetime, I have dared to stretch beyond my comfort zone again and again. I went back to school, first to become a nutritionist and then, years later, to become a life coach. I worked hard at finding ways to communicate my knowledge and convictions about choosing to live in the healthiest and most fulfilling way possible. I further challenged myself by doing lots of public speaking. I figured that if I could learn to speak in front of thirty students while making a full and elaborate lunch or dinner for them, standing up and standing (more or less) still and just speaking should be a cinch. It wasn’t, but step by step I learned. Mostly, I needed to remind myself that it wasn’t about me or what people thought about my “performance.” I believed that I had important and relevant things to share. I just had to move beyond my own natural shyness in order to let my enthusiasm and my passion shine through.
One day I took a different kind of leap of faith and began to publicly share my poetry, which I had kept hidden in a shoebox until then. Since that personally courageous breakthrough, I have self-published four books, have had two more books that include poetry published by Blue Mountain Arts, and my poems have been included in anthologies as well as in the books of others. I’ve taken on leadership roles that were a real reach and stretch for me and then did whatever I needed to do to get the job done well. To this day, every time I reach and stretch, I inwardly thank Annemarie with all my heart for that unexpected jumpstart into a brave new way of being and doing which I didn’t think I was capable of handling.
When we enter into the wisdom years, it becomes more apparent than ever that the world is in too much trouble for any of us to shrink back and not offer our sagacity.
The world needs our ideas, our words, our gifts, our talents, and our willingness to be fully involved in our communities. We know what we know, and the world benefits from all that we have discovered over the years.
I still suffer from what I label as the I-don’t-know-enough syndrome. I am aware that I am not the only one. I don’t know why this is so. But I have befriended enough people and coached enough clients to recognize that we all have these nasty little voices in our heads whispering about our not-good-enoughness. Still, at some point, we each need to come to terms with that inner chattering. We each need to stop thinking that someday maybe we will finally be (smart, informed, intelligent, talented) enough. I had to learn to let go of my ongoing belief that when I read one more book, go to one more lecture, or take one more course, then I will finally know enough to be worthy of sharing both information gleaned and my perspective. Life is a share-as-we-go journey. Something else I learned from Annemarie is that, “We teach what we want to learn.” If we really want to learn, do, and be more, it is essential to step way out of our comfy corners and—thank you Nike for this brilliant catchphrase—just do it, gaining expertise and skill as we go.
I vowed then and there that I would never not be the first person to stand up and cheer when there was something or someone worth cheering about or for.
In his beautiful and moving book, The River, author Michael Neale talks about the place where we each confront our grief and fear in order to step into the fullness of our life and purpose. “The River” is the place where we finally stop playing small. There comes a time, actually many times, when it is quite simply my turn—or yours—to jump into the great big river of life, to play the music or to sing the song or to make a joyful noise that can be heard loud and clear. Sometimes it is without a doubt my time—or yours—to take a stance or a stand or maybe just jump up and be the first to dance or to confront a naysayer or to applaud. Years ago, I went to hear Buckminster Fuller speak. His talk was brilliant, and at the end, I wanted to jump to my feet and clap loudly to show my appreciation. But no one else was getting up, and so I stayed demurely seated. After the modest applause stopped, he remarked that perhaps he had not done such a good job in presenting his ideas this time because usually he is rewarded with a standing ovation. I had so wanted to stand up, but my discomfort held me back. I vowed then and there that I would never not be the first person to stand up and cheer when there was something or someone worth cheering about or for. Again and again, I am learning to step up and step out of my comfort zone and claim my place at the top or in the circle—or wherever life is beckoning me to show up. My hope is that by sharing my stories I am encouraging you to do the same.
By the way, a corollary to all this is that I’ve learned that I cannot simply wait to be discovered. I have to be willing to talk about what I have done and created as well as what I am capable of doing and creating. We need to do what it takes so that people can find us, give us or ask for our guidance, and hire us or put us in front of the right audience. I have been an entrepreneur for a very long time, and my biggest discomfort has always been marketing and promoting myself. It has required a whole lot of boldness for me to take steps to make it over that particular hurdle. Through the years I have also become clever enough to hire various public relations experts, marketing gurus, and savvy social media specialists to promote me and what in the world I do.
I’ve learned that to live fully and courageously, my gaze must shift to something bigger. I have to move past the thought that it is all about me. Annemarie taught me to go into the tiny bathroom at the cooking school before each class and go through a ritual of leaving my ego there, high up on a shelf, offering my ego-self assurances that I would come back to retrieve her after class. If what we know and what we have to share are to come through us and make a difference in the lives of others, we cannot be worried about how we look or what people think about us. We have to become focused on something larger and more significant than just ourselves, something more purposeful and meaningful. We must each remember that it’s not about ME. It’s about how we can serve.
Is there some way you have perhaps allowed yourself to stay small? How might you now choose to step into your most courageous self?
Excerpt from Decades of Gratitude, Gusto, Grit, and Grace by Minx Boren MCC