A playful challenge from an audience member helps bring to life the importance of searching for and developing your passion, whether in the face of skepticism, long periods of self-doubt and/or having to accept (even better, learn to play with and laugh at) your own flaws and foibles.
Setting the stage for the dramatic close of my Practice Safe Stress program with the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Dentistry faculty and staff, I declared, “Find something you love to do, that you are truly passionate about. Some will find it at work, others will need to explore outside of work. And I believe you get the most mood elevation and sense of meaning when it’s an activity that allows for genuine self-expression and that challenges you to keep practicing in order to develop your skills.” I then asked the audience a rhetorical question: “Can you tell I enjoy being up here?” Why do I enjoy it so? Sure I love the attention, and I love being center stage. You know the old adage: ‘Vanity thy name is Gorkin!'” After the laughter subsided, I explained the real reason: “I can bring more of myself as a speaker than just about anything else I do. With years of practice — stumbling, falling yet getting up again and again — I can be serious and silly, thoughtful and emotional, aggressive or poetic, larger than life or even an ‘orchestra leader,’ helping others bring out their best music. And I can be outrageous.”
Now I immediately shifted into walking my “passionate” and “outrageous” talk, by putting on my Blues Brothers hat and black sunglasses and taking out a black tambourine, thereby revealing a secret identity: “I’m pioneering the field of psychologically humorous rap music and as a therapist calling it, of course, ‘Shrink Rap’ ™ Productions.” Predictably, there’s an audible groan from the audience. And my response: “Groan now. We’ll see who has the last groan.” (However, in my defense, years back, an African American friend upon hearing the lyrics said, “Oh, so you’re into ‘Aristocratic Rap.'”)
I then explain that this is my Charlie Chaplin Maneuver. (“Alas, after I’m through you may need the Heimlich Maneuver.”) The pioneering comedic film genius observed that, “The paradoxical thing about making comedy is that it is precisely the tragic which arouses the funny. We have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of natural forces and in order not to go crazy.” Naturally, I note that what the audience is “about to see and hear will give new meaning to the word ‘tragic.’ And as for not going ‘crazy,’ it’s way too late for that. So buckle up your straightjackets…It’s the ‘Stress Doc’s Stress Rap.'” And not only am I belting out the words but I’m prancing around the room while banging on the tambourine. Here are some sample lyrics:
When it comes to feelings do you stuff them inside?
Is tough John Wayne your emotional guide?
And it’s not just men so proud and tight-lipped.
For every Rambo there seems to be a Rambette!…
Well the boss makes demands but gives little control
So you prey on chocolate and wish life were dull.
But office’s desk’s a mess, often skipping meals
Inside your car looks like a pocketbook on wheels!
[Email [email protected] for the complete lyrics.]
At the onset of my “performance,” people seem embarrassed for me; some are just sitting there wide-eyed with their mouths agape. (Clearly I’m perpetuating a stereotype, notwithstanding Elvis Presley, John Travolta and Justin Timberlake: the rhythmically-challenged status of the white male!) However, my bravery if not my witticisms win them over. Often the group begins clapping their hands to my self-styled beat. Once the lyrics are completed the room erupts in applause. After waving off the feedback, my immediate response: “I’ve been doing this long enough…I know when an audience is applauding out of relief!” And then, “All this shows after twenty years off and on of all kinds of therapy — from Jungian analysis to primal scream — I have one singular accomplishment. Just one: Absolutely no appropriate sense of shame!”
Finally, as the laughter subsides, a woman in the audience ventures a comment, likely on other’s minds: “Don’t quit your day job!”
And my rejoinder is fairly predictable: “It’s too late…This is my day job!”
But then I seize the moment: “You know I’m just up here having a ball. I’m not worried about what others are thinking, or whether they are judging me. I’m just doing it cause I love doing it. And I do feel good about the quality of my lyrics.”
We had come full circle: Finding your passion and doing what you love to do. First, I underscored the real satisfaction in being able to laugh at my own flaws and foibles, especially when vividly recalling the many years being much more self-conscious and less self-assured as a speaker. Of course, it wasn’t easy overcoming my self-consciousness rapping in public. More to the point, “it took awhile to feel comfortable making a fool of myself.” There was at least as much blood, sweat and tears as there was joy while winding along the path of mastery as a speaker and “Shrink Rapper.” However, it was definitely worth it. As the psychiatrist Ernst Kris observed: “What was once feared as is now mastered is laughed at.” (And as the Stress Doc inverted: “What was once feared as is now laughed at is no longer a master!”)
Now, with extensive practice and with the initial encouragement from those early audiences, I’m just fulfilling my destiny: “Have Stress? Will Travel: A Smart Mouth for Hire!” Obviously, my goal in life: “Being both a wise man and a wise guy!”
Hopefully, this vignette will inspire a search for your passion and a commitment to purposeful — humbling and playful, if not outrageous — practice. And with a bit of luck, these words just may encourage one and all to…Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker and “Motivational Humorist” known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs. In addition, the “Doc” is a team building and organizational development consultant for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits and is AOL’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™. Mark is an Adjunct Professor, No. VA (NOVA) Community College and currently he is leading “Stress, Team Building and Humor” programs for the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions, Ft. Hood, Texas. A former Stress and Conflict Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA Today Online “HotSite” — www.stressdoc.com — called a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc’s “Practice Safe Stress” programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email [email protected] or call 301-875-2567.