Blow Me Away

imagesPeanut butter on crackers was the closest I came to meditating today. Sometimes just chewing and daydreaming does the trick. Today’s chewing found me pondering the perils of marketing my workshops.

I’m going to be a little lazy here and lean on generalizations, but having heralded from a British mother and an American father and having lived in both countries, I began to wonder if 50% of my cells are programmed for polite modesty, while the remaining half are bursting with bravado?

And if that really is the case, then how do I convey my authentic message humbly without sounding arrogant or too loud?

And then suddenly a memory popped into my head… something I hadn’t thought about in a long while, but was obviously still loitering in my psyche waiting to pounce.

I was on a job interview for a position in the counselling department of a university in London, just a few months after completing my psychotherapy training. The man who was interviewing me was wearing a waistcoat and jeans. I can picture him now. He looked gentle and approachable, and I was sitting opposite him when he asked,

“So Rory, what are the strengths you will bring to this job?”

I liked the question. It was both direct and relevant, and I begin to list some of what I considered to be my most effective counselling attributes. I had just completed a rigorous training and was finally learning how to ‘own my strengths’ rather than consistently denigrate myself.

And then this happened.

I paused, and the man held up his hand. Like a stop sign.

“Right, well I get the idea, you wouldn’t want to blow your own trumpet now would you?”

I recall feeling stunned by his statement and blanketed in shame. I looked down at my black lace-up boots. They certainly didn’t appear too small for me, in fact I thought they fit very comfortably, but in a short and sharp second this man had reminded me otherwise. His words struck a familiar yet muted chord and it sounded something like this: Don’t get too big for those boots, missy. Don’t be TOO much. Shrink. Blend. Don’t call attention to yourself. Shhhh. Leave it up to others more capable. Sit back.

In therapy we talk about clients being influenced by their unconscious. Looking back, I wonder if that so called ‘enlightened’ male therapist in the waistcoat and jeans, was actually being driven that morning by a wayward force out of his awareness; a rusty paradigm that for years has kept women ‘in their rightful place’.

I am the daughter of a powerful mother who fought in the 1970’s to carve out a successful niche for herself in the then male dominated world of fiction, and remains there forty years later. I come from determined creative stock, and yet on the day that I was told to keep my trumpet quiet, it was the reverberations of my grandmothers’ struggles that I recognized in the quickened pace of my heart.

I felt a sudden kinship with the previous generations of women in my family who had been shaped by a patriarchal society – an environment where women’s strengths were swept under the carpets they were cleaning, and trumpet blowing was definitely out of the question.

So what did I learn from being baited to brag, only to be painfully hooked for my boldness?

I learned that trumpet blowing, tempered with humility, is essential – for women and men alike.

Not the ‘look at me on Instagram!” mode of trumpet blowing. Nor the Facebook friend foraging frenzy. But the kind of trumpet blowing which requires true introspection and self reflection. The kind of trumpet blowing which takes time and patience and commitment, until it becomes lucid and clear. The kind of trumpet blowing which might involve sitting still with ourselves after the peanut butter crackers and hearing our own repetitive tunes, and then finding the courage to write some new notes.

My trumpet sings: I am a really really good listener. I’m very intuitive and I’m excellent at encouraging people. I also have this special knack for helping others unthread tangles. And I’m NOT afraid to say it!

I guess that’s the only ‘marketing campaign’ I need after all. A united front. The British and American parts of me meeting over the ocean on a starry ship’s deck, soaking up a unique jazz blend. My own fusion of truths.

It doesn’t really matter what any of our trumpets sound like. What matters is that we are brave enough to play them, even in the face of those who tell us not to. What matters is that we polish them until they shine, and we make a sturdy case to protect our precious instruments. What matters is that we reveal our treasures, rather than toss them overboard where they will sink, never to be found.

So imagine that I’m interviewing you now and I ask YOU what your strengths are. But before you answer, I pass you a permission slip. The letters are LARGE and colourful. The words release you.



Writing Prompt: Ten minutes on your strengths. If you’ve never done this before, reflect on why it feels so hard. Whose voice is holding a finger to your lips quieting you down?  Be tender with yourself. Care for your strengths and be curious as to where they can lead you. Stay aware of your surroundings. Listen to your tune…what’s stuck? Where does your rhythm need to change?


10 Responses to “Blow Me Away”

  1. Karen E Martin
    August 20, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    Nice post, Rory. I haven’t had trouble as an adult when it comes to blowing my own horn, but it did take me some time to get there (I was a shy child). I like the writing prompt, too. What a great idea to include at the end of the post.

  2. carol hogg
    August 20, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    My strengths are I am creative, I can sing, write songs, well okay most of them tend to be lyrics for songs due to the fact i can’t find a producer to work with me who isn’t a waste of space and – or – just wants to sleep with me. I write STORIES, which is what my dad used to SHOUT in a very derrogative tone before snatching them from me and reading them aloud to ridicule me or if feeling particularly nasty – rip them up and hit me.. I confess I did write a lot in my early teenage years, I wrote and lost myself in stories and song lyrics, they just seemed to pour out of me, which could also be down to the fact I had/have M.E and the only things that made sense were the worlds I wrote about – i.e. my characters had normal lives even if I didn’t. I also had to write up the lessons I had just had and copy things out a zillion times just to get them to stay in my head. I am also not that crash hot with punctuation needing to get down what I want to say before I totally forget – my english teachers loved me – not – I used to write about ten pages with no full stops ha ha.. I also got even with my dad when in my late teens – I wrote a diary (jackie collins style) with my best friend but left it out cos I knew he’d read it, what I didn’t bank on however was him reading it out over the phone to my friends mam.. and I was such a nice, quiet girl… hmm only 50 percent was true. Ideas are probably what I’m best at since this illness leaves me isolated and cut off from being able to find and work with other people to help me bring my ideas to some conclusion – trust me breaking through the brainfog and finding the correct words is hard enough, let alone when I have to write them down. I also have trouble stopping – no kidding! so yeah I can totally relate to this post – I know exactly whose voice is in my ear telling me I’m not good enough and holding me back. But these last couple of years I also recognised that I am a fighter, I have a voice and I’m gonna keep writing my stories and my songs and one day I’ll find a way to make them heard.

  3. Lisa Hills
    August 20, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    Blow, Rory, blow! This post is just what I needed to hear. Thanks for this lovely tune.

  4. Kimberly O'Hara
    August 20, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    Awareness is the key. I have two voices in my head. There is the lesser of the two, the complimentary voice that says “good job, well done, well look at that,” and I smile involuntarily, the awkward rareness of that kind of smile pulling at my cheek skin. Then the louder voice comes in like a Dr. Seuss Voom… “who do you think you are pomping about like some show horse? Well, if you are going to tout your laurels so loudly, lady, you best understand this is it, the best it gets, so savor it.” It’s truly scandalous what that voice gets away with in my head. Now I try and laugh at that loud obnoxious cranky voice and tell it I won’t listen to it anymore, because even if it is right, I want to be a rebel and a believer and spend the next 40 years of my life differently than the first. Even if I flop on my face, I’ll do so with a smile. But I have an inkling that the dirty little nasty voice that doesn’t want me to have fun cowers when it discovers I have strength. It’s like the children’s book The Whazit… the boy’s courage makes a two headed huge monster in the cellar shrink to a tiny mouse. I love your honesty and the black lace up boots, Rory. That prick who interviewed you is just that. A blown up pompous prick and that is not the nasty voice in my head saying that, but the nice one that knows its true.

  5. Melissa
    August 21, 2014 at 3:46 am #

    Rory! I’m so glad to hear your voice and your trumpet – I can hear it all the way across the Atlantic and it is a sweet call to the hunt. We’re hunting for authentic, funny, real writing, writing that helps us instead of binding us into being someone or something or some flavour of ‘should.’ I love these responses you’ve inspired that people are sharing here! I agree that man acted like an idiot and must have been motivated from such a place of internal poverty to pull such a cheap trick like that. One of those incidents where a person’s behaviour towards you tells so much more about the person than it says anything about you.

    My trumpet? I’m bringing it to my lips, hoping to get a welcoming call and not sounding like a squeaky American in the UK as I start my own adventures into writing workshops, hoping to build the communities that I see and admire and that feel inconviently placed an ocean away. But, it’s a challenge (and it feels like a good and authentic one) to create the courses/workshops/atmosphere that I would want to learn and write in instead of moaning about how I can’t find what I want. That’s the idea; Can’t find the writing class I want? Create it. Can’t find the book I want to read? Write it. Can’t find the right chocolate cake I want to eat? Make it. (Happily, they all involve experimentation…nom nom nom).

    Thanks for your trumpet blowing and asking us to blow ours – it’s a chorus of great sound! More more!!

  6. Rochelle
    October 8, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Thanks for this beautiful post, Rory. I love your honesty and thoughtfulness. Glad to have found your blog.

  7. Jenna
    March 6, 2015 at 9:19 am #

    This post made me so angry. Not at you, for writing it, but at the man for shaming you. It called to mind a similar incident I experienced while interviewing for jobs coming out of law school. My “shamer” was a woman, which for whatever reason made it seem even worse. I suppose I was used to being stomped down by men so it was just the shock of it. I don’t have trouble blowing my horn regarding my strengths, but I have been contemplating for some time writing about my rage. I feel like it’s an unexplored female perspective – as though women are not allowed to feel rage. I have been required to repress it for so long in so many ways. Only those who have known me since childhood would even imagine that I am capable of it at all. But even those would, I think, be shocked to know how it courses through my veins still. I hide it so well. But I feel like maybe exposing it to the world will allow other women the opportunity to know they are not alone in these thoughts (I can only hope I’m not the only one with the kind of anger I still carry). My fear is of this same “shaming” you speak of though. As a woman, to express this kind of rage, will be shocking to a lot of people. I fear I will be encouraged to temper it, although the whole point of the exercise will be to unbridle it to run freely on the plains. Can’t tell whether this post was a sign for me to follow my heart or my head, but I appreciate it nonetheless. Even though it made me angry. 🙂

  8. Donna Nasch
    June 7, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    Rory I can see I have obviously been away from you far to long. Writing right now. I love your insight!

  9. Sai
    February 4, 2016 at 3:38 am #

    Hello Rory!I have been looking for enlightenment!i do not even know my strenght.i have a thyroid problem and one of the best things for me to do is to write all of things that makes me stress.because it is not good in my body.because panic attacks will kill me.your article blow trumpet inspires me to try writing.i am not professional writer.i always have bad grammar but i do not mind now.i still want to try.thanks for inspiring me.

  10. Lynne
    August 5, 2016 at 8:18 am #

    I clearly need work in this area, because I began to cry as you looked at your boots.
    I would love to hear how you imagine a strong response to that interviewer would have gone.

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