Back when I was an actor and director I had a policy of not reading reviews while the show was running. Everyone else read them so I had some idea if they were good or bad, and the general blame & praise placement. I really tried to avoid them because I knew that those outside opinions would color my thinking and maybe sow doubt.

Most theatre critics are skilled at offering criticism and analysis that helps folks decide if they want to spend their entertainment dollars on a particular play. Which can really go a long way to help playwrights, actors and directors get their name out and build a reputation.

Sometimes the critic is inexperienced or kind or simply disinterested in theatre because they are really the food or music critic. Occasionally a critic is in love with their own writing and their clever turn of phrase. Hence the avoidance.

There was one time when I read a review that I believed 100%.

It was an awful review and the critic hated everything from the acting to the set and lighting design. I had several pointed mentions that gave me great satisfaction because everything they criticized was exactly what the director requested. I remember thinking “Success!”

For better or worse I still think in terms of reviews when it comes to my workshops and training evaluations

I don’t read the evals right away and when I do, the first thing I look for is evidence that what I delivered matched what was requested. So folks who don’t like the content or scold me that “referring to myself as a white woman highlights difference when we are all the same”, all that is just fine.

And even the folks who just don’t like my style or delivery, thats ok too. I personally don’t like Joaquin Phoenix’s acting, but the Academy disagrees apparently.

What is harder to take is the folks who attack my credentials, the research I reference or the need for the kind of work that I do. Sometimes they include words like “identity politics” and “snowflake” and “trigger.” Occasionally thoughts like “we are all human beings”, and “everyone should just be kind” get tossed in.

The most scathing reviews/evals always seem to be from the disgruntled. Evaluations can also be used to highlight what went well as a foundation for more positive work, but again, maybe thats just me.

I recently reviewed a batch of my workshop evaluations and found one golden thread amongst some severe and harsh paragraphs of dissatisfaction.

My critic said that my calling participants Sir and Ma’am was “disrespectful and clueless” given that I had introduced my self as a Cis-gender woman using she/her pronouns. They went on to share a whole lot more about my lack of everything from brains to training to a legitimate right to speak about diversity but thats not important.

What’s important is that they were right. After 2 years of living in Alabama I had exponentially increased the possibility of misgendering someone because I’d conformed to the Sir/Ma’am norm.

From now on I’ll try to refer to participants by something visible like “the person in the yellow shirt”, or “I think the person with the pink go-cup was next”. That may not work in room of participants all wearing white coats or uniforms, but I can figure that out when it happens.

So thank you Squeaky Wheel for giving me some feedback that was necessary, helpful and 100% true. I humbly apologize for making you uncomfortable and I will do better next time.

PS – Always fill out your evaluation surveys! Use that 5 point scale! Everyone needs feedback! 

When our daughter was younger she was really into The Bearenstain Bears books and cartoons. The books, if you have managed to avoid all 300 of them, dealt with single issues that were resolved generally through good ole-fashioned common sense, kindness and humor. Very formulaic and still much beloved by children.

They had a habit of hokey titles even with modern story lines “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much .. Birthday… Homework… TV. “Too Much Pressure” is my personal favorite. Mama cries in a helpless heap when she gets a flat tire and can’t get Brother to Karate and Sister to Soccer at the same time. Personally I think its good for kids to see “wise, strong mama” break down and cry once in a while.

As I try to finalize a workshop I am leading soon, I find that I am once again “Amanda Bear with Too Much Content.” There is so much potential in the conversations that unfold around the professional development work that I do that I start to think every concept is essential, every slide potentially life altering. And that’s just silly.

I learned long ago to “be present” while presenting so the conversation is the driver and not the agenda. Of course some content is vital to the learning, but the discovery in the room prompted by the content is the goal, not finishing the deck with five minutes to spare at the end of the session.

But.

Until I’m in the room with the glow of 3,000 lumens, and the hum of the projector fan, I will suffer the agony of culling, curating and perfecting my content. The only Mama Bear that can save me from “Too Much Content” is time. It will run out and what I have will be more than fine and still too much.

I don’t think PowerPoint workshop presentations are a good topic for a Berenstain Bears book but there may be one lurking out there for all I know. You can watch the Too Much Pressure cartoon version by clicking here.

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I am being forced to write this blog post by a friend who has suffered through an 8 week series of self-help workshops with me. I hope she is grateful.

We have endured seven weeks of trying to be a good sports. Seven weeks of googling every time the instructor said “in this study I read”, “according to a prominent thought leader”, and other things without concrete references, to see what Wikipedia page it was from.

There is still one more week.

The seventh workshop focused on gratitude. Five minutes in we were so far into Oprah territory with blessings and positive energy that I was expecting someone to run out with free copies of The Secret for the audience. Overall an odd experience for the middle of the work day, made tolerable by attending with a friend.

Said friend and I spend half the time texting snarky observations to each other on our iPads. The other half of the time is spent dissecting the “partner sharing exercises” we are supposed to be doing. Between the two of us (she has a psych PhD) we have been there and done that with the content they are presenting, which is, based on the nature of the series, simplistic.

They are very big on small wins. Formerly known as low hanging fruit (you can explore other business speak at a favorite website). So we are encouraged/assigned tasks which will help incorporate the “learnings” into our week and beyond. These are called “minis”.

I have to say I agree with the value of the stress management they are preaching and have used versions of these self-awareness techniques myself with clients. In private.

However. I fail to see the value of a) sharing feelings and personal stories in this casual way at work, b) why it always has to be packaged in nature based spirituality, and c) why they are promising that this simplistic stuff will make someone feel less stressed.

What if it doesn’t? What if people at work have no idea about the horrific crap going in your life that WILL NOT BE FIXED by platitudes? Does that make you a loser? I saw a woman cry after one of these exercises. There is something that feels vaguely like quasi-group therapy in these sessions that pings my professional ethics.

So week seven, a different kind of mini. We are told that practicing gratitude for ten minutes a week — why not 14 minutes so you can do 2 minutes a day? 10 divided by 7 is just irritating. Anyway, that 10 minutes of gratitude a week supposedly creates “micro, micro dopamine flow”. To which I said (in text) “bite my ass”.

A crude, yet simple reaction caused by the second micro in that sentence. If only she had stopped at one. Being grateful probably does activate your reward system. Maybe you can even create that feedback loop by faking it as we were encouraged to do. Maybe we really are stressed because we choose to be stressed. Maybe we are missing our bodhisattva moment by being closed minded.

I’ll give it a try.

I am grateful that there is only one more workshop in this series.

Damn. I do feel better!