Thursday, May 31, 2012

Diablo Cody and the Fraud Police

Diablo Cody - writer of 'Juno' and 'Jennifer's Body'
What do the fabulously talented Diablo Cody and I have in common? Aside from a love of that red lipstick that is . . . 

A few months ago I had an Amazing Opportunity.

It wasn’t a long term thing, just a one-off event relating about something I’ve loved and been involved in for more than a decade. Not even a big deal the scheme of, well, anything. But it had me mentally hopping excitedly, lunging, shadow-boxing and victory saluting. And as I prepared to leave for the event, I thought:

I am not worthy

Breathe in. Breathe out. Then I realised – I am as worthy as anybody to do this.

I could either shirk my way through the experience, waiting for the tap on the shoulder as I was revealed as a fraud.

Or I could embrace it, walk tall and deliver everything I had which qualified me to do it.

Apparently I am not alone in this feeling of being an imposter. The term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ was first coined in 1978 by psychotherapists Clance & Imes. There were so many people, even then, that were trying to articulate this feeling that they developed a name for it.

Back in the days when he starred in Wall Street Charlie Sheen is quoted as having said ‘Is this success all a fluke? Had I been fooling everybody so far? Will I get caught?’

Meryl Streep has also been quoted as having said 'I don't know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?'

Diablo Cody said in this interview ‘Even though I know I work hard, I’m not always sure that I’m worthy of the success that I’ve had…I certainly compare myself to other women in my peer group who, in my mind, have done “more”, and feel like a hack in comparison.’

It’s not limited to big-time Hollywood celebrities. News Editor at, Rick Morton, writes candidly in this post about feeling that he’s going to get caught out and his attempts to self-sabotage his own success. 

In this brilliant address to University of the Arts students, writer Neil Gaiman articulates the feeling beautifully:

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.

In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don't know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn't consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read.

BTW – I know I referred to this address already this week, but in the 5 days since it was posted online it’s turning up everywhere. And it’s got me really inspired!

There are ways around it. Exercises and processes you can work through to relieve the incredible pressure and frustration associated with this feeling of inadequacy. Sacha Crouch, business coach, works with a range of successful business people who often reveal they feel unworthy of their success. Crouch says ‘This tendency to doubt one’s abilities leads many people to feel like they are a “fake” in their lives despite their accomplishments.’ She goes on to list a range of measures which can help overcome the self-imposed road blocks to our own success. 

But another way to look at it, according to this Forbes article, is to use that negative emotion to energise the changes you need to make. To understand that feeling that way is your mind’s way of getting you to strive harder, to reach the next level, until there is such a body of proof of your success that you can no longer deny it.

In fact, do the opposite – build a note into your roadmap that reminds you that Imposter Syndrome symptoms are a signpost that you’re moving in the right direction: into a new, expansive realm of possibility.

So I told myself, on this day when I had the Amazing Opportunity that it really was unequivocally mine. I deserved it because I was in it, doing it and living it. If you put on a pair of shoes and walk in them for a few steps, no-on can say ‘you can’t walk in those shoes’ because you have already done it.

Game over, Fraud Police. Diablo's already onto her next heist.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

10 things I wish I did in Japan

Or rather, 10 things I wish I also had time for on my last trip to Japan and will definitely do on my next visit.

1) Eat more street food
I actually only ended up having tako-yaki (octopus puffs) outside Osaka's closed Civil Rights museum. But considering street food can be a great way of experiencing a culture, I would like to try more. 

2) See whether a new profession is as fun as a rollercoaster
Japan has some pretty zany theme parks. But one of the most unsual is Kidzania - where kids can have a go at a range of professions before committing 20 years of their life to it. I'd be lying if I said that some days I wonder whether being an ambulance paramedic may be more interesting than my current job, and it seems here at Kidzania, I can give it a shot for a short while.

Plus I'd get paid, in 'Kidzo's' which I could then use to purchase merchandise and meals in the park. Like lots of the really fun stuff in life, it's limited to 2-12 year old kids, so I would have to be happy and watch on like the parents do. Luckily Hello Kitty doesn't have any fingers to count numbers on, so I would be welcome at Puroland, where everything is touched with a little kitty magic (provided my retinas will recover from the cuteness overload).

3) Overnight hike along Kumano Ancient Road
A series of pilgramage routes that comprise the Kumano Ancient Road - traversing mountain passes and stopping in at tea houses, onsen and ryokan for overnight stays. Sections range between 40km and 70km and today are still popular with buddhists seeking enlightenment, or just a relaxing way to be at one with the countryside.

4) Find balance in Mr Miyagi's hometown
Okinawa is the birthplace of karate, but is also one of the most beautiful places in the world for diving, snorkelling and surfing. I'd like to learn from the best in karate and surfing and see whether, under such tutelage, I can finally engage those core muscles.

5) Pure country living and silk industry
Shirakawa-go - A UNESCO listed heritage village in a mountainous region that, for a long time, was fairly isolated from traffic with other cities. The distance has been breached with modern transport and technology, but what remains is an industry around mulberry trees and silkworms. A fan of both the fruit and fabric and of remote rural areas, this sounds great. To stay in a minshuku (family home that takes in guests, a situation I imagine is much like a B&B if your aunt decided to change her place into a mini-hotel overnight so everyone ends up sleeping in the living room) would round out the picture nicely.

After years of the nation being stigmatised for a tradition of eating whale meat, in a small pocket of Japan, businesses have turned what was once whale-eating into whale meeting. 

7) Archers on horseback and picnickers on wheels
Tono Valley - what's that? A lush, green valley rich in folklore and best explored by bicycle? That has an annual festival showcasing archery on horseback? I am so there!

And eat Chanko Nabe - basically a hot pot of meat, rice and veggies. A tour of a sumo stable shows where the athletes live, eat and train. I'd love to see a sumo match - not so much because I like watching grown men compete in strength, but for the tradition (and to watch the crowd, who would be as interesting as the competitors).

9) Get handy with a set of nunchucks, Ninja-style
While there's a restaurant in Tokyo where you can be served by Ninja's, in Nagano prefecture there's a place that you can learn their secrets. Iga-Ninja Park is aimed at kids and explains the history and skills of the assassins, famed for their stealthy movements.

10) Hang out and chat with the cosplay kids at Harajuku I would love to follow a Cosplay kid for 24 hours - from when they wake, apply their make-up, travel to meet friends and then shop, eat and travel about - in essence, find out what like is like as a fictional character in a real person's body.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The ten coolest things I did in Japan

A few years ago I went to Japan, ostensibly to see the cherry blossoms for Hanami (the annual cherry festival), but along the way I saw a bunch of very cool things. It was 10 days spent in wide-eyed wonderment at the hospitality, style and diversity of the japanese landscape and culture: 

1) Spent a night in a capsule hotel, Osaka. Read about it here

2) Paid $5 to spend an hour petting cats, in a circuit at the corner of the pet department in a department store. Read about it here

3) Meditated with Buddhist monks.

Mt Koya is the home of esoteric buddhism in Japan. At one stage there were over a hundred monastaries clustered at the top of this steep and holy mountain. Now there are around 80 remaining, some of which take in overnight guests. Monastery guests have the choice to meditate morning and evening with the senior monks and priest, to bathe in an in-house onsen (without any monks present of course) and to eat temple food - which is basically the most extreme, exquisite and fulfilling vegan food ever created. I did it all. But it was the meditating that I can recall in an instant - the warmth of the heated room against the icy mountain winds rattling at the sliding screen doors, the glint of candle light off dangling brass ornaments. I hope to remember it forever. 

4) Watched Japanese game shows.

After meditating with the monks, exploring and devouring the temple dinner and washing off the day's travels in an onsen bath I returned to my room to find a light, private supper had been served. Wrapped in a heavy yukata dressing gown, I sat on cushions, lifted a padded tablecloth covering a short-legged table and pulled the table over my crossed legs. (The table had a heater underneath it. Like the heated toilet seats, sometimes you wonder whether something would be useful at all, until you try it and you wonder how lived without it!)I ate light, sweet biscuits and green tea. And watched game show in which a mad-scientist-costumed compare invited contestants to tell a joke. In a curious interpretation of the Hey Hey it's Saturday gong, these contestants stood over a trap door which, at a nod from the judge, they would fall through the floor. I watched one contestant crawl onto the trap door on all fours, bark once like a dog and immediately fall through the open trap door. The camera cut to the mad-scientist-host who laughed manically in encouragement at the judge's fast decision making. I cocooned myself under layers of padded quilts while lying on folds and folds of futons and drifted to sleep, wondering at how 'other' this world could feel. 

5) Spent a Sunday afternoon in Yoyogi Park.

Going to see the cosplay kids at Harajuku station is the start of the adventure. Gothic lolitas and storybook characters in over-stated proportions come out to play, flirt, socialise and be seen. Beyond the dress up kids, indie bands busk, 'greasers' dance to rock and roll and racks of second hand clothes are sold. Beyond the music, dancers and stalls, the colossal Yoyogi Park, with a centuries-old castle in it's centre, opens wide, rolling and green across acres. Full-blossomed cherry trees sway heavily in the crisp wind and families picnic on blue tarpaulins. Between the picnickers, athletes and sports teams work out. Costumed dogs and lycra-clad rollerbladers weave along the pathways. I sat for a moment watching a group of drummers jamming and then a busker create artwork with spray cans while DJ'ing from a deck strapped to his chest. I sat watching until the sun set and I drifted through the twilight, past a reggae festival, into Shibuya, where the neon was blinking into brightness and a thousand people at once crossed the world's busiest intersection. 

6) Geisha-tracking in Kyoto.

Twilight is one of the busiest hours in Kyoto. For hundreds of years it's been the time that Geisha go to their engagements. Freshly bathed, powdered and dressed, they totter in twos on wooden geta shoes along the cobble-stoned streets. A patient tourist who chooses the right spot will be able to see quite a few pairs of geisha travel along the streets. An impatient one, like me, will race from one street corner to the next, forever chasing the silk tails of the kimono as geisha disappear around corners and down alleyways. After an hour or more of this mad racing, I finally saw two geisha stopping at the doorway of one of their engagements and saw, in full colour and close detail, the artisan elements of their costume and  their serene grace. It was breathtaking. 

7) A Keiseki banquet.

This is a traditonal banquet served in ryokan (old-style hotels). It consists of 12 courses. It would have helped to have had some explanation, but I had chosen a ryokan out in the countryside which was heavy on authenticity, but light on spoken english. A better understanding of what each dish was, and how it should be eaten may have prevented that awkward moment where I was caught cooking the raw horsemeat over a little stove that was supplied, probably, for an entirely different purpose. The shocked expression and quick raise of the kimono'd hostess' eyebrows when she walked in on me, chopsticks poised, lightly sauteeing the highly prized horse meat, may well have been avoided. Ever polite and hospitable, a giggle (mine, not hers), a shake of the permed hair (hers, not mine) and my transgression was overlooked and the next dish was served. 

8) Studio Ghibli.

This is the home of the animation team who have brought to life stories like 'Spirited Away' and 'Howls' Moving Castle' - Oscar-nominated films which become box office smash hits with every new theatrical release. The attraction only allows 250 people per day through the doors and exploring the rooms of the building is like exploring the imaginative mind of Miyazaki himself. 

9) Catching the bullet train.

Or rather, buying food to take on the bullet train. From beautiful and cheap bento, to hot coffee in a can, and patisserie treats packed with ice packs to keep them chilled - the whole bullet train experience is a destination in itself, whether you're into fast travel or trains generally, or not. 

10) Seeing the cherry blossoms. Yes. They alone were worth the trip. 

So . . . who wants to see what the 10 coolest things I missed were? There is always a reason to go back. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Miranda Kerr and the beautiful water crystals

Today I have been struck by the power of positive talk. 

Not long after I started my current job, a new guy started. We had both been at other agencies. But from the start he talked highly of our new bosses. He said how lucky we were to have the jobs, to have stumbled across the best agency experience of our lives. I had felt that way too, but when I heard him say it, my own positive thoughts and feelings were galvanised. I also have no doubt that if he were negative about our new jobs, then this too would feed my own doubts and negativity. 

For the energy we put out really does have an impact on the people around us. 

Lydia Netzer writes in her Huffington Post story 15 ways to Stay Married for 15 years that one of the keys to enjoying a marriage is to talk positively to, and about, your partner. That to brag about your partners accomplishments to other people, and to let them overhear you doing so will 'mean everything'. She encourages people to 'Be foolish. Be obvious . . . He'll believe the shitty, insulting things you say and the gloriously positive things.'

If you've ever felt that someone's presence can radically alter the mood in a room, you may be right. We've all felt a room light up in someone's presence (people say model Miranda Kerr endears all those around her and that she is wonderful to work with), and we have also felt someone's mood chill a room. 

Dr Masaru Emoto is a Japanese author and entrepreneur who is best known for his belief in the theory of 'words of intent' - that is, the positive or negative impact of thought, written or spoken words on physical matter - specifically water crystals. 

These images, captured through a microscope show water crystals before prayer (top left), after prayer (top right), love & appreciation and Thank You (bottom row). Whether you believe in the power of positive intent, certainly the water crystals in the bottom two rows are beautiful and certainly different to the first one. 

Back to Miranda Kerr for a moment - she has said that she tells herself, before going to a photo shoot, that everyone loves being around her, and that she likes everyone in the room - that they all think each other is fabulous. And it works. People genuinely like working with her. Miranda Kerr is beautiful, but then so is Naomi Campbell. Yet one model is married, successful and with a beautiful baby. While the other swings from outrageous contracts with luxury brands to tabloid scandals about violent outbursts and abuse of the people around her. I can guarantee that on the days that she rocks those headlines, Ms Campbell is not telling any positive stories about herself or anyone else. 

Today I stumbled across a TED talk by celebrated writer Neil Gaiman. In an address to a graduating class of university arts students, he attributed some of his success to being positive, to approaching a task as someone who can already do it would. Coming from a man who turned death into an adorable gothic chic with an ankh as her symbol in his much-loved Sandman series, seeing things with a positive spin should be no surprise. But it is this positive outlook that has led him undeniably to do the very things he always wanted to do - to write a novel, a comic, a TV show, a movie. 

So, seize the day with positive intent. Listen the language you use about yourself and others. Let people hear you be positive about them. As Gandhi said 'Be the change you want to see' and throw your positive thoughts and words out to the world. You never know - the fuzzy edged world around you may start to take dazzling shape and reveal spellbinding designs, like Dr Emoto's water crystals. At the very least, you'll start to feel a little more like Miranda Kerr and a little less like Naomi Campbell, and that has to be a good thing for those around you, even if it doesn't sell newspapers.