By Amy Roost.
While attending “The Evolution of Psychotherapy” conference with my husband, I rubbed shoulders (if only in the elevator) with several of the greatest minds in the field–Erving Polster, Jeffrey, Zweig, Sue Johnson, Harriet Lerner and Harvel Hendrix to name just a few –persons I wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with were my husband not a psychologist.
Surprisingly, the conference also featured a keynote address by Alainis Morrisette. I was excited to hear her speak since hers is a name I do recognize given that she’s a rock star and given that I’ve listened to her feminist anthems countless times. It turns out Morrisette is also an incredibly articulate advocate for mental health.
The morning after Morrisette spoke, I was standing in line at a hotel lobby Starbucks; three young women, likely graduate students, stood behind me. They were all atwitter about someone sitting nearby. “Should we introduce ourselves?”, one asked. “No, that would be rude”, another replied. “I’m going for it!” the third one said.
I tried to spot who it was they were referring to, even hoped it was Morrisette. Imagine then my surprise when the bravest of the three woman walked toward a table where Salvador Minuchin–a 92-year old pioneer of psychotherapy–was sitting alone enjoying a cup of joe. As the intrepid scout approached his table to introduce herself, Minuchin stood up to take leave. Startled, the woman lost her nerve, made a hasty u-turn and returned to her friends who stood snickering behind me.
We’ve all been there. In the presence of someone we admired so much it made us nervous.
I remember working as the events coordinator for a large independent bookstore. It was my job to greet, entertain (in the “green room”) and introduce all the authors who came to the store for book signings. Over the years the A-list included Colin Powell, John Irving, Hilary Clinton, John McCain, Billy Collins, Frances Mayes, Alexander McCall Smith, and Carl Hiassen. I was rarely nervous meeting such big-name celebrities, and even when an attack of the butterflies did set in, I was able to maintain my composure.
That is until I sat next to Stephen Colbert. For anyone who is not familiar with Colbert, he is a political satirist and, in my opinion, a comedic genius who will go down in history as one of the great American commentators, in the same company as Mark Twain, Will Rogers and Garrison Keillor. While he coined the term “truthiness”, he is paradoxically known for having delivered a speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner that was one of the most courageous speak-truth-to-power exhortations since Lenny Bruce’s rants about the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
I was in the company of Mr. Colbert for two hours, paging through to the title page of his book and passing it to him for his signature so as to expedite the line. I’d been through this routine numerous times making small talk with Pulitzer Prize winners and leaders of the free world alike. However, on this occasion, I was, for the first time, completely dumbstruck and tongue tied because Colbert is my rock star, as surely as Salvador Minuchin was the young woman at Starbucks’ rock star.
We all have a rock star (or two) in our lives. Someone who we dream of meeting; someone whose achievements humble and inspire us to be our best selves or do our best work. In those dreams we are not speechless. We are witty, charasmatic and engaging.
So how sad that the Starbucks woman couldn’t screw up the courage to introduce herself to Minuchin, or that I wasn’t able to take advantage of being in close proximity to Colbert, a man I admired in large part for his ability to speak his own truth. She and I left so much on the table and we walked away with the regret that comes from failing to grab the brass ring, and the stale dream of how the conversation with our hero might have transpired had we only found our voice. How Minuchin might have advised the young woman on her career path or how Colbert might have replied to my question about how his Catholicism has influenced his politics or whether he ever heard from President Bush after his Correspondents’ Dinner speech, or how he might have advised me to make my own writing more satirical.
What stopped both of us from speaking to our heroes was a fundamental lack of self worth. A failure to believe that we had anything compelling to offer. Maybe also a fear that our advances would be rejected and leave us feeling foolish–a small risk when you consider the potential payout.
My friend Dana did take the risk. When I conveyed the Minuchin story to her she recalled brazenly emailing her hero, the author Jean Houston, asking for guidance on her PhD dissertation. Houston, who is a highly regarded (and demanded) speaker on the topic of human potential, not only emailed Dana back with advice but invited Dana to keep in touch so they could pursue further dialogue.
Since I’d never heard of Salvador Minuchin until recently and I haven’t assigned him any superhero powers, I would have no problem–being the extrovert that I am–introducing myself to him. But sit me down next to Stephen Colbert and, I imagine, a handful of others–Bruce Springsteen, Mary Oliver, the Dalai Lama– and I do a complete mind f*ck on myself.
Maybe Colbert would have found me fascinating? Perhaps he would have wanted to hear about the travails of parenting chronically ill child or about my impressions of his home state of South Carolina, or about my six weeks spent in the Soviet Union, or my grandma’s sour cream raisin pie recipe. Who knows?
No one knows, that’s who. And no one ever will so long as I fail to embrace my own worthiness. My own inner rock star.
Her multi-dimensional suchness, Amy Roost, is a freelance writer, book publicist, legal and medical researcher, and vacation rental manager. She and her husband are the authors of “Ritual and the Art of Relationship Maintenance” due to be published later this year in a collection entitled Ritual and Healing: Ordinary and Extraordinary Stories of Transformation (Motivational Press). Amy is also Executive Director of Silver Age Yoga Community Outreach (SAYCO) which offers geriatric yoga teacher certification, and provides yoga instruction to underserved seniors.