Jazz Hands and All the Ways I Feel Powerful


heather caliri -jazz hands-3

Last summer, I went to a reunion of sorts. We gathered in the glistening kitchen of someone I’ve known since high school, drinking margaritas. I met all of the people there decades ago at my church, though we don’t all see each other as often any more. Still, we know each other’s histories.

I asked everybody about graduations, kid milestones, work accomplishments, faith shifts. And then, a little before our host started putting burgers on the grill, someone asked me about writing.

“You were working on a book proposal, right? What’s it about?”

I opened my mouth. Closed it. Swallowed hard.

“That’s a great question,” I said. “And hard to answer.”

Mind you: I’d practiced an elevator pitch about that book idea until I had it down cold. It was not that I did not know how to explain the book. It was that telling these people about it—people who knew me well—felt like stripping naked.

It felt weird to admit I’d written a book. Weird to talk about where I’ve published, how I’m building a platform. Vulnerable. Awkward. Braggy.

I find it hard to share my accomplishments. I don’t think I’m alone in that—women, especially, aren’t socialized to crow about their accolades.

There’s a weird swirl of reasons. I was often accused of being a show-off in elementary school; heavily involved in the performing arts. I had to make a conscious effort not to incorporate the splits or jazz hands into everyday conversation. I learned it was better to be average than stick out.

I also have this weird fear that if I do well, other people listening will feel bad. I feel that way because I used to do that to myself. When a friend succeeded at something, I’d shame myself: “Suzie just signed a book deal … I’m such a failure—why can’t I have published something?” I’ve mostly changed that kind of self-talk, but staying small and quiet means I don’t have to feel responsible for other people’s feelings. (Yes, this is textbook codependence).

I hesitate to assume people are interested in me or what I think. I worry about seeming too excited about my own work—because the truth is, I am excited. It’s hard to keep your jazz hands pushed down by your sides when you start feeling the music of enthusiasm rise up in your soul.

I am slightly intense all the time. I’m worried I’ll blast people with it.

Social cues and norms aren’t bad things to pay attention to. I rejoice that I can read my audience. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned by listening first. But sometimes, I get tired of trying to hide my intensity, to feign normalcy, to dial myself down. Sometimes, I want to do a few high kicks and break into song.

Back at that reunion, I took a deep breath, and explained my idea to my friends. It was hard—the group of people gathered around the kitchen island blinked as I gave my elevator pitch, talked about the market I was hoping to reach, the ups and downs of the editing process.

Then, one of them said, “Oh, I need that book.” A wave of relief flooded through me. They honored my idea. They honored me.

We had a conversation about my work. People saw me—in all my creative vulnerability—and they reached out their jazz hands to touch mine.

Honestly, more so than when I shared my deepest hurts with them, I felt known. I felt like they had seen me, not just my prayer requests, but my blessings.

I’m starting to recognize I need to live into my wholeness in front of people. To proclaim with a strong steady voice (and appropriate choreography) that God has done great things for me, and I am filled with joy.

It’s empowering to show my enthusiasm, my passions. It’s empowering to take myself and my ideas seriously enough to share them. It’s empowering to be myself, and to stop thinking my intensity will scare everyone away.

It’s empowering, quite by definition, to share the ways I feel powerful, and have people celebrate me—jazz hands, intensity, and all.

Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who loves British murder mysteries, advice columns, and hot breakfasts. She uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, "Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri

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  1. “I am slightly intense all the time. I’m worried I’ll blast people with it.” A thousand times yes. This is such an encouraging testimony. To you and your book!

  2. Gillian Ward says:

    Jazz hands! I have a Jazz brain, brimming with as yet unspoken conversations, things I love share about who Jesus brought near, to cross my path, so that I can in Him, help, share, listen to and pray with!
    It is SO exciting it sounds like bragging, but it’s not! I am brim- full of joy and delight that God uses traumas and hard experiences from my life to help others.
    When someone says they feel better able to cope, trust they can share anything, listen to our stories, then come back one step further down the Glory road, it is so fulfilling and such a relief that someone is walking forward!
    I have a Jazz heart and Mouth, always apologising for talking too much, but, never been told it matters, so, Jazz on, everyone!

  3. Taylor Phillips says:

    Thanks for being vulnerable. Sometimes I feel like my jazz hands are fake, especially with people I grew up around. They saw how I acted, what I said and did.. how could I have possibly changed? But it’s the grace of God who calls. I’ve learned to throw my jazz hands in the air and shout with joy at the new life I’ve been given. With my jazz hands, I wave goodbye to the silly girl I used to be.

    • oh, yeah–I get that. Wondering if my enthusiasm is just a put on or a show-offy way to get attention. It’s SO COMPLICATED. Praying we both know how to be authentically ourselves no matter what it turns out that is.

  4. Carolina says:

    Seriously!? You’re the best! Blow me up with intensity. It’s never too much for me! 😀 JAZZ HANDS UNITE! This is me on volume ten on the daily: “I worry about seeming too excited about my own work—because the truth is, I am excited.” Woot! <3

    • you seem like the kind of person to use jazz hands, too, Carolina 🙂 which I LIKE. Also you have a LOT to be excited about lately. Your work is just blowing up and it makes me so happy.

  5. sandyhay says:

    I’m with you Heather. Jazz hands and high kicks the way. Well…not such high kicks these days but kicks nevertheless 😉

    • One of the reasons I loved Rise Up (and you were part of this) was meeting so many women in the generation ahead of me who were just as vibrant and intense as I was. Its a good thing to look forward to 🙂

  6. Heather, I love this message! I trained as a dancer and just laughed about the jazz hands, mostly because I am madly, deeply in love with the Lord, I want to honor Him so, and get excited about getting to do that. When I share about His call on my life and the work He has laid before me, hearing someone say they need that or know someone who does is great cause for jazz hands and high kicking! I am moved to dance like Snoopy, feet spinning with a big grin on my face. Happy high kicking and jazz hands to you, Heather!

  7. I think it’s the plight of the introvert, too. We measure our words and are careful not to use up too much of the air in the room, too much of the conversational space, talking about ourselves. I’m so happy for you that your friends responded as friends should.
    Congratulations on achieving your writing goals and for finding the courage to rejoice about it!

    • Oh, good call, Michele. Yes, I think this is definitely part of it. Although I was in a group of women the other day, sharing about some passions, and when I finished one of the women said something like, “I have never heard that much passion about something” and I will admit that though I felt proud I also felt a little self-conscious. Because women just do not do BIG LOUD passions. (I mean, I know that’s bullcrap, but it’s a hard thing to get over.

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