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.