What is the most important question?


I fought through the brambles and barbed wire to get to this one.

And it’s so simple.

The most important question is: What do I want?

Not what should I want, not what can I get because I’m afraid I won’t get what I want, not what do I deserve (too many self-esteem issues).

What do I want?

And then, at each stage:  Do I want this?  Will doing this juice me?  What is my gut saying to this part?  To this project?  Do I feel clear, right and excited, even if I’m scared?

Marie Forleo covers this in Start the Right Business, but I would like to offer myself as an object lesson of how you can convince yourself you want what you really don’t want.

In 2002, I graduated with an MFA in Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College.  My two years there had been gloriously happy, even though 9/11 lanced me through the heart, as it did all of us.  I landed 3 leading roles in independent films, my first film work ever, right out of school.  My short plays were accepted into festivals.

Then I decided to start a theatre company.

What did I want?  I wanted to act in film, to do meaningful roles, hopefully at least some about social justice and all bringing my own unique understanding of the human condition to life through my body, voice and spirit.  I wanted my work as a writer to be produced according to my original vision of the work, so my stories were told with truth and depth.  I wanted to set myself free in doing these things.

In two of the films I was in, I played mothers or mother-figures in stories written by young men, and the mothers were–let’s just say, written to be less than sympathetic.  One of my plays–an absurdist comedy–was directed as a drama.  Being a mild-mannered, non-dramatic person, this made me want to SCREAM MY HEAD OFF.

So I started said theatre company with an immediately sell-out even called SLAMBoston, Diverse Voices in Theatre.  Based on the poetry slam format (I’d been a successful slam poet prior to studying acting), it presented works by all people–all minorities and mainstream–in a competition.

It was a great idea.  In the ensuing 9 years, I produced over 30 slams, and the slam is still being franchised today.  I helped hundreds of minority artists in their careers, had the experience of seeing audiences awaken to more tolerance, and brought together unlike groups to learn about each other’s lives.

The problem:  the more successful the theatre company became, the less I acted in movies or sent out plays for production.  And when I acted in my own company, or produced one of my own plays, I wore so many hats it made me INSANE.

I didn’t trust the world or myself enough to just do what I wanted.  So I tried to grab control and change the world, going for what I knew I could get instead of risking everything for what I wanted.

And I helped so many people!  I also made the people most involved in the company insane with my craziness and stressed out energy.

Betraying myself comes in this disguise–the cool, multicultural activist, the go-getter, the one who makes a difference, living up to her own political values with complete and utter gusto.

Dying a little inside every day.

What do I want?

The easiest question.  Or maybe not.  Maybe the hardest.

I am struggling with my new business idea, tempted by what I know I can do, what will be successful from my current skill set.

What do I want?

Not the temptation.  I want the leap, I want the risk, I want to do it again knowing all these pitfalls.

I still want to act, in film and television, to tell stories with my body, voice and spirit.  I still want to see my writing in the world, being heard.

So I vow it, every day, to only do a business based in performance and writing.  And to trust that my commitment to social justice will find this venue as powerful as any other.

I vow to answer this question, over and over again:  What do I want?

As for you, what do you want?

Take heart.  There is an answer in the center of all of us, unreasoned, waiting to explode into our lives.

What do you want?

Please feel free to say it, at the bottom of this post!

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