Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dawn Andrews - "Nothing extraordinary is possible until you're in conversation with the world around you."

Dawn Andrews is a peak performance coach who specializes in working with creative artists in achieving extraordinary lives and careers in entertainment. I talked to Dawn recently about her work with actors, writers, and directors, and how she saw compassion as important in their careers.
"Compassion isn't important in anyone's career, until it is. I find myself living mostly, and maybe unfortunately, in a place of not being compassionate until something presents itself, whether it's my own struggle or the struggle of someone else, but I don't find that compassion is a 'way of being' that I approach life from. And I do see what it costs me, my clients and the world around me to be that way when I'm presented with one of those issues.

I went to go see this guy perform who's a hip-hop scholar, and slam poet. He put together this amazing piece about his travels... The most extraordinary parts of that piece were the parts where I haven't had his experience but yet I could completely relate to the story he was telling. He was sharing a moment where he had traveled to Senegal. His plan was to meet a woman who had given up her life in Lubbock, Texas, and committed herself to spreading the word about female genital mutilation, and trying to get the tribes to stop the ancient and brutal practice. he went to help her.

The way he described it, he expected that, as African-American man, he would drop into Senegal and immediately fold himself into the culture and change the tribal leaders minds because he had the right skin color. [He said] he had this "I am one of them yet I know better than they do" attitude. He arrives, but when he met this tall Swedish woman from Texas, who was married to a Senegalese man and spoke like five different African dialects, it became so abundantly clear how out of his league and out of his element he was because he had put up this whole egotistical view of "how this is gonna go" and who he was in the world. He was "black" but he discovered she was "African." He realized that from where he was coming from he couldn't affect any change.

When he shared that moment I felt both compassion for him, having that veneer cracked wide open, because I could see the child in him in the telling of the story, and the wonder that he had for what was available to him... Regardless of whether I've been to Senegal or not I have had those moments where you think you have a total and complete understanding of how "someone is" or "how something's gonna work," and I've approached it with a coat of armor on. Before that moment he was more committed to being cool and having the situation "wired" than to making the difference that he came to make.

It is so powerful to me that something as simple as a woman speaking a few words in a different language has you drop the act and make yourself completely open and vulnerable and present and available to what's really going on. And so that's what I was meaning when I was saying that compassion isn't important until it is. Usually, it's not there, at least for me, until I realize that my coat of armor is keeping me from an opportunity to connect or see or participate in something that I've blocked myself from. Artists provide that opportunity for people every time they write or perform or share themselves with the world.

The most extraordinary things that I've seen people do, whether it was totally conscious for them or not... the compassion was there. For instance in this guy's performance, he may not have named it as compassion either for himself or the community he found himself in, or for what he was coming to support this woman in doing. But he would not have been available to do the work he did in Senegal and then share it in his performance with me in such a way that I was completely moved and inspired by it, if there wasn't compassion present.

Through his sharing he lit that match in me. In seeing him move through his struggle, of "hi, I'm this guy, and this is how it's gonna go, and I've got all this information," to "oops," crack the egg open, and now I'm see myself in his situation. It gave me permission sitting in the audience not only to be moved by his story but to feel the same way for myself whenever I step up to do anything I think I've got wired -- in coaching people for instance. When working with clients I find this struggle more prevalent in actors. Maybe it's the need to protect themselves, since they are the instrument of delivery as opposed to words on a page or something outside themselves. There is a lot of "putting on the armor." The cost is that the creative choices that come from that place tend not to be very unique or heartfelt or truthful or have the ability to connect with an audience. At least not on a deeper level that has them moved and inspired."
I asked Dawn if she's seen a difference when the armor comes off.
"Oh my god. I'm committed to every artist finding the compassion and to coaching them compassionately. The difference when the armor is off is like seeing the divine channeled through someone else. In its simplest form, you're either in a conversation with yourself, and other people happen to be in your vicinity, or you're present and in a conversation with the world that's surrounding you. Nothing extraordinary is possible until you're in conversation with the world around you."
Wow. I have nothing more to say except for, "Thank you, Dawn!" *

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