Be a Cheerleader and Reduce Interaction with Permanent Nay Sayers

Inside front cover of the author’s high school file: artwork by the author of Marvin the Martian, Plucky Duck, Pepe Le Pew, Goofy, Mickey Mouse, Tweety, Porky Pig, and Minnie Mouse

Think about the kinds of people you want to have in your life. Do you prefer the people who support your dreams and talents, or do you prefer the ones who constantly criticize you with the excuse that they’re pushing you to be “realistic” or “you won’t improve without learning what you’re doing wrong”? Now think about how you interact with other people when they share their goals and dreams with you.

Why am I asking these questions? I’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of attitude over the last several years, and it has guided the way I parent my children, and how I interact with other people in my life. To go into my thought process, I’m going to share some of my history.

The featured image at the top of this page is some artwork I drew into the inside of my main high school file—Disney and Warner Bros. characters. I was a huge animation fan growing up. I went to high school over two decades ago, and I kept the front of this file all these years. If you scan through the image gallery below, you’ll see a few more examples of just some of the art I drew in my childhood, including some from as early as 7th grade/year 7, that I kept from as far back as 1995.

I share these pictures to drive home a point. When I was a kid, I loved drawing. Looking back at these pictures, I think, damn, I was pretty good at it. Especially when I think about how old I was with some of it. But I didn’t keep at it because my dad was a mostly unemployed artist for much of my life, and I felt like that impacted why my parents separated, and why my mum pushed me to learn “real” skills and focus on my intellectual studies and doing well in school, so I’d be able to get a job that would make me money instead of becoming a struggling, unsuccessful artist like my dad was. There was no message of “If you work hard at it, then you can succeed.” Or any other messages about what it would take to succeed in the arts. Just the underlying message, “It’s not worth pursuing.”

So I focused on my STEM studies, which overall you could say I had a natural knack for, when I put the time in to understand it. I got a Bachelor of Science in Internet Computing. But I was still drawn to film and animation. So I enrolled in a one-year Media Production course, and found myself dreaming of studying animation in Canada. I never pursued it because of my mother’s voice in my head, and this idea that I’d “never be good enough” and it was “too hard” to break into the field, so “why bother?” I then wound up marrying someone who even teased me for wanting to pursue animation. I didn’t have the cheerleaders I needed in my life to go for it. I reflected back on this after one of the Tech Meets Entertainment events a few weeks ago, when they had a special effects animator guest speaker, and I’d brought up wanting to work in animation in the past. It felt more supportive to discuss there because they talked about the other avenues I could follow to work in animation without necessarily needing the artistic skills. Coders are needed, too, and yeah, I animated in C in my games programming class in university, which was the class where one of my classmates would call me a “genius,” but still those voices hold me back. It’s too competitive. Or, I don’t know where to start, I don’t know how to meet people to get into this field. Or I think, I don’t have the time to dedicate to learning something new when I already have plenty of skills to get a good job now. I just have to find someone who believes in me enough to offer me a job that involves data science/engineering, and/or web development, and/or programming in Python or JavaScript.

As a result of all this, I usually settle for looking for opportunities that on the surface make me feel like they’d be less competitive, so maybe I’d stand a better chance. At least in other areas I have examples to draw on where I have more experience because it was easier for me to actively pursue those interests without feeling like someone was judging me harshly for following those avenues. Or I had people in my life who did support me following those goals, and their cheerleading voices were enough to drown out the harsh critical perspective of my ex-husband that would try to drag me down, and I felt like had prevented me from succeeding even higher in those areas where I did achieve. I have two top examples of that in my creative goals.

1 – Writing

The cover of Adrift, a novel by the author

My 105,000 word novel about a bisexual female time-travelling pirate, Adrift. I guarantee that I never would have finished that book if it hadn’t been for my then-long-distance partner (if this is the first blog post you’re reading from me, my ex-husband and I were in an open polyamorous marriage) and his love for the protagonist, Jaclyn, and his desire to read the completed product. He spurred me on with his reading every chapter as I wrote it, sharing what he loved about it, and was there to discuss and bounce ideas off when I needed help.

My ex-husband also read every chapter as I wrote it, but I always felt this air of disdain from him when he shared his feedback, and he’d be more critical, like he was less excited about what I was writing and he’d be much happier if I was doing something else instead, or doing it his way. He hated the other main character, Dick, because he identified with the character and thought I was basing Dick on my ex-husband, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. If Dick was even remotely based on anyone, it would be the man I wanted to play him when I originally wrote the characters in a short film screenplay. Also, and I’m not sure if this was because my ex-husband identified with Dick, but he hated that Dick wasn’t getting lucky with Jaclyn. That drove me wild because the whole point of the friendship of those characters, to me, was that they never have sex but could still be good friends! That Dick could be a decent guy and like Jaclyn without needing to bang her, even though he was attracted to her! I didn’t think deeply enough about it at the time, but certainly it explains a lot about why my marriage ended up on a downward trajectory, with our different perspectives on relationship dynamics between men and women.

2 – Improvisation

The author’s original ‘So You Want a Job‘ improv show does the San Francisco Improv Festival, September 2018

Since moving to California, I’ve had a lot of success pursuing improv. I honestly feel like a lot of that success is the result of the cheerleaders I met along the way. The people who encouraged me to keep doing it.

Like animation, improv (and acting) is something I’d wanted to pursue for a very long time. Various things had prevented me from doing much with it for years, however. I was too shy and scared to do much with it when I lived in Australia, and when I lived in Malaysia, there was very little improv being performed. I was only familiar with one short-form group, and aside from doing a workshop audition with them once, the only improv I did in Malaysia was shortly before moving to California, when the first dedicated comedy club in Malaysia, Crackhouse Comedy Club, opened, and they had a “Hack the Crack” improvised stand-up night. There were times I tried to get some of the other comedians more interested in doing improv with me, but stand-up comedy was easier for everyone to make time for because writing jokes was a solo pursuit.

I had a mentor/cheerleader for improv prior to moving to California, but without anyone to perform it with, there wasn’t much I could do. He is the person who recommended where I study improv once I arrived in the Bay Area, and fortunately that led to me finding a community of people who supported the effort I put into improv.

Like with my novel, my ex-husband was on the sidelines whispering in my ear about how improv wasn’t worth the time and money I put into it. It’s not like I was going to make money doing it, and he couldn’t watch me and suspend disbelief that I was playing different characters. Sure, he attempted some support when I asked for it—like when I needed him to take photos of shows or for promos for me—but it always felt like any support he gave was given begrudgingly, because he’d rather I was doing something else.

I am so very grateful for the community that supported me, and helped drown out my ex-husband’s negative attitude toward my interest. Without the community of other improvisers who would come up to me after shows or classes, telling me what they liked about what they saw from me, encouraging me to keep going, I don’t think I would’ve had the motivation to keep pursuing it. It was that support that helped me strive to keep getting better, and pursue festivals, and allowed me to travel to Southern California, Hawaii, Alaska, and Kentucky to perform.

Cheerleaders Keep You Motivated Even When You Don’t Believe in Yourself

I’m reminded now of the time I took a years-long break from stand-up comedy in Malaysia. My excuse at the time was that I’d gotten too pregnant to perform my anime schoolgirl schtick, but the reality over why the break lasted so long included the fact that I’d felt like I’d bombed my last performance. I’d wanted to get back up on stage, but lacked the motivation to really go for it until a man who’d told me he had a crush on me after that last depressing performance really encouraged me to go for it and get back on stage again. I didn’t understand how he could’ve liked me after seeing me in a set I thought I did badly in, but it helped knowing I had someone in my corner who thought I was awesome despite that.

One of the author’s anime schoolgirl stand-up performances in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 2014

Supporting Someone’s Dreams Matters More Than You Might Think

Do not ever underestimate how powerful some words of encouragement can be for a person. Or how much a small act can help. I’ve been working with a career director the last few months in order to help me focus on how I want to develop my career, and what steps I can take to get the kind of work I want. Because she understands my goals, she will take those extra steps to support me by commenting and reacting to the LinkedIn posts I tag her in, because she recognizes the impact that small effort can have—it can get my posts into the feed of thousands of viewers instead of just tens to maybe a couple hundred. I highly, highly recommend supporting your friends this way, and engaging with them on LinkedIn, even if you yourself are not looking for a job. You never know when it might help them find a connection they might not gain otherwise, and they’ll be forever grateful that you supported them. If you’re the kind of person who cares about how you might be rewarded in return, then just know they will remember, and maybe even years down the line, they’ll think of you and connect you with someone who’ll be valuable for you to know. Now that I understand better how LinkedIn works, I’ve been putting more effort into leaving thoughtful comments on friends’ posts, though I don’t actually have that many friends who actively use LinkedIn. We’re all on Facebook instead!

Some of the small things I’ve done to support friends have included backing or sharing their crowdfunding campaigns, reading their writing in whatever form it takes, or going to see them perform on stage, because I know how much it means to me when I receive that kind of support. Even just sharing a link to a friend’s new release book and saying why I support it—even if it only attracts one new purchase, that something is better than nothing, and shows them I care. In a world that too often feels like “Me, me, me, take, take, take,” it’s nice to think about the ways I can give back when I can. That small gesture that says, “I believe in you,” or “I value the time you spent doing this thing. Keep going.” You never know when a small gesture could be the difference between whether someone decides to give up or keep going. I say this, because so many people feel uncomfortable reaching out and asking for help. Make it easier for them so they don’t even have to ask. Be a cheerleader.

But Does Criticism Have a Place?

I want to address this, because I also don’t think it’s a good idea to completely surround yourself with “Yes Men” who will always agree with you and support you no matter what, to the detriment of your ability to learn from your mistakes. You risk walking into a minefield and hurting or offending people if you’re only willing to listen to people who agree with you. Being a cheerleader doesn’t have to mean telling someone they’re always right and they’re definitely going to succeed. It is possible to say, “You can do this, I believe in you, and here’s where I think you could improve to gain more success.” It is important to learn from those constructive comments and always be open to learning how else you can improve. It’s also important to learn how to give those constructive comments in a way that will be well received.

Why? Because a constant barrage of negative comments and listening to people telling you that “You’ll never succeed” isn’t needed. I’m pretty sure everyone gets enough of that kind of self-talk that they don’t need it from their friends and family. Too much of it without any positive energy, and they’ll eventually walk away because it just drags them down and makes it harder to find that drive to keep going. That’s one of the things I learned from going through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with some of my fellow improvisers back in 2015-2016. I actually struggled a lot with the “morning pages” side of that book (writing 3 full pages stream of consciousness thoughts, first thing in the morning), because sometimes I’d fill the pages with bemoaning about my ex-husband not being supportive enough for my tastes, and then I’d feel guilty because I didn’t want him to know I was thinking so harshly about him. In the lead up to my divorce, I actually dug up the notebook I used for those “morning pages” and scanned through them and put post-it notes on all the pages that reflected all the ways he’d made me feel bad about myself. They served as a reminder that I was making the right call to remove his negativity from my life. And you know what? Now that I no longer have him breathing down my neck about how supposedly lazy I am, it’s been much easier to focus on what I need and want to do to keep trying to achieve my goals, even when it feels like progress is slow.

The author’s “morning pages” notebook with post-it tabs poking out the top and sides.

How This Has Translated to My Parenting

My kids have varied interests, and I’ve never tried to steer them in any one direction because society has this belief that some careers are better than others. It’s not just because of how badly it impacted me, but I’ve seen countless similar stories from others. Instead I spread the message of hard work and dedication—tell them they’re capable of anything if they work hard enough at it, so don’t give up just because it seems challenging in the moment. Also that they should take the time to stop and enjoy themselves. Burn out never helped anyone. What I’ve seen as a result of this is very well rounded and creative thinkers. My kids consistently get top grades across the board in their classes, and utilize their creativity through writing, drawing, and creating their own games. I don’t deny that it can be challenging to get work in creative fields, but I also don’t suggest that’s a reason they shouldn’t try, if that’s what they want to do. We play tabletop games together, and they’re able to strategize in ways where they can often beat me (this was especially disappointing to me on Mother’s Day, where neither of my kids wanted to be nice and give me a chance at winning in our last round in The Tea Dragon Society card game). But they’re also able to show empathy and support others, too, because we have conversations around the different types of people who don’t have the same privileges we have. We play cooperative tabletop games as much as we play competitive ones.

The Tea Dragon Society card game

My kids take the lessons I share with them, and support me in ways where they give me space without interruption when I’m in a class or attending yet another webinar or online networking event.

Can some people achieve success in the face of being degraded, insulted, or berated? Sure, I guess it may motivate some people to succeed out of spite, to prove those people wrong. But seeing how my own children have thrived under the atmosphere and environment I’ve provided shows me how beneficial it would be to bring the same attitudes to work, and foster an inclusive and supportive workplace where everyone can achieve, succeed, and thrive.

So What Now?

Here’s where I bring things back, full circle, to the thoughts I asked you to consider in the beginning:

Think about the kinds of people you want to have in your life. Do you prefer the people who support your dreams and talents, or do you prefer the ones who constantly criticize you with the excuse that they’re pushing you to be “realistic” or “you won’t improve without learning what you’re doing wrong”? Now think about how you interact with other people when they share their goals and dreams with you.

What kind of person do you want to be? Do you want to be someone your friends and family can count on to know you’ll support them? Or are you willing to risk them extricating you from their lives, because you were too negative for them to handle? How much does your relationship with a person mean to you? If it’s a lot, then make sure you do what you can to show them how valued they are, before you lose it.

I love being a cheerleader for the people who matter in my life. It takes far less energy to do that than tearing someone down because I might be feeling a little jealous of their success. When I support others, when I believe in them, then when I see them succeed, I find myself feeling proud of them and glad I have them in my life. When they succeed, it gives me hope that I can, too. And the world can always do with more hope.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please consider sharing it with your network, and connecting or engaging with me on social media. All my social media links are in the footer of this page! I love meeting people who value the content I produce, because I put a lot of time into them. Though I never got into animation, I do still occasionally draw, but it’s been hard to keep up with it whilst I’ve received limited support. If you want to encourage me to keep drawing, check out my online store, and maybe buy a thing or two. It would really help me out whilst I’m still looking for work and waiting for EDD to pay me what is now 9 weeks of benefits they owe me. Plus the store currently has a 20% off voucher you can redeem! Or if this was your first time learning about my novel, you could also pop on over to Amazon and buy the ebook for only $3.99!

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