This is the second interview in the 30 Day “One Question” Series. If you want to learn more about the series, be sure to check out the first interview.
I’ve been struggling to come up with words to describe Jen Lee to ya’ll.
Sure, I can share her official biography:
Jen Lee is a publisher, producer and a performer in New York City’s storytelling scene. She has been featured on the Peabody Award-winning Moth Radio Hour, and in The Best of The Moth: Volume 15. She is a sought-after mentor and guide for workshops and retreats unleashing creative expression, and her private Story Mentoring clients range from authors to executives.
Though this small paragraph does an adequate job of sharing her impressive credentials, it simply doesn’t encapsulate the full story. A swift 60 words could never fully express the depth of who Jen Lee is and how she nimbly manages to use images, words, video, and audio–the full breadth of STORY– to touch the lives of virtual strangers across the continent. The best I can do is attempt to share a story of my own.
It was a crappy Atlanta morning… rainy, cold, and grey. I would swear that it was the first week of January, but I’m the first to admit that my memory isn’t the sharpest… still, we’ll pretend for a moment that the timing is true.
What random path of interweb exploration landed me on Jen’s site has long faded from memory. What does remain… distinct as if it just happened yesterday… is the sound of her small, warm voice breaking the quiet of my solemn office.
She spoke in hushed tones, as though sharing an secret… and I remember in that moment, listening to her share her own fears and vulnerabilities, feeling a deep part of me sigh and relax in the innate understanding that we were in the presence of a kindred spirit.
While Jen has graduated to hosting an official podcast now (which features some pretty dang amazing guests and conversations), I will always fondly remember those original audios, shared randomly on her blog in the early hours of the day. Those “podcasts” remain an icon of what seems to me to be Jen’s greatest strength… a courageous sharing her of her own vulnerabilities as she crafts her unique creative path.
If I could use only one word to describe Jen Lee, it would be courageous. She continually impresses me with her ability to courageously explore new creative paths and that theme was at the core of the one question I chose to ask her.
(excerpt from my original email to Jen)
In the four years or so that I’ve been following you, I’ve watched you grow from a somewhat shy storyteller to teacher to photographer to publisher to film maker (which I discovered just today!)… and I’m completely amazed at your courage in exploring all these new facets of your personality as an artist…. it makes me wonder if you don’t have the crazy voices yelling at you that I have, the ones that tell me my desire to stretch my wings and test my creative boundaries is really just a big indicator that I’m not serious or a pro or ambitious enough…
What tips/lessons can you share with us about navigating your own growth as an artist?
I think it’s easy to project a lot of other things onto people we see primarily in their moments of action. Like: They must have lots of free time, no PMS, really nutritious homemade meals for dinner every night, compliant children, and no crazy internal voices like the ones that scream a steady stream at us when we try to do something.
But being on the receiving end of this makes me laugh, because I feel like nothing BUT a crazy person, pretty much all the time. The more time and resources I sink into a new project, the more I worry that *this* project will Be The One that causes my demise–failure on a grand, public scale, financial ruin and the crumbling of any trust or hope I still carry. It sounds so dramatic to say it like that, but I literally feel those fears like wild dogs snapping at my heels.
I have to call my friends in the moments when it’s too hard to shake them off alone. I hold these thoughts like a prayer or a mantra: Please let someone be glad I made this. Please let this work out so I learn I really CAN trust myself.
I can see how my early models of work ethic framed things so that I’m not doing “due diligence” if I’m not completely doubting and questioning my own every move, but I’m trying to move away from this old paradigm into a new paradigm, where the angst is optional and that kind of devil’s advocacy doesn’t earn any Brownie points.
At any given time, any number of things can hold us back–external constraints or internal road-blocks. I don’t find it actually all that helpful to get into the nitty-gritty of those details. If we are looking for an excuse not to be brave, we will find one. I think what has served me well is this: when I come up against a mountain in my way, I don’t walk away–I pick up a shovel. I press into those places and I do the whatever it takes to move through them.
If that means learning a new software app, I learn it. If it means seeking the support of a good therapist, I find it. And I chisel away at those road-blocks and constraints one scoop, one motion, one conversation at a time. And I think most of us find that the creative work can seem to almost do itself–such is the ease of that process compared with the brow-beading sweat of moving through whatever mountains might stop us.
Those are the places where courage really comes into the equation for me. I’ve been relieved recently at the realization that I do not have to be brave every minute of the day. If I can manage it just for the 30 seconds it takes to buy the plane ticket, to turn on the camera or to hit the send button, that’s enough. I’m totally free to feel scared shitless for as long before and after those brief moments as I want. That means I don’t really have to be super-human–I can be just as I am. A girl with a CHOIR of internal voices begging her to stop, and a shovel.
I hope you enjoyed this “one question” interview with Jen!
Discover more about Jen and her soulful-meets-artful resources for off-map thinkers and makers at jenleeproductions.com, include apparel, books, course curriculum, audio learning programs and a podcast. She is currently producing and directing her first short documentary: Indie Kindred. You can follow her on Twitter or keep in touch.
And don’t forget– I’m eager to hear your thoughts as the series progresses, so be sure to leave a comment below! Suggestions for other creatives you’d like to see in the series are also welcomed as I’m still on the hunt for 10 more creatives to feature.