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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Knowing When it’s Time to Speak Out and Speak Up


When is it your turn to speak out and speak up? 

Now. 

If not now, then when? It’s time to take back your power. No longer is it necessary to sit back and wait for “your turn.” The democratization of the internet, the advent of high(ish) speed ground and air transportation, and the accessibility of self-education have put us in a fascinating and liberating time in human history. 

No longer is it necessary to wait to be picked—you can pick yourself.

Your story matters. Your point of view is important. Your idea could change the world. 

It will never be the perfect time to research, to take risk, to launch. 


But what happens if you do? Or what happens if you don’t?

——
Speaking of stories and speaking out... the new The i'Mpossible Project book features fifty authors who are speaking out with their stories, using their harrowing experiences to help others. Below is one of our fifty stories...



The Bully in Me
Matthew Shaffer
I
 was nine years old the first time I entered a dance studio. The intoxicating smells of ambition, sweat, and leather Capezio jazz oxfords permeated the hardwood floors. (It was the first time in my life that a scent other than food got me excited!)

I stood on the threshold between the carpeted waiting room and the dance floor, which was filled with stunning dancers. Two at a time, they soared through the air with relentless passion. I looked back at my mom and dad and uttered the words that my father had been dying to hear from his only son for soccer, baseball, football or any other sport ending in “ball”: “Sign me up!” Without hesitation, my parents enrolled me in Beginning Teen Jazz, and my journey began.

During the first three years of dance, most of my grade school friends had no idea that I spent every Thursday night perfecting my #JazzHands with a room full of girls. By the time I reached middle school, I could no longer hide my enthusiasm. It was not a hobby. I was not “collecting” dance.
Dance was much more significant to me than a sport. I watched my friends play sports, and most of them hated it. I LOVED to dance. I was fully committed to becoming a professional dancer, and I wasn’t concerned with anyone else’s judgment. Or so I thought.

Everyone who survived junior high knows how devastatingly cruel Tweenagers can be. Nowadays, we use the term bullying––but growing up, it was just my life. At first, the negative comments and painful attacks on my character just stung. I’d seen Can’t Buy Me Love, so I was prepared for the usual teenage taunting. However, as I continued to pursue dance, the “jokes” turned into torment.
Let me set the stage: I was freakishly short for my age and very round. I wore dress pants from the Macy’s “husky” department with vintage, button-down dress shirts from my grandpa’s closet. To make matters worse, I had developed a serious case of acne from all of the stress. (Imagine a fabulously styled Mr. Potato Head with a pepperoni pizza face.) So yeah, that was fun.

Several kids spent every lunch period harassing me to the point where I could no longer eat in the cafeteria. Others would follow me between classes shouting “Butterball,” “Fatty,” “Fag,” and other hateful slurs.

I ignored the situation until rumors wound their way through the nasty schoolyard grapevine and into my little sister’s ears. She was so devastated by those evil words that I actually considered quitting dance. I begged her not to tell my parents, because I was embarrassed that I was being made fun of. I spent every night crying myself to sleep, praying that the kids would stop tormenting me so that I could keep doing what I loved.

The bullying continued until one day in seventh grade, when the anger and rage boiling inside motivated me to stand up and roar back. (Imagine a clip from When Animals Attack on the Discovery Channel.) I was the lone hyena attacking the lions to shreds. Needless to say, from then on, kids avoided me the way an “A-List” actress avoids carbs.

Once I got to high school, I discovered that the kids who harassed me saw something in me that terrified them. They realized I was a confident person working toward a remarkable goal. I wasn’t afraid to stand out or be different, and they couldn’t control that.

After graduation, I was fully prepared for my life as a sassy, slightly short-statured entertainer with a plenty of personality. Unfortunately, I had not yet realized that the biggest bully I was ever going to encounter was me.

As I set off on my professional career, I convinced myself that the only way I was going to be successful as an actor was if I hid the fact that I was gay. Let’s be honest. It’s not like Hollywood was embracing “out” actors at the time, and unless you had a body like Matt Bomer or the nerd appeal of Zachary Quinto, Tinseltown isn’t exactly celebrating openly gay men in leading roles even now. 
I spent my early twenties in the closet, dating girls and acting like a frat brother at every audition. Aside from a small group of friends, with whom I was completely open, I fought every natural instinct to be funny, authentic, or fabulous because of my fear of being discovered. I carefully crafted the way I talked, dressed, and socialized. I bullied myself into believing that who I am wasn’t good enough.

When I turned thirty, my grandpa–who was an incredibly supportive figure in my life–told me, just before he passed away, that he was so proud of me for following my dream. Suddenly, it dawned on me that, unlike my seventh-grade self, I had become a victim. I’d spent an entire decade of my adult life pretending to be someone else and it hadn’t brought me any closer to my goals.

Finally, I’d reached a point where I was tired of running from myself. I decided that living a truthful life (ironic for an actor) was more important than being famous. Once I gave myself permission to love myself entirely, a universe of unexplored creativity and opportunities emerged.

My partner and I began writing and producing our own digital short sketches, which attracted a huge online fan base. I came out in a national magazine, I wrote and published a book, and I started working as an actor in areas that are perfectly suited to my talents.


More importantly, now I can openly share my story and create work that is grounded in issues and subjects that are relevant to me, hopefully provoking someone else to conquer adversity and triumph on their journey.
***
The i’Mpossible Project: Reengaging With Life, Creating a New You is now available for pre-order at www.iampossibleproject.com/one. 50 authors. 50 inspirational stories of overcoming tremendous obstacles. 

The first 200 people to pre-order will get a “thank you” in the front of the book, and a free copy of the book The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah.