The Compassionate Creative Blog

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

“The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention.”-Sharon Salzberg, LovingKindness

Sit down a spell while I tell you about the time I wrote my way out of a truly miserable career in commercial property management...

It was 2007, and a multi-million dollar sale of the 700,000 square foot high rise building I assistant managed was afoot. I, and my theater degree, were put in charge of collecting the tenant estoppels so that the purchase could go through. What is an estoppel you ask? I don’t fucking know. But a Burberry clad real estate broker would constantly call and ask me, “Where are WE with the estoppels?! WE NEED THE ESTOPPELS SHANNA!.” We? You gotta frog in your pocket Burberry Man? I didn’t need their estoppel. I needed to get out of work on time so I could make it to improv rehearsal. HE needed their estoppel so he could get his cut of a $152 million dollar sale. I was making around $46k at the time and couldn’t turn my head because my neck was, as my dad would say, wound tighter than a tick from stress. I would have nightmares where the word 'estoppel' would just be repeated over and over again. I suffered from tension headaches constantly. My doctor prescribed me Valium. I was 25 years old.

How the fuck had I gotten here? Why was I in charge of something so “important” when all I wanted to do at the time was make comedy, get stoned, and french a comedy dude that would treat me like trash and make me cry? I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was supposed to be at the front desk poppin my gum and answering the phone, not begging some tenant contact for a piece of paper so everyone else could get paid chunks of $152 mill. Looking back on it now I realize I had two problems:

1. I was a very capable person.

2. I never said no.

I was a toxic working environment’s WET FUCKING DREAM. Need an event planned? I would do it. Got rid of the building accountant and took 700 years to hire a new one but still need the accounting done? I did it. Accounts payable AND receivable! Did I mention I hate math? It’s true. Biggest Tenant (read most $$$) in the Building upset because there was a “funny smell” on their floor that they thought was the building’s fault but actually ended up being the hazelnut coffee their employee would brew? I put on my smoothest customer service agent voice and handled it. Did I mention I hated people at the time? I did.

And guess what? Nobody ever tried to stop me, pick up the slack, or give me a break. Why would they? It didn’t serve them or the bottom line. So I just kept going until I couldn’t turn my head and the late night anxiety attacks began. It was around this time that I started The Artist’s Way, I still don’t remember who told me about it. I wish I did, I owe them several hundred thank you cards. Inside The Artist’s Way is the concept of Morning Pages. Three pages of unedited unfiltered stream of conscious writing. I took to that shit like a duck to water.

notebooks and journals
Spoiler Alert: The years with the least notebooks were not good.

I put it all down. The anxiety, the overwork, the dread, my shitty relationship with that comedy boy, how I got kicked out of my improv group (more on that in another post ;-) All of it went out of me and onto the pages. The pages were a place I could sift through everything. Where I learned that despite how great my job looked on paper and how fast I was moving up the ladder, I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. That I was doing too much of what I hated and too little of what I loved. And what did I love? The pages pointed me towards that too. I would spend my commute to my panic-inducing workplace writing over and over, “I can do this.” “I am a great writer.” “I can leave this job.” And you know what? I fucking did. It took me two years but in 2009, shortly after I was nominated and won Employee of the Year, in which the only thing I won was a clear plaque thingy and NOTHING else, I slid my notice across my boss’s desk and said: I. Quit. In the middle of the Great Recession. Because, I was leaving Chicago to tour the solo show I had written and produced. A lovely byproduct of completing The Artist’s Way.

Employee of the Year Award
Times were apparently tough, because this was all I got.

I will never forget my last few weeks at that job. By that time I had an office WITH A DOOR no big D. And folks would come and sit across from me at my desk and tell me about the dreams they wished they had pursued. One man broke my heart when he told me he wanted to become a teacher so he could coach football, but now he had a big house with a big mortgage and a wife that would not take kindly to a pay cut. Another coworker looked at me and said, “You’re young. Now is the time to do this.” But I actually think he was wrong. Any time is the time to do this. Waking up to the truth of who you are is available to all of us despite age or status. We all have the capability to come to fully know ourselves. To say no to what we hate and yes to what we love. It doesn’t have to look like quitting your job in the middle of what would become the first of two global financial meltdowns. (Lolz!) It can look like trying glass blowing for the first time. Taking an online script writing course. It can be as simple as to fill three pages every day with your most honest thoughts. To feel seen and known, even if it is just by your own eyes. I learned that the right time to do that is any time you please. And that, dear reader, is the power of putting it down. Take it from me, I was after all, Employee of the Year.

If you would like to journal with me, head on over to my Instagram where I'll be posting daily Pahty Prompts Monday-Friday through June 12, 2020. If you miss a day, don't fret, they're saved in my Highlights under Prompts! Happy writing! -Shanna

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

I know, that’s a bold ass title, but it’s true. Don’t believe me? Walk with me on this journey for a fresh minute...It was the summer of 2017 and I was GOING THROUGH IT. I had just turned 35. And if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of turning 35 and identifying as a woman then let me clue you in on a little something. Turning 35 feels very very hard. My Theory of The Hard 35 is due to science. In obstetrics and gynecology, when you turn 35, you magically cross over into the land of Geriatric Pregnancy. If you get pregnant at 34 apparently you are still a hot young thing with a crispy fresh womb but once the clock strikes midnight on your 34th year, you become GERIATRIC. Which is just silly, but I’ll let those in the medical community fight over the terrible naming of this threshold and I will carry on about why this was challenging for me, a person who actually does not want children.

So why would I give a fuck? Well, because at 35 in this culture, if you don’t have kids, what do you have? I didn’t have a partner, I certainly didn’t have any money, but I did have a boatload of unhealed trauma in the pipeline and a gnarly lack of purpose. In a word, I was: depressed. In fact, I was so sad I found myself crying at the beach, my absolute most favorite place in the world. That’s when I knew I was in BFT (Big Fucking Trouble). So I’m crying at the beach one day and then, and I know how cliche Live Laugh Love this sounds, but I was listening to Oprah’s Supersoul podcast and she had on Deepak Chopra and they were discussing the 21 Day Meditation Challenge they were about to launch or some shit. And for whatever reason, meditating sounded really good to me. I had done it before, many times in fact. I would sometimes even ask my amazing almost became a Buddhist nun therapist to guide me in meditation, but I had never established a daily practice. So I’m drinking my coffee and listening to Oprah and Deepak and I was like: I’m gonna try this. Did I download their app and do the challenge with them? No. That would be too conformist. Instead I woke up early before work and sat on my couch and followed my breath. I don’t even think I timed myself. But I did really really enjoy it. So I set a few reminders on my phone. The first one sounded in the morning before I was awake so when I would roll over and check my phone, it was the first thing I would see. It said, “Meditate.” The second came in the afternoon and asked, “Did you meditate?” And the third one at night, “Did you meditate for real?” And every day I would usually work in a meditation before the second notification. And every day I loved it more and more. I started to feel this deep sense of contentment that seemed to be coming from nowhere. I remember walking to the bus one day and literally laughing out loud because I felt so good, yet I still had “nothing”. Nothing in my external world had changed. I still did not have a partner or any money, I was still 35 and geriatric. The only thing that had changed was me and this tiny little action I took everyday. It. Was. Wild. The 21 days came and went and I kept meditating, I even started timing myself and using an app. I would wake up, go pee, sit on my couch, and watch my breath. And if I didn’t have time to do that I would meditate on the bus on the way to work. I meditated before bed. In bed. On planes, trains. If I could sit on it, I would meditate. Something in me knew not to try for the perfect place or time, but to simply try and get it done. So here I am 1,000 days later. On the cusp of turning 38. *insert Cathy ACK! comic here, but I won’t because of copyright laws* I still do not have a partner. However, I do have a tiny bit more money, a podcast about creativity, a job as a meditation guide for a magazine, and a completely different career helping folks as a creative coach and guide. Something that if you told me five years ago I would be doing, I would have responded with, “What’s that?”

This shift wasn’t magic, but it was magical. Something I didn’t know at the time but now realize was this: My meditation practice was slowing me down and creating space within for something new to come forth. It put me in the position of being the witness of my thoughts, instead of at the mercy of them. It cultivated

a mindfulness that I carried from the couch into my daily life allowing me to see things differently. Which resulted in a series of never before made choices. Choices that gave me a new life. A life that, even at my geriatric age, I am very very proud of.

Woman Meditating
Real Talk: I do not usually put on lipstick to meditate

You can meditate with me live next Tuesday, May 26th at 12:00 pm central on Cancer Wellness’s Instagram page. Find my recorded meditations for them on their website You can also find my Burnout Meditation and follow me on the Insight Timer app here!