[Editor’s note: Today, Melissa Suzuno, Wristband #69, joins Andrew Stillman, Sonia Thompson, and Peter Morneault in contributing a unique guest post here at Primility. Melissa’s joy, exuberance, and humility leap off the page. Enjoy.]
I clearly don’t belong here.
I’m not saying that because I’m an American woman in the middle of Tokyo, which on the surface is a pretty shockingly homogeneous city of 12 million Japanese. (If you want the whole back story on why I was in Japan in the first place, you can find that here.)
But no, I don’t belong in this exact place where I’m standing, which happens to be a concrete patch at the entrance to Yoyogi Park, with a group of hula hoopers.
If you’ve ever had that sinking feeling that you were an impostor — whether you were faking your way in a college class, a board meeting, or a group of funky circus performers, the feeling is remarkably similar — let me pause and say that you’re not alone.
We’re all susceptible to feelings of self-doubt.
But some of us are also lucky enough to find someone who helps guide us through those crises of confidence so we can emerge on the other side.
The lessons I’m about to share show how one amazing mentor taught me how to shake some of my self-defeating behaviors. And if you follow along, my hope is that they’ll help you to do the same.
I feel like a total impostor right now …
Let’s start with names. My companions all have fancy stage monikers like Deanne Love, Mikori, and Tink. I’m just plain, old “Melissa.”
Then there’s their clothing. Deanne, for example, is wearing sparkly hot pink leopard print leggings, multi-colored Converse, and a T-shirt that proclaims “I LOVE ME” in rhinestones. Her shock of platinum hair is spiked up like a fin, and every once in a while a glint of glitter on her cheek, forehead, or shoulder catches the light and shimmers.
In case you’re wondering, she did not just come from a performance. This is how she dresses … Every. Single. Day.
And what about me? I’m wearing black yoga pants and a solid purple tank top. (I surreptitiously changed into this unassuming getup in my office bathroom at my very normal textbook-writing job, praying that no one would see me before I slipped out into the night.)
Oh, and then there’s the skills.
Everyone here knows so many hoop tricks they could literally spin circles around me. I’m an intermediate hooper at best. My biggest bragging right comes from the fact that I can dance and hoop at the same time. That’s hardly the same as rotating one hoop from every limb, creating mandalas with multiple hoops and then coaxing them onto my body, or doing a headstand and spinning a hoop from my foot at the same time.
But every time one of these thoughts comes to my mind, I try my best to ignore it. I’ve got serious work to do, and I can’t let negativity and self-doubt prevent me from contributing. Also, there are a lot of hoops flying around — one moment of spacing out and I run the very serious risk of getting clocked in the face with one.
Our mission, should we choose to accept it
As always, Deanne Love is the ringleader, and she takes a moment to tell us why she’s gathered us here tonight. She has visions for us, and they’re big.
She is creating a HOOPLOVERS hoop troupe, and each of us will have a place in it if we’d like. We’ll gather regularly to hone our skills and practice routines. Anytime a gig comes up, we’ll be her go-to gals.
As if all that wasn’t mind-blowing enough, we turn our attention to tonight’s main task. It’s a daunting challenge, though you might not guess it from the cutesy name: twins. Basically, we’re exploring a range of the tricks you can do when you use two hoops simultaneously.
Until this point, the closest I’ve gotten is rotating two hoops around my waist at once. So I stand there stunned for a moment when Deanne shows us one “basic” trick we should master: helicoptering both hoops above our head, parallel to the ground, continuously passing them back and forth between our hands. My brain can barely process what I’m seeing, let alone tell my body how to do it.
Free your mind and the rest will follow
“It’s easy,” Deanne says. “Just stop thinking.”
This is not the first lesson that Deanne has given me, and it’s also not the last, but it should go down in the books one of my favorites.
In the time that we’ve known each other, Deanne has taught me over and over again that not all mentors wear power suits and carry briefcases. As I mentioned earlier, mine happens to be wearing sparkly patterned stretch pants and hauling around heaps of hula hoops in every hue imaginable.
It’s true that my mentor doesn’t look like the stereotypical image of wisdom and worldliness, but that doesn’t mean her lessons are any less valuable.
My own personal Mr. Miyagi
How did I get hooked up with this unconventional mentor in the first place?
I was working for a magazine that published a feature on female bloggers in Japan. One of the women mentioned in the article was Deanne Love, who at the time blogged over at sushi zume. After doing some fact checking, I realized that I loved her colorful photos and accounts of her adventures in the art and design world of Tokyo. I became a regular reader and followed with interest when Deanne took up the new hobby of hula hooping. Looking at her photos and videos, I’d often think “Everything she’s doing is so cool, but I could never do that.”
Then, one fateful day, my friends and I had plans to meet up in Yoyogi Park (a huge green expanse wedged between the urban centers of Shibuya and Harajuku and the same location as our evening practice session), where Deanne happened to be hosting a hoop jam.
What’s a hoop jam, you ask? It’s a free gathering where the organizer brings a bunch of hula hoops and some speakers and encourages people to dance and try hooping. Even though I could barely keep the hoop going around my waist for more than a few rotations, I had so much fun that I didn’t want to give up. Deanne patiently coached me with some techniques and promised that she’d be offering official classes soon.
I began taking classes and Deanne and I became friends. She invited me to practice, play, and even perform with her at several venues throughout Tokyo. It wasn’t until we both moved away (I returned to the U.S. and she to her native Australia) that I realized how much of a mentor and inspiration she’d been. Here are just a few of the lessons she taught me:
1. You can write your own story
There were many times when Deanne pushed me to do things I didn’t think I could do — corkscrew a hula hoop from my waist to my hand, perform in front of thousands of people, wear hot pants.
Once, we had a performance coming up where we were going to be dancing to Rihanna’s “So Hard.” Deanne created a whole storyboard for the choreography and costumes (heavily influenced by Ri-Ri, of course), and when she told me that we’d be wearing teeny tiny cutoffs, feather-enhanced bras, and not much else, I felt myself blush at the mere thought of wearing so little in front of so many people.
I tried to tell her that I couldn’t do it, no, I wouldn’t do it. I wasn’t comfortable and I would look awful. But every time I tried to say no or explain that I had never had enough confidence to dress that way, she stopped me and said, “Hey, you’re a writer. Write your own story.”
She had a good point.
If we continue to tell ourselves the stories we’ve always told, how can we expect to change? It might seem like changing your wording from “I can’t do that” to “I can’t do that … yet” wouldn’t make a big difference, but it absolutely can. Learning to reconsider your blocks as challenges doesn’t only apply in the world of hula hooping, but in your professional life, your personal life, and anywhere else you choose to apply it.
As someone who wrote all day long (even if the majority of the writing I was doing was dialogues and practice activities for students of English), I had a huge advantage in this game. I had just never considered it that way before.
And you know what? I did wear those booty shorts. And when I saw photos of us afterwards, I had to admit that we (and yes, I included myself in that pronoun) looked … good.
Does that mean that I’m always comfortable with myself and now wear hot pants on a daily basis? Absolutely not. But the entire experience did teach me to question things that I “know” about myself.
2. Dream bigger
Hooping began as a hobby for Deanne, but she soon quit her day job as an elementary school teacher to pursue a career as a full-time hula hoop instructor and performer.
Instead of treating this as a fun and frivolous activity to indulge in occasionally, Deanne transformed her entire life to revolve around hooping. She flew to Australia to learn everything about running a hoop business from her mentor, Bunny Hoop Star, began filming videos of herself and other Tokyo hoopers to show the world what we were up to, and sought out countless opportunities to teach and perform, both in Japan and around the world.
She didn’t stop there, though.
Since moving back to Australia, she’s launched an entire online business so people can download and take Skype lessons from her anywhere in the world. She’s grown her social media presence to tens of thousands of followers, and she has fans across the globe. She’s even developed the Hoop Love Coaching teacher training so that others can become instructors like her.
In the years that I’ve known her (and definitely pre-dating Pinterest), Deanne has freely discussed her practice of creating vision boards. She’s had them for everything from her circus-themed wedding and costume ideas to her dream apartment. Even though she knew she couldn’t afford that giant circus tent or the airy, high-ceilinged loft in one of the most expensive cities in the world, Deanne was never afraid to unabashedly dream about what she wanted.
From watching Deanne, I’ve learned that you don’t need to simply accept life as it appears to you right now, or make goals that are just tiny improvements on your current situation. Taking the time to dream up the most elaborate, delicious life you can imagine — and really, truly visualize what that would look like — is the first step toward actually making it happen.
3. There’s nothing wrong with eating chocolate every day
Despite all the physical activity in her life and a huge focus on healthy eating, Deanne doesn’t let a day go by without eating chocolate. She once released this video to declare her love for chocolate (and offer a workout to help burn off some extra calories).
Deanne’s unapologetic obsession with chocolate is a perfect lesson in primility — it’s a reminder not to take yourself too seriously, and that there’s nothing wrong with the occasional (or daily) indulgence, provided that it’s balanced out with overall healthy behavior.
4. Make it a point to send out love
Deanne is in love with love.
Not only did she make it part of her stage name and have several “love hearts” tattooed on her wrists, but she incorporates it into her marketing materials — instead of signing up for “newsletters,” she asks fans and visitors to sign up for “love letters.”
And when we lived in the same city, she would always send me a little text after we hung out to say how much fun she had and how she was looking forward to meeting up again soon. I appreciated the gesture in and of itself, but it was especially meaningful because this person I admired so much was thanking me for my time.
I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to connect with such a powerful pro at primility, and I strive to apply the lessons she taught me again and again.
Have the pride to write the story you want for yourself, and to find a way to live it — even, or maybe especially — if it sounds absolutely bonkers.
Have the humility to love relentlessly, coupled with the ability to radiate that love to the people around you and beyond.
And don’t be so stingy that you deny yourself one of life’s little pleasures, like the biggest piece of chocolate you can get your hands on.
Coming full circle
Back in Yoyogi Park, my heart is racing and I’m wondering if I’m about to crush my fingers, smash myself in the face, or perhaps manage to do one right after the other.
I watch Deanne.
I try to think about centrifugal force, then get confused about whether that’s even the right term for what’s going on.
I take a deep breath and clear my mind.
I honestly manage to stop thinking for a few seconds. I raise the hoops above my head and start to spin them. There’s no mirror so I can’t see myself, but I’m pretty sure that I’m helicoptering both hoops above my head as they remain parallel to the ground. Huh. I look at Deanne’s face and her smile shows me that I’m actually doing it.
I can’t help but smile back.
Just stop thinking.
Is it really that easy?