She Dared: Interview Series – Anna Kellerman

Challenging Ideas, How Dare She, Interview Series, Redefining Success, The Power Of Women

What was the moment you realised you could dare?

For people who know me, it’s probably hard for them to believe I was a very shy child with terrible separation anxiety. My parents divorced when I was 3 years old, and those early childhood years were challenging.

It used to really bother me that I was so shy. I lacked confidence speaking in front of people, so I found other ways to make myself known. I threw myself into my artwork and escaped into the creative process. I received a lot of positive attention because I could draw really well from life and come up with interesting 3D creative concepts.

I also could be very persuasive, given the right incentive.

I was about nine-years old the first time I can remember proving my sheer determination. There was a chocolate drive at school and I became obsessed with raising the most money to make the biggest difference. I knocked on strangers’ doors well after dusk. It was absolutely crazy and would never happen now. Needless to say, I remember raising well over one hundred dollars and I was so proud of myself.

With this focus on making a difference to others I didn’t feel shy; on the contrary, I came alive. And this still drives me today.

Were you always daring? Or born this way?

I’ve definitely always been curious and adventurous despite being terribly shy. I imagine it’s a combination of my genetics and character mixed with environmental factors. I was brought up in a very dysfunctional and disorganised household, so I had to find ways to feel good about myself or I’d get lost in the fray.

I know I have this strength deep inside and have been very driven from a young age. I used to watch my mother struggle. She was a single mother of four children, with no profession or organisational skills. It seemed she always presented as a victim, and I didn’t want this for myself. Everything I did was driven by being the opposite of that situation.

I was determined from a very young age not to be powerless, so I learnt how to take action, feel empowered and make money. I knew my mother had no extra cash to give me pocket money, although every now and then she would give me a 50 cent coin. This just didn’t feel right to take for no reason, or just because “all the other kids got one dollar”.

When I was 12 years old I secured my first after school job three days a week in the local hot chicken and chips takeaway shop, owned by a lovely Greek family. I said I was 14 because that was the legal age you could start working.

I wanted to be able to buy clothes and extra things the other kids seemed to be given by their parents, without making my mother feel guilty.

So, I had to swallow my extreme shyness and embarrassment for this job because all the kids from my school would come in for hot chips, potato scallops and drinks. I would have to serve them. It was very challenging, but I stayed there for a few years.

I ended up earning around $20 – $25 per week and felt the beginning of real independence, and an appreciation for hard work. Having my own money also led me down a very adventurous and relatively wild adolescence sneaking out to nightclubs, dancing all night with transsexuals, and coming home at dawn. It was all very daring and exciting, but I also have innate common sense and miraculously never got into any danger.

What did it feel like the first time you stood in that power?

I was 10 years old, and in grade 6 of primary school. I was meant to give a talk about pets. I loved cats and dogs so thought it would be easy. But being so shy and having done zero preparation, I seriously died on stage. Everyone was just looking at me with their mouths open, kind of like WTF. I felt humiliated and as if I was sinking into the carpet. I never wanted to experience that again.

So, for the next talk I came very prepared. It was on the five food groups we all got taught in the 1970s and ‘80s. I brought in examples of all the different food groups and made it entertaining, fun and funny. I noticed people were really engaged and the teacher gave me high praise for making such an effort after the last fiasco.

To this day I know if I have done my research and preparation everything will be all right on the night. I now present at least twice a month in public. I rarely get stressed or anxious because I actually have the capacity to be fully present to enjoy the experience. If I ever get a hint of nerves, I just visualise that pet talk and sinking into the carpet, and this quickly jolts me out of my funk. Not going back there again!

What is the difference between brave and fearless?

Being brave is fighting your own fears and having the courage to push past these anxious feelings to do the thing that appears scary. It really is conquering fears in spite of danger, physical handicaps or psychological trauma.

Being fearless is either sheer craziness or total Zen, or perhaps a combination. You just bypass any barriers and go for it. I think of extreme sports or people who skateboard down steep hills in traffic for the adrenaline kick. There’s absolutely no room for error, yet they seem to be in a blissed-out state.

Fearlessness can also be a state of mind you reach after overcoming many obstacles, until it becomes more like second nature.

It can also be a state of mind and how you choose to deal with adversity when it’s thrown your way. When my daughter was born we both nearly died. It was a very dramatic life-threatening situation. To get well I had to just face everything with a fearless attitude, to be strong for my little baby. This expression “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” is very true. Once we survive the tragedies and traumas that life throws our way you get used to letting go and not worrying so much about the things that previously weighed us down.

How much practice does it take to keep yourself daring?

Haha, it doesn’t take much for me to be spontaneous or try something new. I have learnt over time that the only way to really grow is to challenge myself with new out of my comfort zone experiences.

I am open to new opportunities and experiences, but I have an agreement with myself, by way of valuing my own time. If I am away from my daughter, then I need to make it worth my while. I dare myself to learn at least one new thing or meet at least one interesting person, and I always do.

Do you dare others, and if so, how?

When I was younger, in my late teens and 20s, I would go on crazy adventures with friends. I travelled to many places, was very spontaneous, and up for most things. I guess this was infectious and I would have adventures with all sorts of people and open up their world and perspective on things.

I still have this expansive world view, in that I imagine anything is possible if you are given the chance. Perhaps it’s semantics but I wouldn’t say I dare as much as persuasively encourage people to try things outside their comfort zone, such as sharing their story in front of a roomful of people! I think the common denominator is that I see the strengths in people so they can connect with their core identity and learn to believe in themselves. I really value in experiential transformation – the art of doing can be a very powerful catalyst for change.

Do you have a personal dragon you have slayed?

Yes, anxiety.

I didn’t actually realise I had it until I went to therapy in my 20s. I really started to understand it in my 30s, which then led me to manage it. Now I feel so in tune with myself that if I feel the first sign of panic or anxiety I can manage it within 30 seconds through some simple techniques. Or I take preventative measures before any form of anxiety can take over and sabotage me.

Understanding anxiety became my passion, and still is. I think our ability to manage it or not has a big impact on our quality of life. It’s part of being human, so why not accept it and become friends.

You also might have picked up on a common thread with my story. When I was younger I used to agonise over speaking in public. Now I love it, it’s like second nature. It seems incongruous to my younger self, but my next daring is to move beyond my comfort zone and start speaking on a bigger stage. This would be a whole new ball game, but a challenge I am prepared to give a whirl.

If you were to talk to the person you were before you were dared, what words of wisdom would you have?

Nothing so trite as “Don’t worry, everything will be ok”, because in those moments when you are freaking out and the anxiety is rushing through your veins, it genuinely feels scary.

Some things you just can’t wing, and other things you can.

If you are putting yourself into a professional situation, then putting in the work beforehand always pays off. Turning up unprepared is a recipe for disaster. So, I would recommend focusing on planning so you can be proactive, not reactive. If you know your stuff it will get easier over time, until its becomes second nature.

Always go with your gut instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Maintain good boundaries and learn to say no.

For self-preservation, don’t feel guilty for putting your needs first. The commonly-cited “oxygen mask on a plane” scenario is true of life on the ground. There is no need to overly sacrifice and compromise for other people’s demands if they take without giving back to you.

There’s existing, and then there’s living. Engage in the world if you want to life a rich and full life. Nothing comes to you if you sit and wait, or ignore things when they get too hard. When shit hits the fan, then that presents a great opportunity for growth. Allow yourself to feel the pain of change, then embrace that MOFO with everything you’ve got.

Is there a process you go through to tap into your daring self?

Not really because I do lots of things I enjoy, which keeps me stimulated and fulfilled. With my work I always create a one- or two-year plan with big goals. This keeps me on track with plenty of daring opportunities.

But I would say it’s important not to get complacent, even the good times takes focus. I try to maintain awareness so when things start to lose their spark, become strained, dull, or stressful I’ll know it’s time to add some more joy and adventure. Then, anything could happen…

Anna is a creative nurturer, super-connector and lateral thinker. She is passionate about art, kids, sharing and connecting. She is a trained art educator, with a Bachelor of Art Education, majoring in Educational Psychology, and a registered art therapist with a Masters in Art Therapy. She has a published thesis about the benefits of working with clay and children with anxiety disorders. Over the past 15 years she has worked with kids and teens with a range of emotional and behavioural problems, including children from domestic violence backgrounds. She currently works as a clinical art therapist at the Sydney Anxiety Clinic.
In 2011 Anna launched her first online art business, ArtBuds, selling contemporary art for kids. She learnt a lot about the real challenges and joys of entrepreneurship from this experience, and brings this learning to her latest venture Mama Creatives, a thriving online and offline community for creative mothers.

Why are we doing this thing? Because there’s enough noise in the world telling women what we ‘should’ be doing.

We should parent more consciously, but not be helicopter parents. We should take care of our bodies, but not be vain. We should make boys pay, but demand equal rights. We should dress appropriately, but also be confident in our skin, wear what we want, but not be provocative, oh and please feel comfortable in the world’s skimpiest school bathers but then wear your jeans to the formal because last year the boys looked up the girls’ skirts and so you’ll have to be the ones to modify your behaviour. Yeah. No. 

We are a mother and daughter writing team who launched a platform for women 14 –  104. Women who need to read stories of daring. Women who need to write them.

How Dare She relies on donations to keep us ticking along. Help us pay for all those little things that keep a website running, and you’ll be rewarded with inspiring stories, a kickass community, and warm fuzzies. ♥

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