Never Waste a Good Trigger


Years ago when I started teaching I became aware that, for me, it was more comfortable to lead strangers or people I barely knew. I felt it was easier to try out new things and to be vulnerable in front of them; I had less fear about their possible judgement.

I also heard stories and observed that some people are naturally most comfortable in the leadership position when they have people they love, know well, or professionally respect, in the room with them. To them, the familiar presence felt like pillars of support and that leading a room full of strangers would be terrifying. 

WOW! That was a foreign thing to me. No part of me could imagine what that was like.
Perhaps this was an introverted thing. Certainly there was some fear of being judged, or being seen as unskilled or unknowledgeable.

I’m happy to report that I’ve come a long way. I have felt the pillars of support that familiar faces, loved ones or colleagues in my classes can provide.

Marjorie Simon’s words “I don’t know” opened the door for me to want to teach. Challenging myself to dive into and through fears and to never waste a good trigger has kept it a fascinating arena to partake. 

So what might this look like?

When I was teaching last winter at RISD there was one moment that stood out above the rest, showing me that there was still growth for me to do in being comfortable in a leadership role, visible to those I know. 

One afternoon I was in the corner of the room with a student, helping her with her riveted cuff bracelet, when I look up and three women I knew professionally were right there waving a hello. (These were women that’d been in my jewelry network in various ways for years, women whom in typical circumstances I’d have given a hug hello and asked how things were going) .

I was like a deer in the headlights. What do I do in this situation?

They answered for me, telling me to keep on working with the student, and moved on. 

In those few seconds of time that I was aware of their presence, my entire physiology shifted. My heart was racing. I got hot. My mind fired so many words my way in a seemingly endless run on of thoughts and questions:

How long had they been in the classroom? What are the students up to? They’re all over the place. All the challenges of this riveting project are showing up their desks and it’s because of how I taught them.  I should’ve taught them differently. I should’ve know better…and am therefore unqualified. I’m not an ‘academic.’ I don’t belong here….and on and on and on.

That day I realized that there was more for me to work on. I’ve come a long way, yet still prefer to know when it is that I’m going to be ‘exposed’ in front of those who I know. (To be fair, I knew they were in town to observe, meet students and faculty and tour the department, I’d just forgotten.)

After class I was mentally exhausted, my body felt drained. 

In that kind of moment it’s easy for me to go be by myself, quiet, in my head, down and out brewing, not letting go, my ashamed self not wanting to tell the experience to anyone. 

Fortunately I forced myself to go to a yoga class. There was a dear friend from my college RISD days there in the room. After class she asked how my day was and I decided to share truthfully. The experience that afternoon was a definite trigger for me, but that evening I was reminded that sharing it diminished its power. Sharing it here continues that process. It all feels like a healthy and brave thing to do.

A practice for never wasting a good trigger:

  • Catch that you were triggered

  • Start breathing deeply - this helps reset. 

  • Activate your feet — notice them on the ground, even lift and spread toes slightly.

  • Start an inquiry. Hunt the trigger. What can you learn from it?

What’s a trigger for you? How do you navigate it? Leave your comments or questions below. I’d love to hear!