Amy Oestreicher thought she had her life all figured out. Ever since she was young, she felt she was born to perform. She was all set to go to college for musical theater when medical complications derailed everything.

During her senior year of high school Amy started having stomach pains. When she went into surgery to fix it, her stomach shot out of her body and she went into a coma for months. She spent years and many surgeries in hospitals trying to reach some semblance of normalcy.

During this trying time, Amy turned to creativity to help keep her busy. She started painting and she even developed her own one person play based on all of her troubles and overcoming adversity.

With one play in the books, and another on the way, Amy is the prime example of what it means to persevere.

In this episode, Amy talks about being a detourist, being more capable than we think we are, and how our creativity benefits from taking small risks.

Here are three things you can learn from Amy:

Become a Detourist

As we go through life, we often face obstacles that push us past our comfort zones. We face obstacles that scare us. Amy believes we need to force ourselves to take risks, to push past the comfortable. “Unfortunately I think we all get something that pushes us sooner or later but obviously, to prepare ourselves, I think we have to look for the scary… We have to take the risk. We have to go inside and ask that question… ‘If I could not fail, I would do this.'”

Amy believes we need to follow our curiosity. We need to stop feeling so comfortable and safe. We need to embrace the risk even in the face of the unknown. “My TEDx talk was about being a detourist, and for me, a detourist is someone who at least shows up and has this curiosity. I think that’s the best thing we can do with anything in life even if life seems settled and okay. Be curious like what if, ‘What if I went in this alternate direction?’… The truth is, it’s not so hard for adversity to find us but I think sometimes we do feel comfortable and safe. We do have to really go inside and ask ourselves ‘What is a risk I can take in this moment?’ And the truth is if it’s not, even if you’re not in a comfortable place, I say start with a gratitude list. That’s what I tell anyone.”

Being a detourist requires knowing yourself. And one of the best ways to get to know yourself is by creating a gratitude list. Your gratitude list will reveal what’s important to you, even if it scares you. “Those gratitude items on my list… were actually my values. And the more I did those lists, the more I realized what was important to me. So the reason I think anyone should start with that is, you’ll realize what’s really important to you and what you need to go for, even if you’ve been scared of it.”

We Are More Capable Than We Think

One of the things that you might realize over time is that we have the capacity to do great things. Even if you don’t know exactly what you are doing, you can create beautiful results. That’s exactly what Amy did when she got back into acting after all her surgeries. “It’s fake it til you make it. I feel like, just by acting, I was the actress back at work with the director. I felt like my mind was in such a better place.”

Don’t let your lack of experience prevent you from doing something you believe in. With the fake it til you make it attitude and the willingness to embark on new adventures you can make the impossible come true. “The truth is, I booked a theater in New York when I still had tubes and bags on me and I had never even touched professional theater after the hospital. So it was a big risk and it was an investment. So I think we were all very nervous cause I had never done anything like this in my sick or healthy life.”

Amy did not let her lack of professional experience dissuade her. She did not let the financial risk or her own nervousness get in the way. She went after what she wanted, regardless of the obstacles she faced.

That is why we sometimes need to force ourselves into uncomfortable situations. We need to push ourselves to the limits to see what we are truly capable of. “Sometimes you need to light a fire under you to get yourself in gear. You know why I don’t ever feel like a victim is because I think we are always more capable than I think we are or than other people perceive us as. And sometimes it takes saying ‘You know what, I’m going to fail,’ to see that we don’t fail.”

How Our Creativity Benefits from Taking Small Risks

We often believe risk is a huge commitment or step in our lives that will change our whole perspective on the world, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Even the smallest risks can take you in the right direction. “I like to ask myself ‘What is the smallest micro-movement I could take? If I were an amoeba… what is the tiniest thing I could do?”

That’s because risks aren’t an all or nothing proposition. Risks lie on a spectrum. You don’t have to quit your job to take a risk. Risk can be almost anything. “Risk is not an all or nothing thing. There are a spectrum of risks we can take. It doesn’t have to be quit my job and become a performance artist. It could be I’m going to make myself sit and write that opening paragraph I’ve been putting off… and I think that’s what makes it a little bit easier to start with. Not I’m going to paint a canvas. I’m going to take a crayon and draw a stick figure. So, there’s no excuse.”

One important lesson we can learn about creativity and risk can be learned from kids. Kids aren’t worried about embarrassing themselves or making mistakes. They embrace it in the name of creativity. “Creativity can feel really superfluous, you know, like why I have this to do or that to do. But kids own it. You see that it’s a priority to them.”

If we just allow ourselves to take risks and look at the world from a child’s mind, we can slowly create a world where risk isn’t such a big deal.

Shownotes

  • about Amy
    • grew up as a musical theater nerd
      • felt she was born to perform
    • was driven at a young age
    • was working with voice teacher who abused her
      • repressed memories of the incidents
      • couldn’t take it physically anymore
      • thought there was something wrong with her
    • told her mother during her senior year
      • 2 weeks later stomach started hurting
      • blood clot developed
      • surgeons at ER cut her open and her stomach flew out of her body from the pressure
      • was in a coma for months
    • woke up with nurses her knew her and she had no idea what happened
    • didn’t know how to act like a patient
    • performing is how she made a connection to the world
    • her biggest fear was not being relevant
    • it filled her with a drive
    • as soon as she learned to walk again, she wouldn’t go back to the bed
    • family made her feel like she was before
    • months later, she was discharged from the hospital but she didn’t have a stomach
      • half in/half out way to live
      • had no game plan
      • all she had was creativity
    • doesn’t know what she would have done without creativity
      • wrote stories about mythology and learned about Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey
        • thought of herself as a warrior
        • created things around the idea of being a hero
    • was supposed to have her last surgery after 13 others
      • didn’t end right
      • doctors didn’t have an answer to what went wrong
      • was in the worst shape ever
      • her mother bought things to cheer Amy up
      • brought art kits to get her to do things
    • picking up a paint brush for the first time at Yale hospital
      • felt something spiritual
      • decided to put everything into the paint brush and painting
      • big blue tear painting – became signature painting
        • people see happiness in it even though she created it in a time of despair
    • created 70 canvases
      • had a new voice and second wind
      • put on a solo art show when she left the hospital
    • took thousands of journal entries and turned them into songs
      • transformed into one woman show
      • never talked about it before
      • took a big leap by bringing it to stage and talking about it
      • credits it for her coming into the world

4:43 “I have this drive that like, I don’t care what I’m dealing with, I’m going to find ways to at least feel as passionate as I was before.”

6:42 “Creativity was, I don’t know what I would have done without it because… It was a way to re-frame my narrative. I felt like I had control in a situation where there was no control, and for me creativity was through writing.”

11:03 “That really showed me the transformative power of art. We can just create it at such terrible times because we’re with those feelings, they can be tranformed on a canvas.”

11:39 “Why I call it the beautiful detour, I mean I would never have discovered art, and it really came at the right time where it was too painful to put into words. I needed some way to express myself without having to speak it because I didn’t really have the voice. Why art was an amazing transition step for me too is that it provided me with the courage to eventually find the words.”

13:10 “That’s really what I credit to initiating my full coming back into the world as a person because I realized that even though what I’d been through, and my story was a little out there at the extreme, the emotions that I feel, the pain, the frustration, the anger, those are things that we all feel. And actually telling this story made me feel normal for the first time, and I actually felt I had permission to kinda join back in to the human race.”

15:28 “For me at least the comfort in any uncertainty is that I’ll always have some way to transform it because I think it’s our job is just to make it from one uncertainty to the next until it becomes something better… creativity is all my life, basically.”

  • musical theater in her life
    • didn’t know what she would do other than theater
    • got in musical theater at University of Michigan before her medical complications
    • finishing up her degree from another university now
    • created, directed, and wrote musicals from an early age
    • theater was a world she could live in
    • other creative things felt compressed
    • gave herself warrior traits
    • instinctively built a world for herself

19:56 I’ve turned my musical about being grateful into a mental health program that I’m touring, where I’m talking about how we’re all capable of finding skills for resilience. And I created that program from my own experience and also based on all the research I did, and it’s been so fascinating for me to kinda read about what I did intuitively… had been researched and proven to spawn on post traumatic growth.

20:22 And for me that just shows that it’s amazing what anyone is capable of when they’re really pushed. That we’re not always pushed. And that can seem like a good thing but I see  that it’s really been abrupt in my life.”

  • pushing people out of their comfort zones to cause growth
    • being a detourist
      • shows up with a sense of curiosity
    • kept gratitude list during her surgeries
      • forced herself to think of things

21:06 “Unfortunately I think we all get something that pushes us sooner or later but obviously, to prepare ourselves, I think we have to look for the scary… We have to take the risk. We have to go inside and ask that question… ‘If I could not fail, I would do this.'”

21:46 “My TEDx talk was about being a detourist, and for me, a detourist is someone who at least shows up and has this curiosity.  I think that’s the best thing we can do with anything in life even if life seems settled and okay. Be curious like what if, ‘What if I went in this alternate direction?’… The truth is, it’s not so hard for adversity to find us but I think sometimes we do feel comfortable and safe. We do have to really go inside and ask ourselves ‘What is a risk I can take in this moment?’ And the truth is if it’s not, even if you’re not in a comfortable place, I say start with a gratitude list. That’s what I tell anyone.”

22:57 “Those gratitude items on my list… were actually my values. And the more I did those lists, the more I realized what was important to me. So the reason I think anyone should start with that is, you’ll realize what’s really important to you and what you need to go for, even if you’ve been scared of it.”

  • her value list
    • family – doesn’t know what she would have done without her family
      • was in the hospital from 18-22
      • never spent one night in the hospital by herself
      • spending nights in her room alone
    • creativity
    • nature
      • obsessed with trees and nature
      • seeing the world around her gives her perspective

25:08 “I realized I couldn’t heal until I was able to come out of that vacuum. No growth can come if you don’t have people in our lives. That is always something that is on my gratitude list.”

  • distilling thousands of pages in her journal into a play
    • she has trouble condensing her thoughts
    • picked some good parts
    • her story having ten stories in it
  • the need to talk/think in such detail
    • documented everything when she was locked in her room
    • had the feeling that she needed to be heard
    • evolved to another level after her show
      • recreated her voice
      • vital to the healing process
    • Why Not Wednesday
      • people write in about detours in their lives
      • writing about things rewires the way we think

29:10 “What I was going through in isolation every day was so crazy that it became a very OCD thing… that started locked in my room for years. I would document every little thing, and I remember thinking ‘If I don’t write this down, it’s not going to exist.’ And as a performer and as a person I had to find some way to be vital.”

31:15 “I think that was a very vital part of my healing process and that’ why now, especially with my mental health program, I’m a big fan of just getting people to tell their story.”

  • being on a detour
    • what would she be doing if this never happened to her
    • one path leads to another
    • Daniel Pink
      • convocation address at Northwestern
      • creatives don’t take  straight line paths in their lives
    • detours can be good
      • require risk and uncertainty
      • there is always risk
    •  figuring out if something is calling out to you
    • emotions telling us wear to go on our detours
    • get our thoughts out of the way

33:24 “Your detour opens so many new avenues that I think you get to the point, whether you like it or not, that you can’t really map out how that other theoretical path would have gone, because that’s just not your path anymore.”

36:20 “Sometimes it takes extra work on our part, when things are good to be like ‘How can I really make the most of my aliveness?’ Well a lot of us, especially with with social media… we’re kind of like the Walking Dead or we just kinda go through our lives. And you read all these inspiring stories… about people who dropped everything… Sometimes we have to look for those things.”

37:27 “I love the books that blur the line, that say, ‘Listen, pick up a pen and doodle.’ We need some way to get in touch with that part of us that, you know, words are great. I use a lot of them, but there is something beneath there that we try to out think. You know. It’s that intuitive part of us that we can’t hear when we don’t have absolute quiet.”

38:13 “I am a terrible mediator, but I know for me, creativity can be my meditation, where it’s just picking up a pen and doodling on a napkin or listening to music and seeing where that’s taking my heart and my mind. I think we can all find some definition of meditation where we’re getting our thoughts to take a break.”

  • experimenting and following your curiosity
    • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
      • tough love, practical guide to creativity

40:17 “You’re not always going to have the time to take these long ritual retreat and let the creativity come.”

40:37 “It’s not going to be a spiritual awakening all the time. It’s not going to be this glamorous calm that hits you on the head, but it is something that you can access. There are just so many different ways.”

  • details about her play
    • compacting her thoughts into a singular play
    • had events in life she wanted to sing about
    • “What story do I want to tell?”
    • created rough outline
    • picked the songs first b/c she wanted to make it a cabaret
    • threaded stories together
    • cutting and pasting her journal entries together
    • was an innocent and exciting time for her
    • evolved after performing in front of audiences
    • musical director told her it was time to stop evolving the play and move on
    • always looking for the next thing

43:53 “It’s interesting… when you create, you also have to ask yourself, how much is this my life right now and how should I frame this?”

44:38 “I think when something, especially if you’re so personally invested in, you have to know when it’s not your story anymore, and I think as artists, we have this drive in us that, listen, it’s wonderful when we have some kind of commercial success, but we’re not going to be happy just with that for long.”

  • bringing people together to create her play
    • on Today Show to talk about her art
    • segment: Everyone Has a Story
    • David Friedman composed her segment, mentored her, and wrote song for her
    • got back in touch with director she had when she was young
      • sang entire show for him
      • told her there was good material there
      • worked with her on it for a year
      • rebuilt their relationship
    • taking a big risk

48:33 “It’s fake it til you make it. I feel like, just by acting, I was the actress back at work with the director. I felt like my mind was in such a better place.”

48:53 “The truth is, I booked a theater in New York when I still had tubes and bags on me and I had never even touched professional theater after the hospital. So it was a big risk and it was an investment. So I think we were all very nervous cause I had never done anything like this in my sick or healthy life.”

49:33 “Sometimes you need to light a fire under you to get yourself in gear. You know why I don’t ever feel like a victim is because I think we are always more capable than I think we are or than other people perceive us as. And sometimes it takes saying ‘You know what, I’m going to fail,’ to see that we don’t fail.”

  • when you don’t take chances, you fail by default
    • theater intensives
    • reaching your limits
    • risk, fail, risk again as a tagline
    • while she was in the hospital, she was on her right side, so her right leg shrunk
      • had the fear she would never dance again
      • has been able to tap dance again
      • her nerves grew a milometer at a time
      • the way babies learn step by step and the fearlessness they exhibit
    • learning from kids and how they learn
    • Why Creativity is the Only Mindset You Need
      • exercises she built from little imagination games
      • things that make our eyes widen a bit and give us a spark
      • exercise with dried rice and spoons
    • crayons being a life force for cancer patients
      • being faced with what really matters
    • it only takes one paint stroke

51:42 “Risk is not an all or nothing thing. There are a spectrum of risks we can take. It doesn’t have to be quit my job and become a performance artist. It could be I’m going to make myself sit and write that opening paragraph I’ve been putting off… and I think that’s what makes it a little bit easier to start with. Not I’m going to paint a canvas. I’m going to take a crayon and draw a stick figure. So, there’s no excuse.”

52:51 “I like to ask myself ‘What is the smallest micro-movement I could take? If I were an amoeba… what is the tiniest thing I could do?”

57:35 “Creativity can feel really superfluous, you know, like why I have this to do or that to do. But kids own it. You see that it’s a priority to them.”

59:02 “I think sometimes we just need to let ourselves know that we matter… People see my name all over the place now, writing articles and doing my show. And people always ask ‘I don’t even know where to start with sharing my story.’ And I always say ‘For almost ten years I was just sharing my story with myself.’ That’s an important part of the process too. You may not be ready to share your story with the world and that’s okay. I don’t think I really could have if I hadn’t spent all those years in forced isolation… I’m kinda fortunate that I was just left with myself because I think those seeds needed to cultivate and self-reflect.”

  • things that scare her that she hasn’t done
    • surgeries caused setbacks
    • things like travel aren’t as easy to do
    • doing what she can to not settle
    • acting teacher told her if you can’t travel, you won’t see the signs changing
    • wants to do something with multimedia – dance, art, music, and story
    • painting on stage and story through that painting
  • first show
    • spiritual experience that felt like old times
    • wanted to feel like herself again and performing gave it to her
    • didn’t expect her story to be relateable
  • stories as part of art
    • you have to know the story behind your art
    • know the why behind what you do

1:05:23 “People don’t gravitate to causes. They gravitate to stories. They gravitate to what’s authentic to us So I think stories is a really loose term. It’s whatever speaks to our hearts and where we come from.”

1:12:53 “Creativity is intuition at play, definitely.  To be more creative, start with a micro-movement.”

  • challenge
    • what is one uncomfortable thing I can do in this moment to move forward

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