Finding Your Voice: Forgiveness

Photo by Allison Downey, allisondowney.comEvery time I step onto a stage I have to forgive myself.

I forgive myself for breaking so many rules, like: 

  • Be quiet.
  • Stay small.
  • Swallow your truth to spare other's feelings.
  • Look good.
  • Make us look good.
  • Stay positive.

I forgive myself for not being able to control what others feel, whether they agree or not, whether or not I am understood.

I forgive myself for decades of jaw-clenching to hold my words inside. For the way my throat still tightens and catches, making my voice break when I wish it was pouring out uninterrupted and free.

I forgive myself for forgetting how to forget myself and be natural, for needing to practice, to remember.

I forgive myself for wanting to be good, to get it right, to have my words tight and dialed in.

And I forgive myself for fumbling and for stumbling as I try to let it all go. As I try to surrender.

Join us for an intimate night of stories (no stage) tomorrow night at Park Slope Ale House (7:30pm, no cover). I'll be with one of my favorite people in the world, Jolie Guillebeau, whose stories are better than mine. You'll get to see what we've been up to together, live and in person. Tell us you're coming and we'll save a spot for you.


More on Finding Your Voice here.

2012 Essential Scholarship Program

The Iconic Self is in production, and I'm sitting at my little table in the kitchen with a pink, red and blue quilt draped over it like a table cloth trying to wrap my mind around it--the culmination of years and years of work, the completion of The Essential Journey Collection. The bulk of all I've written and taught and lived these last years finally having a physical existence in the world, a way to pass with a blessing from my hands and heart to yours.

To celebrate the completion of The Essential Journey Collection, I'm hosting the 2012 Essential Scholarship program. Open to all my beloved readers and friends, the opportunity to receive a $50 scholarship toward the tuition of any of the Essential Journey Courses (Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Story, The Iconic Self) is just a super simple application away. You have until February 12, 2012 to submit via email or postal mail and recipients will be notified on Valentine's Day.

If this work is calling you, if this scholarship would bring it into reach, please download the application and apply. We want to support your journey.

Download the 2012 Essential Scholarship Application

A Special Bonus and More

A Special Bonus: The next 20 people to jump into Telling Your Story will receive a special bonus DVD featuring videos of me telling stories on stage here in New York--six of my favorites. I'm super private about these stories--you will rarely come across them online--so this is unprecedented. But a bold beginning calls for a bold bonus: one you will not want to miss. Order yours today.

Review Op and Completing the FYV Discussion Board:

Finding Your Voice is now available for sale on Amazon--please hop over and leave reviews or video testimonials there for people who are considering this work as a companion for their own journey. Then login to the FYV Discussion Board for a celebration check-in as we complete our online community.

The "Telling Your Story Sound Studio" Arrives!

I've been crazy sick this week--the kind that makes you stumble down the street when you're not laid out flat in bed--but even in this compromised state I managed some serious excitement yesterday when the Telling Your Story Sound Studio CDs arrived.

The three disc set, featuring extensive interviews with Peter Aguero and Ophira Eisenberg, is packaged in a beautiful 8-panel digipak designed by the amazing Liz Kalloch. To be able to hold these exquisite objects in your hands helps the possibilities they hold seem even more tangible and real. It's not just in your head or on your computer, it's in your car and your kitchen and on the little stand next to your bed--always reminding you of the path and all the possibilities it holds. Giving you permission to be a new way in the world--you own it. Your stories are just as worthy of being told as any of ours, and these physical manifestations of so many powerful truths will not let you forget it.

The Telling Your Story course starts shipping tomorrow. Be bold and audacious--be one of the first in the world to hold these treasures in your hands.

The other thing I was so thrilled to receive yesterday was our first, full-color four-page Jen Lee Productions catalog, which will go out with every order this winter. It's so amazing to see all that we're up to, all together. There is so much to celebrate with you.

What ARE these new resources, exactly, and when is your next retreat?

My next live event is in March at Teahouse Studio in Berkeley, CA. I'm bringing a whole bunch of my friends--amazing, inspiring women are gonna be in the house--and I hope you can come join us. I'm looking forward to the workshop format, which is more affordable for locals and still convenient for us out-of-towners to come in and stay at the hotel across the street, or in town with friends. The conversation we'll create about The Art of Creative Wellness is one I am living and breathing over here--one that makes us or breaks us. Read more and claim your spot here.

As for the next retreat, I'm really not sure. I'm doing a limited number of live events right now. In terms of presence and community, it's an ideal way to be together and interact with these powerful conversations. But in terms of tuition and the limited spots available for attendees, it's not so ideal. That's why I'm in the midst of a long season of producing resources that make the content of 12-week workshops or 5-day retreats available, for a fraction of the cost, to anyone in the world. No plane ticket required.

If you've been looking for opportunities to work with me, or suspecting that our paths are running in kindred directions, these courses are for you. I have so much to share (with more coming very soon)--this is the best way to make these conversations available to the most people, in a form so personal and intimate that it's the next best thing to being together live.

These practices, insights and conversations have changed my life, and they can change yours, too. Join me: find your voice. Tell your story. Share this work with those friends who are looking for Just This.


in Stanley Park, Vancouver

I dream of moving through days like these with something that looks more like grace and less like a stilted back and forth between bursts of cleaning and sound editing and cardboard box fort-building. I am wandering from room to room and task to task, trying to stay in my body while my idea factory is working at top speeds and I'm charting new terrain in the deep.

I know from experience that some kind of rhythm will soon emerge, even amidst the flow. Until then, here a few updates:

After a brief summer hiatus, the Merch page is back up and running, with apparel that's designed to be your companion on those days when you have to speak up for yourself in that meeting at work. When you're visiting your mother, your in-laws, or that person from your past who makes you feel like you're still 10. They are for the days when you need your courage close to your heart, for when you need to wear it Superman-style: tucked inside another shirt, where only you know it's there. They are for truths that are hard to live into, to soak in, to carry without losing along the way. I live in them, I sleep in them. I cook and I clean and I play in them, knowing that I need these words most of all and every single reminder brings me closer to the person I long to be in the world. I just made a few extras in case you need them, too.

Also, the introductory price for Finding Your Voice is almost over, with a significant increase coming soon.

AND, look for a new merch item here next week.

My birthday is coming up, which is a different experience every year. I'm feeling reflective about it today, and to be honest the last year has been really big and often hard, and in this moment the year to come feels daunting. It's surprising to feel so tender about it all, but I can't help but feel gratitude for this virtual home I have in the world, and for every day, moment, smile, tear, embrace, kiss, laugh, touch, gaze and step that I am blessed to partake in and to witness. For all the friends and companions who are with me every year, every day.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Finding Freedom From the Inner Critic

Presenting the latest installment in the Finding Your Voice video podcast series, in which I missed the good lighting, spent a lot of time looking at the floor, and had trouble with some video corruption after recording. I share about selecting your audience (or working without one), saving your editorial/critical lens for later in the creative process, and more.

You can watch previous video podcasts on the Multimedia Resources page.

I also spoke very candidly in an long audio interview with Melissa Rivera about the deep soul work I did through the winter, my relationship with my body and creativity in my childhood. You can hear it today on 3 Sisters Village.

Finding Your Voice Around the Web, Part 2

Self portrait, Miel Patisserie, PhiladelphiaThere is oatmeal cooking on the stovetop and an Easter Egg Edition game of hide-and-seek happening all around me, but I'm jumping on this morning to say, Thank you. Thank you to all of you who added the Finding Your Voice button to your websites, to everyone who has sent me encouraging notes and comments, and to all those below for hosting giveaways, interviews and sharing Finding Your Voice with their own communities. (You can find last week's highlights here.)

There are a few more interviews coming soon. It's been really interesting for me to hear what questions people have and speak into them, and to connect with some of the people I enjoy so much online. But for today, please know I am swimming in gratitude, and that I appreciate so deeply all the ways in which you support my work.

Creative Voyage

Kind Over Matter

Trust Tending

Ordinary Courage

She Told Stories

Curious Girl

Spiritual Semaphore

Dandelion Seeds and Dreams

Retrieving Autobiographical Memory

Here's a Park Slope-ish sight: toy animals on the bar at Perch. Grab a Guinness during sing-along hour, if you are so bold.

The girls are home for Spring Break right now, so my studio time is scarce. But I put together another Finding Your Voice video podcast about excavating memories from the cobwebs of our minds. This is the second part in this series of FYV bonus conversations.

Finding Your Voice is self-paced, so it's never too late to order it and chime in on the FYV Discussion Board. You can also let us know your best memory-retrieval moves in the comments. In the video I mention Dan Siegel's book, Mindsight, which you can find on Amazon.

Finding Your Voice Around the Web

Esselon, Hadley, MAHere are some places online where you may have bumped into FYV recently. Follow the links below to read more about the course, hear what participants have to say, check out interviews, or enter to win your own Finding Your Voice multimedia course.

Ali Edwards

Roots of She

Erin's Art Journal


Exploring Utopia

Superhero Journal

Wish Studio

Journey Back to Self

Thank you all for your support!

Reading the FYV Discussion Board is my new favorite way to start the day--I want to thank everyone there for contributing to this conversation.

Critics, Credibility and Trust

In this extension of the Finding Your Voice conversation about critics, I take a look at what makes the words of some people more wounding than others. I'll also be available today on the FYV Discussion Board for Q&A.

This is the first in a series of video podcasts related to the Finding Your Voice multimedia course.

Participants: Log in and head over to the FYV Discussion Board, where you can click "Create New Post" to ask a question, continue the conversation or request topics for upcoming podcasts. The comments and stories from the FYV community are amazing.

A Little More Flow

playground fountains sans water

I could feel that familiar sensation last night of spinning and fretting while I watched my routine for today getting turned upside down. The weight of an inbox that's been procreating, unattended, all weekend, the list of things to-do mounting, the way I always feel in those moments like everything that needs to happen needs to happen this minute and simultaneously. I remember this sensation, I thought, and ran through all the words I have for it. Stressed. Manic. Wound-up. Operating with a Too-Small Margin. Over-stimulated. Weary.

Then I reviewed my remedies: a good night's sleep, some hot cocoa (that steamed milk is magic) and the Bare Minimum Game. That's the game I'll be playing today, while my caretaking duties here at home trump everything else for a day or two. And the world will keep turning, and the wound-up part of me will see once again that the sky is not, indeed, falling. That my control is an illusion and that life works best with a little less effort and a little more flow. I will breathe, in and out, and feel the earth supporting me. And be flexible. And flow.

FYV News: A video podcast series is coming soon here on the blog, featuring some Finding Your Voice bonus material and followed by Q&A sessions on the FYV Discussion Board for course participants. You won't want to miss moving our way through parts of this great conversation together--it's not too late to order your Finding Your Voice Multimedia Course.

The technical kinks are smoothing out over on the Discussion Board. Check in to say hello, to share how you found us, or what's already coming up for you--there's a new thread going there today. If you're having trouble getting logged in, just let me know.

Joining Story and Wisdom: A New Genre

Phyllis and Allison, Horizon Perfekt Camera, Lomo 100 Chrome xpro film

Some in traditional media are still trying to separate stories from the insights or wisdom we gain from them, being careful to delineate clearly between the memoir and self-help sections of the bookstore. This is disappointing to me, though not completely surprising. Even the media train has a caboose.

The most exciting work I've encountered is pioneering a new genre that marries story, myth and poetry to the wisdom mined from them--David Whyte and Clarissa Pinkola Estes are two of my favorite examples. My own work, whether on stage, in a workshop or sound studio, is always an offering to contribute to this movement.

One of my core beliefs is that stories are a primary source of wisdom. Our stories provide context, and they establish credibility. Recently someone was telling me about a book she had read by Thomas Moore. She wanted to know how he arrived at his conclusions and ideas, what was happening in his life and what were his influences. She wanted him to show his work, to share the journey, and not just throw in some vague words in the afterword about something happening in his life at the time.

This is a growing frustration for audiences. "She kept referring to something she was struggling with, without ever saying what the struggle was," a friend said of another similar book. "It felt like she wasn't trusting us."

When I tell you my story alongside what I'm learning from and through it, it helps you understand that we are fellow travelers--that I am not a guru, nor have I "arrived" at any imaginary destination. It helps you understand that I say these things not from a place of ease and mastery, but from down in the trenches with the very same kinds of doubts and fears that you may also know well.

When I tell you my story, it shows you that this is a journey I am living, not just ideas I am espousing. I am my own most reluctant student--I can hardly bear to write many of these words because they are still so confronting to my past ways of thinking and being, the ones that like to still loiter around these parts. My own journey never ends.

When I tell you my story, you see what these ideas and moves look like, in the flesh and blood of a real life. It gives you an idea or an opening to consider how they might manifest or be applied in yours.

I can't teach that stories are a primary source of wisdom without sharing my own stories and insights, together. This is why I'm not interested in writing a straight-up memoir or a "self-help" book. When we force a separation between our stories and our wisdom, we demote our stories to entertainment and we strip all we've learned out of its context and away from its most powerful source of credibility or authority.

Sharing what we've learned inside the context of how we got there doesn't make our findings or realizations more true, it makes them true in a more complex way. With nuance and depth that is harder to argue with, and more difficult to dismiss, than a list of talking points.

A new genre is emerging--one that joins story and wisdom together--and it's happening inside a larger cultural conversation about where wisdom is really found. We are pioneers, and we are saying: you don't have to look to a panel of experts or an institution. I say, you don't have to look any further than your own story, which--with some awareness and attention--is the greatest teacher you will ever know.

Part story, part wisdom: Finding Your Voice is now available for a limited time.

Just Slip It Out the Mail Slot

Remember the part in The Wizard of Oz when the white-haired guy says, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain"?

I love that line.

I'm all the time wishing that I could do the work appointed to me--skillfully and with diligence--and just slip it out the mail slot into the universe, without fanfare or notice. And then I would climb back up to my studio and begin the next one. Pay no attention to the woman behind the mail slot, but please pick up this treasure because it could change everything forever.

"How do you what you do?" people sometimes ask. "How are you so brave?" You know, dear readers, one of my answers. But another one could go like this: Through an elaborate ruse I've constructed and mind games I play to pretend that no one knows I'm in here.

I wish you could have seen the confused looks between my students and myself when I started teaching at Squam Art Workshops (maybe you were one of them). I pretty much believe that five people read my blog, so the first time I met two of the five in person, I was completely floored. The large dining hall with over a hundred people filling it gave me the perfect cover (so I thought) to fly under the radar, completely undetected. This is perfect, I thought. No one here even knows who I am--I bet everyone will think I'm an attendee, like them.

Let's just say, some of them knew who I was. And I was completely shocked, every time. Their surprise equalled mine when they realized that while they knew Who I Was, I apparently didn't.

If I were being really honest here, I would confess that this is the frontier I'm at in my own development. Right here, right now. These hiding out moves served a purpose in the past, but they don't serve me any longer, and now I'm trying to set aside my imaginary invisibility cloak (which only ever worked in my head) and learn to still do what I do and be who I be without it.

And it is so hard. (And here is the part where I tell you how I am really suffering.)

Do you want to know what's hard for me--I mean, really hard? It's not getting onstage, or 'fessing up to embarrassing things in a sound studio. It's not admitting on my blog that I worry that someday, decades from now, I'll look back and realize I was beautiful, or strong or fierce, and never knew it or enjoyed it at the time.

What's really hard for me is promoting anything I make or do. Every word of copy, every guest post and tweet I write makes my stomach hurt. Makes me want to walk around with my hands covering my face or curl up into a tiny ball in the corner. Breeds fantasies of a change in careers. I think I would probably make twice of what I make and host or attend exponentially more gatherings if I simply didn't have to promote them. It literally makes me want to crawl out of my skin and hide under a rock.

How about that for brave?

But then what happens is that I look at these treasures I made, and think about how I knew a specific number of them needed to be made--that they are intended for very specific homes. I'm not making 1,000 of these things, I remind myself. Just a few stacks, for the people who need them, right now. And then I think about what will happen if I just try to slip them out the mail slot into the universe, and if the people who need them never know they are even there. And then my heart breaks.

So I make another cup of cocoa for my quesy belly, and I write another email. I draft another post. I show another person and ask her what she thinks. But God, I just want you to know that this part is really wrecking me. And the truth is, I don't want to change careers. I just want to work through whatever this is in my soul.

Please help me spread the word about Finding Your Voice, and be with me while I am doing this part. I know I need to do this, I just really don't want to be in it alone.

Here are some ways you can partner with me:

If you love this work, or have loved your experiences with me as a teacher, send me a short quote about why you're excited about this project that I can use here on the site.

Embed the making-of-film, Content and Containers, on your own site if you would like to share it with your own community. Invite me to do an interview or a guest post.

Share this Finding Your Voice badge on your own site using this html code:

<a href=""><img style="width:
150px; border:0px;"src=""/></a>

And keep the kind words and encouraging comments coming. Every word is like manna to me right now, I promise. If I seem quiet it's just because I keep having to climb back out from under my rock and into my skin. Over and over again, day after day, and praying that maybe someday this will get easier.


Permission and Other Elusive Things

The view from the top of the slide, Horizon Perfekt, Lomo 100 Chrome xpro film

You are allowed to be quiet, to rest, to take a few days off. To admit that you are weary.

You are allowed to slow down, and to feel the sadness that so often rises to the top when you do.

You are allowed to surround youself with people who feel cozy and safe.

You are allowed to still feel that pain in your chest, even after all this time.

You are allowed to prefer making things to talking about them.

You are allowed to make requests. Even the ones that make you feel vulnerable.

You are allowed to have stories that are complicated. To struggle to understand them yourself.

You are allowed to ask the same questions for years and years. To have a hard time believing the answers, even though everyone else seems to have known them all along.

You are allowed to feel brilliant and remedial at the same time. To go at your own pace.

You are allowed to have moments where you feel your own beauty, despite your complexion and untamed hair and frown lines. (And so many other things that shall not even be named.)

You are allowed to believe in possibilities like love even when there are so many reasons not to.

You are allowed to live as though your time is short.

You are allowed to keep doing what you love and trust the rest to take care of itself.

Feeling pretty quiet over here today. I'm performing in next week's Moth GrandSLAM Championship and getting ready to dive into my next project, but for now all I really want to do is tidy up and put things in order. Maybe wash some clothes by hand.

The email invitations for the Finding Your Voice discussion board started going out last night, so let me know if you're experiencing any technical difficulties. I'm thinking of doing a series of short video podcasts here on the blog followed by some Q and A sessions in the FYV discussion group, in case anyone would like to move through some of the material together. Let me know what you think.

Finding Your Voice

What to say, what to say? Let's see. Ahem. It's here. Uh, surprise? Ta-da moments have never been my strong suit. But you have been so patient and gracious that I wanted to post this, even though I'm going to be in and out of the studio this week. The information below has a long-term home on the Multimedia Resources page, and this is the first in a series of resources that are currently in production.

Putting new work out in the world is so vulnerable--it's actually a salvation for me to spend this week under the covers with my unwell girl and back in the sound studio, so that I don't sit here and obsess over that one transition in the video that drives me crazy or the thousand ways I could tweak all of this to death. I do all kinds of crazy things to try to soothe the vulnerability, when probably all there is to do is to just sit with it quietly, hands folded in my lap and a quiet I hope you like it on my lips.

So. I hope you like it.

Finding Your Voice: A Voice and Story Course by Jen Lee


From the back cover:

There are thousands of books about how to write, resources about the mechanics of telling our stories. But before we ever open our mouths or pick up a pen, there is something to overcome. Debris to clear from our path. The question, Will it be worth it? to answer.

The time for finding your voice has come.

Let’s clear the way.


The first in a brand-new series, this resource brings material previously only available at in-person workshops and retreats right to your door. It arrives ready to enjoy a long life as a companion and guide--in your bag, on your kitchen table, working its magic through your hands into your heart.


This self-paced, Multimedia Course includes:

An Audio Learning Program, recorded in a professional sound studio, including the stories and insights shared in my Finding Your Voice workshop (CD, 52 minutes)

An Interactive Workbook in a resilient 3-ring binder with a full-color cover and over 100 pages of course material, black and white photographs, and countless exercises to walk you through powerful shifts and breakthroughs. Blank pages in the back give you the freedom to create more room to write wherever you need it.

A Handwritten Blessing from me to you on the workbook's front page.

Private Access to a course-specific discussion board on, where you can enjoy the company of friends who are on this journey with you.

Order Now: Finding Your Voice ($58 plus $5 US Shipping)

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Order Now: Finding Your Voice ($58 plus $13 Int'l Shipping)

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Common Questions

When can I look for my course resources to arrive?

The FYV resources will ship via Priority Mail within 2-5 days. If you do not receive your package within a reasonable time frame, please contact Jen to investigate whether a technical difficulty has been encountered.

Is this similar to any of the workshops or retreats you've previously offered?

This material was first developed as a workshop called "Truth and Consequences" at Squam Art Workshops 2009, then became part of the Companions for the Journey retreat in February 2010. It was later presented in a workshop called "Finding Your Voice" at Squam by the Sea in October 2010, and the workbook began as a pdf guide for that session. It was expanded into a fully interactive workbook in early 2011. Around the same time, the course content was recorded by Paul Ruest at Argot Studios in New York.