Patti Clark: “I wish I had learned earlier to ask for help”

When I was in an elevator once at a conference and a woman I was talking to was wearing a tee-shirt that said: This is Not a Dress Rehearsal. I hadn’t seen that before and I hadn’t really thought about it. It made a huge impact on me. I think I had sort of thrown […]

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When I was in an elevator once at a conference and a woman I was talking to was wearing a tee-shirt that said: This is Not a Dress Rehearsal. I hadn’t seen that before and I hadn’t really thought about it. It made a huge impact on me. I think I had sort of thrown the words carpe diem around a few times, but I hadn’t really reflected on the idea that this is it, there is no dress rehearsal, make it count. And it’s really stuck with me.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patti Clark. Author Patti Clark has been described as a cross between Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron. Patti is an award winning, international best-selling author, accomplished speaker and workshop leader dedicated to helping people through various life transitions on their journey to an extraordinary life. For more than 30 years, and over several continents, Patti has been sharing her knowledge and wisdom with others. As author of This Way Up: Seven Tools for Unleashing Your Creative Self and Transforming Your Life, Patti has been featured on TVNZ’s Breakfast Show, and her work has been featured in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The Mindful Word, and Thrive Global.

This Way Up is the Winner of International Excellence Self-Help Book of the Year.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Thanks so much for having me. My backstory is a bit long and convoluted, so I’ll try to keep it relatively short. I was raised in a pretty chaotic home in the San Francisco Bay Area in the ’60s and ’70s. My mother was an alcoholic who died when I was 16 and my dad was a workaholic and ‘functioning’ alcoholic… for whatever that is worth. The dysfunction then, led me to a lot of what I am now, so I feel like it is important to mention that. And being in San Francisco during this period, drugs were readily available, and I was in a lot of pain growing up, so drugs and alcohol helped numb the pain. Fast forward to my twenties, I was living in Alaska bartending and living a crazy life, unhealthy in every way; and finally about six years later, two days before my 30th birthday, I went to my first twelve step meeting and began my recovery journey. My partner and I were wanting to start a family, and I was determined to be a better mother to my children than my mother was to me. My recovery was also the impetus that led me to want to make a social impact as an adult.

My husband and I moved to New Zealand, where we live now, in 1992 and we raised our children here. I started running workshops for teens here in the mid 90’s, and eventually began a charitable trust here called Teen-Esteem Workshops. Eventually some women in the area wanted to experience a similar workshop to these, so my friend and I started running workshops for women around creativity and empowerment. And eventually, I started writing my first book, ‘This Way Up: Seven Tools for Unleashing Your Creative Self and Transforming Your life’, which was published by She Writes Press in 2016.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

There were two books actually that impacted me hugely, and really played a pivotal role in changing my life.

The first one was ‘Creative Visualization’ by Shakti Gawain, and the second one was ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron. I read ‘Creative Visualization’ when I was 28, and I was ready to make some changes in my life. I was feeling rather directionless and unsure about ‘what I wanted to do when I grew up.’ After reading that book, I got clarity and focus in a way I never had had before. It was a modality for getting in touch with myself that I had never encountered and it really worked for me.

I read ‘The Artist’s Way’ in about 1996. My second son was an infant and my first son was about two and a half. I loved them both with all my heart, but as any mother with very young children will tell you, I was exhausted and felt like I was completely losing touch with myself, who I really was and wanted to be. Reading that book helped to connect me back to my creative self. And it helped me realize the importance of creativity in the healing of trauma and the connection to self.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Hmmmm, funniest or most interesting mistake. Well, it certainly didn’t seem funny at the time. When I finally finished my book, after about eight years in the writing of it, I thought, phew, now the hard part is done… anyone that has gone through the publishing and marketing process knows that writing is actually the easy part. Finally, after many months, I found an agent, he was able to secure a contract with a publisher and I thought, yay, we’re here, I’ve finally arrived! … Sigh, nope. My agent ended up having a nervous breakdown, said the publishing industry had changed too much in the last decade or so and it just was not working for him any more, and when I lost him, I lost my contract with the publisher and I was back to looking for an agent or publisher again. I started crying, literally laid down on the floor and had a full blown tantrum, and I told my husband that I just gave up, I was done, it was all too hard. … Well about a week later, I got back on the horse so to speak. I contacted a friend who is a writer and asked her for advice; she recommended that I contact She Writes Press, and I eventually published with them. I still needed to do a lot of work to get to publication, but I got there. So what was my take away? … Don’t give up hope, believe in myself, hang in there.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I think a quote from a review of my book might help here:

“Clark speaks to the woman who thinks it’s too late to start a new life. She offers optimism, insight, and a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Whether you suffer from empty nest syndrome, divorce, the loss of a loved one, midlife crisis, or all of the above. You can heal. You can discover a richer existence.

And this book is precisely what you need to help get you there”

Women who have read my book and done the online workshops I run still contact me telling me that some of the skills they learned have made them a better mother, a better partner, a better friend. I believe in the healing power of creativity for everyone, and I think that some of the activities help people re-connect with that creative self, which serves to ripple out to others. And that ripple effect should never be under-estimated.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

One of the stories I share in the book and use for introducing one of the tools is the first time I tried using Creative Visualization. I was back in my home town for my ten year high school reunion and I had just finished reading Shakti Gawain’s book. In the book, she recommends starting with something small and easy to visualize, so I thought I’d start with envisioning something about the reunion. I had told a friend I’d meet up with her and a couple of friends and we could all go to the reunion together; I hadn’t seen any of these women for most of the 10 years since graduation, I had left town and hadn’t been back much. So I had a picture in my mind of what I thought would be a fun ‘pre-reunion reunion.’ I didn’t know what to expect, I wasn’t even sure who would be there, but I pictured getting together in the sunshine with fun fru-fru cocktains and sitting by a pool. I had no idea where this friend lived or anything about her current living situation… Anyway, I arrived at her house, she invited me in and led me through the kitchen where she hit the blender and then poured me a strawberry daiquiri (I was still drinking at the time), then we walked out of the kitchen and I saw a few friends, all sitting around her pool, drinking their drinks under a colorful umbrella… It was exactly as I had visualized and I had had no idea where my friend lived or what she had planned. It was an amazing moment, incredibly surreal. I totally got it in that second, the incredible power of intention and visualization. It was like time froze for a second and I stepped into a new reality, it was amazing. And I knew that I wanted to eventually share this with others.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I can remember the exact moment that I decided to write my book actually. The event that I described above impacted me hugely and led me to start running workshops with teens and with women. But there was a moment when I decided to write a book … In 2006, when my son, Lukas, was 12, we used to go from our small town in Thames up to Auckland for him to go to the Orthodontist. We went once a month and it was a day out for us; he’d miss school, we’d go to the orthodontist, then go out to lunch and then go to the big Borders Book Store and hang out and a peruse books. We’d each take a couple into the café to look at while I had a coffee and he had a hot chocolate. I’d usually be looking at self-help books, taking notes to add pieces to the workshops that I was running at the time. At one point, I read something out loud to Lukas, and he looked up, put his hand over the book and said: “Mum you’ve been saying this stuff to me since I was little; when are you going to quit using other people’s stuff and write your own book?”

I stopped, frozen and realized that I had to do it, I had to write a book. I had been telling my sons that they could do anything, that they needed to believe in themselves … and if I didn’t follow this advise and do it myself, then I was afraid my sons would see me as a fraud and not believe my own words. So I started writing my book that very day when I got home. It took ten years! But I finished it, and it got published, and I am incredibly grateful to my son for reflecting my mirror back at me.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

A woman in recovery emailed me and told me a story that I hold dear to my heart. She told me that she had been feeling lost and frustrated not only in her recovery, but in her job and with her husband. She said she kept telling people that she felt untethered, at loose ends and just felt like she didn’t know herself anymore. She told me a friend of hers recommended my book, so she bought it and read it. My book is in two parts; the first part is a narrative about a women’s search for self and the process she goes through to reconnect; and the second half is a journaling workbook, following the protagonist’s journey, so the reader can explore the tools for herself. This woman read my book and said it helped her reconnect with herself, with her creativity and her family. She said it was instrumental in helping her get to know herself again and redefine her path. She said that she has bought the book for several other women she knows and she still practices the tools. That story makes my heart sing!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Well not really; the root problems I am talking about in my book are very personal to each of us and it’s really an inner journey. Although, I guess it’s really a path or wellness and mental health. So I would say a good step would be to give more attention to mental health and to addiction. Trauma in our childhood usually leads us to loose that connection to self, and often leads to addiction and to mental health problems, so if I had to choose an area that I would ask society to work on, that would be my choice. Fund better mental health programs, and take the stigma away from addiction and mental health problems.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I think I’ll let Brené Brown answer that: “A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” Brown has a way connecting with people and pulling out the innate leadership that I think each of us has when allowed to shine. I love her quote:

“Daring leadership is ultimately about serving other people, not ourselves.”

I think when we give people the time and the space to meditate and reflect on how they can best lead in a way that they are passionate about, that is when an individual’s leadership comes out.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

The first thing I wish I had heard is this is going to take some time, make sure you have good friends and plenty of snacks for the journey. Writing a book, getting published is not for the faint hearted, nor for the impatient. Patience is a huge lesson I have learned along the way.

Along the same lines as above, I wish I had learned earlier to ask for help. This journey is solitary a lot, but we cannot do it alone, we need friends and support.

I wish someone had given me a big hug and told me that there are going to be critics and that it’s no reflection on me, it’s their own stuff, not mine.

I did hear, and I did learn the old adage, don’t give up your day job… writing is rarely a big money spinner.

And finally, I wish someone had reminded me to never give up hope and to keep believing in myself, because that is a game changer and something that I think all of us need to hear.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When I was in an elevator once at a conference and a woman I was talking to was wearing a tee-shirt that said: This is Not a Dress Rehearsal. I hadn’t seen that before and I hadn’t really thought about it. It made a huge impact on me. I think I had sort of thrown the words carpe diem around a few times, but I hadn’t really reflected on the idea that this is it, there is no dress rehearsal, make it count. And it’s really stuck with me.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

The Dalai Lama would be my choice. After all the hard ships that he has been through, he still continues to have faith and believe in the goodness of people. My favorite quote of all time is his:

“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.”

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thanks for asking. Here are a few of my links:

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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