Dawn Brown, M.Ed.'s Self-Discovery Lessons on Being Authentic in our Writing

I'm excited that today, Dawn Brown, is “Speaking From the Heart” and sharing her experiences with all of us. Dawn was the Director of Student Life Services and head of Career Services at Carleton University (where I obtained my Bachelor's degree) in Ottawa, Canada. I am really inspired by Dawn's message of hope, so I asked her to be part of this series; she is a mentor to me. As said on her website, "she credits those she has met on the road and seas with inspiring her by allowing her to see life through their eyes." I had to ask Dawn to inspire fellow writers by asking her to speak from her heart!

Dawn Brown, M.Ed. (counselling), has extensive experience as a psychotherapist and coach, specializing in relationship and life transitions. An international speaker and published author (her books That Perception Thing! and BeenThere, Done That ... Now What? deal with change and transition), she helps others navigate through and thrive in times of uncertainty and change.  Her new book, DayShift: Start Where You Are, reminds readers that every day offers an opportunity fornew beginnings. Dawn is the head of Perception Shift, a company dedicated to creating a healthy approach to living. She is the proud recipient of the YMCA-YWCAWomen of Distinction Award in the Learning for Life category. Read Dawn's interview below.

Dawn Brown.

Why do you believe self-expression (speaking from the heart) is important?

We're skilled at hiding our authentic voices from ourselves and others. After time, we lose sight of who we are. If you picture an iceberg, you know that only 10 – 20% is visible above water and that represents the spin we put on what we're showing. We show only about 20 % of what is really happening. For example, I might tell everyone that I'm happy a friendship ended but underneath the waterline, I've not looked at my fear of being alone, feeling like a terrible person, being lonely, etc. That is where we have to do our work. Our real thoughts, fears, perceptions, and feelings make up the 80% that is hidden underwater, not visible to ourselves and each other. In order to speak from the heart we have to reveal to ourselves, the invisible. In doing so we are able to reconnect with a friend with whom we've lost touch.

How has writing empowered you in other areas of your life?

Writing is my way of accessing my truth. When my thoughts are in a muddle, when I'm happy or upset about something – I can't always articulate my words verbally. My perception may be distorted and I may not even be aware of my real feelings.  When I write I don't censor my words; I just allow the words to flow. I pour my words on the page and only when I feel I'm finished do I read what I've written. After doing so, I'm at peace. Taking the time to write helps me to achieve clarity, to get my ego out of the way. Writing is one of my best self-soothing strategies. Then, when I speak I'm coming from my best place.

How did you find your authentic voice through writing?

I've been doing workshops since I became a therapist decades ago. I would write down everything I wanted to say and then I wouldn't refer to my notes when speaking. By putting my thoughts down on paper, I internalized my message. Many people don't realize it but all the chapters in my first book, That Perception Thing! are based on workshops I've given. When I do my workshops or give presentations, I am my authentic self. I've found it easy to stand emotionally exposed in front of a group of participants and model what it means for them to be authentic.

At one of my workshops a woman approached me and said I was just the person she was looking for as she was starting a new magazine and wanted me to be part of it. I was to have my own column in the magazine, Energy Medicine. She asked for a sample column to be part of a mock-up she wanted to show investors. When I gave her the article she told me she liked it but it didn't seem like me. I assured her it was me. She then told me I didn't sound like my workshop! With a sinking feeling I knew exactly what she meant. It was one thing to be authentic when speaking but it was another to emotionally expose myself on paper. I asked her if the article sounded as if I were not in it and she replied, “Yes”! I realized that my strength in my presentations came from my allowing my vulnerability to show and that strength would also empower my writing. Since then whenever I write, I come from the heart; I'm present.

How did you develop the courage to stand tall (i.e., get the courage to share your writing)?

Feedback from readers definitely helped me. Readers have told me that when they read my articles and later my books, they don't see me – they see themselves. If I want my writing to connect with readers, I must be genuine. When I'm able to reveal myself, warts and all, readers are able to see themselves and how we're all connected. I model being a friend to me and letting go of judgements.  Self-acceptance is essential and that has given me the courage to stand tall!

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When you have a hard time writing, what do you do to work through it?

Ah, it's a process and again doing workshops and presentations help me. They help me to live consciously. So much of my writing comes from my daily experiences. Knowing that I have a workshop or newsletter coming up I'm alert for inspirational ideas that are always there. I remember reading where Hans Christian Andersen told a fan that the only difference between them was that he, Hans, wrote down his experiences while the young man overlooked his own.

For me, having to write connects me to life. I know how easy it is to live on automatic pilot…you know, where you drive home but can't remember what you passed on the way.

My clients have also helped me to work things through. As a psychotherapist, my clients keep me humble and remind me that life's challenges are always there with lessons for us to learn. Their insights inspire me and I pass them on in my writing.

How did you find your support group?

How did we all find each other?! I have friends who are artists, musicians, writers and we all struggle with our work from time to time. Certain groups bring people together. For instance many of the members of The Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) are authors also and I've found them helpful.

Any advice for new writers/authors?

My writing really took off when I had a commitment to a magazine column.  After I left the magazine, I had a commitment to my newsletter which later became my blog. Certainly my speaking helps as many of the ideas in my presentations find their way in my writing. Feedback from participants also gives me ideas as to what people want to hear and read. I make a point of reading books by other authors so I remain current within my niche. I believe we all have stories within us but having them is not enough. As Hans Christian Andersen pointed out, we need to be willing to write down our stories.

Thanks for speaking from your heart and empowering others, Dawn! Keep up the fantastic work!

If you have any specific questions for Dawn about her writing process, please feel free to ask :) 

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What lessons did you learn from reading Dawn’s interview? Write the lessons down and why they spoke to you. If you met Dawn, what would you like to tell her? Share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below or in your personal journal.

Thank you for reading and your presence at this beach retreat. You Rock! I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment section below.

See you at the beach!