How to Claim Your Space with Eliza VanCort
By Yuresh Shayzer
December 26, 2023
Welcome back to the Awwshift Podcast. I'm your host, Anthony Trucks. Today's guest is Eliza VanCort, the author of the book "Claiming Space." It's a fascinating exploration of how to authentically embody the person you aspire to be, both internally and externally. The concept of "anti-mentor" is also discussed, shedding light on those individuals who inadvertently undermine our growth. You'll discover more about what anti-mentors are and how to navigate relationships with them. Eliza shares insights gained from a traumatic injury that impacted her short-term memory, offering a unique perspective on the importance of effective communication.
[2:48] Why should I listen to you?
Oh, that's an interesting question. I haven't been asked that before. Why should you pay attention to what I have to say? Well, I believe my life experiences, filled with both wisdom and a mix of joy and sadness, have shaped me into an interesting conversationalist. People who have navigated challenges often have compelling stories and insights to share.
[3:30] What races have you run that gave you a challenge?
Wow, it's quite a journey. I had a wonderful mom in my early years, but when I was four and a half, she developed paranoid schizophrenia. I went through the trauma of being kidnapped by her three times, traveling from New York to California hitchhiking, and stopping at truck stops. This experience deeply affected me, leading me to associate invisibility with safety. It ignited my passion for claiming space. Despite becoming a teacher and enjoying a good life, I still struggled to assert myself. Later, a head injury challenged my communication skills, forcing me to rebuild them from scratch. These two experiences profoundly changed me and taught me valuable lessons.
[5:00] Before we delve into the story, could you provide some insight into your book and the concept of reclaiming space?
I authored a book titled "A Woman's Guide to Claiming Space: Stand Tall, Raise Your Voice, Be Heard." For me, claiming space is about living your chosen life unapologetically and bravely. True bravery, in my view, isn't the absence of fear; it's confronting fear with action. The book is structured into five parts, offering direct guidance on how to assert oneself and claim space.
[5:58] How did your experiences with your mom, particularly the cross-country incidents, inspire the concept of claiming space, and how can people who haven't gone through similar experiences connect emotionally with this idea?
Well, I think everyone has had that moment in their life where they just feel so small, and they feel like everyone around them is somehow able to speak their mind and say what they want to say. And somehow they don't feel like they have the right to do it. We’ve all had anti-mentors along the way who read about my book, anti-mentors who tell you that you're not enough. And I think for me, claiming space isn't about becoming someone different. It's about me becoming your most fully realized authentic self and that's a lifelong journey for all of us.
[8:10] What was it like for you as a police officer to watch and subject yourself to those emotions? Can you recall the moments when you couldn't remember?
It was surreal. I was involved in an accident while riding my bike, following all the rules, when someone who was texting and driving hit me in the head with their car. I suffered a black bilateral brain injury and a subdural hematoma. When I regained consciousness, I walked downstairs to find my ex-husband and kids, and there was a large spread of food on the table. Confused, I asked how it was possible, and he informed me that Tina had brought it over. Tina is the friend who seems to sense when someone needs a casserole from a distance. It struck me how time had passed without my awareness, making it challenging to learn and grow when the events were shrouded in amnesia. I likened it to a country going to war without remembering who started it, making it impossible to fix.
[9:58] Can you share the journey or process you went through to reach the point you're at now? Did it involve specific healing tactics, or did it unfold naturally over time?
The recovery of my memory gradually improved every day, but communication, which was severely compromised, didn't naturally come back. Realizing my struggle to communicate, I initially contemplated withdrawing from life, sinking into depression with thoughts of whether I could continue. However, lying in bed indefinitely wasn't a viable life strategy. So, I decided to embark on the challenging journey of rebuilding my communication skills from scratch. It was a lengthy and arduous process, yet remarkably enlightening. Eventually, I felt like I had cracked the code of communication, turning it into a kind of superpower—an unexpected outcome from a difficult experience.
[11:09] What specific challenges did you face in communication during your recovery? Was it primarily related to verbal expression and articulating thoughts?
When I reached out to my friend Kim, expressing confusion about people acting strangely around me, she candidly pointed out that it was me acting differently. My vocabulary was impaired, and I was speaking slowly, making everyone uncomfortable. Seeking another opinion from a friend who is a nurse, she bluntly remarked that I sounded like a stoned third-grader.
[12:28] When you confronted the realization of the communication challenges, how did it feel, and what steps did you take to address and overcome it?
My educational background is in political science, and I initially pursued a career in acting. After a detour to law school, I found my passion in teaching the Sanford Meisner technique for 20 years. This approach delves into the intricacies of human behavior, encouraging a deep understanding of both oneself and others. Combining this with my political science background, I recognized the impact of various factors like race, age, and background on communication. Confronted with one-size-fits-all communication advice, often tailored to a specific demographic, I delved into research and observation to reconstruct my communication style. Through this process, I gained profound insights into communication and the concept of claiming space.
[14:58] How does that equate or carry over into the realm of this claiming space concept of being authentically you?
In the initial stages, being an extrovert who loves to talk, I had to adapt my approach as I would get fatigued easily. This compelled me to observe and listen more, offering a unique and valuable experience. Initially focused on communication, especially regarding how some individuals, particularly women, effortlessly command a room, I sought to identify the key factor behind this ability. However, I soon discovered that there are five essential elements contributing to this capacity, allowing individuals to lead a fully realized life. This revelation was genuinely surprising to me.
[15:45] How do certain people enter a room and assertively control the space?
The five aspects of claiming space are crucial. Firstly, effective communication involves mastering your physicality and voice to command attention. Secondly, building a supportive community is vital, shielding against negativity and anti-mentors. Thirdly, everyone faces life's boulders; instead of overcoming them, whittle them down into manageable pebbles for inner strength. Combatting efforts to make you small is the fourth aspect, shutting down aggressors skillfully. Lastly, embracing intersectionality, especially for white women, fosters better outcomes, as learning from diverse experiences enriches and uplifts everyone.
[21:10] What's the process for breaking free from anti-mentors and creating a sense of liberation?
Certainly, I believe there's no clear-cut definition for it. In my understanding, an "anti-mentor" should ideally be your greatest supporter, uplifting you. However, they end up making you feel small and diminished. This is often achieved through intermittent reinforcement, a tactic also observed in gambling, where the occasional big win keeps individuals hooked. Regardless of your actions, dealing with these anti-mentors involves facing constant criticism, punctuated by occasional praise. The study on mice, pulling a lever for intermittent rewards, draws parallels to human behavior in seeking sporadic affirmation. This pattern can lead individuals to persistently engage in self-destructive behaviors.
[23:53] Do you ever have that kind of experience?
To begin with, it's crucial to identify these anti-mentors. I've outlined a comprehensive checklist in my book, offering different indicators of what makes someone an anti-mentor. Once you're certain, there are two approaches. The first involves neutralizing them, a method I delve into, and the second is removing them from your life. However, both paths necessitate a crucial initial step — a grieving process. Recognizing that they'll never provide the support you seek when you need it is foundational. It's about realizing you don't have to continually put yourself in a vulnerable position, akin to Charlie Brown hoping to kick the football, only to have it pulled away repeatedly. The first step in liberating yourself from an anti-mentor involves deciding not to play that game anymore.
[30:20] How do people break out of their emotional comfort zones in intense moments, like running full speed or yelling loudly?
I think teaching is like an art for kids, and I'm sure you're good at it if you work with them. You know, you eventually get through to them; you just have to consider all angles. As adults, many of us receive messages when we're young. You're too quiet, too loud—so many "tools”. I mean, the number of messages we get when we're young like I was too much of a space cadet. Now, I get paid to sit around and think about stuff. So, one of the things I always tell people is to sit around and think about stuff. If you start unpacking the messages you were told, it becomes clear that what people criticize might be your strength. You make yourself small to avoid expanding into what people target as a weakness, which is often your strength. If you want to know what you're good at, think about what people told you to stop doing or what they said you weren't good at—not what you thought they told you because that's usually your superpower.
[32:45] How do you navigate the unique qualities of your daughter, like her spacey behavior, while also recognizing and nurturing the remarkable and creative aspects she possesses within that same frame?
That has been significant for me as a parent, given my experience with my nephew and my two sons and daughter. My oldest son struggled with dyslexia and exhibited unique traits. First, he had an intense ability to hyperfocus, making it challenging to divert his attention from a task. For instance, once he started with Legos, getting him to stop was nearly impossible. He also dealt with total time blindness and constant movement; he was incredibly active even before birth, almost breaking my rib. There were moments when I felt overwhelmed and exhausted, unable to keep up with him. However, he later became a three-time National Collegiate cycling champion for the United States, showcasing his ability to hyperfocus and disregard the passage of time. His extraordinary energy found a purpose in cycling. My daughter, on the other hand, was notably oppositional, and now she is a passionate activist for climate change. I strongly believe that the qualities in your child that might drive you crazy are often indicators of their unique strengths and potential.
[43:13] What promise did God make to the world when he created you?
The existence of a soul is something I'm still undecided on. However, I hold onto the hope that if we are all genuinely kind to each other, actively listen, and extend compassion, perhaps there is a promise that things will eventually be okay.
[5:10-5:17] Claiming space is living the life you choose unapologetically and bravely.
[17:57-18:00] Mistakes are the foundation of learning.
How to connect with Eliza Vancort