Telling the Truth

Today I listened to a TEDTalk from Brené Brown about vulnerability. And, what I came away with, beyond her sparkling courage and wise lessons from her years of research are three important things:

  • I’m not fooling anyone.
  • I don’t have to.
  • It’s a bad idea anyway.

Rumi wrote,

Learn the alchemy
true human beings know.
The moment you accept
what troubles you’ve been given,
the door will open.

This is one of the many things he wrote that touches on what he calls The Open Secret. The Open Secret, in short, is the obvious thing we’re all hiding from one another. The fact that we’re both perfect and a complete disaster. Smart and senseless. Strong and weak. Destructive and creative. Foolish and wise. Industrious and lazy. Courageous and afraid.

We’re trying to hide the fact that we’re all human.

How is it that we’re mostly running around in the world denying our humanity? What in the hell are we doing? And why are we doing it?

Why am I running around (clearly unsupervised) denying my very humanity?

Well, the real answer is this: I don’t like being lazy, weak, senseless, foolish, destructive, disastrous, or, my personal favorite, afraid. It feels awful to admit these things. It’s horrifically embarrassing. But it’s only embarrassing because we’ve agreed that weakness, senselessness, and foolishness are things we should be ashamed of. People, we’ve agreed that we should be ashamed of what we are. We have agreed that we should be ashamed of being human.

If we have arrived at the age of 30 and have never been a complete disaster, we have done nothing. If we’re 40 and have never been destructive, we’ve never been passionate about anything. If, by now, we’ve never been foolish, we have risked nothing.

I’m still not excited about this, but here we are; I’m going to go ahead.

I’m weak.
I’m senseless.
I’m foolish.
I’m destructive.
I’m lazy.
I’m a disaster.
I’m afraid.

Also, you’re not stupid! You know I am these things, already.

I’m human. So, of COURSE I’m going to be those things. These things are the entry price. The cost of the ticket to play the game. This is hardware. We show up on the planet with these things. These are the things that buy us the shiny red balls we throw at the milk bottles. Aside from a few critical relationships, I pretend I didn’t have to pay the entry price. If I met you at a cocktail party, I’d be mightily tempted to trot out my accomplishments and my successes and charm you with my pretty ponies and puppies. Because that’s what I do.

That’s what humans do. Because, holy crap, what if I were entirely honest with you? What if you asked me how work was going and I answered honestly. “Well, it’s kind of shit, really. I’m quite lucky and advanced both intellectually and emotionally. I’m a talented speaker and writer. But I’ve never been able to really make those things work for me in a job. I probably haven’t been brave enough at any of my jobs or I may have been able to. In fact, I have rarely given a damn about my job. And the fact that I’ve let this apathy drag on this long is kind of making me freaking panic. I mean, I know I should be out in the world talking to and listening to people, but I’m so scared of screwing my life up worse than I already have that I sometimes can’t even breathe. Sometimes, I wake up in the night and I worry that I’ll just keep doing this same dumb dance until I die.”

Charming, right? YOU CAN’T WAIT TO INVITE ME OVER FOR YOUR NEXT PARTY! But it’s the truth. And I’m saying it out loud – in print – because the Truth is what liberates us. The Truth is we ARE the Open Secret. Every one of us has been these things and every one of us has acted on them, as well.

We can choose, in our most courageous moments, to tell each other the Truth. We can say we’re scared of acting only on our less-than-lustrous parts. We have regrets. We have fears. We’re uncertain. We have nasty habits. Ones we’ve been trying to break for eons.

We can also stop agreeing that our basic humanity is shameful. We can.

And when we agree that our basic humanity is nothing we have to be ashamed of, we can tell the Truth. We’ll be free to tell the Truth about all our shortcomings, our weaknesses, and our fears because we’ll have admitted they are human and they are what we have in common. Keeping the Open Secret only serves to prevent us from being connected to one another; it only serves to cut off intimacy. The Open Secret prevents vulnerability, which is, as it turns out, where we can find and nurture strength, courage, creativity, and wisdom.

The Truth about my dirty humanity is what makes me able to legitimately claim the rest of who I am as a human.

I am strong.
I am brilliant.
I am wise.
I am creative.
I am industrious.
I am perfect.
I am courage.

And I will be calling you to see when I can come speak to your organization or team. I want to learn from you, and I have something important to say.

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Everything’s a Lesson

Maybe a year ago, I heard the phrase, “The lesson you’re teaching is the one you need to learn.” Well, CRAP.

And then I saw it written somewhere shortly after I heard it. DAMN.

And then, again, a few days later. Clearly, ignoring this recurring phrase wasn’t an option.

“The lesson you’re teaching is the one you need to learn.”

I’ve always liked to teach. At eight, we called it “being bossy.” At 43, let’s call it, “coaching,” shall we?

To illustrate this, if we’re friends, I have asked you at least once, “May I give you an assignment?” Or, if we’re very close, I didn’t ask. I just said, “Do this.” So, upon hearing the message “The lesson you’re teaching is the one you need to learn,” three times in about as many days, I began to listen to what was coming out of my mouth as a lesson for me in addition to a lesson for someone else. As it turns out, sometimes the lesson was for me instead of someone else.

To be clear, never once have I given an assignment because I thought you were doing it wrong. Never because I thought you were behaving badly. Never because I was disappointed in you. If I’ve asked (or told) you to take on an assignment, it’s because you have honored me with your personal truth. You’ve let me behind the curtain of your life, and let me see backstage. I’m so, so lucky that some of you let me just hang out back there. Like, all the time! And, when I hear your frustration or pain or perplexity, and I think that something I’ve read or another perspective might ease your heart, I tell you the thing I believe will provide some peace.

Among these that I’ve tried to teach those I love are the following things, all of which are absolutely true.

  • It’s OK to think different things than your parents think.
  • You’re the only one holding you back. You have all the tools and skills for that dream!
  • You know more than you think you do.
  • You’re forgiven.
  • You’re not responsible for anyone else’s emotions.

Notice that these things aren’t critical, mocking, or anything less than loving. And, I still feel happy that I’ve been able to share these things with friends. But, where have I been that these good, generous, true lessons have only been for other people? Seriously. Did I delude myself into thinking I had these things worked out for myself? Maybe. Maybe so.

The one that I’ve said the most is “You’re not responsible for anyone else’s emotions.” And, in my head, and out of my mouth, I have known this for years. However, once I heard the message to learn what I was teaching, I clearly didn’t know this at all. I began in earnest to learn this lesson for myself. As a pleaser and a peace-lover, it wasn’t easy to let go of trying to fix everything so that everyone was happy and at rest. Not only is it impossible to fix everything so that people are happy, but it’s also just a REALLY BAD IDEA.

In the next several essays, I’m going to explore the stuff I’ve been learning and the ways I’ve stumbled through the lessons, sometimes falling on my face. Hard. But I think it’s worth writing about the stuff I’ve learned by listening to the Still Small Voice that clearly said, “The lesson you’re teaching is the one you need to learn.” And how things emerged from the mist and became clear when, for a few seconds at a time, I was able to shove myself out of the way enough to see them.