One of my favorite quotes from Marianne Williamson dives into the empowerment we feel when what we share about ourselves gives permission to others to share about themselves in an open and honest way.
This sharing openly and honestly is not something I was born with. The skill set I was born with more accurately reflects what my husband calls my, “Southern Face.” It’s the face that simultaneously says, “Well bless your heart and I’m fine, nothing to see here.” It is the face that greets others with a lipsticked smile, a little bit of sass, and a lot of charm. I have learned it is also the face that intimidates the hell out of most people. It is a face that says, “I’ve got it all together. Everything’s great! I am untouchable.”
I recently reached a season of my life where I could no longer meet people with my “Southern Face.” I still like to be lipsticked but the mask of fineness is off.
Reaching this place of openness is a learned behavior. I have been fortunate to be able to practice this learned behavior at least once a week, every week, for the last ten years in the rooms of a twelve-step recovery program.
Every week I show up to a library, basement, or fellowship hall to meet with anonymous folks who are willing to share their experience, strength, and hope with the other folks in the room. Through this sharing, 3-5 minutes at a time, of little bits of my life with people who understand what it’s like to walk a mile in my shoes, I learned that being open and honest about who I am and what’s going on in my life is the best way for me to live. Sharing miniscule bits of my story once a week with people who will never take my words outside the walls of the room we meet in, gave me the courage to share about myself with others in different group settings.
Being a military spouse has also forced me to step outside my comfort zone and open up to people. When there is a ticking clock on your time in town, making friends and finding community is of upmost importance. Also, one can only eat Ben and Jerry’s and stare at unpacked boxes for so long.
I’ve received many compliments from others over the past year that have been a surprise to me; compliments about my willingness to be open, or my insight into a particular situation, or my courage and seeming fearlessness. These words have come from unexpected people; people I didn’t know were watching or listening. And while I’m a good southern girl who learned to say thank you when someone pays me a compliment, usually I laughed through my thank you, which always prompted a quizzical look.
I laughed because doing all those things that prompted those compliments is work for me. Hard work. Going first goes against the things that I hold most dear: safety and security. There is nothing safe and secure about telling people, especially new people, you are scared or failing or sad. In each new situation I have to actively make the choice to be fully myself, often times being the first to be open and honest.
The truth is, I’m not fearless, far from it actually. I have the ability to take any scenario and spin it into its worst case in about 5 seconds flat. I spend a lot of my days talking myself off the proverbial ledge of anxiety over things yet to come. Yet I’m starting to see in me what others have commented on-courage. Courage is the result of fear and faith in tandem-doing something even though it frightens the hell out of me.
There is never a time that I publish a writing or speak in front of a group of people or even make small talk with a stranger that I don’t sweat. All of it makes me so incredibly uncomfortable and nervous. Yet I’ve learned that going first, whether it’s awkward or teary or even a little nonsensical, opens the door to the thing I crave most: connection.
Connection, for me, is the antidote to the fear I feel over not enough safety and security. And I find that as I lead with openness and honesty it typically paves the way for others to be more open and honest. My discomfort, tears, and ramblings open the space for a “me too.” Those words, so short and seemingly small, are actually the keys that unlock the places under everyone’s fineness and let connection begin.
Be awkward. Be teary. Be weird. Go first.