When We Hide Things

In all of this hue and cry for authenticity, it’s fair to question who we should tell what and how often. Vulnerability is one thing; martyrdom another altogether.

I’ve been thinking a bit about it though, and have some thoughts about this very human tendency to hide bits of ourselves from the world.

What I’ve discovered in my recent vulnerability experiments, in which I reveal more than I usually do and wait for the other shoe to drop – very scientific, is that an interesting thing happens when I let more of me up to the surface.

bottle-close-up-focus-905894Aside from the obvious win that I don’t get pointed out and laughed at like some recurring nightmare about a high school play gone wrong (is it just me?), when I bring more of me to the surface, barriers lift. I don’t really understand why it works, but I’ve come to think of it like this. When I hide parts of myself, to protect me OR to protect the other person, what I really do is create a wall. I’m only hiding the details. That person likely knows I’m not all in – if we’re not close they just think I’m reserved (if I’m lucky) or maybe even snobby. If we ARE close, that person knows I’m keeping something from them. They may not know exactly what it is, but they know I’m holding back. They know I am not fully engaged. They may even know what some of those thoughts and feelings are by virtue of knowing me so well, but when I hide them I shut those folks out. I am not protecting them from anything. I am letting them know that I don’t trust them with me. I am not just keeping something private; I am limiting engagement.

So what’s the thrust here, tell everything to everybody? No. Clearly not, unless that’s who you are. First tell yourself. Tell yourself what you’ve got hidden away. Unpack those boxes and bags and filing cabinets. Be honest with yourself about what you’ve put in the attic. Some of it may not really even be worth hiding anymore, kind of like old Aunt Gertrude’s ashtray. Some of it may have been hidden so long that you forgot it was up there; some of that might be things you really could use now, like a small box of keepsakes from your mother-in-law who has since passed away. What do you have in perpetual secret storage?

After an initial inventory, you might find it interesting to pull some of those things out and take them for a test drive. Gently share some piece of yourself with someone you love. Try on an old hobby or pastime. Find those pieces you’ve kept hidden and see what you can do with them in the light of now.

bonding-daylight-enjoying-708440.jpgAnd as you do, notice what happens to your sense of connection. Notice how you feel being around other people. Notice what it’s like to be in a room without quite so much to hide. Notice what it’s like to have a conversation without checking yourself every 5 minutes to be sure you haven’t revealed yourself. Notice how problems become problems you can tackle with others and grace becomes a divine gift to be shared and enjoyed rather than just a moment of isolated forgiveness.

It is true that not everyone deserves your story. I believe that. I also know that keeping too much of that story inside is like keeping yourself locked in a tower. Are you sure you don’t want the key?


The Year of Yes AND No

Many of you may not know, but once upon a time, I was an environmental policy analyst. I was then a high school history and civics teacher. I am a mother of twins.

I have spent a LOT of time saying no.  

If I could calculate it, I suspect I have spent years of my life saying no in countless varied and creative ways. There are realms in which I, quite frankly, excel at saying no. Malcolm Gladwell says 10,000 hours brings mastery and I’m pretty sure I am a NO master if that is the criteria. 

But here’s the interesting thing, my capacity for saying No has always been narrow and deep. 

we say no a lotMy music partner will tell you I easily reject music and musical opportunities. My husband will tell you I readily reject movies, books and other artistic expressions that don’t interest me or suit my taste. My children, well, that’s a long list, but still somewhat focused – on their health and well-being.

By contrast, there have been huge areas in which I have, at least until recently, been completely incapable of saying no. 

  • I was incapable of saying no to demands for my time from friends, family, tradition or obligation.
  • I was unable to say no to suggestions about my professional career from people I respected.
  • I was unable to say no when credit for my work was co-opted by my male colleagues while I worked for a government contractor.
  • I was unwilling to say no to professions that drained me of my life force and made me feel terrible. 
  • I was incapable of saying no to old family stories about who I am and who I can ever be.
  • I was unable to say no to my own impossible vision of motherhood.

During this time of failing to say No to so many fundamental things, I said yes, either directly or implicitly, to far too many things.

 And my days grew full and tiring.

And my energy waned.

And my zest for life fizzled.

Years ago, a counselor I saw after a nearly fatal miscarriage asked what it would take for me to stop. What would it take for me to slow down, be more discerning about what’s necessary, put myself in the equation, take care of myself on a fundamental level? My sessions with her were short-lived. She had the right message, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. So, I didn’t. Instead:

  • I trudged on in a degree program that I didn’t want to actually complete.
  • I volunteered to be the matriarch for my in-laws.
  • I organized people, things, events.
  • I prided myself on holding impossible standards even as I felt the wound of failing to meet them so regularly.

Because that whole time, I thought I was saying YES to life.

I thought the more yes I could say, the more “good” I was being, the more “good I was doing. 

It turns out I had my yeses and my nos all mixed up, and sorting that mess out took some real soul searching.

It took taking the time to identify the old family and personal narratives about my character – calling them out: “I see you. I hear you. But I think you are lying to me. I’m saying no to you

It took getting really clear about what kinds of messages, what kinds of requests actually made my life feel fulfilling not just full. It took new tools. It took new perspectives. It took me learning to say yes to my own wisdom and to the truth of my heart and using that as my guide rather than the old storybook I had so carefully constructed. It took a lot of work, this shuffling of my responses to life.

Because I really want to say yes, a lot. But I want to say yes to the things that will nurture the best parts of me, that will help me to grow, and that will allow me to share whatever gifts that I might have with the people around me.

And so I want to show you a trick. And if you’re anything like I was, this may seem a little weird. But as a current expert on Yes and No, I’m going to ask that you bear with me.

If you are comfortable doing so, place your feel flat on the floor and close your eyes. For a moment I’d like you to just check in with your body. How do you feel physically? Any tension? Any discomfort? Just notice it but don’t linger on it. Deep breaths.

Now I want you to think about a moment in your life that was decidedly bad – don’t worry I won’t leave you here. Just think about it and then see how you feel in your body. Notice anything? Maybe upset in your stomach. Maybe tension in your throat or shoulders? Notice how it FEELS to you. Make a mental note that THIS sensation, this is NO.

Now shake your head or your hands and take a breath to clear away that memory. And now, think about one of the BEST moments you’ve ever had. Something that was truly great, with no lasting consequences or ill after-effects. Something that was clearly and unarguably good. Notice how THAT feels in your body. THIS my friends, this is yes. That scare-cited tingle in the chest, that feeling of expansion, that warmth in the belly and that relaxed open throat. THIS is yes.

THIS is what you want more of.

Maybe you’ve never noticed this information before. Maybe your yeses and nos have been distributed in a more rational way.

So, why turn to the body? 

Because our brains get caught up in the story and get distracted by shiny objects. It’s not to say that our brains can’t be trusted at all, but other data sources can only help.

What I’ve learned is that using the guidance of my heart, and my BODY, I’ve been able to say YES to the experiences that I seem to deeply require. And I’ve been able to apply my NO to things that just don’t serve me, or, at least don’t serve me anymore.

What to say yes toAs we part, I’d ask you to consider where you’re currently applying your YES and your NO. What story are you letting in? What heart evidence are you denying? Are you full but not fulfilled? Saying yes to life often means starting with a few Nos and then learning to utter a YES directly from your heart.

On Saying No

Slide2Saying No is allowed:

Saying no to requests,

Saying no to demands,

Saying no to emotional bullies,

Saying no to drama,

Saying no to blame,

Saying no to angry rants,

Saying no to you’re not enough and I need more and give me and you’re disappointing.

Saying no is allowed:

Saying no to other people’s goals for you,

Saying no to other people’s plans for you,

Saying no to other people’s wants for you,

Saying no to other people’s opinions of you,

Saying no to other people’s versions of you,

Saying no to but you should and it would be wiser to and if I were you.

Saying no is allowed:

Saying no to hating your body,

Saying no to using food as a crutch,

Saying no to making excuses,

Saying no to blaming your history,

Saying no to your role,

Saying no to your script,

Saying no to your old self,

Saying no to if I just nip and tuck myself here and there they will all still love me.

Slide1Saying no is allowed.

Saying no is a gift.

Saying no means figuring our what your heart wants.

Saying no means figuring out what yes is, where you should give it, and how glorious it feels to mean it.

Saying no means honest interactions and grown up friends.

Saying no means you get to actually be who you are, that unique incidence of genes and stardust and human connection.

Saying no is allowed.

I promise.


Getting Your Actual Work Done

Slide1She said: “I never get to do the work that is my actual job.” I nodded because having worked out of my house for the last several years with kids around, I very much know that feeling. I can’t count the number of times I thought: “I’m working ALL the time, but how much of that work has been the work that I believe I am supposed to be doing, that I want to do, that I believe I most need to do?” Those are some tricky questions.

Because I’ve faced this in my self-employed phase, I believed this was just a problem for the self-employed, particularly those of us who work out of our homes: the tendency for so many problems, needs and concerns to sneak onto our radars and block out everything else, the insistence of the phone call we’ve been waiting for or the last-minute opportunity that we really shouldn’t miss, the call from the nurse’s office, the dog who needs to go to the vet, the colleague who wants to meet and can only do it today, the deadline someone else has that suddenly impacts YOUR schedule, the mixup at the bank, the broken AC, the laptop crash that interferes with progress, the impromptu staff meeting, the crisis that must be addressed pronto. For many of us, there is no real inviolable time. Continue reading → Getting Your Actual Work Done

Take Back Your Yes!

So I have this friend, yeah, let’s say she’s a friend. She used to be torn in a million directions because 1) she’s in a career that requires both serious intellectual and creative time alone AND extensive interaction with folks known and unknown, 2) she has hobbies that require both extensive time practicing and interacting with folks known and lesser known, 3) she tends toward the slightly introverted and sensitive side and can be overwhelmed by a jam packed schedule and a lack of quiet down time, 4) she has young children that require her time and attention, AND 5) she has not always been good at saying no. I’m confident some wording changes in the previous items would make them apply to LOTS of people. I get the feeling many of you are feeling stretched thin like my friend used to be.

slide1She sprinkled her yeses across her universe. Yes, work. Yes, singing. Yes, kids. Yes, favor. Yes, coffee. Yes, dog. Yes, choir. Yes, lunch. Yes, phone call. Yes, homemade valentines. Yes, training class. Yes, laundry. Yes, exercise. Yes, neighbor chat. Yes, grocery store. Yes, veterinarian. Yes, laundry. Yes, family gathering. Yes, editing help. Yes, friend in crisis. Yes, blog post. Yes, other friend in crisis. Yes, women’s networking lunch. Yes, family obligation. Yes, laundry (where does all the daggone laundry come from?). Yes, volunteering at school. Yes, web design overhaul. Yes, library run for family. Yes, dry cleaning run. Yes, moderator phone call for disputing loved ones. Yes, video class. Yes, food delivery for sick parishioner. Yes, proofread for friend. Yes, new website. Yes, family menu. Yes, errands for ALL of the THINGS. Yes, plan a trip. Yes, read the homework. Yes, find the glasses. Yes, sign the forms. Yes, clean the retainer. Yes, fix the toilet. Yes, change the vent filters. Yes, plant a garden. Yes, cut the lawn. Yes, trim the hedges. Yes, committee. Yes, benefit concert. Yes, give me lots of plants from your garden. Yes, I will plant the plants. Yes, what can I bring? Yes, yes, yes, freaking yes. Continue reading → Take Back Your Yes!

Out With It Already!

How often do you say NO?

I ask because I find that I say it a little more frequently than a lot of folks I know and I still don’t say but half the time I think it. And when I do say it, it’s usually work. Like I have to put that NO through a series of tests to be sure that what I want to say is, in fact, NO… Let me give an example.

slide1I play music with some friends and we had an acquaintance come to a rehearsal to feel out the possibilities of playing together. He’s a very good musician. As we played, I liked what I heard him adding to the songs we’ve been playing and I could imagine a richer more full sound developing as we grew to know each other better. Towards the end of our available time, however, we decided to stop playing and talk about what moving forward would look like. As he talked, I felt myself closing up like fan. I sensed a mismatch on so many levels that I found it hard to even engage in the conversation. I felt the shift from listening to waiting for it to be over. So did I wait for a pause and say I wasn’t really interested; thanks, but it doesn’t really feel like a fit to me? No, I did not. Continue reading → Out With It Already!

What Are You Saying No To?

My daughter started gymnastics today. I sat in the observation area to ease her nervousness about being in a new place with new people. As I was sitting there, I thought about my upcoming obligations and commitments. I thought about a specific commitment that I’ve made that well, every time I think about it, I feel a little sick to my stomach, and not in a roller coaster, I’m so excited kind of way. This has been going on for the last several days.

I’ve not been ignoring that feeling, but instead of acting on it, I’ve been wondering why I feel so uncomfortable about having said yes to this particular (ongoing, fairly long-term) commitment. While I am pretty loaded up with things to take care of right now, I could not think of a specific logical reason why THIS particular YES was causing me so much discomfort. At any rate, I was mulling this a bit and then decided to set it aside and read while my daughter worked on the low bar.

slide1As I’m reading this book on coaching for work situations (yes, this is what I do in the not very pleasant smelling gymnastics club), I get to a section on managing your workload. And this question hits me right between the eyes: “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?” One interpretation of this question would be “If you’ll even do this awful thing, you must not say no to anything,” but this is not what the author, Michael Bungay Stanier, is getting at. In this case, the question is meant to reveal the full impact of your yes. If you say yes to this, what are you going to have to give up in order to fulfill the commitment that you’re making. How will you make space for that new commitment? Continue reading → What Are You Saying No To?

“No” and “Help”

I’ve been having some really vivid dreams lately. Last night’s was particularly so, and is still fresh on my mind. I was being attacked. The details were unclear, but the threat was not. I have had similar dreams off and on throughout the years. But last night’s was decidedly different.

In the past when I had this kind of dream, I would try to yell at my attacker, but the words came out slow and garbled, as though I had taken a triple dose of Benadryl, completely unintelligible. Another version of the dream featured me having no ability to make sound at all. I could open my mouth and try as hard as I liked, but no sound came out. Really horrifying. My dear husband usually woke me up from these as, unlike the dream, I was making quite a lot of very horrible and scary noises.

Slide2In last night’s dream, for the first time in my adult life, when faced with the threat of attack, I yelled at my attacker with a clear assertive “No!” And I didn’t stop there. I added a sentence or two clearly defining my space and the need for him to stay out of it. And then, in further unprecedented steps, as I moved away from the attacker, who was seemingly stunned by my verbal superpowers, I called out clearly and loudly for help. I had never even tried to call for help in the old version of this dream. Continue reading → “No” and “Help”