When I set myself a month-long “authenticity challenge,” I had no idea what I was going to shake loose for myself or where it would go.
In my quest to just write this, I’m not going to kill off half an hour looking for the source of this concept, but all I can tell you is it’s not mine. One of the books I read last year talked about the folly of pushing one’s emotions away. Emotions you don’t deal with might seem to disappear, but all that happens is that they go down to the basement and lift weights: they get stronger.
And so I’m finding that my collection of writing is shaking loose all kinds of threads that are attached to bigger lines and heavier tangles of emotions that have been lurking down in my emotional basement. Mixed metaphors; just go with it for today, okay?
By the way, don’t think that just because I write about emotional connection, I’ve got anything all figured out or have a trove of perfect relationships with family and friends. Quite the opposite: the more I reflect, the more I write, the more I’m dismayed about what I don’t know.
My two Tai Chi instructors were chatting in our zoom room before class. John was talking about all the martial arts he’d had experience with before he came to his first class with Kris, all ready to impress her with everything he knew. Within a few minutes of the start of the class, he said, he realized how much he didn’t know.
Kris laughed, remembering the experience. “Yeah,” she said. “If you want to impress me, do it with humility.”
My humility as a student of human connection grows by the bucketload these days.
What’s coming to the surface for me, wave after wave, is the ripple effect of relationship mistakes I’ve made and have just stuffed under the trapdoor, and not bothered to go back and fix.
At the moment, those are stalking me in a pack like the ghosts of Christmas past.
I can only tackle them one at a time. Yesterday’s post about an incomplete apology reminded me, in the middle of the night, about a more recent time that I made a mistake and was so chagrined and confused that I didn’t know what to do or say and didn’t find the right words or actions, and just withdrew from the relationship. I felt ashamed to have gotten something so basic so wrong, and I gave up on trying to find a way to make amends. I assumed that the person I had wronged was simply never going to forgive me, and that nothing I could ever come up with would ever make things right.
In the middle of the night, I think I tripped over the same thing I got wrong over 30 years ago when I hadn’t figured out apologies. I got so tangled up in trying to explain what I intended, and why I did the wrong thing, that I didn’t stop to understand and acknowledge what happened to the person I wronged. THAT was the thing that I needed to apologize for.
When I sat down to write that note, albeit almost a year after I screwed up, I also figured out something I can do to make amends, and started doing that.
My friend Glen Bullard’s recent Facebook posts, including pictures of people I knew while we both worked at the Canadian, are calling up all kinds of recollections of missed opportunities for friendships. I don’t know what I thought I was trying to accomplish while I was there. What I thought at the time was a deep passion for public service was, well, yes, that, but it was driven by a bottomless quest to in response to the voice that kept saying, “Not good enough.”
Seeing all the pictures of the people, and the happy hours I never went to, left me wondering about all the missed opportunities for relationships. I put a much higher priority for getting work done, for completing projects, than I did for the quality of most of the relationships I had with the people I worked with to get those things done.
My professional practice today is ostensibly centered on the world of Federal contracting, of helping business owners who want to win Federal contracts.
Over the past six or eight years, I’ve discovered that the core of my work is actually human connection.
I work with people who embrace the idea that there’s no such thing as doing business with “the government.” There’s only doing business with people.
When I teach, and in my work with clients, I often share the wisdom of Dr Maya Angelou.
People will forget what you said.~ Dr Maya Angelou
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.
People have forgotten what I said (even including the ones I still owe an apology).
People have forgotten what I did.
But people will never forget how I made them feel.
Last night I was saddened by all the times, in my work at the Embassy, and in many circumstances since then, that I was hell-bent on being remembered in some way for what I accomplished.
The judge-y part of my psyche would like to bring the entire collection of my past transgressions to my immediate attention.
My newly-developing skills give me the opportunity to embrace Dr Angelou’s other advice.
My heart is lifted up when I reflect on the experiences I’m able to give my clients now because of what I’ve learned.
And I will also keep writing and unpacking the emotions and the disregarded lessons waiting there for me. They’re inconvenient and messy and distracting. They’re also filled with wisdom when I stop squirming and sit in the discomfort and pay attention.