I'm still convinced that we learn most effectively through story. We can toss out all the theory and rhetoric we want, but what resonates is sharing true, authentic experiences. It isn't easy to share the things we least want to talk about -- those uncomfortable things about ourselves that we have neatly tucked away as if by doing so, we could banish them indefinitely. Think about some of the lowest moments in your life, the ones you want least to revisit, when the world around you looked absolutely bleak, as if you were the only one condemned to this unfortunate fate. (Are you squirming yet?) If, however, someone dared to share a bit of themselves -- something to the effect of, hey, I've been there too, suddenly a glimmer of hope appears upon the horizon -- an, if-they-can-do-it-so-can-I infusion of possibility. Bottom line: We need to share.
Tucking our experiences away doesn't make them disappear -- it just allows them to pile up and expand in girth. Why collect and harbor this stuff when you can spring clean and clear space for something new? And better yet, while you are at it, help someone else out.
I recently shared a piece here on The Huffington Post that revealed very personal bits of my own experience. This had been my plan all along, but it took an extra dose of courage to dip my toe into the water. I could sit here and write all the inspirational self-empowerment pieces I wanted, but I knew that if I wanted to truly put meat on the bones of my story, it required a bit of sharing. If I wanted to counsel others how to make lemonade from lemons, I had to first reveal just how low I had fallen and how fat and bruised my lemons were. My experiences needed to serve as testament, my very own lemonade stand.
So I sat at my desk on the edge of my seat and pressed send. Out went my story into the publishing and cyber world. I held my breath. Within hours, support rolled in from acquaintances and unexpected places (deep sigh of relief). And the greatest gift came in an email from the sister of a friend. She shared how her day had started on a low point, but after reading my piece, she felt "reborn" and was reminded that she was in control, she had much to be grateful for and could easily redirect her attitude. Perfect: mission accomplished. She continued by telling me that her perceived problems paled in comparison to those of others. HOLD ON A MINUTE... why do we do that? Who taught us to make comparisons like that, in the first place?
OK, so here's the deal -- I get the magnanimous and self-deprecating aspect of putting things in perspective. We could all use a good 'ol dose of that once in awhile. I myself, like to use a phrase -- "this is a first world problem" -- as a reminder to self that whatever it is that I am wallowing in, it is not a calamity. That's all fine and dandy, but reality is that we feel what we feel and shoving our emotions aside doesn't make them go away.
Although a pity party is something to be moved through, it does have its virtues. Our discomfort has its own gifts. When we are uncomfortable, we shift and when we shift we create room for other things. Comparing our problems or discomfort to those of someone whose are more dramatic doesn't reveal anything about the merits of our own. Perspective is a gift, but allowing ourselves to explore what is coming up within us is revelatory and critical for our own personal growth. If we want to truly deal with something, we have to first walk through it.
So, if you find yourself amidst a pile of lemons -- squeeze 'em, you just might be surprised what they produce. And let's face it, there's nothing like sharing an ice-cold glass of lemonade with a friend.