A friend of the essayist David Perrell told him about the author of a wonderful memoir.
After its release, she was asked what it takes to write such an outstanding book. She replied,
“If you want to write a good book,
write about the things you don’t want
others to know about you.
If you want to write a great book,
write about the things you don’t want
to know about yourself.”
This idea struck me deeply.
What I don’t want you to know about me
My community and clients are very familiar with this sentence stem. “What I don’t want you to know about me…” is how I regularly begin a training or a coaching session. I’ve often started speeches to large audiences with the same phrase.
You see, I spent the first half of my life pushing away any sense of vulnerability. Vulnerability was a weakness, in my mind. There was no way I could let you see me as weak.
I hid my tears. I stuffed down my feelings. And in relationships, I never let my partner in.
I’ve spent twenty five years working on myself.
I’m still a work in progress but I definitely have a new relationship with vulnerability.
I try not to hide what’s going on. And when I catch that I am stuffing down my feelings (or, more likely, Monique catches it before me!) I am pretty quick to own what is going on.
Beginning with the words, “What I don’t want you to know about me…” allows me to get out of my own way and share truths before I am ready.
Vulnerability is a strength and these words are my route in.
Look, I’m very human and there are still a few things that I don’t want others to know about me but I am as open as I can manage with my friends, my clients and my community.
However, the thought of reflecting on what I don’t want to know about myself is pretty visceral.
I’ve been journaling about it for a few days now.
What don’t I want to know about myself includes:
- The secret shame I have inside because I didn’t stand up to the kids who bullied me at school, or the person who bullied me in my first ever job…
- My fear about the emptiness inside me, that I constantly try to fill with success and busywork…
- My unease at the blindspots other people see in me, that I cannot see in myself…
- My discomfort about how I would feel about myself if I wasn’t successful…
- My awkwardness about why I can sometimes feel intimated about initiating sex…
- The tension I feel underneath it all because I’m still very insecure…
- My anxiety about what I’d discover about myself if I stopped working so hard…
- How tight my chest gets when I wonder whether I’d risk my life for someone I love who was in danger…
- How my intellect is trying to manage my fear…
- How I unconsciously slip into taking care of everyone else’s emotional needs…
- How I feel responsible for making everyone else feel comfortable…
Ooh. That was tough to write. And it’s tough to share.
I’m sure there’s more. I shall keep thinking and journaling.
There’s nothing as impactful as reflecting on a powerful question.
I just came across some incredible art by Leah Saulnier. The piece above is called Book of Secrets. For me it captures the nature of the human condition.
We each have a face that we show to the world, hoping that no one can see just how much we are hiding.
Yet they know.
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