I’m going to try something different in this post. Up until now I’ve kept anything personal out of this blog, cause it’s meant to be more of a “professional” blog. You know, to keep people at arm’s length. My friend Amy recently pointed me a short article which says: when you have the choice between doing the scary thing or the safe thing, always do the scary thing. That’s how you grow as a person.
So here I go.
I’ve got an obsession with learning new skills – from the practical (graphic design) to the seemingly useless (riding a unicycle). In the last year I’ve started to learn an unexpected “skill”. Emotions.
Those of you who know me personally know that I have this tough persona. I’ve had it for as long as I remember. Showing emotions is for the weak. In particular: showing “weak” emotions is for the weak. Showing sadness, pain, loneliness – that was out of the question.
Especially out of the question: crying in front of people. Or even admitting that I’ve ever cried at all. Before last night, I could count the number of people I’ve ever cried in front of on one hand. Women have to be especially careful about crying in the workplace. It’s a big career no-no.
About a year ago I started reading this book on Emotional Intelligence. I was interested in this because I’d read over and over again that EQ is a much greater predictor of career success than IQ. There were some tests in the beginning to score how emotionally intelligent you are, on four different dimensions. I scored extremely low on every single one.
I never finished the book. I only read two chapters:
One: stop treating your emotions as good or bad.
“It’s human nature to want to create two simple and easy piles of emotions: the good ones and the bad ones […] The downfall of attaching labels to your emotions is that judging your emotions keeps you from really understanding what it is that you are feeling. When you allow yourself to sit with an emotion and become fully aware of it, you can understand what is causing it.”
Two: lean into your discomfort
“Things you do not think about are off your radar for a reason: they sting when they surface. Avoiding this pain creates problems, because it is merely a short-term fix. You’ll never be able to manage yourself effectively if you ignore what you need to change. Rather than avoiding a feeling, your goal should be to move toward the emotion, into it, and eventually through it.”
So I started keeping track of all of my emotions in Day One. I’ve always got my phone on me, and whenever I felt anything, even if it was “bad,” I would lean into it, rather than suppress it. Write it down, work through it. I like to think of it as a scientific record of my emotional responses. I believe normal people call this a journal.
I started doing all this as a career-improvement move. But what I ended up getting out of it was much more valuable: a better understanding of who I am. To go through life feeling and experiencing, rather than suppressing and hiding behind a mask. I’ve still got a long way to go, but now that I’ve got a taste of what it’s like, I don’t intend on turning back.
A couple weeks ago, Amy and I started taking an acting class. This, too, I started doing because I thought it would improve my interpersonal skills, and thus help my career. This, too, has helped me in ways beyond what I could’ve imagined.
Our assignment last night was to recite a monologue that we’d found. I chose a piece that is personally relevant to what’s going through my life – a close family member of mine is fighting cancer right now.
I got up in front of the class, plopped down on the chair, opened the book, and started reciting. I didn’t think I would cry. But about one sentence in, I felt something in me break. And rather than fight the feeling of tears coming on, I just let them flow freely. Because here’s what I had: a safe environment where not only was it okay to cry, crying would mean for a “better performance.” So armed with that excuse to let it go, I did.
And when I looked up at my classmates while I was performing, there was no judgment in their faces. They were all as consumed by the moment as I was. It was hard for me to see through my own tears, but I think some of them had tears in their own eyes.
When I was done, I realized that crying in public turned out not to be such a big deal after all. I’d gotten to experience something new that was intense and beautiful. And, dare I say, it’s something that I’m even proud of. It’s something that a year ago, I would have been horrified and ashamed of.
Lean into life. When you have the choice between doing the scary thing or the safe thing, always do the scary thing.