What if when we met someone new, instead of sharing external details about our lives, we revealed a few stories from our past that shaped us. What if we spoke about what made us feel excited and what we would like to accomplish? What if the creation of relationships was more intentional and transparent? What kinds of extraordinary bonds could be created using this formula?
After watching Diane Keogh’s Ted Talk, I did exactly what I just described and made a lifetime friend.
At first, I felt the concept in the speech was obvious. After years spent exposing my core in the rooms of AA and listening to others do the same, I experienced firsthand the healing power of personal narrative. Once I realized that my secrets weren’t unique and the ugliest parts of my story were useful to others, I began to boldly inhabit my history in church basements all over Manhattan.
This transformation was compartmentalized, and socially, I still defaulted to the weather, vacations and other safe conversation topics which left me unfulfilled when I walked away from an exchange. These rote dialogues didn’t reflect who I was or who I wanted to be, but I didn’t know how to create an opening for more to exist. Interactions began to feel like a waste of time after I became aware that the paths I kept taking would never lead to the complete connection that I craved.
As Diane mentions, in every conversation, people are either trying to hide or reveal their pasts. The longer I sat with this thought, I saw the disparity between my AA world and daily life. Blaming my zip code and others perceived limitations in the area I chose to hide in provided me with the excuse I needed to avoid taking responsibility. At that moment, I made a decision to merge my two worlds.
At this time, my son started at an Upper East Side preschool. I signed up for the role of class mother, which was a shared position with another woman named Alison. We first met briefly in September 2013 at a class welcome meeting at the school. 5’10”, thin, blond with an easy laugh, the only thing that differentiated her from the general Upper East Side population was her Canadian accent. Aside from sharing the class mother role, she also had twin boys, so at the least, we would be playdate buddies.
After drop off, a few weeks later, Alison came up behind me and asked if I wanted to walk home together since we lived a block apart. I decided to follow through with my new vow and bravely attempt a different version of the get to know you exchange. At the least, it would calibrate our dynamic so future interactions would be straightforward. Alison kicked off the conversation with the perfect question, “You mentioned that you grew up in New York? What was that like?”
For the next 6 blocks, I gave her a synopsis of my life; highlighting painful and joyful moments equally, leaving nothing out. I didn’t dial my energy back or soften my tone in a concerted effort to be less intense, a criticism I have been given much of my life. I felt clear and calm as I spoke. Midway through I noticed something remarkable in Alison’s listening. I didn’t know then that she is a trained mediator. My post: The Power of Listening explains this distinction.
As we approached Alison’s block, I explained what kind of friendship I was interested in creating during this phase of my life: something real and growth-oriented where we could both say it all. Unfazed, Alison smiled and looked me directly in the eye, “that’s an amazing story, and I am interested in having that kind of friendship with you. Do you want to grab a coffee or walk in the park soon?”
I walked away with tears in my eyes- boy was I wrong about Canadian Barbie. Alison and I still laugh about my misconception. She is rare soul, and still one of my closest friends even though she lives in London now.
Since that time, I have taken risks with people that did not yield the same results, but they saved me time and energy in the long run. Living like this no longer allows me to complain about people’s capacity. Once I reveal myself, my part is done. I can walk away knowing that I gave the interaction my all, no matter the results.
Today, are you revealing or hiding your core? If so why? What do people need to know about you to truly know you?