Unoriginal title, but I couldn’t resist. My band, if I ever start one, will probably be called “Jokes from my Therapist.” Their first single is tentatively titled “It’s neither good nor bad. It simply.. is what it is.” The song is intimate, laid-back, and blends the sounds of surf and lounge. And of course, there’s a timpani for a little extra kick.
So the joke goes that this man is convinced he’s a seed. And he goes to the hospital, where the doctors and nurses do therapy, talk it out, and successfully convince the man that he is in fact a man, and not a seed.
So the man leaves the hospital, content in his new perception of himself, and he immediately runs into a chicken. He scurries back into the hospital as quick as he can, where the doctors try to reason with him, reminding him that he is a man and not a seed.
And the man says, “I know I’m not a seed, but does the chicken know?”
There is such truth there! Most of the work we do focuses on the Self, on uncovering the unconscious, speaking truth to fear, and unraveling patterns that no longer serve us. We’re taught that the only thing we have control over is ourselves and our experience.
And that’s all true. I don’t want to diminish that. But none of these habits, patterns, impressions, defenses, or thoughts develop in a vacuum. We all take cues from our environment and incorporate them somehow in order to create a life that serves us.
That’s where vulnerability lives: in the place where we need to be truly seen by other people in order to have true connection. But if I’m seen, then I run the risk of rejection and disconnection.
No wonder the Other is so fraught with danger! I have no control over it. I can’t predict it. I don’t know what it’s going to think. And it’s going to SEE ME!
This came to a head for me last week. As you may know, my other job is that I own a gym with my brother. And there’s a small group of guys that work out at noon a few days a week. I take the afternoon shift, so I generally show up at 12 or 1 and stay till night, and I don’t work out with them. Sometimes I’ll be in the room, taking pictures of these guys in action and just hanging out, but I don’t join in on the workout.
About a week ago, one of the guys started asking when I was going to work out with them. I laughed and brushed it off, and then he asked again the next time I saw him. And the next.
I deflected by saying that I didn’t want to work out at noon because then I’d have to spend the next 10 hours sweaty and smelly, so I’d rather work out in the evening right before I went home. That’s very true, but it’s not the whole truth.
While on the surface I had an easy, logical excuse, on the in side my mind. was. frantic. “What’s this guy’s endgame? It’s not like he’s working out by himself. He doesn’t need a workout partner. I’m not fast enough or strong enough to be competition for him. If he doesn’t want me in the room or to take pictures, he can just say so. Do I need to be flattered or suspicious? Maybe this is how people demonstrate friendship. If it is a way to demonstrate friendship, I would also like to demonstrate friendship [cue self-judgment about sounding like an android]. Why is this a big deal? Why does he keep asking? Why???”
Even as I was listening to the thoughts in my head, I knew how ridiculous it sounded. But I couldn’t help myself. I’ve spent many years uncovering the dark corners of my subconscious, working through My Stuff. I forgot about Other People’s Stuff In Relation To Me.
Or, What Other People Want From Me vs. What I Can Actually Offer.
Or, Who They Think I Am vs. Who I Actually Am.
And will they still accept me, respect me, or love me when they know the truth?
In order to be lovable, must I be found lovable?
I know I’m smart, funny, brilliant, loving, kind, charismatic, a good friend, and all the other things I love about myself, but I also internalized a message about being of use to people, to society. Service to others. It’s so easy to sink into the idea that “I am only what I can offer other people.”
And if I can’t live up to the “ideal” that people may have in their heads (which is probably only in my head), what then can I offer them?
I am a gym owner, and I can’t do pull-ups without an assist. Or handstand push-ups. Or double unders. Is my credibility diminished?
It was easy enough for me to avoid the topic. That way people could have whatever image of me they wanted and they’d never know The Truth. It was easier to appear perfect that to live wholeheartedly and risk that excruciating vulnerability.
So, you can probably guess the trajectory of this story: I did join in on the workout. Despite my mind’s objections and fears, I know that these guys operate from a place of love and inclusivity in everything they do. I do honestly trust them, and I have trusted them in other areas of my life. Working out with them was an extension of the relationship I already have with them.
(Also, the timing was such that if I didn’t work out with them in the middle of the day, I would miss out on a pizza and beer opportunity with friends later that evening. So… now you know where my priorities lie.)
And they still love me, even if I can’t do pull-ups. They will continue asking me to join them, whether or not I’ve shaved my legs. They still ask for my input, even if they are lifting double the amount that I am.
I’ve been very lucky, this year in particular, to have drawn people into my life who just love and support the hell out of me, no matter how much I try to escape. They’re like a Chinese Finger Trap of love and support, and I’m the small child that hasn’t yet figured out that surrender and softening is the key to releasing myself from the “binding.”
If you have it in no one else, you have it here.
I think we worry so much sometimes that people are going to judge us based on one snapshot, probably taken out of context. And maybe that’s legit because it happens so often in the media, or it feels so good for us to judge others on that premise.
We forget, though, that the people who love us are looking at us through a lens of love. It’s like when your kid shrieks and screams at the grocery store, or when your best friend flips the bird at another driver, or when your parent yells at a customer service agent. The actions may be undesirable, ugly even, but you know them. It doesn’t change your love for them. If that were all someone saw, you’d be scrambling to defend your loved one, talking about all their great qualities, trying to show their true radiance and multifaceted nature.
When my clients get vulnerable with me, or when my friends and family truly let me see them, I am Honored. You do me a great honor by trusting me, and in that place of you trusting me, it pushes me to a new level of love, acceptance, potential.
The fact that you’ve deemed me worthy of your trust starts a cycle of making me want to be worthy of your trust. It calls my Highest Self to your service.
So, if you find yourself maybe maintaining your image a little to neurotically, think about what it would take for you to trust someone else. If there’s a small detail you could share that doesn’t fill you with dread. Baby steps are fine. Telling people what you need is also fine, surprisingly. Let them know how hard this is for you.
Authenticity is worth the risk.