I am a proud “Don’t know it all” Following yesterday’s realizations that talking about what I want, isn’t bringing me closer to any of it, I am starting with a self-description. I recently watched the Ted talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- The danger of a Single Story – where she cautions us about the passive prejudice of ignorance and asks us to consider other possible sides to every story. I love this quote by Mark Twain and I think it applies to todays topic: “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” Both this quote and the Ted talk were probably intended for us to consider our perceptions of others, however, I think they can be equally applied to how we perceive ourselves.
As a recovering self-depredation addict, I can tell you that there is always another side to every story of self-pity. I can sit and listen to people talk about their successes, their amazing skills, their money, and their goals, then I can tear myself down into tiny little shreds of insignificance with the best of you. Guess what, that’s only part of their story, and it’s not remotely part of your story! What do I mean by this? First, they may not have told you all the challenges and self-doubts that were on their path. They may not be sharing with you the insecurities that may be make it impossible for them to clearly ask you for help, or even admit that you could, for fear of their feeling worst. Bragging I can be a fragile cover for fear of failure. Let’s say that they are really & factually answering the questions asked of them. Let’s consider that the perception that they are bragging is really your self-doubt and choice of making a comparison squeaking in your ears. Now consider the possibility that even your perception my be a different version of your own story… the story you are telling yourself during this comparison.
So your friend comes and tells you of how he is building a consulting company that netted him his first client with a $10,000,000 portfolio, that he nonchalantly explains it allows him to live in Europe, & travel to Madagascar, Mauritius, and Africa. That this first opportunity has already revealed more potential than he ever imagined and growth is inevitable. No matter how you try you feel incapable of seeing the challenges and sacrifices he’s made to do this. Your envy is consuming you, and you are a little miffed that he hasn’t asked you to join in on this amazing adventure… All this fuels you negative self-talk… Stop and breath, buddy… remember, it’s not about you. Hey, why isn’t it ever about me? Why doesn’t anyone ask about me? Well…. Maybe the issue is that you’ve spent so much time putting yourself down, that you have built walls around you to protect yourself from sharing that negative self-perception with others. Maybe, you have a habit of not remembering the compliments people give you. Maybe you have a hard time acknowledging the evidence of when others feel exactly like you do about your stories. Now, remember you asked them about it and if you are being honest with yourself, you can learn something amazing in this.
What harm could possibly come from telling your friend & yourself that you don’t really understand all this and would like to learn more? What harm could come from asking for more information on the journey they took to get there? What harm could possible arise from letting them know that you are moved by their excitement and would like to help wherever possible? Now you can, if you want ask for more of the story, different challenges, different needs… in listening you may find where you could help. Or, your friend, may already have an idea of where you might help. The point I am having a hard time making here is that you can choose to see this in different ways… to see different stories. At the very least, you are able to make your way to being happy for your friend, if you remind yourself, it isn’t always all about you! It isn’t only your story.
Elizabeth Lesser has a wonderful suggestion to overcome this… well, let’s just label it gently… this narcissistic tendency to see everything from our own perspective. She challenges us to get out of our comfort zones and into a practice that has helped her embrace ‘other’ stories than her own. She proposes that we invite our ideological enemies to lunch and talk it out. She prefaces it with attitudinal ground rules of respect, honesty, and open-mindedness. Listen and seek to understand. Steven Covey dedicated an entire chapter of his awesome book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to this New Testament payer attributed to Saint Francis” “… Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand.” Or as Covey says it “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. In listening we hear a different story than that which our own voice tells us. So, why wouldn’t you want to listen, if only for the possibility of proving your own negative self-talk incorrect?
How does all this relate to being a proud “I don’t know it all”? It tells me that nothing is absolute. There’s hope in alternative possibilities. That there can always be a silver lining. So, next time you feel a sad-sack story building in your head, stop and restart your story with this: “This Is Good Because…” Consider using it as an affirmation to replace that inner voice, telling you that not everything is as bleak as you think… in fact, there is always another version of the story. This is good because I don’t need to know it all. This is good because I don’t have to be right or wrong. This is good because I can turn this story into something completely different! This is good because I can now blissfully indulge my desire to learn and experience as much as possible.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) … Be curious, not judgmental.” by Walt Whitman