I’ve known for a long time that I’m better at asking questions than answering them.
I genuinely like to hear people’s stories. Their challenges, their accomplishments, and the things they’ve learned. People become three-dimensional through conversation. Even people I think I know well can morph into new people in just a handful of sentences.
But when the tables turn, meaningful conversation halts.
Them: So, how are you?
Me: <a few shallow sentences ringing with “oh, you know,” “pretty good,” and a few shrugs and smiles.>
Them: How is your work?
Because, what is there to say?
My professional life is a big fat mess of half-built bridges, partially conceived plans, a huge selection of it-gave-me-a-paycheck work, a much smaller selection I’m-so-damn-proud-I-created-that work, and so many dreams and ideas I am terrified I will never realize.
Despite being told or reading time and again that I needed to perfect my “elevator pitch,” it hasn’t happened. In part, because there was too much too say, or no good way to summarize everything, or nothing I was particularly proud of.
So, how is my work? Lately, it’s been uninspiring, frustrating, too reliant and focused on other people’s initiatives and goals.
Which leads to that first question: How am I? For the most part, I wake up in the morning, I enjoy the day well enough, and then I tuck it for the night before starting all over again.
One question naturally leads to the other because my work doesn’t end at a certain hour or when a certain task is complete. In reality, I’ve gotten much better about managing a work/life balance. But ideas, opinions, and thoughts don’t run on a time clock.
To clarify: Things aren’t bad. They just aren’t keeping me up at night … in the best way possible.
They aren’t exciting and daring and bursting with inspiration.
I know I have something meaningful to offer the world, not least of all because I think constantly that I have the ability to make a difference. A real, true difference.
The struggle for many years has been how to manifest this into something tangential. Something I can point at and say, “That. I made that. I did that. That is the legacy I’m leaving behind.”
For the last several months, I’ve been flipping work-related thoughts around in my head. I have so many slightly related but disconnected professional pieces. What to do with them all? How to make them connect?
When I was out running a few weeks ago, a simple idea bounded its way into my imagination. It got stuck.
For the first several days it was there, I was afraid to do anything about it. Writing it down, telling someone about it … those things would have made the idea real.
And what if it was a bad idea? What if I spent all that time mulling over a Really Bad Idea?
Finally, I scribbled down a few thoughts, but it took all the courage I could muster up to share my idea with Cory.
Friends, the crippling self-doubt and impostor syndrome were REAL.
It was horrible and wonderful and terrifying and uncomfortable and so, so freeing to finally say the words out loud. And the strangest part was that it doesn’t even matter what comes of that idea, because what happened next was the important part.
For weeks — no, months — I’ve heard the whispers, but I shushed them. I pushed the dissonance and bubbling thoughts back down deep deep deep because they had no place in the current moment.
But you know what? You can run, but you can’t hide.
Finally leaning into fear was liberating.
That little, tiny, festering thought that lodged into my brain started manifesting itself in all sorts of ways in my life. My favorite signal came in the form of an opening paragraph in an email from a friend, which I opened a couple mornings ago:
Ah, this is such a special email. It’s that whole feeling alone thing and then realizing you’re not alone. None of us are ever truly alone in what we’re feeling or dealing with — and that’s something I’m realizing more and more and thankful for.
“None of us are ever truly alone … “
I leaned further into that idea. Within 24 hours, I scribbled down a few thoughts, participated in a clarity webinar, and signed up for a business consulting call.
So, how am I? I feel exhilarated and nervous about the unknown. I feel brave and relieved for finally tripping over this stumbling block that’s been sitting in my way. For finally tripping and falling and picking myself up and moving forward again.
And I can’t wait to try, create, fail, be surprised, experiment, succeed, and try again.
And, how is my work? Changing. Changing slow or fast, I’m not sure yet, but my work is a work in progress.
For the first time in a long time, I’m sitting in my discomfort in the most welcome way possible. I don’t know what’s to come, but it beats the heck out of languishing in a stale, uninspired state free of creativity, ideas, and dreams just waiting to be built.
The next time the tables turn, I’ll be the one with a story I am proud to tell.