A couple weeks ago I grabbed dinner with a friend I don’t see often or enough.
She was dealing with some tough work decisions and I tried to offer both a sounding board and some advice I thought would be helpful.
I also took a huge risk:
While we’re not super close friends, I shared a lot about the roller coaster my life had been on for the past few years.
I felt that the personal and professional challenges I’d gone through had a common thread to what my friend was dealing with. We are different people, in different circumstances, and the specifics of our lives aren’t very similar at all. And yet, I felt that some of what I’ve learned about myself as I waded through my various challenges would help my friend wade through hers.
Sharing something personal, raw, and honest is a risk whenever we do it. But this was also a risk because for most of my life I had a carefully curated image that I would bring out in public and this image, this “public Nataly”, didn’t share struggles, challenges, or emotional roller coasters. I created this story of how I should be – strong, positive, upbeat, energetic, resilient! – and didn’t let anyone but my closest humans through it.
These qualities I showed the world weren’t fake; I was all of those things, in some way. But there was a lot more inside, more of what I thought didn’t “fit” into my story.
Strong people don’t share their inner doubt. Positive people don’t share sadness – and heck, definitely not people who run a company called Happier. Upbeat people don’t ever feel hopeless. Resilient people never want to give up.
Or so I thought as I clung to this way of how I thought the public Nataly should be.
“Wow, I had no idea!” my friend said after I’d talked for about ten minutes. Her food remained untouched on her plate.
“I had no idea about any of this,” she kept saying in disbelief, as I told her about a recent period in my life when my world went dark inside and my life was in a storm outside.
“Well, it’s not something I have talked about a lot,” I told her, “because you know, I thought everyone would run away from me if they found out I wasn’t all go-go-go Nataly.”
This was the truth. But it wasn’t recent truth. It’s what I’ve believed for most of my life. I feared that if I cracked open the image of the “strong, upbeat, has-it-all-together Nataly,” a lot of people would run away from me.
“They didn’t, did they,” my friend said, with a kind and knowing smile on her face.
No. They didn’t.
Quite the opposite, actually.
My world has become richer with closer friendships and more authentic interactions, like the one I had with my friend over dinner. I can’t think of an area in my life that hasn’t benefited from a less fragmented me – my family, my career, my self. It’s not all sunshine and roses. I’ve felt doubt and fear, I’ve been disappointed and surprised.
But I wouldn’t go back, no way.
“I think everyone just wants you, the real you,” I told my friend, as we talked about the courage it takes to not fragment ourselves into the private people only a few see and the public people we bring to dinners and meetings.
“We think there is some version of us the world wants, but we’re the ones creating that version, that story in our heads. If we could just all drop our stories, all at the same time, magic would happen,” I said.
“Yeah!” she exclaimed, and then we talked about caterpillars and butterflies (but that’s for another post).
A few days after our dinner there was a card in my mailbox. It was from my friend.
I love this card. It’s freaking awesome. (It's made by Chronicle Books and you can find it on Amazon.)
I love it more because it reminded me once again about a lesson I keep learning:
We are the ones most attached to our stories.
We create them, we cling to them, we start to believe the world wants them. But what the world mostly wants is us, the real, imperfect, truly human version of us, with sadness and joy and everything in between.
So test it out. Get a little more real with a friend. Shorten the distance between the you inside and the you who comes to dinners or meetings. You don’t need to lay it all out, to share every emotion and thought, but you can share a little more to start.
I think you’ll find that the world doesn’t run away from you but towards you. And there is a chance that what you share helps someone gain perspective, feel connected, less alone, less lost, more hopeful.
There is a chance you can make someone’s day just by being a little more you.
And that’s a chance I’m willing to take.