Imagine you’re a pioneer hundreds of years ago. Your task in life is to survive, to roam around, and to make the most of what you have.
For the most part, you’re on your own.
You may come across the random person here or there, but, largely, you’re exploring the vast landscape before you and in your mind.
Now imagine that you’re that same pioneer and traveler, but you’re a bit older.
You can’t fend for yourself as well as you used to. You need to find others to support you in your journey.
You’re still you, but now you need to work with others to survive and get the most out of life.
How might your perspective change?
Most people go through circular journeys of solitude and seeking mixed with community and camraderie.
One is not necessarily better than the other.
But what happens inside the mind of the pioneer who is used to spending most of her time alone and figuring it out for herself?
She’s always going to have her experiences and thoughts to fall back on.
But does her newfound community know that? Do her experiences and thoughts matter to them?
It’s a scary idea.
This is the challenge when you’re tasked with being part of a group.
How much of your own life experiences can you safely share with others?
I struggled with this throughout my teens, into college, and even through most of my adult life.
I thought I could go it alone and figure out the world all by myself. I thought I could be totally self-sufficient.
Because I needed others to help me make sense of what I was experiencing.
And to connect with others, I felt that I needed to put who I was–the Real Me–in the background. I didn’t feel good enough, and I didn’t feel like people would appreciate my unique take on life.
I felt like a loner, an oddball, a weirdo–you name it.
It was a label I slapped on myself, and it was my reality at the time.
But, over time, it hurt too much to not be myself. It was soul-crushing and zapping my energy in the process.
And so I took the risk to share my innermost thoughts with the world through my writing at first, and then, later, through speaking in front of–and with–groups of people.
What I learned is that we all have a need to be understood. And it’s not about the nature of what I was sharing.
It was something else entirely, and this shocked me.
Simply putting myself out there and being vulnerable gave others permission to do the same.
My experiences were unique to me, yes, but they pointed to a reality that we all share: the belief that no can ever know who we truly are.
By talking about my quest, I gave people permission to think deeply and speak openly about theirs.
It was–and is–an indirect way to other people’s unique truths.
So when you ask yourself the three questions I listed above, you’re not only inquiring for yourself.
You’re tapping into something that we all share.
What you choose to share with the world is unique to you, but the process is universal.
The desire to be understood exists within all of us.
When you shine a light on who you are, others can choose to step into that light if they wish. They can borrow that light to share their own stories. Or they can use your courage to create some of their own and switch on their own light at some point in the future.
Your individual experiences are unique, and your choice to share them is yours.
But if you do–and I hope you do–you make it brighter, and therefore, safer, for others to do the same.