This was originally shared via a speaking engagement at Bodhi Spiritual Center for their community members. The goal was to build upon Bodhi’s monthly theme of “Light Up Your World” through sharing universal truths and personal experiences. The images shown were part of the multi-media presentation.
I am amazing at many things.
I am also deficient at many things, and I know that I am the only one with these deficiencies.
Here are things I know to be true about the people in this room, about you all.
Unlike me —
You run at a treadmill speed higher than 3.0.
You do math without using your fingers.
You know how to pronounce acai and quinoa and aren’t afraid to order rooibos at a coffeehouse because you’re not sure if you’re saying it correctly.
You know what countries are in Central America and what countries are in South America.
You uncork a bottle of wine with a relaxed brow and a flirty smile.
You knew in your undergrad philosophy/religion class that j-o-b is pronounced jobe, not job.
Unlike me —
You know what the NASDAQ is and the difference between an IRA and a ROTH IRA.
You know how to air-kiss without licking someone’s face.
You know the order of the Presidents, at least of the first three.
You walk around the locker room naked, head high, no security-towel in hand.
You have a mother whom you always love and always want to spend time with, and you always answer when she appears on Caller ID.
Unlike me, all the females in this room —
Can leave their house without checking to see if they need to shave their chin or neck.
Are wearing a correctly-sized bra.
Have taut, smooth, stretch-mark free skin.
Unlike me —
You know the difference between an Americano, a cappuchino, and a misto.
You’ve heard of a misto.
You know which burger to order, a half pound or a third pound, if you want the smaller one.
You know how many ounces are in a cup, how many centimeters in a foot, how to convert fahrenheit to celsius, how to tell military time.
You have always known that Alaska and Hawaii are not actually next to each other, though maps of our childhood showed us otherwise.
You’ve never had to change sheets or underwear because of a bodily-fluid accident.
You chat casually with dinner party guests and throw things willy-nilly into pots while prepping a to-die-for meal.
You eat in public places without dribbling food on your shirt.
Unlike me —
You know what Socrates and Tolstoy are famous for.
You know there’s paper on the gourmet sausage and remove it before serving it to your guests.
You swirl your wine before sipping because you know the reason why you’re supposed to swirl wine before sipping not because that’s what everyone else does.
I am the only one with these deficiencies. Or so I thought.
Recently, I had a meeting with two peers, one whom I barely knew and one whom I had never met. The goal was to talk about our businesses, how we could help one another, what potential there was for collaboration. I wanted to make a good impression.
Unfortunately, I was wearing an unbreathable sweater and Uggs, talking wildly with my hands as I do when I’m “on”, while sitting two feet from a roaring fireplace. Not a winning combination. The sweat pooled on my face, my neck, and as I found out after, under my boobs.
Sigh. WHY AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS SWEAT-INFUSED INTERACTIONS? Feeling embarrassed and loser’y, and needing to be talked down off the proverbial ledge, I shared the boob-sweat incident in a private Facebook group. In minutes, 97 people had liked my post and 33 had commented.
Commenters had words of encouragement, appreciation for my confession, recommendations of sweat combatting clothing and bath products. And person after person each had their own tale of ‘this embarrassing thing happens to me in public.’
You wouldn’t think a digital commerce company would be a source of enlightenment.
But it was when reading Copyblogger’s article The 4 Words That Will Get Your Email Opened that I had one of those moments of illumination.
The author noted that when sending emails, by leaps and bounds, the phrase “You Are Not Alone” was the most-opened subject line. To the point, compelling, universal.
Oh irony, that feeling alone is a pervasive feeling and speaks to so many. We tell ourselves “I’m the only one” yet you are sitting next to someone thinking “I’m the only one” who is sitting next to someone thinking “I’m the only one” who is sitting next to someone thinking “I’m the only one.”
In my bringing together of strangers who are looking for more fulfillment, in my attempts to help others live a Life of Yes℠, I hear over and over and over, all shrouded in a haze of “I’m the only one…” —
- “I haven’t done anything meaningful in my life.”
- “I want more friends who aren’t coupled up or pregnant or in Schaumburg.”
- “I have the condo, the car, the bank account, the family… But I’m not happy. Something’s missing.”
- “I don’t know how to answer the question, ‘What are you passionate about?’ I don’t know what I want to do in life. I don’t know what my dreams are.”
- “I’ve had zero success in dating and I’m going to be single forever.”
- “I don’t feel anchored to anyone or any place.”
- “I don’t know how to small-talk. I suck at making conversation.”
- “I can’t for the life of me follow through on —
- Getting in shape
- Writing my book
- Putting myself out there. Meeting others. Doing something different. Climbing out of this rut.”
- “I started down the path of being a lawyer, being a teacher, starting my own business, and because I invested so much and because I told everyone this is my plan, I have to remain on that path. Though I’m miserable.”
- “I don’t have ‘real’ friends. The kind I can text to meet for ice cream in ten minutes, the kind I’d call if I lost my job or to giggle with about a dreamy first date.”
- “I’m a boring person who doesn’t have anything to offer.”
These sentiments people uncomfortably disclose to me, steeped in shame, pain, longing. Steeped in “I’m the only one.”
In this age of sharing, and often over-sharing, of films, TV, blogs, Instagram depicting their skewed versions of the dream life, how can you not compare yourself and feel that everyone else gets it, that everyone is winning at life but you? How can you not feel alone and that you’re the only one?
The solution to feeling alone is simple. It’s not easy but it’s simple.
Be a voice.
This is how you find your tribe. Your willingness to speak, to share, to be vulnerable sends up the bat signal and in doing so, lets others find you. Don’t try to make your life appear perfect. It’s your imperfections that make you a goodness magnet.
I created a program called Fear Experiment℠ where you sign up to learn an art-form that instills fear in you for one reason or another — you danced in college and haven’t danced since, you think your stories aren’t worthy of a microphone, you love singing in the shower but not in front of others, you’re scared of the ‘having to be funny’ness of improv.
In Fear Experiment℠, you rehearse your art-form for two and half months with a bunch of other terrified strangers, none of whom you know because everyone has to sign up solo to amp up the ‘get out of your comfort zone’ aspect, and then you perform in front of 5, 6, 700 people. Over 300 have gone through the program and over 5000 have paid to see ‘bad’ dancing, storytelling, stepping, improv, and a cappella, many of whom say it’s one of the most rewarding and inspiring experiences of their lives.
What makes Fear Experiment℠ work is the fact that the participants are naked. They come into it without the protective shield of a friend. They come into it without the usual perfection armor we wear, as they embrace their suckage and admit they have no rhythm or they’re terrible at meeting others or public-speaking makes them shake and stutter. They come into it with a willingness to try on a new outfit or three.
And when you have a group of naked strangers naked together, working towards a scary but attainable goal, all saying, “This is me, these are my fears, and I’m crapping my pants right now,” the camaraderie that ensues is instant and deep.
There you have your tribe. With this new tribe, you have the courage to admit that which causes you distress and to try something yesterday-you would never do. Being surrounded by positive people who lift you up no matter what, you realize what a badass you truly are. You infect one another. You infect your friends. You infect the audience. You infect tomorrow-you.
The show, the cherry on top, is one of the most uplifting gatherings you can be a part of. There is nothing more like a blanket on a freezing night than 20, 30, 40, 50 year olds leaving it all on stage during what is basically an adult-recital, with an audience from all over the country cheering for every move, every note, every ‘mistake,’ laughing together, crying together, laughing together.
The discovery of their tribe, the increased self-confidence, and the belief that they truly deserve the spotlight and that they possess something of worth to offer others, those occur because the participants choose to be a voice. An authentic, this is who I am — the good and the bad — voice.
Beauty personified is a standing ovation for imperfection —
Though incredibly petrifying to be naked, to speak up, especially to be the first utterance, the ripples that result will hopefully show you the goodness you create and not just for others but for yourself.
As soon as you vocalize that you’re deep in debt, that you battle with alcohol, that you struggle with infertility, you create a sigh in others. They’ll say, “Me too!” And a group of people Me too’ing one another is a building block of personal fulfillment.
When you get affirmation that you’re not weird, or that you’re weird but others are weird right alongside you, your comfort with yourself expands.
Not to get too personal, but my loins burn intensely when I see an attractive guy reading a book, not a Kindle, but an actual book, on a train or in a coffeeshop. I was embarrassed at my level of hot and bothered’ness until I discovered that one of the most popular Instagram accounts is “Hot Dudes Reading.” Suddenly my creepy proclivity had company and instead of freaky, I was just human.
Home by myself one New Year’s Eve, around 11:30, high-time for sexy people doing sexy things, I Facebook-shared that I was alone, in yoga pants, in bed, eating Chinese. The cheerleading that ensued was deafening. Cheers of “The best!” “I wish that’s what I was doing!” “Me too!” Suddenly I felt completely at ease standing in my truth and instead of a loser, I was just a human.
I recently led a Life of Yes℠ webinar and asked these live-poll questions to the participants:
- In what area of your life would you like to be more fulfilled? Social, physical, professional, romantic, or spiritual.
- What’s the hardest for you? Going somewhere by yourself, saying no, or asking for help.
- Do you ever feel lonely?
After each question, I shared the results. This was a way to demonstrate to the participants, located all over the country, of various professions, of all ages, that regardless of background, regardless of personality traits, regardless of belief systems, there’s an abundance of commonality that threads us together.
For example —
Mostly because I abhor it, I am fascinated with networking.
Why people stand outside networking events having to pysch themselves up to go in, why they act like the douchiest versions of themselves once inside, why we get home and wish we had never ventured out.
What makes a successful networking event successful, what makes a painful networking event painful.
Tactics that triumph and make you the most interesting and introduced person at the event. Tactics that bomb and make you that person everyone wants to get away from.
I’m a sucker for articles titled “how to work a room”, “networking for introverts,” “how to be the life of the party.” Informal evidence over my eleven years of Mac & Cheese shows that most people think they’re pretty horrible and desperately want to be better at connecting with strangers. And again, that they’re the only ones with this struggle.
Keeping in mind the recurring stories I hear from you all and the data of “You are not alone” as an email subject, one of the tactics I employ is to share something about myself that gets the person with whom I’m talking, to feel or say “Me Too!” This is most easily achieved by sharing a moment of vulnerability especially around universal topics, — dating, making friends, pet peeves. Again, being a voice and sharing your blemishes.
The person then feels you get them. You know, that warm sensation that spreads throughout your being when reading an article, listening to a podcast, watching a speaker and you highlight every sentence or nod your head and amen aloud at every word? Delicious.
Speaking up authentically makes you human, memorable, and someone to root for. Author Anne Lamott notes that ‘Clutter and mess show that life is being lived.’ Who wouldn’t rather network with someone who is living life as opposed to someone who is sitting on the sidelines?
I’d so much rather chat with someone, and be someone, dirty with experience than clean holding binoculars.
You can also be a voice in non-verbal ways.
Recently, I showed up to yoga just before class started, so my normal back row spot was taken. You know the spot. The spot where it’s a bit dark so no one can see you, next to the wall, away from judg’y eyes of flat-stomached, Lululemon-clad adonis’, the spot where you feel as comfortable as one can feel when asked to bend over and have your bits hanging this way and that.
As I stood at the door, I was faced with the dilemma of annoy others and squeeze myself into a space in the back row that didn’t exist, or place my mat in the wide-open plain that was the front row. It was like asking me to choose which I’d rather give up, naps or bread.
After a few moments of intense deliberation, I rolled my eyes at myself and unrolled my mat in the front row. Guess what? No one laughed and pointed. I didn’t die. The teacher did not stop class and say, “Uh Saya, I think this may be too advanced for you; could you leave?” Now, I make it a point to stride to the front of the room and unabashedly claim my space. Even though it’s sometimes a shaky stride or a fake stride, it’s a stride.
I don’t know if anyone in class has been affected. Probably no one’s noticed. But I like to believe that one person has thought, “Look at that chunky, sweaty girl doing her thing, not caring about others. If she can do that, I can do that.”
I do know that when I shared this drawing with my community, numerous people chimed in with “Me too!” and “I’m inspired to try this!” remarks. Which made me so happy that I chose to speak up.
That list of my deficiencies I shared earlier — even though I feel alone in them, perhaps I’m not alone. Perhaps one or three or twenty of you also have stretch marks.
Could I ask you to close your eyes?
For the sake of keeping everyone safe and comfortable, if you could keep them closed until I ask you to open them.
With your eyes closed, could you raise your hand if you have stretch marks?
Thank you, you can put your hands down. I appreciate you being vulnerable. Go ahead and open your eyes.
I wanted to see if in fact I’m not alone.
What I knew to be true — that everyone else is flawless while I’m scarred — is in fact not true. The movie playing in your head about what others think of you, what might happen if you do something uncomfortable, where you fall on the ‘normal’ scale is always a million times worse than reality.
If you’ll indulge me in one more playing of the “close your eyes” game —
Close your eyes.
Dig deep inside yourself and once again, find that place of truthfulness and courage and vulnerability.
Eyes closed, raise your hand if, in the past three months, you have felt alone.
Thank you, you can put your hands down and open your eyes.
Most of us have felt alone.
I’m going to gasp! give you homework that will a) make others feel less alone and b) help you remember that you’re a badass.
In the next week —
- Send a “You’re awesome!” handwritten note to someone
- Do not include an ask of them, do not expect anything in return, do not gripe about your problems
- Ask others what your superpowers are
- Superpowers are things that come easily to you, things others admire in you, things others ask you for help with.
- They do not have to be sexy, like “climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro” or “can speak French fluently”; they can be “I can add fractions” “I’m an Excel spreadsheet whiz” “I can cook without a recipe”
- Via Facebook, via email; a tip if you do it over email, ask people from different sectors of your life, not all coworkers, not all friends, not all family, not all people who’ve known you forever, not all people who’m you’ve just met
- Be a voice
- Share something vulnerable
- Say “Me too!”
- When someone else is vulnerable, support them by saying “Me too!”
Most of us have felt alone.
This time of year is one of joy and fulfillment and togetherness. But for some, it’s a time of feeling alone, heightened by the fact that they know everyone else is laughing around a heaping table of food and drink, listening to Bing Crosby, cloaked in the warmth of relationships, feeling needed, and excitement of what’s yet to come. But that’s a myth — not everyone has a seat at that table. Not everyone feels a part of a tribe.
I encourage you to create a table for those people and, if applicable, to remember to pull up a chair for yourself.
Light up your world by sharing your voice.
Light up your world by saying “Me too!” when someone else shares their voice.
When you feel alone, light up your world and you will see the rest of us in the shadows.
I wish you peace, fulfillment, and a voice — in other words, a Life of Yes℠ — this holiday season.
Photo Credit: Gina Harris
When I asked people to raise their hands if they had stretch marks, about thirty people raised their hands. And not just raised their hands, but immediately and with such enthusiasm, I wondered if I had asked, “Raise your hands if you’d like me to give you $100, no strings?”
When I asked people to raise their hands if they’ve felt alone in the past three months, almost every person raised their hands.
If you’ve ever felt alone, if you’re looking for a tribe, if you want to say “Me too!”, join the Cheese-It community! We are always looking to bring more members into the fold — you can never have too much goodness.
If you like the “Thank you for making me feel comfortable doing the uncomfortable” and “Thank you for sharing your story, giving me courage to share mine” quotes, they’re available as notecards, along with other Life of Yes℠ sayings, in the Mac & Cheese Store.