TALK 12 - San Francisco REI (Part Two)
I heard his laugh before I saw his face, my old boss was in the building.
One of the most emotionally intelligent men I've ever worked with is here, to hear all of my stories in all of my glory. I wonder how this interaction will go. He was supportive in my transition out of the agency, so this should be fine. And it is.
We breeze through standard catch up fare - how you doing, how's work, updates on family. We chat for a bit before others show up and all the while, I feel weird. Not bad weird, good weird. Lighter. Relieved. Like I had been holding my breath and now I could exhale.
One of the lines I share on my list of terrible things people have said to me stems from a conversation I had with him around my demeanor with clients. Before a meeting to try to win more business with an existing client, he asked me to bring my first date personality to the meeting. He went on to explain that I relate to people quickly and that sometimes, that can scare clients away. I took this to mean that I needed a total personality change and that one line haunted me for months after it was said to me. Even with his explanation of what he meant, every time I read this line during a talk, my heart would race.
After some time and distance from that conversation, I realize now that it wasn't an indictment of my personality, it was my emotionally intelligent boss sharing that some corporate folks still like the song and dance and that skipping ahead to the part where we are friendly can, unfortunately, affect how business is done.
Sitting here now, seeing that he chose to take time away from his family, away from his work, to support this moment in my life, I feel my walls come down. Should I skip that line? If I do, what is my intention? To spare his feelings? Do I keep it in there and prepare myself for whatever may follow? Or is it possible that I have grown up and out of that particular one, and I can truly let it go?
As I continue on with my talk, the “do I or don’t I” dilemma is rattling around in my brain. I can barely look at him during the talk, and I’m not sure why. Am I embarrassed? Do I wish I showed up better when I received that information? Do I wish I could have a do over?
I get to the part where I pull out the list and read it for everyone in the room. It’s the same notecard I bring to every talk. The corners are worn, it’s creased in the middle, and while I probably could recite all of these by memory now, this part of the speech is a ceremonial moment for me.
“Now, I’m going to read you a list of the things that came up for me while I was hiking to one of the highest points on Catalina Island,” I start.
“All of these things were said to me by people who were next to Jesus with the level of importance I placed on their words. Everything that came out of these folks’ mouth was the truth - growing up, that was parents, siblings, teachers, coaches. As I got older, these things were said by mentors, colleagues, bosses. Or, they were said to me or about me so many times that I figured hey, if someone is going to take this much time out of their life to say these things, they must be true.”
Before I start reading through the list, I cover my ass.
“And this is the hardest part of this whole talk. Sometimes I cry. So if that happens, just hug me when it’s over, we’ll all be okay.”
I have the list in my hand. I unfold it. I usually pick folks to read this to, but this crowd is smaller than we anticipated, so my choices are limited. I find the lady with kind eyes - there’s always at least one - and I say some of the lines to her. I deliver some of it to Barry. As I creep closer and closer to the one-liner that caused me pain for weeks and months following the conversation with my boss, I take a deep breath.
And I skip it.
In this moment, delivering this talk, with my old boss sitting directly in front of me, I skip the line about bringing my first-date personality to the client meeting.
Not because I’m scared. Not because I fear that he’ll react the way my sister did when she heard the comment about the thumbs. Because I am healed. I know now, just like I knew then, that my personality is what makes me, me. I’ve been trying to fit into a box for decades, and this felt like someone stuffing me in another box. In this moment, reading this line wouldn’t serve me. It doesn’t take away anything from the story to omit it.
The line that follows is the doozy from my father. I pause. Remembering how I felt in that moment when he said that, I take another deep breath and fight back tears.
Instead of finding someone’s eyes to meet for the last line, the one that always trips me up, I read it to myself. For myself. With myself. And when I’m finished, I exhale. I fold the notecard, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and continue the talk.
I don’t know what it is about this talk in particular, but there is a shift happening within me. I don’t know what it is yet, exactly, but I can feel a new wave of self-awareness coming.
This time, I know how to swim in these waters. This time, the pain won’t drown me.
(to be continued)