I was at a party last night, a rare event for me, a woman who prefers solitude and quiet nights at home with the dog and a book. But I went to honor the birthday of someone dear to me and found myself in a room surrounded by family and friends, people I’ve known for a long time and many others I had never met before. I was surprised at how comfortable I felt in my own skin – the hard earned result of years of inner contemplative work, especially the Conscious Feminine Leadership Training of WWf(a)C. I used to be such a people pleaser, playing the role of a happy, confident person, appearing interested in others and their small talk in shallow conversations. I would nod and smile a lot, my radar always out for how they were perceiving me.
Last night was different. Mostly, I avoided small talk. Small talk has always felt a bit off to me, but until recently I didn’t understand why. The truth is that it is much easier to feel intimate and connected with people when there aren’t a lot of words getting in the way. Small talk is meant to help us get to know one another – what we do, where we’re from, who we know. But the thing is, none of that is really who we are deep down. I am tantalized by the depths. What I really want to know is: What do you love? What breaks your heart? What truths do you hold down in your bones? What do you dream of? Long for? How are you learning to love yourself?
The problem is that questions like these really throw most people off as conversation starters, and they make awkward-feeling follow-up questions to normal folks’ laundry lists of career histories, the way most of us have come to identify ourselves. But I have trouble answering questions like, “So, what do you do?”
Well…um…to be totally honest?
And how many times do we get part way into our answer only to realize that our questioner’s attention has drifted off? Like mine did when a man spent fifteen minutes going through his latest iphone photos like a third grader doing show-and-tell with no main topic. In the past, I would have pretended to be interested, asked questions, made enthusiastic faces, all to make sure that he liked me. In other words, I used to trade my authenticity for the approval of others. I no longer live with the burden of trying to be polite, instead I do my best to be real. And I no longer put my self-worth in the hands of unskilled others, instead I do my best to hold myself and to listen.
I realize now that I was always so uncomfortable with small talk because I thought I had to bend the shape of my self to fit the questions that were put to me and to try to be understood. And I always felt disappointed in the shallowness of those interactions, as if it were my conversation partner who lacked an ability to reach down to their soul’s core and present that to me, giving me permission to bring mine out as well. But the truth is that depth is in the ear of the listener. So, instead of filling up the space with witty comebacks and funny slings, now I simply lean in to listen. I listen deeply, past that litany of career moves and seemingly disconnected thoughts streaming from a stranger’s camera roll. I listen for what it is you love, what you long for, what truths are coming from those stories you carry down in your bones.
~DRH for the Poplar Grove Muse