March 11, 2022
There’s a family dinner. You’re close with a few folks, acquainted enough with the rest to make comfortable conversation. Comfortable, until someone lobs the inevitable, “How’s the running?” You flush. A rush of feelings and emotions wash over.
Feelings? Emotions? No! You panic like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he finally gets to tell Santa his dreams (how about a nice football?).
“It’s going well. Ran four miles this morning,” you say with a crooked smile. Nobody cares. Aunt Linda just scooted her chair out. You’re losing them. “It was cold this morning! Can’t believe how long winter’s holding on.”
Talk turns mercifully to weather. Phew, another successful diversion.
“Where the runner fails is as an artist. He fails… to transmit the understanding of the emotions he has experienced. The spectator sees little of his inner life.”
George Sheehan, Running and Being
Replace “running” in the anecdote above with other life experiences: Relationships, careers, sobriety. Oh, that last one! If it’s challenging to relate a hobby or passion in polite company, talking about why you’re not drinking will be singularly uncomfortable. For introverts and highly sensitive people, the idea of encapsulating deeply personal, meaningful corners of our identities into data points and chit chat is especially dreadful.
What’s the deal here? Why are we so reluctant to share even surface stories of our inner world with others? It comes down to different flavors of fear. We might be afraid of…
- Lack of interest. Not everyone is into in running, alcohol-free living, or [insert your quirk here].
- Judgement. “Do you have a problem?” See also: “Why do you spend so much time on that?”
- Limited understanding. Our inner lives are elaborate and not well-summarized in soundbites.
Let’s crack each of these open and think about how to work with the fear.
- Lack of interest. Every person at that aforementioned dinner table is engaged in some kind of internal dialogue. And (spoiler) it’s not about you. Understanding this self-centeredness takes the pressure off you to dazzle the room with your infinitely fascinating personal life. Instead…
- Find common ground. Maybe there are no runners at the table, but cousin Lou once backpacked through Europe. And Grandma really did walk five miles to school, against the wind both ways. Perhaps your brother in-law works in the beverage industry and, why yes, has noticed the rise in non-alcoholic options.
- Judgement. It’s natural to fear judgement when discussing something profoundly important to you. That could be why we default to platitudes. They’re safe. Much of this fear seems to be self protection, some hard-wired, some reinforced in locker rooms and conference rooms as we find our footing in life. Here’s a tactic…
- Practice ahead of time. You know the question is coming, so put some thought into it. Write possible responses in a journal. Practice them with a trusted friend or partner. Remember, too… You’re not the first or only person to stare down this fear. Read up on how others handle it, and consider connecting with people who have similar challenges.
- Limited understanding. Running is all at once simple (lace up and go), and complex (hours spent alone, rollercoasters of emotion, floods of sensory inputs and weird body chemicals). Relationships, career choices, sobriety; All are similarly intricate. Simple on the surface, but rich and nuanced in the details. Try this…
- Listen first. To be more relatable and confident when talking, practice active listening. Back to our dinner table: Give your full attention to the conversation and the people. Think about their humanness. It’s coded in subtle gestures and swirling softly behind their eyes. Not so different from your own. Encourage others with nods and ask them to tell you more. By genuinely listening, you open the flow of the room and your own heart. Now you’re in a better place to share something real.
“I never knew anybody… who found life simple. I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories
It might be easier to gloss over your inner life. And, of course, in some environments it doesn’t help you or anyone else to do a deep dive. But consider the energy return of sharing a slice of your truth.
If running lights you up, that seems safe to say. If quitting drinking is the best decision you ever made, someone at the table might need to hear that. And heck, if you really love the nitty gritty numbers and data points of training, talk about those! The bottom line is, you fall slightly out alignment every time you sell your human experience short. Do that often enough, and you risk stunting growth or losing yourself altogether.
Honesty and vulnerability are trainable muscles. It gets easier. 💪