I’ve had ridiculous years before, but never a year of bullshit. Well, half a year to be more precise. Here’s how all the bullshit started.
Last year I was having dinner with a friend from college whom I hadn’t seen in thirty-six years, catching him up about my life and talking about all that I’ve done and accomplished.
“Lois, stop the bullshit,” he said.
In other words, he felt that I was trying to impress him, which in truth may have been one of my defaults over the years. OK, it has been my default and a cover for insecurity, shame, and vulnerability. I never knew it was so obvious. (Or maybe it’s not, except to people who really know us.)
Being called on bullshit, I started to pay much closer attention to it in myself and others.
Bullshit, according to philosopher Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University, is a lot like humbug but simply a less polite word. Both words mean false talk or behavior, absent sense or meaning. In verb forms they mean to deceive.
I don’t think most people intend to deceive others. However, our society sees confidence and certainty as positive, desirable attributes. Most of us have bought into the belief that confident people are successful people. By confidence in this context I mean the Merriam-Webster definition: the quality or state of being certain: certitude <they had every confidence of success>.
We buy from confident sales people. We believe confident coaches, consultants, and “thought leaders.” We want to follow confident leaders. We glow when teachers tell us that our children “exude confidence.”
But how much of all that confidence is just a veneer over uncertainty? How much of it is “faking it until you can make it?” How much of it is bullshit, deceiving ourselves and others and hoping to God that we can deliver on what we’re saying?
My hunch is quite a bit.
What if we revealed our dark sides?
So what might happen if we exposed more of our uncertainty and vulnerability? Would we have fewer friends? Would we be less successful at work? Would people not pay attention to our ideas? Would they judge us less competent?
Or might they like and trust us more because of our honesty?
Six months later in December I participated in an online writing program to help us creative types look at how we can lead a more authentically creative life.
One Saturday morning the following writing prompt came from Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor and coauthor of the book, The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your “Good” Self—Drives Success and Fulfillment:
The Upside of the Dark Side
Which emotions do you feel most guilty about having? Afraid that others might find out? How could you spend this year trying to be open to the emotional window that allows you to be courageous?
Whoa, Nellie. “There’s no way I’m going to share my most guilty emotions publicly,” I posted to the community Facebook page. Sorry, gang, I thought to myself. I like this community writing and sharing, but I’m not going there. I don't do darkness. I'm the positive, optimistic chick. And, good grief, what would people think if they knew my real dark side?
Todd replied to my "NO WAY!" right away:
Getting real is really hard
So after a few hours, I wrote my “Dark Side” story, shared it with the group, and turned off the computer. (It is “The Other Halves” story in the Illness section of this book.)
You can watch and praise Brené Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability, but to lay bare your vulnerabilities is Really. Hard. Scary. Work. That's why most people avoid it like an IRS audit.
But guess what? Nothing bad happened when I posted my story. Only good. Revealing my soul helped people see the real me. Instead of judgment, I received encouragement, compassion, and a whole lot of love from people I have never met. I've also seen some new light in my dark places.
All of this leads me to consider the following questions:
- How can I show up more as my real self, making it safe for other people to come as they are?
- How can I pay as much attention to the information from people’s emotions as I do to research data?
- How can I more regularly call bullshit and invite people into honest conversations that are needed for solving important problems?
So I’m calling my own bullshit and sharing my stories in hopes that they help you find the courage to share yours, too. As I write these words I think, “Maybe you’re sharing a little too much here. You had fun writing these stories, but file them away.”
Then my imaginary fairy soul sisters say, “Stories have a healing magic, connecting us with one another as real, raw, and wonderful human beings. Don’t be afraid. Set the stories free. They will help you grow, heal, and become a more empathetic and kind citizen of our world. They will inspire your sons and the sons and daughters you never had to take chances and be ready for the unexpected in life, both the bad and especially the good. To show up as themselves and know that they are enough.”
I never argue with those soul sisters. They are always right.
So here’s to more of us sharing more of us. To telling stories that reveal our naked-hearted selves and help us have conversations that help us heal, learn, love, and laugh.