We need to talk about our failures; plain and simple.
Whoa, Paul, slow down. Let’s ease into this one. Don’t scare away your readers.
No, I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one. I’ll say it again. We need to talk about our failures.
Alright, well, I warned you. Go ahead, step into the fire.
Mic, please. Testing, testing, one, two, three, testing. Can everyone hear me? Great, let’s begin…
When it comes to making friends, our social ideology is maddening. While we play the song and dance of trying to get to know someone, we waste weeks, sometimes months, trying to determine whether or not this person deserves our trust.
We never want to be the first person to reveal our true identity, but we fully expect it from our counterpart. Every moment we spend calculating our next move, we miss an opportunity to do something so simple it makes my head hurt; be ourselves.
Beyond the usual measuring we do when meeting people for the first time, we need to be more comfortable forming these connections by expressing our less attractive selves. The goal of social interaction isn’t to mold our identities to fit the needs of each person we meet. If this were the case, the people we call our friends would make us nothing short of narcissistic.
Instead, our goal should be staying true to our identities and building our character on a foundation of integrity. Transparently presenting ourselves will attract the kind of people that will walk through hell and back for us without a second thought.
I want everyone to understand that I’m not speaking hypothetically. I’m speaking from experience, which conveniently stems from my blunt personality -- go figure.
In most situations, I speak from a “genuinely me” lens regardless of the popularity of my opinion. Yes, there are moments where this turns people off (e.g. the folks that stopped reading this post). But in the long run, I have developed the most deeply rooted relationships I could ever ask for.
In order to better highlight my reason for this discussion, I want to use a recent example that has frequently repeated itself since I moved to Washington, DC. However, before I begin, I want to provide a quick backstory.
After I graduated college, I made a commitment to serve 27 months in the United States Peace Corps. When it came to dream jobs, this was the pantheon.
Fast forward less than six months after my departure, and I was at the Peace Corps Cameroon headquarters in Yaoundé giving my exit interview. In less than one year, I went from walking on cloud nine after I received my acceptance letter to walking with my tail between my legs upon my resignation.
I felt broken and lost. The only thing I had going for me was my incredibly loyal girlfriend, now fiancée, supporting me every step of the way.
So, once I landed my first job in the U.S., I was at the beginning of yet another cycle of trying to get to know new people. For the first couple of months, I worked in opposite to the advice I laid out above.
I still felt a little bit lost in life, so I kept my conversations with coworkers pretty shallow. Nothing ever went beyond trading college folklore or discussing quirky news stories. The topics of conversation dried out so quickly that we even began discussing our high school experiences.
Personally, I don’t believe these topics reveal all that much about who a person is. So, I decided to break the cycle and share stories that were uniquely mine and make me who I am today.
This was all well and good until one such conversation led me to sharing my experience in the Peace Corps. The moment I began talking about how my dream job was nothing I expected it to be. I saw my coworker shift around in his seat with little response to the story.
Maybe it was the way I presented myself or maybe I picked the wrong time to bring it up, but this particular moment is what made me think long and hard about how we struggle discussing (and listening to) our failures.
I began questioning my choice in sharing this intimate story, but ultimately came to the conclusion that I need to do it more often. If I feel like I am forced to hide it in order to make people around me feel “comfortable,” then those are not the people I want to surround myself with.
However, this sign of discomfort is not entirely my coworker’s fault. If he has fallen into the trap of meeting people afraid to share negative information about them, then he has never had the opportunity to feel empathy toward someone else’s circumstances. There is nothing to connect with when we discuss surface level topics and universal experiences.
This social routine is a large component of what creates the hate we find in internet trolls and political enthusiasts, and the misguided messages that are sometimes sent by activists. With such a low level of interpersonal connection, we fail to find any importance in what shapes our thoughts and actions. As such, when we unintentionally offend someone or watch them fade away from our lives, the only thought we are left with is “what’s their problem?”
Let's not be those people. Let's shamelessly open ourselves to the world around us and proudly be nothing more, and nothing less, than who we are.