- Tim Ferris
Back in January, I decided I needed to be more comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. Mostly because I just figured it would be good practice for taking risks and overcoming my fears - useful skills for blog writing. At the time, I thought the most uncomfortable conversation I could possibly have was telling someone about my history with anorexia…so that became my goal. Talk to 5 new friends about my story.
Why was this so scary for me? I wanted to share my story, but I guess I just didn’t really know how. I’d never told anyone apart from therapists, who I was paying to listen. All my high school friends knew about my eating disorder of course, since back then it was painfully obvious, but I’d never talked to them about it either. There’s such a stigma around eating disorders, maybe I thought people would judge me, that they wouldn’t see me the same way anymore, or that I’d make them feel uncomfortable. Whenever an opportunity came up, I just kind of avoided the topic, or I’d say something vague, like, “Yeah, I’ve had some mental health issues in the past.”
Back to my challenge... by the end of the month, I'd told 4 people one-on-one, and then explained the inspiration for my website to a group of people I’d just met, and shared it on my personal Facebook. "Goal complete!" I thought. It was always slightly awkward and unexpected to bring up, but I now know there’s never a perfect moment to speak out. “I never would have guessed!” one friend told me, which made me smile. After the first time, it became easier and easier to share, and I felt so relieved not to have any secrets any more. I’ve become much closer to the friends I’ve shared with, and realized no one’s opinion of me needs to change. It's really amazing how supportive people can be when you're willing to be completely open with them.
Fast forward to July, and I'm realizing that I still have a long way to go with these uncomfortable conversations. Now talking about eating disorders seems to pale in comparison to some more recent conversations I’ve had - starting and ending relationships, family stuff, dreams I've kept secret - conversations I know everyone will experience at some point. It’s one thing to talk about a struggle after the fact, and another completely to talk about what you’re experiencing in the midst of it all. I’m also discovering that sharing my emotions and feelings isn't just a good way to feel less isolated and gain a new perspective on the situation, it's THE way to connect and form strong relationships. And there's research to back this up - if you haven't yet, you should watch this TED talk by Brené Brown on the power of vulnerability. (There's also a book that's at the top of my reading list.)
For now though, I’ve just figured out two strategies that help me get past the discomfort:
1. The first is to write about your emotions before you try to articulate them out loud. This is so incredibly helpful for me that I try to write every day, even if no one will ever see it. Sometimes I wonder if I should do something with all the material I've collected about my life!
2. I’ve also found it helpful to start the conversation with an opener like “I have a question,” or “I want to tell you something.” Once I've said that, there's no turning back, and when I hesitate the other person can push me to continue.
For me, the hardest but also the most amazing conversations are the ones where I have to face uncomfortable emotions instead of pushing them away. Where I realize it's OK to feel sad or confused or scared. Where I reconnect with parts of my story I feel distant from, not realizing how much they actually impacted me. Because that was my life, and I'm still the same person. I want to carry with me all the lessons learned over time, and to do that I have to be vulnerable. Because experiencing the full range of emotions is the only way I really feel alive.
Wow, that turned into a very sentimental and me-centered post, oh well! What do you think are the most uncomfortable types of conversations? I’d love to hear from you!