You do not need to be a famous motivational coach or speaker to impact someone. Sometimes the most crucial life changes occur when we are simply heard in our most vulnerable moments.
An Authentic Person
If you are a private person, it may feel uncomfortable to share your personal life with other people, especially on social websites such as Facebook and Twitter. For some of us, holding in rough patches and life tragedies is standard operating procedure. Releasing any of it to strangers is unthinkable unless there is an element of trust and an environment where being human is celebrated.
Being a real human is being real.
One of the lessons I’ve learned as a user of the Internet since 1995 is that the vast majority of people whose articles I read, videos I watch, or social seconds of life they post in a brief digital hit on Twitter or Facebook are presenting who they want us to see; myself included.
Being authentic is risky. We are judged by strangers who don’t have all the facts or know the whole story. Sometimes we don’t know our own story either. We may post a comment and delete it later, join a group and leave it later or remove a picture when we second guess why we put it there in the first place.
Those deletions are the acts of an authentic person who feels and reacts to an infinite onslaught of self-talk or gets into an online debate that got ugly or whose mood has simply changed after that photo was posted an hour ago and they decide it must go.
We are whimsical creatures. We are easily influenced. But there is a difference between a fly-by aha moment of inspiration or drive-by social conversation, versus those unexpected times during the course of the day when one person changes us, and they aren’t aware they did.
Personal Pivot Points
I spend most of my days figuring out how to make websites work better for people. Not just some people. All people, regardless of any limitation they have, from a permanent disability that requires an assist, to age and cognition and all the variances to the human being model that exist. Less time is spent making things work for myself.
Whenever I make a life altering change, it is directly in response to a suggestion.
In each circumstance, the person who provided it was not an inspirational rock star, or a book author, or life coach. In one circumstance, the person didn’t even know I was there.
Here are some examples:
The Horse and The Banana
For years I traveled to conferences as a reporter or speaker, despite being in severe pain. I never wanted anyone to know. I couldn’t walk without feeling pins and needles from my lower back down to my numb feet. Hotel ice buckets were my friends.
One early morning someone who knew me from my work online happened to spot me gingerly stepping down a flight of stairs. He sensed something was wrong and offered to help me find a seat and grab a quick bite. My first impulse was to pretend I was fine, but David was keen enough to not allow that. I accepted and bought a banana because it was difficult to eat while in pain.
As we sat together at the small round table, he managed to get me to admit that I was being treated for rheumatoid arthritis in my back and knees and in near constant pain. Of course he was genuinely warm and helpful. It began to dawn on me that it might sometimes be okay to leak just a little bit of imperfection.
Permission to be real came up again at another conference when I admitted to Christine, a friend who owned a digital marketing agency, that I had been unsuccessful in healing my back pain. We got to talking about horses because she owns several. When I told her I grew up riding horses, she suggested that I return to riding again.
My mind instantly conjured up every excuse for not riding as soon as she mentioned it, but she wisely pursued the idea and recommended that I find a Tennessee Walker with a smooth gait and less bounce. For the next few years we would meet, chat and dance around the “You should ride again” idea.
I finally returned to horseback riding by tracking down my horse trainer who still lived in my area. Four years later my husband and I bought a small farm and we have one horse here, with more planned after the old barn is renovated.
I also lost 40 pounds and had both of my knees replaced and am no longer suffering excruciating pain every day.
The pivot point was my being willing to share and then listened to without judgement so that I could receive and get past my sensitive, paranoid inner critic. Neither of them knows how much a simple suggestion or moment of kindness impacted me.
Far earlier in my life, while in my twenties, I lacked direction and on most days, the incentive to live at all. One weekend afternoon my mother invited me to join her in attending a seminar being held by a group representing a spiritual teaching she was interested in. The only reason I agreed to go at all was because I could see all the positive changes happening with her and I was curious.
One of the speakers was a tall man with a generous smile and soothing voice who was simply sharing personal stories intended to inspire the audience. Suddenly he said a sentence that I’d never heard of before, but which changed my life in that very moment. He said, “You exist because God loves you.”
Looking back, I wonder if that statement is less earth shattering to most people, but to me, is was as if I was cracked open like an egg and the baby me began to peck itself out.
This man has since passed away, but I did manage to find him years after that talk to thank him. He may have saved my life.
Thanking Our Healers
We can heal through aids like medicine, herbs, meditation, music, and exercise. It is less obvious how powerful we are when we are interacting with each other without judgement or fear.
It is easy to thank the professionals who heal us, for these are their gifts to us, and we are wise to accept those gifts. We are quick to thank those who teach us to be better people. Teachers among us are in churches, homes, work and online communities. Some of them have no idea they are teaching at all and others are trained to, but it doesn’t matter how teachers and healers connect to us. The best ones don’t control the outcome.
Each time I made a positive improvement for myself has been directly the result of hearing a suggestion and being in full control over my decision as to what I might do with it.
I’ve found the most dramatic life shifts I make are responses to gentle spontaneously delivered ideas arriving in the utter purity of a moment when I made a choice to hear it.
Originally published in Medium, Jan 29, 2019