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What Do You Want People to Say about You When You’re Not in the Room?

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July 26, 2020

Figure out what you long to experience and let that be your guide.

In an On Being article, Our Inescapable Selves, blogger Courtney E. Martin asked herself a question. “What are three things you want people to say about you when you’re not in the room?”

I loved the idea of this exercise, and since I had a cup of coffee and a couple of hours to navel-gaze, I did it.

Here are four things–I added one extra–that I hope people will one day say when they’re talking about me:

SHE IS A REAL LISTENER

I want people to say, “She makes me feel like I matter. When I’m with her, I have the sense there’s nowhere else she’d rather be.”

I write a lot about listening. How to do it, why it matters, how hard it is, and how much I at times suck at it.

Any number of people might tell you I’m an excellent listener — which, sometimes, I am. But I can also get lost in my mind. That makes it difficult for me to give others the full attention they deserve. At other times, I get attached to hearing the sound of my own voice. Argh!

Mindfulness may be the most critical element in developing the degree of listening skill I want to achieve. When I am attending to what’s going on at this very moment, I not only see you and hear you; I feel your presence. I connect with you in a way that can’t happen when I’m in the past, future, or self-absorbed in the present. When I’m mindful of everything that surrounds me I can experience another, 

SHE IS FULLY HUMAN

I think this one is about being humble, but I think humility is a slippery concept.

I want to be humble enough to notice when I start feeling full of myself — which, incidentally, tends to be when I’m not listening well. I want to get better at seeing when I do that so I can reel myself back in.

Here’s why I think being fully human is all about humility. Because when I’m awake, aware, and experiencing all of myself, sometimes it’s not so pretty.

It can be depressing to see that after a lifetime of working on myself, I’m still myself. The full catastrophe. Yes, I can be loving, caring, interested, generous, resourceful, and motivating. I can also be selfish, self-absorbed, greedy, stingy, lazy, and unmotivated.

You get the idea. I’ve discovered that every one of my greatest strengths is also potentially my greatest weakness. Human means I carry the breadth of all possibilities within me. What I do with that is where the rubber hits the road. Hard not to be humbled when we see the fullness of ourselves.

The other day I swear I ran the gamut of every one of those feelings! I’m moving, leaving my home of twenty-eight years, and feeling pretty fragile about it all. The move is a lovely step into a new phase and I’m hugely excited. At the same time, I’m leaving the home in which I raised my son, a safe place that always welcomed me. My mind has been scaring the crap out of me about this change. I think my psyche has been trying to protect me from feeling the grief of leaving this sanctuary, But I don’t need protection. I just need to feel.

Although humility is a trait that sounds attractive to me, conceptually, it confuses me. Because the moment someone says, “I’m humble,” that person has just presented him or her self as the least humble person in the room, right?

So, even though I don’t fully understand humility, I want it. I want to be in touch with all of me. So I’ll tuck this one away as a hopeful development that will come with time and life experience, as long as I stay awake.

SHE CAN BE EDGY

I read an article once where someone referred to themselves as edgy, and I wanted it! I’ve always longed to be more “edgy” than I am. But it feels so risky.

In my head, edginess covers a lot of ground. Be more creative, take more chances, be more fun! I’m pretty sure “edgy” isn’t going to be on the tip of anyone’s tongue at my memorial service. I was born introspective and pretty responsible. That translates to “serious,” which is not usually considered synonymous with fun or edgy!

I spent a few years not too long ago focusing on having and being more fun. It was a great idea. I tasted a little bit of that edginess I wanted. And I think I still carry it with me.

Someone once said, “I don’t think you can take the therapist out of Robyn just because she’s not in a therapy session.” I hated hearing that— it seemed to nail me as disappointingly one-dimensional and boring. Not edgy. But then he clarified what he meant. He said, “What I mean is that you’re driven and passionate about people and relationships, and you don’t just turn that off when you leave the therapy room.”

Okay, that not only felt better, but it also rang true for me. Regardless of who you are and why you are in my life, I want to know you and understand what makes you uniquely you. I care about whether or not you feel heard and valued.

Thinking about my friend’s comment led me to add a fourth characteristic:

SHE IS PASSIONATE

I want people to experience the results of the passion that drives me to be a better listener, to be more humble, and to be a bit edgier. Passion has helped me be more creative in my relationships, pushed me to take risks, and at times, be more fun. It’s also given me lots of practice around handling mistakes because sometimes I get carried away with enthusiasm, all of which puts me back in touch with the humility thing.

I may do this again in a year and see how well I’ve lived out my words. Maybe next year I’ll have new aspirations.

Please carve a bit of time out of your day, grab of cup of coffee or tea, and think about what you want people to appreciate and remember about you. Look for a feeling of longing that stretches you and makes you feel a little uncomfortable when you think about how it would make you feel to be that.

Much love,

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