The Power of Opening Up

During an advanced career workshop I facilitated a few months ago, one of the attendees (we’ll call him Tim) raised his hand. “You may be surprised by this question, but do you have any advice for when and how to inform my potential employer of a few felonies I have? I never know what to do with that in the interview process.” Tim then gave us some backstory to his predicament.

Tim was someone I’d met a few weeks prior. I found him to be charismatic, driven and flat-out talented. He was working towards a certificate in cybersecurity, working two jobs, and with all those positive characteristics, it’d be hard to associate him with crime. But I wasn’t surprised by his question, not the least bit. Why? Because I have also made mistakes and some less-than-ideal choices.

At age 13, I found myself on probation. The answer to how I actually got on probation is a story for another time, but how that experience shaped me is my point of human connection with Tim. The dark paths I’ve walked down (hell, some I’ve ran down and sadly, some I was pushed down) are the reason I’m so passionate about helping others explore their darkness, learn from it and then release it so they can step into their new selves, into their light, into their true selves.

After the workshop, I emailed Tim: “You were brave and inspiring today. Keep sharing your story. The right people will listen. Thank you for helping to break stereotypes. Thank you for not giving up on yourself and humanity.”

Tim wrote back: “I don’t normally open up like that, but I went with the energy in the room. Thanks for creating a culture of nonjudgement.”

Tim’s words left me misty-eyed and they got me thinking.  How do I create an open and inclusive culture?

Here’s what I came up with:

Be vulnerable. Share your story: You don’t need a gripping “I had a run-in with the law and turned it all around” story to promote an unbiased and accepting environment. We all have stories of adversity and struggle: Speak your truth so others feel comfortable doing the same.

Get curious: Listen to people. Truly listen. Ask questions about others and promote opportunities for people to ask you questions; the real questions, the questions that matter; the ones that could profoundly change someone’s life (like Tim’s question).

Don’t take yourself or life too seriously: Humor, levity, shooting the shit, whatever you call it – it’s healing and helps others not take themselves too seriously. Judgement comes from a place of closed-mindedness; humor (if done right) comes from a place of lightness. If you want people to feel open, then add some whimsy.

Vibe high: People pick up on energy. They can tell if something feels right and if something feels off. Do what you can to ensure you’re giving off the right energy. Keep yourself balanced, honest and healthy.

If you’d like to engage with an open and inclusive culture, check out my Dark Night of the Soul = A Life Found workshop series starting 1/7. It would be great to have you with us. You’ll join a strong community filled with people ready to get raw and real with their darkness – through sharing, listening and connecting – so the light can shine again.

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Sincerely,

Danielle

PS – Here’s an affirmation to help you along your ‘I’m going to create a culture of nonjudgement’ journey: “I increase my energy by choosing to love rather than judge. I expand my energy by giving love, receiving love, and promoting love.”

PPS – Tap into the power of nonjudgement. Think back to a time when someone chose not to judge you. Perhaps it was something as simple as your appearance, or maybe a moment you chose to reveal a deep truth about yourself (like Tim). Spend a few minutes journaling. Here’s a prompt: Write a letter to the person who didn’t judge you. Would you thank them? How did their act of nonjudgement positively impact your life?

If You Don’t Know Why, Ask Me

The other morning, when my 14-year-old son Aaron asked me where I was going, I cheerfully responded, “To my eyelash appoint.”

Aaron’s nose crinkled as he gave me a judgy look, “Why do you try to be someone you’re not? Who are you trying to impress anyways?”

His response hurt; he was quick to judge with questions oozing accusation.

Excited for a change amidst the 2020 work from home same-old, same-old, a few months ago I started getting false lashes. My lashes have brought me joy. They make me feel more confident, more prepared and prettier for my dozens of Zoom calls. I’ve had fun waking up looking like Marilyn Monroe (hey, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and receiving compliments from my clients, students and even strangers I meet on my daily walks and trips to the store.

That’s why I was disappointed by Aaron’s assumption; that I was trying to pretend I was someone I wasn’t as opposed to enhancing the person I already was and am: Confident. Prepared. Pretty. I cringed hearing that Aaron thought impressing the world was a bad thing. What’s the problem with wanting to look good for others? I’ve found that the more put together and refreshed I look, the more others perk up and are open to my energy, which helps when I am teaching, coaching or giving a seminar. As long as self-esteem doesn’t solely rely on how others see you, then looking good can fuel self-love and happiness.

To snap me out of my critical feelings towards Aaron and I’s conversation, I found empathy. I reminded myself that Aaron’s limited viewpoint wasn’t his fault. He’s a freshman in high school, an age when many kids judge one another and make unfair assumptions based on appearance. He’s superglued to Snapchat, TikTok and I’m sure other apps I don’t know much about that seem to perpetuate this habit.

I took a deep breath in, looking Aaron straight in the eyes.

“This is important. I don’t like that you judged me right there. I am being ME. Just like my blonde highlights and gel nail polish compliment me, so do my eyelashes. A girl can want to look good and do that for different reasons. Some will do it for herself and others will do it for someone else and regardless, that’s their decision to make. These lashes make me happy. I’m not getting them to try to fit in or hide who I am; I get them as sort of a celebration of who I am. As a way to treat myself.”

I could see Aaron processing. I smiled and said, “I love you kid.”

Aaron told me he loved me back. He then gave me a ‘thanks’ and a head nod that showed me I got him thinking differently. And with that, we moved on with our day.  

I’m proud for speaking my truth – not always an easy thing to do – especially to my teenage son. Will he get it? Will he understand? Will he care?

I hope introducing Aaron to a new way of thinking opens his eyes to the importance of not snapping judgements and instead, becoming more conscious of others’ WHY. I hope he starts asking questions that come from a place of curiosity such as, “Does it make you happy? How so?”

Later that day, I started wondering how many people had judged me for my fake eyelashes and how many other females had also been judged for theirs. I then thought about all the women out there getting judged for their botox, their weight or their clothing. That number was enough to inspire me to write this post.

So, to those rocking new outfits that match your flair; those typing away with fake nails; those driving to work with a brand-new hairstyle: Go YOU! There is no need hide or be ashamed. You’ve taken the time to invest in yourself, and that’s beautiful self-love!

As for the others who judge you, remember that their judgment is a reflection of themselves, not you. Hold onto grace and patience in these moments; they don’t know your WHY. If they don’t ask, they probably don’t know any better. Keep rocking anyways.

If you’re making assumptions about others, how can you break those limiting beliefs and work toward appreciating the choices that others make?

And most importantly, how can we have meaningful conversations with our youth to ensure appearances don’t control their perceptions of others?

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Sincerely,
Danielle

PS – Here’s an affirmation to help you along your ‘I won’t let sticks and stones hurt me’ journey: “I am the only one responsible for my self-esteem.”

PPS – To remind you that empathy is possible in all situations, get out you journal. Here’s a writing prompt: Think back to a time when someone hurt you. What did that person do? How did they make you feel? Although you may not forgive that person, can you find empathy? What human experiences may have shaped the way they treated you? How do you think they feel about the situation now?