While I’m not proud to admit it, I am a people pleaser by nature. I’m inclined to go an extra step if I think it will gain favor in someone’s eyes, and I’m hesitant to lovingly speak tough truth if I think it will cost me that relationship. It’s debilitating to picture myself in those situations, and downright paralyzing to actually go through it. I’ve gotten a little better over the years at facing the music, but part of me will always struggle.
What’s worse, I know I’m not alone.
In one of the most powerful TED talks I have heard recently, I came across this TEDxBoulder talk by Ash Beckham on coming out of the closet. While her sexuality is addressed, she used the phrase in a more broad sense. A closet, according to Ms. Beckham, is any difficult conversation we are faced with.
Imagery immediately flooded my mind. I can picture myself having to call a client to say we needed an extra day to ship. My wife sitting me down with that serious look on hear face because we needed to “talk”. My boss asking me to come into his office and shut the door. Each time, I can see myself in a dark closet needing to come out and face the light.
This is not to compare or contrast those feelings with the more traditional sense of “coming out of the closet”. I have never been in that spot, and I can only imagine how it grips a person needing to have that conversation. It was Beckham, however, that gave me the courage to see that while circumstances surrounding the conversation are different, the challenge is more similar than I thought.
Take those situations I mentioned. What do you think most likely happened when I got up the courage to gingerly wade into those waters?
It wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be. The client, while disappointed in the delay, understood the reason for it and thanked me for being proactive. My wife just needed a clarification on something I said earlier and accepted my apology when I admitted it came out differently than I intended. My boss actually wanted to ask my opinion on something, not chastise me, and ask for help in implementing a new policy in the office.
Each time, the dread of what each conversation could mean was worse than it’s actuality. While a closet could turn into hurt feelings and lost relationships, experience says that many times it was the best thing in that moment. Just like Will Wheaton said in his famous comic convention answer last year, someone else’s problem with you rarely has anything to do with you.
Beckham’s insight emboldened me to not only face tough conversations in front of me, I was actually excited to have them for once! My encouragement is not to fear your closet.
In her talk, she mentions that it doesn’t matter what color it’s painted, you just know it’s dark. That’s what unites us all. Stepping into the light is the only way to move toward healing, progress, and certainly a heaping amount of respect along the way.