I am taking a Self Compassion course through The Servant Leadership School (oh this course is just as touchy-feely as you imagine it is!!). Our focus this past week was on Vulnerability. Our assignment was to choose a trait that we do not like about ourselves, and then risk becoming vulnerable by writing about the trait from the standpoint of how you define yourself, the armor you use to shield yourself, and how your spirituality is involved.

I can assure you that sharing this with you makes me feel quite, quite vulnerable. 

Since I can remember, social situations have made me nervous. I didn’t interact much with other kids before I was 5, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom to me and my two younger sisters in the middle of the woods in central Maine. My happiest memories are from that place. However, my close bond with my mother and my sisters – and the fact that we didn’t interact with other kids – meant that things were difficult when it was finally time for me to go out into the world and interact with people who weren’t in my immediate family. My first weeks of kindergarten involved me clinging to the skirts of my teacher at recess. If I was shopping with my mother and saw a classmate in a store, I would hide, not wanting to talk to them unless absolutely necessary. Throughout middle school and high school, I had the same best friend, and it was through her that I met other friends. I was too afraid to reach out to people on my own, and was terrified of being in a situation where I would have to come up with conversation topics on my own. I preferred to be a friend’s sidekick and let her do the talking for both of us. After being the quiet one in the group for months (or years!), I finally became comfortable enough to open up. I can’t tell you how many times people have said – “Dana, you’re so much cooler than I thought you were in the beginning”. It wasn’t that I had changed, just that I had finally become comfortable enough to expose my “real” self.

Even today, I can’t have the casual conversations that I see other people having – in fact, the ease with which people converse with people they don’t know still leaves me in awe and terror when I witness it. How do you do it? How do you speak with people with whom you have no history or shared background?

Over the years, I have actively worked on trying to change this “flaw” in myself. I have volunteered for leadership positions I was terrified to take, took courses in school that required lots of public speaking, and joined groups that would force me out of my shell.

When someone asks me to do something – whether it is a new project at work, a volunteer event, or a baseball game with a group of 20 people I don’t even know, I say yes. I never say no, because in my mind saying no to an opportunity means saying no to growth, even if I am not that interested in the opportunity.

Saying yes and pushing myself has all helped – I am not afraid of giving public presentations anymore, can talk with people in the elevator with no problem…. But still I am afraid of a conversation lasting longer than five minutes. What will someone discover about me if they get to know the real me? Will I slip up and say something I don’t intend to? Will I reveal too much about myself? Pushing myself out of my comfort zone has been beneficial to me. But I never considered actually accepting the shy and introverted part of myself. Of course I still want to grow as a person, and I am thankful that I have pushed myself to do things I am afraid of. But perhaps now I need to give myself the solitude that I crave, and that I need.

In my mind, the ultimate goal was always to become more like the people I saw around me – those talking and laughing naturally with multiple groups of people.

In truth, by pushing myself so much in my 20’s, I have suddenly found myself in a job that is clearly not my life’s work. My day is filled with meetings that don’t resonate with me, social events that do not sustain me, and a never-ending list of to-do’s that does nothing to fulfill my passions. Perhaps my introverted self has been trying to lead me somewhere else all along – not towards the full social calendar and high profile meetings, but towards a life rich in solitude. A life where my social relationships enrich me and fill me with energy – not drain me of it.

For my compassionate act this week, I am committing to quiet and to contemplation. To a small group of close friends over a large group of acquaintances. I commit to saying no once in a while. I commit to going back to my blog and writing daily. Not for an audience, but for myself. I commit to developing my life vision and starting to live it now, if only in tiny measures.

The traits we despise most in ourselves lead us to where we need to go if we only listen. For my compassionate act this week, I am going to start to listen.