Last weekend I was in New Orleans with a bunch of booksellers and readers for the third year running, and it was a blast. (Readers: mark your calendars for September 2018, when this one-of-a-kind event moves to Tampa.)
On Sunday, during the Moveable Feast, I was on a nonfiction panel, and got to tell a roomful of booksellers and readers about my book. These aren’t the highest-of-high stakes—there’s no tightrope or trophy, nobody’s life is on the line—but they were certainly high enough to make me nervous. Based on what I said, readers would decide if they wanted to buy it, or share it, or read it. Booksellers would be deciding if they wanted to carry it in their store. Add in the always-potent combination of introversion + public speaking, and it was nervewracking.
But I love talking about books with my fellow readers, even when that book is my own (or that’s what I kept telling myself). And so, when it was my turn, I talked about my enduring love for even the most inane Buzzfeed personality quizzes (note to self: warming up the crowd with Ryan Gosling jokes is a winning strategy). I told about my longtime status as a capital-g Personality Geek.
I told about how understanding specific points about my own personality had changed my life, but how that information had been really hard to come by. I told them that Reading People was the book I wished I’d head—one that didn’t read like a psychology textbook, but felt like a friendly guide, making the most popular personality frameworks easy to understand and easy to apply.
True confession: whenever I’m talking to a crowd, I feel like that teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the one who drones on and on, with nobody listening. When the panel was over, I had no idea if I had said anything coherent, let alone helpful.
Later that night, long after my panel was over, I was debriefing the day with a fellow author—someone I admire, personally and professionally, who has become a friend over these past few years. Also: she’s awesome at what she does.
I told her I always feel like a blubbering idiot when I’m speaking, and she quickly said, No, not at all—and went on to list what I did right. This introvert has zero objectivity about the words coming out of her mouth in these kinds of settings, so of course I appreciated her assessment.
But as we were saying goodbye, she asked, Can I tell you one thing?
Of course, I said. And then she gave me specific advice about something I didn’t do, about how I fell short, about how I could have done better.
Readers, I don’t know what your experience has been like, but in my life, I’ve spent a lot of time with women who don’t tell each other the hard things. When one of us expresses concern about something we’re screwing up—a project, a relationship, a whole season of life—we’re extremely likely to tell each other some version of Don’t worry about it or I’m sure it’s fine.
This isn’t a terrible thing to hear, because we want it to be fine. We want our people to love us even if we’re afraid we’re screwing everything up.
But sometimes it’s not fine. Far from fine. And we need people in our lives who will actually say It’s not fine. Who will help us think through what we could be doing better, even if that situation isn’t as comfortable as I’m sure it’s fine. Who will tell us what we could do differently—better—if they have some idea of what that might be. These relationships take time to build; it takes a lot of history and a lot of trust to get to Can I tell you one thing? territory. But we need to get there.
Sometimes the thing we need to hear is a big deal (see: a relationship, a whole season of life). My experience in New Orleans? Not a huge deal. But since I left, I can’t stop thinking about how much I need relationships that make space for the bad, as well as the good. That let me be who I really am, and not some polished-for-appearances version of myself. Relationships where I know I can say I’m screwing it all up, trusting I’ll get an honest response, not I’m sure it’s fine.
Do you resonate with this experience? Agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your stories about the “Can I tell you one thing?” conversations AND the “I’m sure it’s fine” conversations in comments.