• How your imperfection can change the world

    October 10, 2016 | curtrosengren
  • authenticity sign

    Wanting to make a difference seems to be wired into the human experience. We want our lives to matter. And that’s a little ironic, because at the same time most of us are also deeply invested in keeping one of our biggest and most readily available opportunities to make a positive impact hidden from sight.

    Yes, even you. If you’re anything like, oh, 99.999% of the rest of us, there is something you instinctively try to keep tucked safely away (even if, much to your chagrin, it slides out into public view from time to time). That something is your story.

    Not the shiny story you would love everyone to know, mind you. I’m talking about the story that doesn’t make you look good. The one where you’re racked with doubt or insecurity. The one where you failed and fell flat on your face, or the one where you grapple with any of the bazillion demons that beset our all-too-imperfect human lives.

    Believe it or not, those stories have the potential to change the world – if you’ll let them.

    Authenticity changes lives

    The catalyst for this post about telling your authentic story was, fittingly enough, someone’s authentic story, an honest share on Facebook from my friend Kathryn Gilmore. She wrote:

    “20 years ago I decided to have my last drink.
    This morning my biggest decision is whether or not to post this. Gratitude wins out. #italwaysgetsbetter”

    I could relate to the hesitation in sharing. At the same time, I also recognized what a difference it can make when we feel that reluctance and do it anyway. I expressed my appreciation for her post, adding, “Authenticity changes lives. Your story can’t make a difference if you don’t share it.”

    As soon as I wrote that, my eyes started to leak (one of the benefits about being easily moved to tears is how often it serves as an indicator when something I say is important, even if I’m not consciously aware of its importance when I say it).

    “Hmmm,” I wondered. “What’s that all about?”

    On reflection, I realized that what touched me was just how powerful an opportunity to make a difference there is when we share authentically, vulnerably, without the veneer created by the need to look good.

    I’m truly convinced that one of our biggest untapped opportunities to change the world with our everyday lives lies in sharing our authentic stories. Being open about about our struggles as well as our solutions, our tragedies as well as our triumphs.

    When we do, not only can others learn from and be inspired by them, they can also see that they’re not alone.

    Living a full spectrum life

    Life doesn’t happen exclusively at the shiny end of the spectrum. And that’s as true for me as anyone.

    Because of the focus of my work, it’s all too easy for people who don’t know me well to paint an unrealistically rosy picture of how much I have my shit together. But the reality is that I’m just another schlump navigating the ups and downs of life as best I can (who happens to be doing some pretty deep work in trying to practice what I preach).

    While I don’t make it the centerpiece of my message, I’m fairly open about that schlumpitude. When it feels relevant, I share my all-too-human failures and foibles.

    Yes, there is a lot that is wonderful about me and my life. And I won’t lie – that’s the “me” I really, really want people to see. But there is also a chunk of my experience of life that is less like the technicolor dreamcoat my ego wants to present and more like a shabby, worn-out coat tossed away in a back-alley dumpster in a seedy part of town.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m tragically flawed. It simply means I’m human. Period. End of story. And the same is true for you. In my coaching work over the last fifteen plus years, I have had a front row seat on people’s real stories, and I can tell you that nobody’s life looks exclusively shiny behind the scenes.

    We all have our shabby coats tucked away in the closet. Whoever you are, and whatever role you play, life is a gloriously imperfect affair. That’s just the way it is.

    There is power in your imperfection

    A big part of the reason for my commitment to sharing the full spectrum of my experience – besides not wanting to paint a picture of myself that I can’t possibly live up to – is that every time I share one of those less-than-shiny stories, I hear some variation on the theme, “Well, if you experience that, I guess it’s OK that I do too.”

    When I climb down from that imaginary pedestal and share myself warts and all, it gives people permission to acknowledge and own their own humanness. I honestly believe that being transparent with my own imperfections – without wallowing in them – is one of the most powerful things I have to offer.

    In fact, it’s one of the most powerful things ANY of us have to offer.

    Why is it so powerful? Because when people don’t feel like they have to hide their humanness, or like that human imperfection makes them somehow broken or flawed, it creates space. Space for them to explore it. Space for them to learn and grow. Space for them to accept (maybe even love!) themselves just the way they are.

    And THAT is how your story – real and authentic, complete with that big pimple on your nose – has the potential to change the world.

    Toxic hall of mirrors

    We live in a culture that relentlessly pursues the shiny picture. We want our lives to look like most people’s Facebook feed, filled with so-much-fun-my-head-is-spinning. And that means hiding the messy, clumsy, ugly, tattered parts of the human experience. It’s like emotional Photoshop, a nip and tuck to life so nobody sees the imperfections.

    But here’s the thing. With everyone presenting a shiny self and hiding the rough edges, we all end up looking at all those other shiny lives who clearly (it seems) have it all figured out. And, as we compare that to the rough edges we know we’re hiding, we create the story that we just don’t measure up.

    Of course the irony is that, while we’re busy making ourselves miserable that way, all those other seemingly shiny lives are looking at us and doing the same thing.

    And the worst part is that we mistake that story for reality! It’s a toxic hall of mirrors, a misery-making illusion launched in our own imagination.

    It changes your life too

    As you share your authentic stories, it doesn’t just impact the people around you; it changes your life too.

    When Kathryn replied to my question asking if she would feel comfortable with my cutting and pasting her post here, she added:

    “if it flows into your post … feel free to mention that I have never been so touched by responses … I was humbled by the quantity of people who responded and the love and beauty of messages sent.”

    Far from the judgmental rejection we fear as we stuff our grubby bits farther back in the closet, our authentic sharing often serves as a source of inspiration, insight, and connection.

    So what’s your story?

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