Changing the Conversation

“If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation,” stated Don Draper in Mad Men.

Is Don Draper a person I would want to be my mentor in real life? No way. Do I agree with his statement? Absolutely.

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From December 31, 2019, to January 1, 2020, I saw lots of social media posts from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances celebrating their life’s journey from the past year or the past decade as they were ringing in the new year.

That’s cool, but I know many of you off of social media. I’m aware of how you have to edit to make your life’s journey sound more palatable for us on your online networks. As someone who does career advising for a living, I tell students and alumni to be mindful of how they present themselves on social media and in public in general. If anything, you’re following my general advice.

I’m starting to wonder though if in being mindful of how we curate our public images, we end up sacrificing too much of core identities in the process.

Again I’m wondering. The verdict is still out on that one. It really varies by person. I can’t answer that for you if I am still answering that for myself.

It has been more than a year since my last couple posts titled Real Self-Care When Your Life Isn’t Paradise and Allow Yourself to Just -Be-. For more than a year, I did just that. I practiced self-care. I allowed myself to just -be- with my emotions as I processed the deaths and health issues among my loved ones. Since then, I have had to manage my own health issues, which could be their own post or own series of posts.

The photo above is from 4:38am on June 25, 2019. I took the picture of the sunrise over the bay in Boston as a Lyft driver was taking me from my apartment to the airport. I was on my way to the National Career Development Association Conference in Houston. At that point, I was tired from waking up early, managing pain as I was recovering from an appendectomy, holding a rainbow of emotions from gratitude to sadness as I was in the process of amicably ending a relationship, and plotting out my travel logistics for the conference. I was able to see the beauty of the sunrise and to feel gratitude for all that I had overcome and accomplished, but I will not feed into an overly simplistic narrative to make you believe it was all easy.

It was difficult. If I had known then how much more challenging my life would become months later, I do not know if I would’ve been as cheerful. I’m glad though that I made time for cheer. I still made time for joy; however, I was only that joyful because I gave myself space to be concerned, worried, scared, angry, and sad.

When I read The Tyranny of the Positive Attitude by Alexis Conason, PsyD, in Psychology Today, it occurred to me that I had not been blogging at all for more than a year because I did not feel like my disposition was joyful enough for public consumption. I kept waiting for the moment that I would have some breakthrough to have something both profound AND joyful to say. In the process, I stopped engaging with something that I enjoy doing.

How is anyone supposed to remain joyful when they stop doing what they enjoy?

I was able to find peace and joy in other parts of life, but they don’t serve the same purpose as writing.

From childhood to adulthood, I have enhanced my skills in having honest dialogue with individuals from my social life, professional life as an educator and career counselor, and service life as a hotline counselor for a rape crisis center and a board member for a women’s empowerment organization.

I’m starting to realize that those one-on-one and small group conversations are not enough. I need something more to have a more joyful, peaceful, and meaningful life.

The conversation needs to grow both deeper and wider with whom I include.

Ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I feel like I’m being put in a position to survive again when I want to thrive. Since about age 4, I have been a sexual violence survivor. I have survived and thrived through multiple challenges from childhood to adulthood in personal, educational, and professional environments.

Now I’m getting to the point where that thing I need to fight isn’t just interpersonal, environmental, or systemic; it’s internal. Unlike past health issues, it might entail altering parts of my body that are so personal and precious to me … and I just need to sit with that.

Since I shared this health issue with loved ones and others in my network, there has been this strong desire to send me positive energy. Honestly, I would love any energy right now.

There has been so much pressure for me to put on a brave face, but people will have to understand that my brave face can take many forms. It can be hopeful, scared, grateful, angry, peaceful, frustrated, joyful, sad, and a whole host of other emotions … and I need to have that brave face without someone imposing on me this narrative that a brave face can only be positive.

Humans are designed to feel a wide range of experiences, and I am no longer doing myself any favors if I am acting like I only feel a narrow set of them. That’s not just something I want to disclose in individual and small group conversations. Discussing difficult experiences and topics has to happen in larger group dialogues for me.

I don’t know right now how that will look and feel for me, but each day it is becoming more evident that is what I need. Until then, the experience of writing it down is enough right now.

8 thoughts on “Changing the Conversation

  1. Thank you for sharing. I have found a power in using writing to share my deepest thoughts and emotions that both terrifying and energizing: the latter because it affords the space to be raw and vulnerability with a context that allows both myself and the the reader (which includes myself) to stop and reflect and reflect again (spoken word much of the time is lost to the ether); the former because there is a bareness to it that invites criticism that I can’t always emotionally manage (sometimes I am not looking for “constructive feedback”—just an ear of attention.

    I hope this medium gives you a renewed space to be real, without or in spite of judgement.

    • Thank you! To your point, I know that something is worth doing when it is both terrifying and energizing. I find that there’s more room to grow when I take that approach.

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