It’s really uncomfortable to bear witness to others’ humanity.
What happens on the flip-side of that is I don’t generally allow others to bear witness to my own. Not the struggling parts, the messy parts, the parts that don’t have it all figured out.
The registered shock from coworkers when I share I’m barely holding it together, that I’m making it up as I go, that I don’t feel like I have it all together reinforces my inextricable adoption of the “Look Good.”
“But you seem so confident, you seem always on top of things, you seem so ‘together.'”
It’s all a facade, I tell them with a laugh and a smirk.
But what is that facade?
What is the protective layer I anchor around myself so that others can’t see me squirm?
I always want to clean up others’ mess. I take on more at work because I think there’s a cleaner way. I’m told to (literally) “Stay out of his closet” by a close friend when I dated a man whose home was … gross. I bear witness to someone’s suffering, but hold my breath so I don’t catch any.
I want it all neat and tidy because it’s so hard to be with the mess. The mess of others, and the mess of myself.
It’s. So. Vulnerable. To tell someone I work with that I’m struggling.
I once worked in a job where I was told to buy a digital camera for another coworker. Because I didn’t know how to go about that (it was the early internet days), and because I didn’t have a budget or specifications, I kept putting it off.
I would get calls from that coworker asking for its status, and I would say I’m working on it. Though I was totally frozen on how to move forward, I did not say that. I put on my Look Good and said I was on it.
About a month later my big boss came to ask me if it were true that I hadn’t gotten the camera yet. I froze. I don’t remember what I said in the moment, but I do know it was within that week that I quit that job.
Yes, the job was not my dream one, but the idea that in order to avoid feeling caught, seen, vulnerable, or “stupid” I would quit a job to protect myself from being a visible mess?? Wow.
I went out with a group of coworkers after school yesterday, and I felt like I didn’t have enough to say, enough to share. I didn’t have a list of cool things to tell them I was doing. I didn’t have a list of national parks I’d been to. I didn’t have kids to talk about.
I felt awkward. I was fine (I assume they didn’t notice because my Look Good skills are cold steel), but it reminded me of that first/last date I had a month ago where I felt like a cement-tongued wallflower, unable to name one cool thing I was up to… or one real thing about myself.
On the phone this morning with a friend, she said there’s consistently a ton of stuff that I can and want to share about. “You write a blog every day!” she exclaimed. Clearly, I’m not at a loss for what’s going on with me, what realizations I’m having, or how I’m bumping against things or overcoming them.
But somehow, that fact never shows up in answer to, “What are you up to?”
Sharing that stuff feels … inappropriate? Like I won’t be met, so why bother? Like, nobody wants to hear about it, so shut up?
Ugh. The ugliness of how we treat ourselves.
I went to graduate school, in part, to begin to move my writing from “the page to the stage,” to get out of the quiet cocoon that is a notebook and begin to share with an audience. In those moments, I felt like my humanity was valuable, but only because it was for similar people involved in similar projects. In the “outside” world — in person — is my writing of value? Are my insights “appropriate”?
If I think my own messiness and vulnerability and humanity are gross and need to be shielded off from the urbane eyes of the world, then I will never launch into my life in the way I desire to. If I look at the mess of others, personally and professionally, and judge their messes as disgusting and in need of immediate repair, this is just a mirror of how I think they will perceive my own.
I hide and alienate when I want to share and connect. But to share and connect is to be vulnerable, so I hide and alienate. Repeat.
What is the value of humanity? What is the value of messiness, of the power of our flaws and vulnerability to connect us?
What value is there in a Look Good if all it does is look good?