I recently read John Stepper's blog about taking off your mask at work (19 July 2017: http://workingoutloud.com/blog//taking-off-the-mask#comment-3426216338), and commented. He replied and said a few things that really got me thinking:
#1 - I need to think about my experiences as assets.
#2 - I should think of what I have to offer as gifts.
#3 - Willingness to give and receive involves "vulnerability and empathy and compassion and resilience."
My experiences shape me. Some are good and some bad (and some are neutral), but all experiences form my world view and inform my actions. It would be easy to categorize these experiences based on their impact on my life (this was good, that was bad) and discount the ones that weren't positive, but the reality is ALL of my experiences are valuable. They make me who I am. I might not always like who or what that is, but it's me.
Being honest--I wouldn't know all the things that I would classify as assets if the only experiences I have ever had were positive. Many, many things I know and can share with others were born out of failures and bad experiences. During those experiences it might have been an uncomfortable place to be, but looking back on every single one I can see the value of what I learned--if only that I could endure a lot of pressure, heartache, anger, loneliness, loss, failure...whatever...and get through it. John is right. These are assets, and I should view them as such.
I have learned over the years that giving gifts is much easier and more fun for me that receiving them. Some of that stems from the fact that when I receive something from someone else, they're looking at me for a response. As an introvert that's a very uncomfortable feeling, even with people I love and with whom I am close. Part of it, though, is that receiving a gift from someone means I am accepting something on their terms, and not my own. It's much easier for me to give, because I get to say how and when and how much. I get to set the stage and watch the other person's reaction. The eyes aren't on me, but I'm the one in control of the situation.
This is a hard thing to learn about myself. I prefer to think I like to share with people because I'm a kind and generous person (and I am those things) but now I have to face the harsh reality of the other side of giving--that often I'm a control freak and like to keep others at arm's length even when I'm being helpful or useful in some way. If that thought doesn't keep me humble, I don't know what would. I'd like to think that I could be a genuinely altruistic person if I really work at it, so that's something for me to think very hard about when I'm thinking about sharing something with others.
I don't know very many people who are willingly vulnerable. I certainly am not. I feel like I'm less like a dog exposing his belly (which for them is the ultimate indicator of trust) and more like a cat (most of whom will roll over and let you touch their bellies just so they can bite and scratch you to show you who's boss). I've been told that I'm a really nice person, but inside I don't necessarily feel that way. I'm pretty curmudgeonly all of the time. I may not project that, but it's in there. I certainly don't deliberately deceive people into thinking I'm nice, but I feel like my outward life is a lot more generous and caring than my inward self. Some of that is because I genuinely do want to be helpful and useful to others--I just want to do it on my terms (see "Gifts," above if you only skimmed it). This is a dichotomy I will have to explore more, and reveals a character flaw that requires my attention.
Empathy, Compassion and Resilience
These are traits I find much easier to cultivate. It's very easy to put myself into someone else's place, especially if I've had a similar experience, and compassion comes naturally because it was cultivated in me throughout my childhood by parents who were compassionate people. Resilience is also something I believe is in my makeup--I have never had much difficulty coming to terms with difficulties and moving on, again because of parents who held up through difficulties and showed me that it's possible to get past the bad times in life.
Putting all these thoughts together, I think I have a different perspective on who I am. I've always tried to be an honest and relatively direct person. I've tried not to play games with people to keep them guessing about who I am and what I think or believe. But the conversation with John has shown me that I have some things to work on in areas where I thought I was doing just fine. That I need to dig a little deeper into my own experiences and personality traits to become a better person. That my past and all I've learned along the way is an asset. That my generosity needs to be genuinely generous. That my openness needs to be truly open. That if I'm willing to look at these things in my life and be honest with myself about where I am, I can make a real difference when I share what I know.