My whole life, I have thrived in front of an audience. I am a communicator. I have delivered my best work in front of a microphone, in front of an audience and on the published page.
Ask me to write or speak to a room of thousands and I cannot hide the sparkle in my eye. But there is truth in what a wise person once told me – that we craft the skills to communicate well long before we have anything to say. So I spent the last twenty years learning how to say it.
And now I think I have something to say, at last. Several somethings, actually.
Early in life I was labelled a ‘bossy girl’. My mother tells the story of a family friend dragging me home from a playdate exclaiming ‘I will not be told what to do by a five year old!’.
For most of my teens and twenties, I made a reputation for myself as opinionated. I wanted to change the way people think (still do) and therefore think and live differently. The world has a way of disqualifying the young from being able to lead thought revolution. I think it has to do with the idea you have to earn your stripes and pay your dues, both of which really just mean ‘do the time’. Actually I knew who I wanted to be – a person of insight and wisdom and I was practicing my voice, learning how to say what I thought.
Experience ≠ Wisdom
Experience and the sheer passing of time may lead to observational wisdom, the accrual of shared wisdom, but wisdom and insight stands alone. I set out at a young age, inspired by the ancient thinker Solomon, to pursue wisdom. The ability to perceive and understand situations differently. Thinking differently will always lead to living differently.
Being opinionated has led me to broken-ish relationships, getting fired and lots of meetings where I was expected to apologise. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I did not.
My strength has also been one of my greatest insecurities – a fear that if I speak my mind or say the ‘wrong’ thing, I will inevitably push people away or lose those I love. It has terrible implications for my most precious interpersonal relationships when I want to be vulnerable.
But it has also led me to the greatest learning of my life and some of my very best ‘being’.
Being a person who can tell the truth in love when no one wants to hear it. One who sticks it out on the side of the miserable. The one who tackles tough subjects, suggests alternative perspectives and facilitates conversation, not just lectures. And occasionally still the one who digs her heels in to get her way. I have learned when not to say I told you so and when to say it with grace.
The toughness of it – the sheer bloody hard work of this ‘think differently’ life has taught me to be a better communicator, a better writer and a better thinker. You have to learn over and over again how to say what you think and how to think better and better.*
A good friend of mine recently offered some words of encouragement, in her blunt and direct way. “You’re a bit of a powerhouse of opinion. You have insight.”
She also reassured me that giving thoughtful opinion and insight delivered with love isn’t the same as the bossy, stroppy twenty-something girl I fear being known as.
There’s no need to worry so much about whether my opinion or insight is right or wrong, or whether it’s ready to be said. I need to trust my gut more often and listen to my body. Perhaps it is more important that I say it in such a way, my love is unmistakable regardless of whether I’m talking to my friends, my readers or my clients.
In my opinion, with love.
*I am incredibly blessed to have worked with some of the best thinkers I’ve encountered, who have taught me to refine and practice the art of thinking in a variety of contexts. I’m forever grateful and will continue to learn and practice.