For much of my life, I’ve found it easier to be alone and independent than to be in community, rely on people, or be vulnerable about what I need.
I’ve been burned in friendships multiple times, so I’ve put up walls to protect myself, ensuring that I wouldn’t be hurt, excluded or rejected again. Even when I was devastated by social rejection, I kept my pain between myself and the pages of my journals. I didn’t let other people in, and, as a result, I often felt alone.
When you act like you have it all together, you tend to experience distance in relationships and end up in a vicious cycle of rejection and isolation. If people think you’re “fine” all the time, they’re unlikely to check in on you to see how you’re doing, which further isolates you.
That was my reality for years.
Then, I got sick.
Last year, I completely burned out and was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr Virus, an acute form of mono. My immune system was wiped out, and I didn’t know when I would feel better or get my energy back.
I had to be honest about how I had gotten to that point. I had to own the fact that I had let my ambition and career supersede all other aspects of my life, especially my relationships. Relationships with coworkers were rocky. I missed important events with family and friends. I felt deeply disconnected and like I was in a downward spiral, while trying to maintain the perception that I could handle all of it by myself.
A few friends began to see past my facade and gradually broke through, prompting a transformation in me.
They offered me the gift of truth.
Warning: Unsolicited Observation Coming
One day, about a month after my diagnosis, I received a sweet text message from my friend, Cara:
“Thinking of you, Rachel.”
I replied back thanking her and telling her how it had been a rough year. I told her how the virus kept knocking me out but said I was beginning to learn lessons I was too busy to notice or appreciate before.
With a great deal of courage, she replied to me with this:
“I can imagine that’s been rough, especially because you strive to take very good care of your body. I’m sorry it’s been recurring, but I’m glad to hear God is working through the circumstances. [Warning: unsolicited observation coming!]”
I’ve never been in a situation like that before, but I can’t exactly say I was excited to read what followed.
Her message continued:
“I’ve noticed so many of your posts on your blog and LinkedIn and Facebook talk about slowing down and worrying less about achievement, etc., but I feel like you yourself actually rarely slow down. You definitely live life to every inch and every minute possible, always exploring new places and activities and people, but you rarely seem…content? Fulfilled? Pardon me saying so, but my prayer for you is to really truly believe the amazing and wonderful things you share with the rest of us. I have learned so much from you, Rachel!”
I reread her message.
My gut reaction was to get defensive (“I know, I know! I’m working on it!!”).
I had never had someone expose me quite like that before, and it felt uncomfortable, but I did what I knew I had to do in that moment.
I thanked her.
When you’re already knocked down and are brought to a place of humility, it’s somehow easier to hear and receive tough truths.
What courage it took for her to send me those words. How loving it was for her to offer me that truth, a truth I would not have voluntarily sought out but that I desperately needed to face.
Sometimes the truth hurts, but we need to be willing to hear it if we are going to grow.
Since then, I’ve been able to be more honest about how I’m really doing and stepping back to consider what really makes me happy. I had focused so much on achieving and getting ahead – two things I still care about – at the expense of experiences that brought me back to the present like spending time with those I love most. I recognized that work was getting the best of me and everyone else was getting what was left, and I wasn’t content or fulfilled as a result of my priorities.
I’m grateful to have people in my life like Cara who care about me enough to be honest and to speak the truth in love. I’m grateful for her friendship and how much we enjoy just being with each other, sharing our stories, going on walks and laughing together. I’m grateful to have had more moments that matter with people who matter most since that conversation.
Think about It: When we hear truth that hurts, can we be humble and gracious enough to receive it instead of reject it? Can we lower our defenses and be open to growth, even if it’s hard? What is a challenging truth someone has shared with you that you rejected but could see as helpful or supportive of your growth?
Removing Blind Spots
Nearly a year after Cara’s message, I had a conversation with another friend, whom I’ve known for five years. What started as a relaxed, evening catch-up, while our husbands played video games, turned into two hours of the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had.
She challenged me to to face lies I’ve been holding onto about not being loved, wanted or desired. She asked me where those beliefs originated and was puzzled as to why I have believed them for so long, considering how many people around me love me and support me.
What came next rocked me to my core:
“I just don’t know where that comes from. It’s almost like your problems and what you’re going through are a big deal, but other people have stuff going on, too. You’re often so focused on what you’re dealing with that you don’t see it. I don’t want you to hear me say you’re a bad friend because you’re not.
People would do anything for you, Rachel, me included, not because we expect anything in return but because we’re your friends and we love you.
But I bet most people don’t feel the same way about you. It’s like there’s this wall up, ‘I’m really busy. I’ve got a lot going on,’ so people don’t ask you or think you’d be able to help them in their time of need. Their time isn’t any less important than yours. Sometimes it seems like you are very focused on yourself and your own life and what you’re doing that other people may be missed. I don’t want you to hear me say that you’re selfish, but it’s very clear to those around you that you can’t be bothered. I don’t think it’s your fault, just that you’ve been blind to it.”
I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.
It hurt to hear that…badly.
I was a wreck.
I had never had anyone speak to me with such radical candor before, and having what I believed to be my darkness and ugliness exposed was excruciatingly painful. Each of us knows there are parts of ourselves that we hope never see the light of day, that no one ever notices, and that we can deny exist.
But how will we ever grow and change if we keep them in the dark?
Instead of rejecting her words or denying what she said, I stayed with her and listened to what she had to say, even though it pained me to do so. I could hear it because I knew she was speaking out of love…
And that she was right.
I had become so self-absorbed and self-focused that I was blind to my own behavior. More than anything, I needed someone who loved me and knew me to speak into that dark place in my life and expose it for what it was. I needed the truth reflected back to me from someone who knew me, so I could begin the process of changing and growing.
That friend had built up years of relational capital with me, and her bank was pretty full. She had earned the privilege of speaking the truth in love to me because she had demonstrated for years that she loved and cared about me as her friend.
At the end of our conversation, my friend offered me some hope:
“When you recognize there’s an area where you have a blind spot, it’s because it was put there. It’s not you. It can be removed. It will be removed. You’ve been barreling down the highway, not noticing what’s on the periphery. Imagine what will happen when you remove the blind spots.”
I had an emotional hangover the week that followed that conversation, but I could feel a shift begin, as a result of my heightened awareness. I started to be more responsive to friends’ text messages, intentionally planned more friend dates, and dropped off dinners to friends going through a challenging time.
Several months later, that same friend wrote me a note, calling out the heart change she’d witnessed in me since our conversation. Other friends have given me similar feedback. I’m still a work in progress, but I have begun to make changes, little by little.
I’m grateful for the power of tough truths to transform us and for the love and bravery of friends willing to convey them.
Now that I’ve begun transforming my friendships, I know the next step for me is to remove the blind spots I’ve had toward my family relationships, especially my siblings and their kids.
I know it will be a tough journey and that I won’t figure it out overnight, but I’m committed to doing the hard work. I’m committed to checking in and reaching out, anticipating needs without being asked, and being present and listening without trying to fix anyone.
Think about It: Has someone who cares about you ever shared a challenging observation with you about a potential blind spot? How did you respond? If you haven’t had such a conversation, who is one person you could reach out to seek that kind of feedback?
Try this as a conversation starter: “I want to grow and continue to become the best version of myself. Do you notice anything I do, think or say that gets in the way of my growth that I may not be aware of? I welcome your honest opinion because I know you care about me and want what’s best.”
The Healing Power of Truth
While people will encourage us, support us, and listen to us, they will also disappoint us, let us down, and hurt us, and we will do the same to them. Relationships are messy, and people are unpredictable, but all of us need them to thrive and live our best lives
Being in community and in relationship with people means being together as who we really are – sad, broken, joyful and excited.
Being in radical, authentic, transformational relationships requires that we be willing to speak the truth in love for the betterment of another person…and that we have the humility to receive truth when it is offered to us.
I love what visionary leader and author, Ray Dalio, has to say about the role of pain in our lives and think it connects with what I’ve shared today:
Pain + Reflection = Progress.
As hard as it is to sit with the pain and to let difficult truths sink in, when we are willing to receive them and take the time to reflect on them, progress, growth and transformation can follow.
I’d much rather jump on the achievement train and “fix” whatever the pain is, but I’m learning that sitting with it and letting myself feel what I feel, even when it hurts, is part of the process of healing.
Think about It: Are you willing to receive the truth? Who are the truth tellers in your life? If someone has been radically candid with you, how have you transformed as a result of their feedback? What steps do you need to take to continue on that path of growth?