face to face“The social brain is in its natural habitat when we’re talking with someone face-to-face in real-time.” – Daniel Goleman

I am a complicated person, riddled with all kinds of contradictions and ironies and part of the fun in my life is figuring out all these complexities about myself. It feels like I am forever finding pieces to my personal jigsaw puzzle and one day I will finally see the full picture.

One of the more contradictory aspects of me is that I am firmly in the camp of those who believe that nothing in our lives happens by accident. I maintain that everything is interconnected and there’s some type of divine force guiding us that, once tapped into, can help shepherd us on our journeys. On top of that, I am someone who operates on instinct and usually trust my gut. Despite this, I still manage to trip over my own feet, never sure if I truly understand myself or the others around me.  I struggle to use the lessons offered up to me to launch myself further down my own path.  In fact, sometimes I feel like my life is a series of one step forward, two steps backwards because I am often incapable of reading the road signs, flashing in neon lights, plastered along the way.  I squint to see the images placed before me and I can barely make out the whispers of guidance that are blown ever so gently past my ears.  As a result, my life has become an ironic drama peppered with earth-moving epiphanies that occur when the messages finally make their way to my brain.

Another contradiction to trusting the universe is that I am an experiential person.  This means that, in order for me to understand something, I need to experience it.  That typically does not align too well with the idea of surrendering to a higher power.  Yet I do. All the while, I tend to live life in a very literal fashion.  How this plays out for me is that my belief is faith in outcomes.  Even though I cannot see them or have not experienced them, I have an overwhelming assurance that things will turn out in a way that they are supposed to and that will be best for me.  And, I cannot always see that from afar.  Where I am challenged is in the practicality of living my day-to-day life.  For instance, I struggle to stay connected to my life at home when I am away because I cannot experience it firsthand. I am challenged with imagining the goings-on with my family without actually being there to experience it with them.  I have similar difficulties with work.  When my partners attend meetings and try to share the details with me afterwards, I rarely can completely get a clear sense of the experience because it is coming at me secondhand. Without having been there to see it and hear it for myself, I lack critical pieces to truly understand it.  Context is so important for me.

Something that has only recently come to light for me is how my experiential nature extends to my relationships. I discovered several years ago how hard it is for me to go long stretches without seeing certain people because the lack of personal, face-to-face interaction diminished my comfort and confidence in the relationships because I was missing the interpersonal cues required for me to journey forward.  This, too, strikes me as incredibly ironic because when my husband and I met 22 years ago, the early stages of our relationship were long-distance.  We existed 3,000 miles apart and saw each other sometimes only 1-2 times per month.  Yet, we spoke daily and managed to fall madly in love with each other.  The times we spent together were intense and our separations were brutal but we mustered through and managed to forge a long-lasting bond.  I am not so sure I could endure that today.  I have no confidence that I possess the skills to maintain a relationship of that magnitude from such a distance. So, I have to wonder if this quirk in my personality is innate or something I have developed over time.

Yesterday, I was leading my coaching group in a discussion around communication styles. I am fairly well-versed in this topic as my company teaches communication skills and I fancy myself somewhat knowledgeable on the subject.  I can dispense sage advice to people all day long.  I understand the principles.  I recognize the challenges people face when they do not communicate properly.  I preach regularly about the criticality of choosing proper communication methods:

  • Do not have an argument with someone over text or email – pick up the phone or go see them in person.  Your message will be misconstrued and will do more damage than good.
  • Limit the use of email and text for difficult topics. Recognize that the content of your written communication will be received by the reader based on their interpretation not your intention.
  • Lack of face time can diminish the quality of relationships, especially for those who are more visual (like myself).  Sometimes you need to move beyond text and emails – and even phone calls. Sometimes you need to see someone to reinforce the trust and the bond.

And like many other things in my life, I am often incapable of processing my own wisdom.  I am my worst student.  As a result, I am not always as diligent about applying all these same principles to my own life.  In fact, I often disregard them completely.  I remove them from my conscious thinking when I am dealing with my own moods and behaviors rather than using them as a filter to understand how I feel and react to things.  One of my biggest challenges is at work. My company is virtual and my partners are both located in different cities, leaving us reliant primarily on text and email communications.  Given the nature of our work and the intensity of many of our discussions, we probably do not do the best job of communicating because we choose the easiest methods rather than the best methods and I am as guilty as anyone of abusing the convenience of text and email.

When working with my coaching group yesterday, I was sharing a personal story about my own struggles with relationships, particularly when I find myself physically disconnected from others.  When I go long stretches of time without seeing certain people, I tend to devalue the quality and importance of the relationship.  I lose my connection.  The tether between us breaks (for me) and I find myself incapable of feeling the connection.  I almost laughed at myself as I shared the story with my group because what I recognized the irony.  How could I possibly lead a discussion about the importance of different types of interactions and communications and not be self-aware in regards to my own struggles?  I stopped as I was sharing some thoughts about feeling detached from my community of friends and acknowledged that I do not respect my own needs and styles and simply abandon the principles when I am feeling weak and low.  I admitted that I had fallen into the trap of letting my warped perspective rooted in my dynamic challenges dictate my feelings and my impressions of others.  I called myself out.  I became the poster child for the conversation.

Here is what I know to be true – for me.  I thrive on human interaction.  I derive energy from others.  I am sure that puts me way out on the spectrum as an extrovert.  At the same time, I need quiet time and the ability to shut myself down to focus, recharge.  Characteristics more typically attached to introverts.  I am actually an ambivert – fluctuating to either end of the spectrum at different points in time.  I know that I cannot maintain relationships without personal interaction.  It depletes me to try to maintain my level of connection without getting the energy from the other person to reinforce my bond.  It requires too much work for me to do all of that on my own.  I also know that I do not respect these characteristics of mine and often interpret my feelings resulting from not honoring these needs incorrectly.  And so begins a negative spiral of thinking of me.  I circle the drain and down I fall, deep into the hole.  I am a walking contradiction and, on a fairly regular basis, my own contradiction kicks me in the ass.

The good news is that I know this about myself.  And how did I learn it?  Well, of course, during one of my two steps backwards.  And that, right here, is why I believe in the universe.  Those backward steps are typically where I learn everything.  The place where I am most uncomfortable.  Ironically (and thankfully), I have learned that I can take those steps backwards and even go tumbling down and the universe will be there to catch me.

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