It was about a dozen years ago. A miscarriage. You don't realize how many first pregnancies fail until it happens to your family and you talk it out with friends. It's a common sorrow but one we hide under smiles and successes. That was my first experience with one of those life events that feels so big and unsettling but is also so hidden.
Today social media, Facebook, gives us a bigger window into the lives around us and a filter to apply to our own lives. But we don't often post the real real in those spaces of light intimacy. Sharing deeply from ourselves is the way to begin to understand the most difficult moments of our lives. This kind of storytelling is requires holding space together in a way that technology can't approximate.
I had a smaller glimpse of this back in August 2009, right before the last pre-primary debate of the special election for U.S. Congress in the SF East Bay, making small talk with fellow candidate Anthony Woods. I said something like, "How's it going, man?" Anthony gave me an upbeat answer. Then he looked at me and the facade came down. He told me he made fundraising calls all day, day after day, longer hours than a job, just making those calls. We looked at each other and just felt the deep weariness of the campaign trail. Then we went onto a stage and, with eight others, gave enthusiastic 30 second answers to questions bigger than any of us.
A year ago I was freshly into a separation from my wife of 15 years. I was at work but it was a really bad moment, so emotionally raw I could barely talk. I was on a call with a fellow executive and a consultant working on a big client. A few minutes in, I caught myself choking and apologized, explaining that I was having a really difficult day. Don't show that on a call, my colleague later chided.
A few weeks ago I gave the most vulnerable talk of my life, about my first layoff. It wasn't really rehearsed, it wasn't meant to be widely viewed. But it led to real talk with my friends who watched it later on YouTube. "There is no safety net," a self-employed colleague said, reflecting on how both traditional employment and small business ownership are equally uncertain.
Entrepreneurial ventures bring us into another arena we don't like to talk about in polite society - deep financial uncertainty. A digital agency owner recalled paying for gasoline with change. An actor told me about living in his car.
Everyone is fighting a hard battle, and when we own that, share that, it's easier to be kind to ourselves.