My boss says she needs to see me later this afternoon; I immediately clear my schedule for the rest of the day because I now have a million and one scenarios to run through real quick before I can be ready to meet. My mind begins to run through every possible conversation we might have. Because I get to star in both roles of this drama happening in my head, I get to create a version of my boss who wants to talk about things I know about and asks for advice in areas I would consider myself to be an expert. I do let her ask hard questions, but only so I can compose my carefully constructed rebuttal that tactfully explains why she is wrong. It’s a time consuming activity that drains far more brain power than it should. And yet, it leaves me no more prepared for the real life interaction we will have that afternoon.
I wish I could say I only do this with work. I wish I could say I don’t have imaginary conversations with my friends, my boys, the cashier, the barista, and strangers who walk by me in the park, but that’s not true yet. Part of this habit comes from my ADD and my imagination working together, keeping each other busy on the most epic playdate of all time. But a bigger part of this habit comes from insecurity and fear of failure. I fear that if I haven’t already run through what might happen, then when life does actually happen I’ll be caught off guard and risk sounding less than polished. I risk vulnerability.
Here’s what I’ve learned about everyday conversations: They are not a mystery to be solved or a game to be won, and vulnerability in those moments is not the worst possible outcome. Interactions with others don’t need a full dress rehearsal in order to go well. If I can let go of my preconceived ideas about how I will ensure that I come across in the perfect manner, I can truly be present in those moments. When I’m replaying my practice conversation in my head while also trying to hear their words and think two moves ahead, I completely miss what they are saying. If I can push ‘pause’ on my fear of failing, I’ll find that people usually aren’t looking for ways trap me into saying something stupid. Generally they are just kind people who enjoy authentic interactions. Authenticity and vulnerability aren’t risks to be avoided. Each interaction that lends itself to a little vulnerability or a lot of authenticity can actually be chalked up as a win. Those guard-down moments are where real relationships begin to take hold. It’s only when the truest version of you is seen that someone can connect with the truest version of you. For an over preparer and over thinker, risking vulnerability feels awkward. But each of those little awkward moments get stacked together to become the solid foundation for deep, lasting relationships. Do awkward.