Many years ago, my mom started taking Prozac. She had suffered from anxiety and depression for a long time and finally agreed to see a doctor and start medication. Once she was feeling better, she joined a gym and started going to an aqua aerobics class with other women, also in their 70s. As the group grew closer, she told one member—very sheepishly and almost shamefully—about the Prozac. Her friend laughed and said, “Oh, we all take Prozac. You’re in the right group.”
This is not a commercial for anti-anxiety medication—although Prozac has helped me more than I can possibly explain. This is really just a reminder that most of us are going through similar things in our lives. The circumstances may look different on the surface, but the feelings are the same. We worry, we’re scared, we’re embarrassed, and we sometimes feel alone and lonely. If we’re lucky, we also feel some very positive emotions, as well, but it’s those harder ones that sometimes make it tough to get through the day.
We aren’t the same. But we can connect, nonetheless.
And even though I’ve shared my mom’s experience many times with other people, I regularly forget the moral of the story as it applies to my own life. When I interact with people who are difficult, I don’t always remember that they might be hard to deal with because they have a story I don’t know. They are self-conscious, wounded, hurt, and maybe they feel very, very alone. I know I’ve felt that way on some particularly hard days, and the saving grace has come from someone who gives me permission to feel what I feel and puts a hand on my shoulder to remind me I’m not by myself.
As I’ve said many times, humans are very primitive emotionally. Let’s face it, the same species who can create amazing art and music, can cure devastating diseases, and can invent advanced technology, is also brought to its knees by someone being mean to them. I am not suggesting here that we tiptoe around our friends and family and co-workers, but that we realize what it takes to really see and hear and understand another person. If we’re trying to solve a problem together, even if we’re in the same family or workspace, we come at it differently based on our make-up. What scares me might not scare you, but something probably does. If we pay attention to each other in a real and authentic way, we can learn better ways to talk and listen and be creative.
I wish often that this came naturally to me, but it doesn’t. I get caught up in my own drama, my own goals, and my own way of solving problems. When someone else enters the equation, running over them with my style and my ideas is often my first reaction. Fortunately, I have learned to shut up a tiny bit more than I used to or even than I want to. But, it’s still a slog to just listen and try to figure out a real way to connect with the person in front of me.
If you are an introvert, as I am, this much engagement is exhausting. I really do regenerate in quiet—with a book or a morning run. But I also like being out in the world. I am inspired by the opportunity to interact with people. So I’m trying to make being present and listening be the first thing I do. Honestly, it’s probably the hardest goal I’ve ever set for myself. It makes running a marathon seem easy. But the more I do it, the more I realize that this is where creativity and beauty live. It’s reaching out in the truest sense of the word. I’m here with you. We aren’t the same. But we can connect, nonetheless. Human to human. I’m sure there is nothing better for my soul than this.