Opening up about my worst year ever

Last year sucked. I can easily say it was my worst year ever to date.

I lost a long-time client, which had a significant impact on my revenue stream. I hadn’t been doing nearly enough business development for far too long, and work was slow coming in to make up for the shortfall. The illness Hootie has been living with for many years got a lot worse. My relationship with my best friend – and mother of my three godchildren – was feeling strained. She got breast cancer. And, as if it couldn’t get worse, some bad financial decision-making came to light that is going to take a while to recover from.

I felt sick, scared and a total screw-up.

What’s inspired me to open up about my worst year ever is this blog by Michael Simmons on the HBR Blog Network in which he shares the experience of his business failing and goes onto describe how “only presenting an idealized version of ourselves separates us from others.” He continues, describing the “mistaken assumption” we often make “that if people find out who we really are underneath, they’d remove themselves from our lives,” when the “reality is that if we share the ups and downs of our human experience in the right way in the right context, we build deeper connections.”

Pretending everything is OK when it’s not is way too difficult. Last year, my pride certainly got in the way a few times, and I didn’t feel comfortable or willing to share what was really going on. But that didn’t last long.

I’m not saying I ran out and shared my dirty laundry with the world. But I decided to take a risk and open up, even while feeling at my most desperate and afraid. I started with me, trying to remind myself gently every day that I had a whole lot to be grateful for and that things couldn’t be awful forever. With others, if people asked how I was, I stopped saying ‘Fine.’ If people asked about my business, I’d tell them things weren’t busy enough, I’d ask for referrals and I’d talk about what I was doing for business development. I tried to be open about my fears for my husband and my best friend, without being insensitive or over-sharing.

Most people were super-stars in response to my honesty. Those who weren’t… well, they weren’t. All I knew was, I had enough to worry about, without being concerned about people who didn’t know how to respond to my vulnerability.

Simmons makes the point that we live in a world “where people compare their behind-the-scenes with others’ highlight reels,” and yet, “we can surprise ourselves, and put others at ease, by sharing our full humanity.”

That happened for me. Even in the midst of last year’s ugliness, I felt liberated when I spoke the truth about my experience. And delighted when other people starting opening up in response.

My best friend beat her cancer, and she’s already had her first reconstruction surgery. Our relationship is so much stronger because I dropped the act and got back to being me again.

Hootie participated in a clinical drug trial that has cured his disease and his body is now beginning the long process of healing from the beating it’s taken for the past 30 years. At the same time, we’ve started the process of repairing the things in our relationship that have suffered as a result of the stress of the past 12 months.

And, business connections I started building during last year’s most trying times have turned into amazing opportunities and interesting projects with people I am delighted to know and work with. Not because I pushed it, or talked a good game. But because I was authentic to who I am and how I roll.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t shared my humanity. So, while 2013 truly was my worst year ever, what I’ve learned is $h*t really can make things grow.

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