I’m Self-Involved

I’m actually a little sheepish to share this one which, I guess, is a sure sign that I’d best go forth.

Last week, Theresa and I attended a community event that involved a dinner. We stood in line with a person I had seen here and there but never spoken with so I made introductions and the conversation soon turned to art. I told her about a commissioned piece we had recently come to have the honor of owning.

It’s an incredible diptych by Jennifer Printz in response to my request that she create a piece to represent her experience of working with me as her coach. (Critical side note: I am hardcore about client confidentiality but Jennifer gave me express permission to share that this piece was based on our coaching collaboration.)

The piece is absolutely captivating: Turbulent waves of graphite surround a blank, white space in which a photograph of fluffy clouds in a blue sky is tucked into one side. I don’t know how much time I’ve spent following those waves so far.

I hadn’t even gotten to the part of describing the work itself when the woman at the community event threw back her head in this belly-burst of laugher. “Of course you wanted a self-portrait!” She grabbed my arm, leaned into me, and kept laughing.

My stomach dropped. I felt flush with embarrassment. When she saw my reaction, she doubled-down instead of backing off. I don’t quite recall how we extracted ourselves but Theresa and I eventually just sort of turned our attention toward the food at the end of the line in which we waited.

Honestly, it’s a silly little story about a silly little moment. My discomfort, though, lingered long enough for me to get curious about it: What was it about that interaction that was sitting with me like a pointy rock in my guts?

I mean, sure, I could just blame her. She was rude or thoughtless or whatever. And that might make me feel some relief in a self-righteous sort of way but it takes energy to decide someone else is wrong and, frankly, it cuts out all of the possibility of learning.

Things that we take personally are pushing buttons in us. I wanted to say: “No, I’m not that self-involved!” I wanted that to be true.

Except, I did, indeed, ask Jennifer to create art about a situation that involved me.

Except, I do have a tattoo of a buzzard on my arm who is carrying an egg, both of which are meant to symbolize different aspects of myself.

Except, I do spent my life in an intentional and intensive process of introspection and personal development.

Except, my wisest self doesn’t actually think any of that is a problem; only my gremlins do. My gremlins say that it’s all self-involved and egotistical while my wisest self says that it’s only in developing and caring for ourselves first and foremost that we develop the tools and gain the energy to give more to other people and develop as better and better citizens of the world.

It was the very thing that I felt teased for – self-centeredness – that allowed me to back away from blaming this woman for my embarrassment and instead recognize that I had triggered something in her with my story – I’ll likely never know what – and that her response triggered something in me that is 100% mine to own.

Our discomfort acts as little flags waving at us as if to say, “Hey! There’s something to learn here!” We have to be willing, though, to get out the pick and shovel to do the often strenuous work of mining our own depths to find that treasure.