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Does anyone care?

For a very long time, I clutched my identity around my body. Whenever I entered new territory, I could hold onto a familiar sense of who I was. No matter what, I knew that — the good and the bad.

But rather than softly enveloping me in a cocoon of security, this identity slowly, almost imperceptibly shrunk until it was as binding as a straight-jacket.

Have you ever tried to take off a straight-jacket? I haven’t either, but we can imagine, right? You’re totally constricted and limited. It must be hard to breathe in there.

Most of my identity is wrapped up in protecting myself. As a kid, I got teased bullied. And I thought it was my fault. That I had to fix myself, so kids would like me more.

For one, I bounced when I walked. It’s something I inherited from my dad. To give you an idea of how bad it is, I want you to imagine a steady march of men in suits, coming home after a commute on the train. They all wear conservative grays and blues, but one stands out. His walk is so distinctive, you know it’s him long before you can distinguish his facial features. That’s my dad.

I still have a slight spring to my step, but I’m pretty sure I successfully squashed the bounce.

To make it worse, I was capital-L LOUD and easily excitable. Then I got older and started caring a lot about things like elections and social justice — topics that don’t make you so popular when you bring them up in all but the most limited kinds of company.

So, on top of flattening my walk, I eventually learned to hold my tongue.

By the time I left my last job, I was so committed to calm that when my boss said something outrageous to me, which happened a lot, I’d just sit and stare at her. I didn’t trust myself to speak, and so I said nothing.

I didn’t lose my voice, I strangled it.

I’ve been on a slow, tentative journey to learn how to care again. Because when you don’t allow yourself to speak, eventually you just stop caring. Or you erupt once the pressure of all those unspoken ideas can’t be contained any longer, which in my experience, only redoubles your desire to detach.

In the process, I’ve found I’m terrified to voice an opinion about the things I should engage with the most — those things I’m passionate about.

But when I allow myself to share my truths and ask questions, I feel a loosening around my throat, my shoulders, my chest. The straight-jacket is getting baggier, and I think I’ll be able to take it off soon.

People ask me all the time, “How do I get people to talk about my thing, when it’s really not all that unique?”

I think the root of this question is a fear of letting people see how much you care. Whether it’s your message or a product, voicing your passion is a vulnerable place.

Your friends won’t all share your interests. Your clients might disagree. Maybe some snide neighbor will tell you she’s too busy for that sort of thing.

But I want to tell you what I’ve learned through all this.

There’s nothing wrong — and everything right — with feeling vulnerable because you care so much.

Don’t strangle your voice before you open your mouth.

If I’ve learned anything through my own discovery process, it’s that we’re not in high school anymore. Those old defenses don’t make us cool, calm and collected. They make us boring.

Your excitement is contagious.

We’ll care, because you do.

 

  

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