I recently made a new friend, as most parents with young kids do, on a playground. We were both invited to go to the math museum in Manhattan by our mutual friend, and across the street there lived those colourful play structures that no child can pass by without climbing. This new friend goes by the name Lee, and he’s a Romanian artist who grew up in Ohio after immigrating to the United States at the age of ten. Don’t worry, he was accompanied by his parents and siblings. At least I think he was! Now, although we grew up in different worlds, we share the same sense of humour, which for most men is more than enough to become “buds”.
So, the other night he had an art opening in his studio, which for some of my readers might just be equivalent in size to your bedroom depending on where you live. My guess is that twenty people in this space would easily break any one of a number of fire codes. But it’s New York City, and this is what the locals have come to expect as a normal way of life. If a New Yorker wants to buy a new chair, they have to choose which chair they will get rid of from their apartment first.
The event was beginning at 6pm, but since my kids were getting out of their after school program around the corner at 5:45pm, I decided I would let them tag along, and that we’d be the first guests to arrive. To sit quietly in the corner, while I talked with Lee, I followed the advice of most modern parenting books and bribed my children. My daughter chose a tiny bag of plain Lays potato chips (possibly the most boring chip on the planet as far as I’m concerned), and my son chose an apple juice as his treat from the store (yes I’m patting myself on the back while writing this).
Lee poured me a glass of wine, and we began chatting about the various artwork on the wall. All ten pieces to be exact. Within a few minutes of our conversation, in walked Paige. An attractive woman in her late 40’s, and stylishly dressed head to toe in black, she was a talented sculptor with a warm smile and an instant openness to joining our conversation. With a few intentionally placed questions, I quickly discovered that Paige was about to make a big life move by taking a break from sculpting to see if she could make it as a painter. Hearing this, I obviously congratulated her for the courage it took to take such a plunge, but found myself wanting to know how she was truly feeling about choosing uncertainty over security. So, I asked, “What scares you most about making this change?”
At first, her facial expression told me the same story so many other faces have when asked an honest question, which was a tale of mild shock. But, within half a second it morphed into a picture of relief for being given the opportunity to connect in an authentic way. As Lee and I listened, Paige told us about her frustration as an artist in that the struggle never seems to end. She said that no matter what level of credibility she had as a sculptor, it didn’t translate into how others saw her paintings, and for that reason felt like she was starting all over. This led Lee to open up about his frustrations as a gallery owner, saying he constantly questioned why he was promoting the art of others when he should just be concentrating on his own offerings to the world. And that led me to say that even though I had traveled around the world as a speaker, that sometimes when driving down the highway past a truck driver I think, “Maybe, I should just do that? Instead of the constant hustle of convincing people to listen to my ideas surrounding self development, I could just pick up my cargo at point A and drop it off at point B.”
To these comments shared by myself and Lee, Paige said, “This has been so refreshing to hear, because I often convince myself that I am the only person on planet earth who feels this way.” It turns out that we all feel this way, we just don’t always talk about it. You see, vulnerability is a super power, and sadly many people don’t have the courage to use it for fear that someone will wield it as power over them. In reality, it’s always possible that someone will, but from experience, I have yet to see that happen. In fact, I have noticed that it is the exact opposite. Most people light up at the chance to be real with others, and that’s mainly because it almost never happens. Human beings are literally starved for this type of connection, and you have the power to create it with the questions you choose to ask, and the stories about yourself that you are willing to tell.
Looking back at the fifty years I’ve had on this planet, I can recall hundreds, and even thousands, of times where I have had the pleasure of exchanging the same vulnerable moments with another person. Some of them have been strangers, while others I have known most of my life. Regardless of who they are, in those moments we are two human beings simply being human. And when I face my final breath, I am convinced that I will not regret the sometimes uncomfortable risks I’ve had to take to make those moments happen.
If you do the same, I am convinced that the same will be true for you.
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