A few years ago, a simple question changed my life. It went like this: “What would you do if you could do anything?” I had never thought about that question before—never considered asking or answering a question like that. Was it even useful? Was it allowed? Was it “right,” in the moral sense of the word?
Wasn’t it selfish to just do (or even dream about doing) whatever I wanted?
But when I let go of my ideas about what it meant to want things, and to go after them, what I uncovered was a life full of passion and humility and faith in a way I had never experienced before. It was (and is) truly beautiful.
Now, in my life, I’m being challenged by a new (and similar) question. It goes like this:
What would you say if you could say anything?
At first blush, this might not seem like a difficult question. And for many people, perhaps it’s not. But for some reason, for me, this question feels as clunky and uncomfortable as the “what would you do?” question once felt.
I feel torn between thinking, “No one should just say whatever they want. Everybody should think about the feelings and reactions of others…” and also asking myself, honestly:
“If I were allowed to speak freely, what would even come out?”
Have you ever asked yourself this? If you’re anything like me, you have, and yet when it comes to answering, you have no idea. What would I say if I weren’t afraid of judgement?
I’m not sure.
When it comes down to saying something I know is controversial, or something something I worry will upset someone else, or saying something I fear will receive judgement in return, I would rather lie, or bend the truth, or be “diplomatic” or just shut up.
I hate this about myself. Here’s why.
First, I’m wasting an incredible amount of energy. What I try to do (not consciously, but I’ve started to pay attention to myself) is get a gauge for how someone is feeling in a certain situation, and then altar my communication based on that assessment. So if I sense a topic is making someone uncomfortable, I’ll change the subject.
The problem is, often I’m wrong about how that person is feeling. Maybe I’m picking up signals that weren’t really there, or I’m interpreting them wrong, or I’m projecting my feelings onto the other person.
Either way, even when I’m right, my desire to keep emotions in check keeps my words vague and muddled.
This is affecting even the closest relationships in my life.
My husband and my friends and my family ask me questions about what I feel or what I think, and I try to answer them honestly—I really do. But my answers tend to be clouded by what I fear they will think of me.
As if that weren’t enough, I’m really starting to perceive this is holding me back in my pursuits as a writer. The most common piece of criticism I’ve heard about Packing Light is this: I wish you would have been more honest. And while I know that feedback is valuable, it drives me crazy. You know why?
Because I thought I was being honest. I’m starting to see now that, even in the places where I thought I was being honest, I was holding back.
I don’t even know how to speak (or write) without fear of judgement.
And maybe part of this is just the human condition—or my temperament—and I should stop wasting energy trying to “fix” myself, but you know what? I don’t want to. If I’m being honest (really honest) I feel totally trapped by my fear of telling the truth.
I wish I could speak openly about the things I really thought.
I don’t think it’s selfish to desire this, or to go after it. I don’t think it’s inconsiderate of others. In fact, if I learned anything from answering the “what would you do” question, I know the answer to this question could wake up me up to a whole new kind of passion, a whole new kind of faith, a whole new way of life.
Maybe our ideas—the real ones—matter for something.
Do you think?
If that’s the case, if what I have to say matters, I need to learn to not hold back. So do you. We need to learn to practice sharing our opinions—even bad ones. Not online, necessarily. But somewhere, with someone we trust. In a journal, with a friend, to our spouse, quietly at night.
Because it’s in the sharing, I think, that healing comes, humility comes, growth comes. It’s in the sharing I’m changed, and you’re changed, and a bridge is built between the two of us.
It’s in the sharing that life and faith and hope come back.
So what would you say if you could say anything? What you have to say matters. Don’t hold back.