Friday, May 28, 2010

Our Gift Is Our Different-ness

We all battle feeling insecure, inadequate, and flawed. We all still strive to look good -- both in our appearance and in how our actions are perceived by others. We all work so hard to either blend in or stand out – depending on the areas where we feel weakest or strongest. But at the root of it all, we just want to feel loved and appreciated for being ourselves. I recently told a client, “It’s actually not about looking good…it’s about being authentic.” We can waste our energies on fixing our different-ness, or choose to honor and celebrate our unique voices and expressions as a gift.

I have a love-hate relationship with the show Glee. I have found it juvenile and clichéd at times; at others, I have found it to be an inspiring beacon of hope for people of all ages that rolls up High School Musical, the after school special, and Reese Witherspoon’s satirical Election all into one. Recently, I’ve been swinging back in the direction of loving the show because of the Kurt Hummel character -- an out gay teen (who’s only 20 in real life) that has traveled a very similar road of self-discovery that so many of us (gay and straight) have had to travel in discovering who we really are and whether we want to be true to that or not. And not compromising when it becomes difficult.

I came out in 1992 when I was in high school to my family and close friends. Back then, it was not as “easy” as it is today. We didn’t have Ellen, or Kurt Hummel, or clubs in middle school to provide us with positive messages that showed us we are not alone. What we did have was AIDS, gay characters that were the punching bag or murder victim, and the birth of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy. Gays were not very visible, and society preferred it that way at the time. Everything was telling me to stay in the closet and hide my different-ness. But I couldn’t, and I didn’t.

Instead, I forewent the straight-to-college path that so many of my friends did. My journey of self-discovery has taken me around the globe, through undergrad and two graduate programs, and led me to the creation of a unique, pioneering business where I get to be all of me – without apology. In fact, every one of my life experiences to date has been essential to the work I do because my own introspection, growth, and healing contribute directly to the learning and success of my clients and the people in my life.

This blog post is not about gays or coming out. It’s about listening to your inner voice – that wiser self – that knows who you are and wants it to be expressed. It’s about recognizing that you have something unique and beautiful to bring to this life experience, to this planet, and it is your duty to live it fully. Being gay is only one slice of who I am. I am a violinist, a son and brother, a misfit (and “Gleek”), and a voice that guides and teaches. This world would not be the same without me, nor you. It is important for us all to realize how we make a significant and important impact through a diversity of roles, thoughts, experiences, and expressions.

Who are you?
Are you a devoted and loyal friend? A loving Mom? A brilliant admin assistant? A painter or writer? An unapologetic lover of kitsch? A cancer survivor? Are you all of these things and more? You came to this life for a reason, and it is your job to discover what purpose you are here to fulfill. Dig in, do the work to discover who your authentic self is, and do us all a favor: Let your freak flag fly. Recognize that you are the same as everyone else… different… and that’s what makes us beautiful.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Love Has Many Languages

Are you aware of how you prefer to express your love? Do you prefer to say it or show it? How about others in your life – how do they demonstrate love? Do you crave something they don’t seem to provide, or vice versa?

Everybody is different in how they like to give/receive love. A friend of mine and I were talking about our differences in this area, and she mentioned The 5 Love Languages, a book by marriage counselor Gary Chapman. The five languages are as follows:
Words – compliments; affirmations; “I love yous”
Time – full, undivided attention; carving out quality time
Gifts – thoughtful, heartfelt gestures
Acts – deeds and actions; doing a service for another
Touch – physical expressions of affection and caring
I found this concept fascinating, as I consider: who am I? I am a person who focuses more on time and words as my expression. I have a lot of people in my life, and only so many hours in the day. To top it off, I’m an introvert (an outgoing one!) that needs alone time to recharge my batteries. Therefore, I make an effort to create space in my calendar for people I care about – whether it’s seeing them face-to-face, having a conversation over the phone or instant messenger, or emailing/writing a letter to check in and share a bit of my life with them. This is my language of love.

Where the challenge comes in is when I feel like others don’t get my language, and do not honor my time or recognize the gift I’m giving by making space for them. However, I am guilty of doing this to others as well by not recognizing that perhaps their language is different than my own.

When I sit down and think about my family and friends, I can see distinct variations between our expressions. Some like to say “I love you,” while others put a lot of thought into carefully chosen gifts that really speak to my heart. I have friends who are affectionate and give the best hugs ever (the deep, soulful kind)…and others who quietly do things for me as their way of showing their love. Those who speak my language tend to carve out time for one another and honor it like I do.

The cool thing about realizing this is: I can now recognize that not everyone is alike in how they express themselves. I also realize not everyone will get my language of love – and I can at last not take it personally when they don’t show it in my “native tongue.” However, having this new “tool” will also allow me to consider when I might want to speak another’s language so that they can get the experience of feeling loved.

Consider for yourself: what is your love language and how is it similar to and different from the people in your life? By discovering this, you may actually feel greater appreciation for others’ expressions and reorient your expectations. As they say, expectations are premeditated disappointment. So, why not put energy into recognizing each other’s language as valid, versus wanting a native French speaker to communicate only in Japanese and being tripped up when they don’t or can’t?