What is the one thing that you hope no one ever finds out about you?
What is that one thing about your past, or your personality, or yourself in general that you want to hide? What secret truth about yourself makes your heart race and your cheeks burn with shame and fear? Is there something that you’d erase from your diary or from someone else’s memory, if only you could? Is there something you wish you, yourself, could forget?
What would you do if someone found that out?
Last week, I exposed one of my secrets, and I felt a multitude of emotions pouring down on me. I felt exposed, to start with. Naked. Raw. Vulnerable. I also felt honest, and real, and authentic. More than anything, I felt free. I felt hopeful. I felt a connection to the world that I didn’t expect.
The experience of opening up made me start to wonder why we so desperately try to cover up our failings, our vulnerabilities and our imperfections. What are we so afraid of?
When I was first dating Lancelot, I had a secret I was terribly afraid to tell him about. Around our third date, I brought the subject up. “Um, there’s something I should probably tell you,” I started to say, fidgeting nervously and trying to give myself the courage to reveal a nugget from my past.
“There’s something I should tell you, too,” he said. That surprised and intrigued me, and also gave me comfort.
“I had a bad experience with a guy once,” I continued. “He turned out to be a con artist, actually. It kind of screwed me up a little bit in terms of relationship with guys.”
I felt so much relief in sharing that with him, but I braced myself for his reaction. What would he say now? Would he be scared away? Would he want to run? And what about the secret he had alluded to? What did he have to tell me? How bad was it?
Then Lancelot nodded, supportively, and said, “I’m actually divorced. I was married for 15 years. I’m screwed up, too.”
That was it? He was divorced? I already knew that, for starters. It also didn’t seem like a big deal, with divorce being so amazingly common these days. Maybe a part of our uber-revealing reality-TV culture was creeping into my thoughts, because I felt like that was so minor. Yet, it wasn’t. It was a very big deal to him, and therefore, it was a big deal to me.
As tentative as both of us were in this scenario, neither of our secrets were deal breakers. We both, respectively, felt the other person’s secret wasn’t as bad as our own. Isn’t that what a lot of us think? We are much harder on ourselves than we are on other people. Isn’t there some small part of ourselves that thinks our secrets make us bad people – unloveable people – unworthy people?
Our secrets don’t make us bad, unloveable or unworthy. They simply make us human.
We each have secrets that we hold inside of ourselves. Some secrets seem insurmountably huge and others seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, yet each secret we hold inside ourselves has power. We can choose whether to give our secrets the power to shame ourselves and hold us back from life, or we can use our secrets to become closer to those around us, empathize with other humans, and make the world a more compassionate place.
There is no shame in admitting that we are flawed. There is only shame in pretending that we are flawless.
The farce of perfection is isolating. We hide things about ourselves to protect ourselves and be less fearful, but in reality, hiding something makes it bigger and more powerful. A secret is a personal burden that literally weighs someone down and holds someone back.
Today, I’m asking you to consider shedding the burden of your secrets. Don’t let shame win out on this one. Open yourself up, and see what happens.
So, what’s your secret? I’ll tell you mine, if you tell me yours. In doing so, we can become better versions of ourselves.