I don’t know how many of you reading this are fans (or were fans) of the HBO series Sex and the City. However, based on the demographic majority of my online followers—between the ages of 25-44, 75% are female, and into fashion—I’m making the assumption that many of you may recall the episode Post-it Note Always Sticks Twice. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, I’ll give you a quick rundown. Carrie Bradshaw, a New York columnist and protagonist in the series, dates another author, Jack Berger. Her boyfriend couldn’t handle her success and broke up with her over a Post-it note. It said, “I’m Sorry. I can’t. Don’t hate me.”
In my early childhood years, I was taught that communication in my household was combative and usually included yelling, cursing and violence. There was an immense amount of shame and we didn’t share our problems with anyone. Because of this, I learned to run from conflict–that it’s better to keep things to myself and handle things on my own than to bring things out into the open or discuss them with loved ones. In an all out attempt to avoid conflict, I also learned to appease others, often setting aside my own feelings or needs. Making the assumption that you’ve flown in an aircraft before, this is best way I can describe it. When you board a flight, just before takeoff, the attendant goes over the safety rules. There was one rule that had always bothered me and even more so when I had my children. The rule is this, “make sure you securely put on your oxygen mask before you help put on the masks of others”. It didn’t compute. I knew in my mind that I would always make sure my kids’ masks were on first before I’d put on mine, and in general, probably everyone else’s if they needed help.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally understood what it meant.
Even though, I often suppressed my open verbalization of feelings, I loved writing. I also appreciated the dynamics of seeing how others communicated with each other. How people interact with each other and understanding how relationships worked always intrigued me, even how people communicated through body language and how they dressed. “Communications” was my minor at UNM. I enjoyed learning about interpersonal and intercultural communications, mediation, mass media and organizational communications. Yet, my absolute favorite way to communicate has been and is through storytelling (if you couldn’t tell reading my blog). I tell people repeatedly, “I’m a novelist at heart” (that’s why you normally don’t get one or two-word text responses). I had the hardest time initially with Twitter because of the text limit. When working on organizational communications with my manager at Cardinal Health, her red pen helped me be more succinct in what I had to say. I appreciated all Jane had to teach me in written communications, but even more so in every day interactions.
So when my role ended at Cardinal Health, and I knew the inevitable was coming, she brought me into her office to let me know. Even though, I knew the uncertainty of what the future would bring, I felt it was my time to move on, confident because of all her years of support and mentoring.
“Innocence, your history of silence
Won’t do you any good
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?”
The next few years were a blur, trying to understand and grow a small retail business that I wasn’t equipped, nor Albuquerque was ready for. I retreated back to my childhood and what I had been taught, that I couldn’t share the extent of my problems. The first time I went home after a day of negative sales (SIDE NOTE: what does this mean, you may be thinking? This is a day where there are not only no sales, but also someone returned something) and tried to tell my then spouse about my day, his response was, “I’ll get a second job.” I wasn’t looking for him to fix it. I was looking for someone I could talk to while I tried to figure out what to do next. I just needed someone to listen to me. Instead of feeling open to share what worried me, that exchange taught me to internalize the store problems. I had to be the rock for my home, the business and those who relied on me. It wasn’t fair, but it was the hand I dealt myself in not setting boundaries or clear expectations of what I needed. When the store closed, I retreated even further. Previously active on social media, and other media channels for marketing purposes, I stepped away from most outlets, relying mostly on conversations with friends during this time in order to get through. Yet someone’s opinion, and the lack of support from the person I thought should be there for me, held me hostage for years after that closure.
“You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins”
And then I truly understood what it meant to put on my oxygen mask first. I was so concerned with everyone else, their feelings, their needs, that I made myself believe that mine didn’t matter or maybe they weren’t as important than those around me. That was when I learned to not be afraid in speaking about what was important to me.
I was also able to take the knowledge and experience I had gleaned from the retail venture and take that with me to the fledgling Fathers Building Futures. I was originally brought in to help with fundraising and grants part-time, but as the organization started to separate from its parent organization, my understanding of human resources and communications was more valuable to the organization. The original goal was for me to be there for 3 months, yet there was so much work. It turned into 6 months, then 9 months and then a year. I thoroughly enjoyed the work and team. I had learned immensely from past experience, and was open to sharing it to help the organization.
“What one does when faced with the truth is more difficult than you think.” Wonder Woman
I started to see a similar path that I went down in the store and started to raise the red flag. I challenged decisions, sharing what I had experienced. However, in moments of desperation, one doesn’t always see clearly. Emet, who I’ve known for 8 years, one of the bravest people I know, and have been blessed to have grace my life was motivated to do anything because of fear. I understood this. He wanted to ensure the program was in place to serve those who desperately needed the services provided by the organization. He wanted to make sure the employees who depended on an income from their jobs had a sense of security. He was grasping at anything and throwing things out in the universe to see if anything would stick.
The next board meeting was scheduled the week after I returned from NYFW AW18. I prepared for it in the usual manner. I went into the meeting and there was a the discussion around setting up a marketing and communications committee to help address the work, yet I was not part of the discussion. The next day Emet and I started to talk about goals and needs for the organization when he said, “let’s walk next door for a coffee and to talk further”. On the way over, he asked me about my show and I shared the crazy details.
As we sat down, Emet informed me that my contract was going to come to an end within the next month. I knew it was coming because I was privy to the budget and I knew in my heart, I was too expensive for the organization. In order for it to survive, the contract needed to come to a close. I also suspected an end because I was being left out of important conversations. However, I think what stunned me and honestly, what bothered me the most was the way that it happened and where it had happened, in an open space like a coffee shop. I had been dealt my own post-it breakup note. It hurt because Emet and I were not only colleagues, but we were also friends. It bothered me that he couldn’t come to me when he knew that I was aware what was going on and that he carried this additional stress. We could have had an honest conversation without this awkwardness.
I was left to think… Are we afraid of hurting others with what me might say? Or are we afraid of the other person’s reaction? Or maybe there are those of us are looking for a miracle to happen that might deliver us from conflict?
“Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is”
For the next few weeks, we continued to work side-by-side with just enough distance to get the important work done. At one time, Emet did apologize saying, “I’m sorry.” I responded asking what he was sorry for? His response was, “everything”. I couldn’t say it out loud because I knew at the time it wouldn’t bring any value to the conversation, yet I thought to myself, “when you can’t articulate what you mean, then it doesn’t mean anything”. It wasn’t until my last week that Emet stopped working, looked at me and apologized again. He apologized for the way it happened. He apologized for not listening to me. He apologized for not fighting for me to stay on. He admitted he was scared because he didn’t know what he was going to do after I was gone. I simply said, “thank you”, because I knew he genuinely meant it. The interaction had to power to destroy our relationship; yet, it became stronger.
In the past few months, we have leaned on each other for support, guidance, and advice. We have both been through a lot during this time. It was an incredible lesson in communication for me. Relationships—business, personal, and intimate—aren’t successful because of trust. Trust is built from respect. Respect is built on honesty. Honesty is built through open communication. I have learned that communication is not always easy, and especially when you aren’t taking the time to properly care for your own needs (and yes, it’s important to take others into consideration), yet it is absolutely crucial in self-care and interpersonal relationships. And, when the dynamics of the relationship have this foundation, then it can weather any storm and actually be strengthened by it.
“Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”
While I learned in my academic setting how to gain people’s attention or persuade them through my communication methods and storytelling, I really learned to communicate through the trials and errors in my real life. I also learned that in order to effectively communicate and be present in my relationships, I have to put my oxygen mask on first so I can properly care for those around me.
With light and love (and hope you’re humming along to Brave with me),
P.S. I also want to share Emet’s brave story of coming into his own. You can read it HERE.
P.P.S. Brave lyrics featured by Sara Bareilles