(n): manuscript, writing
(v): to write a script, to plan or devise
Those who know me, know that I like organization and definition. So, truly living life to the full sense of the words “living life unscripted” is not easy for me.
My whole life I have been told I am a powerful listener with a keen sense of observation. I would much prefer to be a wallflower, absorbing all that is around me, rather than being the main attraction. I observe & I listen. For me, the most powerful gift you can give someone is the gift of having your voice heard; your thoughts validated, your truth spoken out loud, or even in the quiet whisper of your eyes. Ironically, I never gave myself this gift. Rather, I preferred to gift all I encountered, from the crowded airport terminal to the playground, with the opportunity to have their voice heard, or seen, by me Miss Wallflower.
Those who shared with me always remarked how grateful they were to have had someone truly listen to them without judgment or interruption. And often, most conversations ended there. However, there has been an increasing few who have followed that conversation with a “What about you?”
Now truthfully, that question terrifies me.
It is an invitation to peel myself from the wall and to allow myself to blossom by joining the room and speaking my truth. For 23 years the answer was largely polite and graceful “No, thank you.” However; once I realized that my lack of response wasn’t acceptable anymore, I began creating scripts.
(n): a mental codification of experience that includes a particular organized way of perceiving cognitively and responding to a complex situation or set of stimuli
Now, schemas are created unconsciously, so we have all created these throughout our lives. I believe I took this one step further, however, when I began to create schemas that I could use to respond to those who asked, “What about you?” Instead of my polite declines, I created responses that would seemingly answer the personal questions by giving enough detail to make the other feel as though I had shared with them, but my raw emotions, thoughts, and struggles were absent. Rather, these became like automatic scripts, schemas that played out following the stimulus of “What about you?”
While what I shared was not false, it was simply polished and curated: they were incomplete, like a wrapped gift without the bow. My intention was never to lie to those I shared with, but it was a means of protection. A way for me to keep control of life and keep my plans on track. Those above most likely laughed at my naïve assumption that I could control everything. My plan for life is the singular plan for life, but the truth is that I believe this for almost 23 years.
(n): a place where aircraft regularly take off and land, with buildings for passengers and flight management
While I am not an aircraft, the Austin-Bergstrom Airport is where I feel like I landed after over two decades, and where I took off again, hopefully for the rest of my life. In true Miss Wallflower fashion, I had curiously observed the middle-aged man who sat in the aisle seat slightly to my forward left. I remember thinking that he seemed to be doing the same, only with a sense of urgency. We landed and parted ways, until I headed from the restroom to the water refill station. There, we met again.
This time we spoke, during which he shared his reservations and urgency in coming to speak with me. Preferring to observe, I uncharacteristically said that I had 10 minutes to hear his thoughts. He shared with me four things:
1) He is a Christian man, to which I replied I am a practicing Catholic.
2) Although financial times are straining, all that I truly need will be provided for me, and not to worry. (Little did he know that literally that morning my wallet had been stolen, and I had had to argue my way through the DC airport with no form of ID.)
3) Those that I care about will be well, and those closest to me were to be restored and replenished in their health. (Again, little did he know that my mother had just undergone a minor surgery and her health was on my mind as I wasn’t able to be with her.)
4) And finally, that although he was unsure how, not knowing much about me nor my occupation, that I was a powerful voice. He remarked, “You have a powerful voice and your story is important. It matters. You will impact the lives of so many that you don’t yet realize. When you share your story with younger women you will play a formative role in their lives.” ---- and chills ran the length of my spine.
For those unaware, I work for Chi Omega as a National Leadership Consultant with my dear friend Courtney. In my words, my job is to work with collegiate women on leadership development, local operational management, and provide a sisterly ear for their thoughts to be heard. Until that moment I had never thought that my story was a part of my job.
He said that he felt called to share that with me, and that I needed to hear the message. My hope is that he knows how thankful I am that he stopped me by the water fountain.
He gave me the gift that I would ordinarily give others. It’s funny that I love to give the gift of validation and being silently heard to others. However, I don’t extend such courtesy to myself. I thought that I was a great listener, but really, I was great at listening to everyone but myself.
(v): not following a prepared script
It wasn’t until that day in the airport that I began to reflect on my story. I found that the schemas and scripts rushed to the top. They began to play internally for me, or maybe those have been playing internally for so many years, I could no longer tell the difference... That day, this September, I saw them for what they were—the incomplete truth.
It has by no means been an easy switch, to begin to share the complete story, when the story I have shared for so many years has been incomplete. I remind myself daily that if I want to truly be a great listener, I have to listen to everyone -- myself included. I remind myself that my story is my life; it is chaotic, beautiful, painful, and unscripted.
Photo by: Katherine Mendieta