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living in a world of opposite assumption


hippopposites . a new favorite book around here

There are a lot of “take-aways” (a word I heard often this weekend) from the World Domination Summit I attended in Portland. I was so moved by the speakers and their messages and the people I met, reconnected with, and hugged for the first time in person that I plan to share some thoughts over several posts as I continue to unpack my experience and take in my notes. Oh and if you aren’t familiar with WDS, I love my (new) friend Rebecca’s definition: A community of adventurers who want to rock on and be of service.

Yes, there is so much to tell you. I want to share about charitywater.org and how following your passion might not always be the best first step and about what it felt like to be part of a group of 1000 people singing and dancing to Journey (thanks to Brene Brown) and have you heard…ah…we were each given $100. As in a $100 bill to take out into the world and invest in something good. For reals. Yep. More on that later this week (and you can just google it too).

And while I am still doing all this unpacking, I am really moved to share something else because this feels like a conversation that needs to be had…that I need to part of.

In fact, it is a conversation I’ve been wanting to have for a long time, and I feel a bit vulnerable in sharing it as in some ways it feels trite after the bigness and awesomeness that went on this weekend. But I think it is something that should be put out there, especially because it can be a huge hurdle to, well, just showing up and being yourself.

The conversation I want to begin is about how we so often assume opposites.

It became something I kept thinking about perhaps because it simply comes up when people gather, perhaps because it touches on vulnerability, which was an overarching theme of the weekend after Brene opened the summit and we found ourselves chatting a lot about introverts and extroverts and if we are willing to be vulnerable enough to put our beliefs into the world.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by opposite assumption. Smiling my very big “yes you can see all my teeth and my gums” smile used to be the way I dealt with being very nervous and overwhelmed. If inside I was feeling like I wanted to run away, outside I was standing alone smiling hoping someone would like me. During the first few weeks of my first year at boarding school, a friend of a friend of a friend told my roommate that an upperclassman girl wanted to “kick my ass” because I was “too damn happy.” In truth, I called my mom every night crying wanting to go home.

But here is a more recent less dramatic example. At one of the retreats during the past year, I was having a delightful “laugh out loud and then cry through tears” conversation with one of the participants. She suddenly said with exuberance, “You are a lot more fun than you seem online.”

It is important to note that I was not offended when this was said to me; in fact, I loved that she said it because it didn't trigger me but three years ago it would have. I nodded because I know that my online “be present, be here” persona doesn't always come across as fun. Mainly because when I come to the page, like today, I am trying to untangle from thoughts whirling in my mind. And these thoughts are often around “serious” themes.

I also wasn't at all offended when she said it because this is what I know: One of my superhero powers is taking things seriously.

The big smile I wore so often through my teens and twenties was in sharp contrast to the way many people would say, “Why do you take things so seriously?” or “You are so serious.” In fact, someone even elbowed me during an Indigo Girls concert during the line “I’m not making a joke, you know me. I take everything so seriously” from “Galileo.”

Whenever things like this were said, I would immediately assume that this meant I wasn’t any fun, that I had no sense of humor, that they thought I was unhappy, that they were trying to tell me people didn’t like me. But the truth is serious things happen to people, and from a young age, I think I really got this on a cellular level. And my seriousness was a trigger for others sometimes. 

In the last two years, I finally began to own this as a superhero power because I recognized that part of my work in the world is to gather women together in person and online and create safe places for them to show up as themselves and share their stories. And if I didn’t have a feel for how serious this is, it would be almost impossible to create this safe space.

Now I can sometimes hear people audibly sigh with relief when they get this "serious" piece about me because they know they can just tell their story without worrying about censoring themselves.

But being serious doesn’t mean I’m not fun. My close friends know that I am actually quite funny and love to be a bit silly too. I think anyone who has attended my retreats will tell you we do a lot of laughing and I almost always dance while singing along with Tina Turner and Michael Franti. There is a reason why participants call my retreats “soul parties.” 

Where is the take-away here? As I observed myself and others, I started to really think about my own assumptions in a new way. And I spent some time with how it feels to be on the receiving end of assumptions too.  

I believe we navigate the world through judgment. Happened to me Monday when I was basically stuck in a parking spot and had to inch out of it painfully. I was judging the room I had based on those tiny mirrors I was looking at with my tired eyes. I do the same with people. I see how they move through a moment and decide how to react based on what I see with those same tired eyes and what my past experiences have taught me. I assume. A lot.

But after being confronted with the way I judge through assumption in person (and more often how I judge people through online observation alone where they are just showing one slice of themselves at a time and how I am judged in this same way), I want to push myself to stop assuming through the lens of opposites.

If I didn’t talk to you this weekend or text to invite you to lunch or introduce myself with a huge smile on my face or even introduce myself at all, it’s because I was sweating through my clothes (it was hot in Portland) while confronting a lot of my own assumptions about myself.

I want to spend more time thinking about and writing about opposites and how they are important and powerful, especially in creative work, but also how they can push us to make assumptions that might not be true and perhaps never are.

What do you think? I’d love to make this a conversation if you’d like to join me.

Reader Comments (16)

Thank you so much for this post and for being willing to be vulnerable.

I resonate with *so* much of what you said . . . especially around your super power being taking things seriously and yet you are funny, too. *Must* they be opposites? (It was what I learned growing up, too.) I share your super power and would add "while creating an attentive, safe, and sacred container/presence."

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie Grace

It WAS quite an amazing weekend--fun, inspiring, informative, and most of all it stretched me. I too was aware of my assumptions as I came face to face with strangers, on-line acquaintances, on-line "rock stars," and friends. One of my superpowers is sensitivity but that also means I can take things too personally. I'll keep working on this. In the meantime, isn't it wonderful that we ARE such complex, multi-faceted people. But that does mean things can be unpredictable.

Jodi. XO

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterplaycrane

Love this. I completely get it. I'm serious too and quite shy and I've had people tell me after they got to know me that they thought I was stuck up when they met me. That does hurt because, the truth is, I'm insecure until I know someone, but it's also good to know as something to work on. I know I can be WAY over sensitive and take things personally and I have to work hard not to. I also have a hard time letting myself show and being vulnerable. I think this is a great conversation. Please talk more about it!!

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

Hey! I really enjoy your blog, I have it securely marked on my bookmarks bar.
Thank you for your honesty with this vulnerable post that you wrote. Everyone has those past ideas or judgments about how they feel and how they feel perceived by others.
Just seeing you be yourself through your blog and online writing is completely inspiring to me. It helps me have the courage to be myself too.
Wishing you all the best! : )


July 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBelle

I can relate, in my own way. I am (mostly) an extrovert. I was raised by grandparents whose home was the community gathering place on the prairies. They had tons of friends and everyone looked out for one another. I spent the majority of time in the company of adults, which was fine with me because they were interesting and I have always been a hungry learner. I think I am pretty serious alot of the time too-having a chaotic childhood can do that to a person. That said, I have a wicked sense of gallows humour-just ask my best friend how many times I have made her laugh until her face hurts. It's one of my super powers.

My closest friends are introverts. I have NO idea why this is, but it is. Most of them have told me over the years that initially they found my friendliness intimidating. This always makes me laugh-scary friendly person! Oh no!

One day, my best friend said to me "You know, you cast a pretty big shadow." I took that to heart. When someone is treating me badly because they feel threatened by who I am (which unfortunately, I get ALOT and let me tell ya, it's NOT fun) I remember this gentle observation she shared with me and realize that it has alot more to do with the other person's feelings about themselves, than it does about me. I am not responsible for what anyone else thinks about me. All I am responsible for is making sure I act with integrity in my life and be true to who I am. As I've said before, in your 30's you figure out who you are. In your 40's you stop apologising for it. I am really loving this not apologising thing-it's freeing.

I think when we judge people, we deny them the chance to tell us themselves who they are.

Great post Liz. Good food for thought.

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLelainia Lloyd

Oh, man, was it ever hot in Portland! I was sweating with you.

I have been thinking about similar things lately .. like how my dominant assumption is that I'm boring and not fun and that people won't like me, so then I assume things about people based on this filter. I would write more but I feel rather fumbling for words right now .. but I want to go off and think about this more.

Your retreats do feel both safe and fun. :)

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

I too have been accused of being serious and I have a hard time owning up to this because I have always thought that meant I am a boring fuddy duddy. I don't see the seriousness in others this way either, just myself. And you are right, that is just one facet of who I am, and I learned early on in my life that this particular trait was needed. It isn't always needed now but it is indeed part of who I am and I LOVE how YOU reframed this quality as a Superhero Power. You gave me new eyes and looking at this seriousness and a whole host of other qualities that I have that I have also long questioned. THANK YOU!

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

Such a lovely post. And, an intriguing concept I could ponder for days, if not weeks. Funny how it can seem that if something isn't one way, well then it most certainly be the other...but perhaps it isn't the other at all. For me, the opposite of being mad and hurt (as of late) is now paired (oppositely persay) with uncertainty and pajama pants.

Thanks for allowing us to join the convo. Glad you had fun in PDX and @ WDS.

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

oh, you touched a sensitive spot. ditto so much of what you said. within a year of opening my blog, i began to experience the deaths of people close to me, my cat (my best friend), my mom, my significant other's dad just 8 months after my mom, and just last week (another 8 months later), his mom. i write about life, and that includes death and grieving. i get comments telling me i am depressing, that my blog is so sad, that they will never come back, that i need to move on with my life, that they feel so sorry for me. (these comments are in the minority but they always hurt.) when a bad day comes and i write about it, people assume ALL my days are like that. i write about the silly small times also, but the hard times tip the scale in their direction.

the truth is that i'm damn funny and snide and witty and silly and i buy crazy shoes and i laugh a lot, but writing about the truths of life just seems to be something that disturbs a lot of people. i find myself self-censoring, second-guessing, questioning if i should mention something - that always leads to not writing at all, to silence. it's a hard line to walk.

i'm so glad you brought it up.

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterd smith kaich jones

Thank you for posting this, Liz, and for opening this important conversation. I, too, make assumptions. This online world we inhabit sets us up so perfectly to indulge the loud inner dialogue in our heads -- or at least in mine. It's easy to take the slice of someone's online personality that we are allowed to see, and jump to assume that is WHO SHE IS. We forget that all of us are whole people with our own share of insecurities and places of confidence. I have yet to really take stock of being the target of assumptions. I more focus on the stories I tell myself about others. But your post is helping me sink in to what assumptions others might make of me given what I present or show online (despite trying hard to be congruent and myself). Thanks for risking this post. xoxo

Great post!
I can relate to all of it -the serious = boring /not fun/ depressed/ depressing/ heavy/ (over)sensitive/ introvert/ quiet.
Regarding introverts and sensitivity there is a great book I have just read called "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain. Here is the Wikipedia entry for more info and links to her Ted talk and interviews: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quiet:_The_Power_of_Introverts_in_a_World_That_Can't_Stop_Talking

But when I see the word "assume" I am always reminded of a list my sister-in-law has on her kitchen wall about how she expects her family to behave. Along with not yelling and knocking on doors before entering she has "Don't assume - assume makes an ass out of you and me" Love it!! Great advice, hey?

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeb

Wow, Liz, there is so much here that parallels many of my experiences; I've kept my feelings about those experiences hidden safely away because I felt no one would understand...until now. Thank you so very much for your willingness to share & be vulnerable; and for showing ways to bravely step out & be our true selves. Wishing you a beautiful day!

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzie

Mmm, a lot of your post resonates with me. I've always been a fairly serious person, and I still take myself too seriously often. But in the last few years, I've learned to laugh more and be silly and enjoy the moment. An acquaintance surprised me a couple months ago when I said something about my seriousness and she said, "You joke around a lot. I never would have thought you take yourself very seriously!" I take that as a sign that I'm opening up to being more of myself, embracing the serious AND the silly.

Making assumptions about people and situations is part of how most (all?) humans get through each day, wading through the vast swaths of information that come our way. The trick is, can we be conscious that we are making assumptions and that we are able to change our thinking in any moment? I have found myself thinking negative things about people, but then considering the opposite thought, and realizing that it could be just as valid. For example, if I think "he's an arrogant jerk," I can turn it around and think "maybe he appears arrogant because he's really insecure and doesn't know how to talk to people." The turn-around is often gentler and more peaceful, or at least it gives people the benefit of the doubt. (This is a technique I adapted from Byron Katie's book "Loving What Is" - a very thought-provoking read.)

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJudy Merrill-Smith


I'm new to your blog, but from what I've seen I wouldn't assume 'serious' about you - maybe because I'm also an introvert so I understand being contemplative, taking things seriously, but also busting out laughing on occasion.

My impression of you from your blog identity is that of creating a very warm, safe space for your guests. I love your videos, always so calming.

If I had to sum up my impression of you in a word, it would be: welcoming.

Thank you for that.

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Klow

I remember some years ago someone walked up to me and said, 'Cheer up!" and walked off. I had been having very happy thoughts about something so I was very surprised. Now I walk around with a smile on my face whatever is going on inside my head. And my husband says I sometimes look like a madwoman or like someone who has the answer to a very big secret. Better that than look miserable I think!!
I LOVE your blog, by the way. You are a very wise young woman. x

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCorinne

I love this. I am often very lighthearted and bouncy, or so I appear to be at first meeting. I think for some (though that's an assumption too, isn't it?) that equates to having less depth, or less understanding about things that aren't always so much fun. In reality, I have always leaned a bit melancholy, been deeply touched by life, and felt a strong soulful connection with people even in short periods of time. I think we all do judge, and thats normal and ok. But there is certainly so much to be gained by questioning our assumptions and judgements, by being open (as you so beautifully are) to where they are coming from and how they might be misleading. The simple act of asking "why" we think these things in first place is extremely revealing. I love you for opening this dialogue. (And you should know that laughing until tears with you that last night at WDS remains a treasured highlight for me. :)) Smiling at you from here. xox -r

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

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