I don’t usually tell people I had a brain tumor right away. If I’m teaching a 2-day manager training, I never share it on day 1. This isn’t because I’m ashamed of it or feel awkward about sharing it (I’ve written publicly about it a number of times), this is because I want to feel I’ve earned the work.

I don’t want anyone to curb their feedback out of pity. If you like my work, you like my work. You don’t like my work in spite of the fact that my brain once had a lemon-sized tumor in it.

If it’s relevant, I will share the story on Day 2. And then there is magic in the space, an invitation to vulnerability that deepens every single word that is said from attendees from that moment on.

I’m not alone in this kind of sharing. I saw a woman speak at a conference in San Francisco earlier this year; her talk began with the admission that she had been molested as a child. It broke the room.

She did it with purpose, with good intention and with ownership. By her second slide, we all knew the same thing: This talk was not for show. She had skin in the game. She was real. We could be real, too.

My @altmba Learning Group met on Thursday night to discuss a prompt. But before we discussed the prompt, we covered how we’re all feeling these days. Our answers were genuine and relevant; some were even emotional.

My answer was surprisingly emotional and I told my group about the brain tumor. I talked about how the aftermath of that experience affects how much I believe is possible (everything) and how much BS I cut through now (all of it). This new life has pros and cons.

Then we discussed the prompt. The first round of options were good. The second round of options had a lot of “real” language. “Maybe what I’m really talking about is…”

It was 7:30. Some silences held. We seemed doneish.

We gently called on a member who had been quiet. We prodded to make sure all was okay. Gates broke; depths were shared. We processed, we coached, we listened.

It was 8:15. Some silences held. We seemed done.

Someone called on someone else and the gates broke, depths were shared, we were processing, coaching, listening, admitting, searching, breaking open and then piecing back together. This went on, round after round with each other.

Then it was 8:54. Silence held tension. We didn’t know if we were done.

One last check. Gates broke again. Although it seemed we had covered everything, we were plunged even deeper into truth and our backgrounds and why it all matters and what doesn’t matter.

In the end, our LG ended 20 minutes over time.

I wonder what the world would be like if we gave one last check on people. I wonder what our streets would be like if we walked 2 paces slower, if we missed the light. I wonder what magic silences hold, how we earn their depths and the stories that are birthed through them.

We never clarified our writing options at the end. “Write from the heart,” one of my colleagues said. We all took a deep breath together and ended the Zoom.

It’s not about the prompt. It’s never about the prompt. It’s always about the heart.