How to Learn to Love Networking
Susan Cain

What Happens When You Share Personal Stories Publicly

Thank you, Susan Caine. Your post this morning resonated deeply with me. Thank you on behalf of all the quiet students that I have taught. Thank you for being vulnerable and courageous in sharing your TED Talk. Thank you for writing Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking — a must read, especially for teachers and parents.

I was a quiet kid, too.

Today, people that know me may scoff when I say I’m an introvert. Of course, public speaking scares me. I have anxiety around small talk. The notion of networking makes me shudder.

I prefer quiet time. I need time to reflect and read and write. I need to be alone. But I also crave connection and I recognize that I have a responsibility to speak up.

As a teacher and coach, like an actor stepping on stage, I’ve trained myself in the role of an extrovert. It takes tremendous energy for me. And I’m often spent at the end of a day, week, and school year. I’ve felt like a balloon, over-inflated, then empty with nothing left.

In order to find balance, I practice yoga and meditation; they are as essential as food and sleep. When I neglect either, I feel it immediately and those closest to me will notice.

In accord with DanHarris, I believe mindfulness practices will become the norm like brushing teeth or going for a jog.

This is the line that hit a chord with me this morning:

Once people realize that I’m the one who gave “that introvert talk” — a talk that, if nothing else, was frankly vulnerable — they feel comfortable sharing their own vulnerabilities with me.
— Susan Caine

A few years ago, I delivered a talk to the student body at my school, raising awareness for a suicide prevention walk. I shared the story of my brother Conor’s suicide as well as my own struggles with depression.

By being vulnerable in sharing personally, I was a little overwhelmed by the response. Students and colleagues came to me and shared personal stories of loss and struggles due to mental illness.

A year later that talk led to me delivering the keynote address — I share that story in the video below.

Since that time, I’ve had many more people share their experiences and stories with me. I’ve connected with people that would not have been possible without me sharing publicly. I’ve passed along my keynote to those that have been touched by the tragic loss of suicide. My humble hope is that it may offer some solace and help prevent more loss.

When it comes to mental illness and suicide, we are not alone.

There’s silence, stigma, and now angst towards TMI (too much information). Understandably, no one wants to be Debbie Downer.

Besides, people often do not know how to respond to suicide. It’s uncomfortable for everyone. The responses to my brother’s suicide have ranged so far and wide that I’ve learned to step back immediately after sharing and prepare myself — to take nothing personally — because what follows is that person’s story based on his or her experience.

Both my mother and I have had friends and strangers ask a litany of questions: “Did your brother pray? Did he have a strong faith? Was he seeing a doctor? Was he taking medication?”

I’ve learned to reply with a simple, “Yes.”

Some people will press me for all the details. If there’s trust, I will share openly. And I’ve learned some people are not entitled to hear my stories.

Talking (or writing) about my brother never fails to bring back the pain of loss. I have found solace in mindfulness as well as poetry.

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

I’m grateful, however, for that keynote video for it frees me to share my story with a link, but I don’t have to relive it in every conversation.

In the grand scheme, when we share personal stories publicly, the benefits outweigh the risks.

I subscribe to Brené Brown’s “Power of Vulnerability”:

Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” That’s our job. Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today.
— Brené Brown

When we drop the facade, we give permission to others — to let go of pressure to be perfect — permission to be human. We connect in a real way. There’s meaning in life through courageous connection.

Thank you, Susan, for setting the example. For giving voice, to the quiet kids — that grow up — but still quiet at heart.