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Breaking Barriers to Self-Expression

It's easy to write about what should be done. It's easy to see a problem, a deficiency, and then describe an action or series of actions to change it.

When change is viewed externally, it seems easy. Our brain has no problem dissecting what's wrong and coming up with possible solutions. What's a bit more challenging is taking those thoughts and actually turning them into actions.

Action takes something special. It takes commitment. Action requires accepting that something is important enough to expend energy doing it.

Much of my writing is a reflection of what's on my mind. The words I'm typing right now are literally recording bits of what's going on in my head. Sometimes what's going on is clear and articulation comes easy. Right now I'm "in the flow", typing these words with only the effort required to maintain grammar and spelling.

I started this Journal entry spontaneously. It started as a thought, "I want to write", and then, being that I had nothing else pressing to do, I began to write. But when I started thinking about what I was doing (as I did towards the end of the previous paragraph), I found myself pausing. I immediately had trouble articulating my thoughts.

It seems that's a problem with most "things we want to get done but don't". They come to our mind as clear as day but then we start thinking about them. We end up destroying our original thought with buckets of analysis and self-doubt.

"Is someone going to think this is stupid? Should I step back and think about this a bit? What if I'm making a huge mistake?"

Instead of following our intuition, we follow our self-ridicule. Instead of allowing the result of action to determine whether we should continue, we suffocate the motivation to act before it's even born.

I do this all the time.

A few days ago I wrote a follow up essay, Say More, to the essay I published the week before, Say Less. I found it interesting that after writing Say Less, I was using that essay as an excuse for not writing more.

That's when I realized how important it is to say more. I can hide behind being succinct forever, but then I'll be sharing very little. If I feel that I have so much to share (and I do feel that way), then I should make every effort to share more.

It's in my nature to say less. As a child, I was taught the value of listening. I would stay quiet for hours at a time, doing nothing but listening. As I grew older, I continued listening. My dad often repeated a quote that stayed with me: "A wise man thinks first and then speaks. A foolish man speaks first and then thinks."

That quote really resonated with me even at an early age. It made a lot of sense. If you speak first and then think, it's too late to decide not to say anything. But if you think first, then you'll always have the option of choosing whether to speak.

Ando Perez recently shared a quote with me by Jean Jacques Rousseau that reminded me of my dad's quote and inspired me to see it from a different angle: "People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little."

I certainly wouldn't claim that I "know much", but I do feel that I don't say enough. I hold inside too much of what I feel is important. I need to learn to say more. To speak up. To share what's inside.

When I reflected on why I don't say more, I discovered self-imposed barriers to my expression, barriers that I had created, perhaps long ago, to ensure that I wasn't too wordy or needlessly verbose.

Those barriers served an important purpose and I wasn't ready to rip them down.

My public writing is usually the result of careful consideration. For the past two years I've maintained a relentless desire to abandon "the way blogging should be done" and replace it with something that felt more true to my heart.

Readers connected with this form of writing and my work felt more real than ever. It felt more like something that I would actually want to read.

But something was beginning to feel stale. More and more things felt trapped inside. I felt caged by my own quality barriers and unable to express and share things that I felt would be really useful to others.

So the idea for this Journal was born. I would create a place to express myself, a Journal in which I could write without barriers (or at least very few barriers) and share what was happening inside.

But, just as it's easy to write about what should be done, it was easy to create this space to write. The actual action of writing here, of taking down those internal barriers and allowing my thoughts to materialize, to become tangible pieces of writing, has been incredibly challenging.

I did not realize just how difficult this process would be until I started writing. It has required an entire rewrite in the way that I think about what I'm sharing.

Before the Journal, I let everything percolate in my mind. I gave myself as much time as I needed to flesh out an idea to the point where it felt, in my head, polished and easily sharable.

Now, I needed to share that percolation process. I needed to find a way to express my thoughts and ideas before they felt polished.

Perhaps if I had already been keeping a personal Journal, this transition would've been easier.

There were a few years during my early teens in which I kept a Journal on my computer. I wrote thousands and thousand of pages in a simple text file, sharing my deepest thoughts and observations, and my most private ruminations.

Then someone close to me, someone I trusted, violated that trust and read my Journal without permission. They took things that I wrote out of context and accused me of thinking thoughts that I had not really thought.

It was traumatizing, perhaps more so than I realized.

I deleted the entire journal, several years worth, and promised myself that I would never record such deep thoughts on any medium that a person could access. My mind was the only safe harbor now.

And so my mind became the storehouse for what would've gone in a journal. What I did share verbally and through writing became more refined and more carefully considered.

When I began attempting to write for this Journal, those barriers became apparent. The difficulty of expressing my deepest thoughts without judging myself or holding back felt incredibly difficult and challenging.

This Journal entry is probably the closest I've come in the past 10 years to actually recording my thoughts unedited. I haven't stopped writing since I started the beginning of this Journal and I haven't gone back to edit or reread anything as I normally would.

When I wrote the 'Say More' essay, I was talking to myself. I was telling myself that it's time to stop holding back.

For more than ten years now I've learned how to hold back. For more than ten years the voice inside has been silenced and moderated by fear. It's time for me to leap past that plateau and move forward.

I'm going to do an experiment for the next 10 days in attempt to cultivate this unedited side of myself.

Every day until January 1st, 2012, I'm going to write at least one paragraph in this Journal. Perhaps some of those paragraphs will turn into longer entries, but no matter what I'm going to commit to writing and sharing at least one paragraph each day. (To minimize the number of emails you receive, I will combine the entries into one email sent out on the 24th, 28th, and 31st.)

Do you hold back? Do you unnecessarily censor yourself? Is there something inside that would benefit others if you shared it? Do you ever feel like you should speak up, but don't?

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  1. I understand this so much. About three years ago, my journal was read by someone without my permission. They ridiculed my writing and I felt ashamed. It was traumatising. I always find it hard to open up. I have wanted to write online for years but worry I will be ridiculed or people with think I am narcissistic for talking about life from my perspective. This is something I would like to work on, for sure… Thank you for posting this, as it allowed me to address something I’ve been holding on to for a while.

    • Krys, thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s really great that we can write and publish online, to share things that are important to us with others, and to make the contents of that writing available to anyone who searches for it. I’ve received so many emails and comments over the years from people, total strangers, thanking me for sharing things, usually things that I thought nobody would be interested in. Yet, those things end up changing someone’s life in a small but important way.

      I’m continuously reminded of how powerful and important it is to share what we learn with others, to share our experiences and lessons and challenges so that others who are going through something similar are empowered to push forward.

Webmentions

  • Amrita December 23, 2012

    Breaking Barriers to Self-Expression http://t.co/B4rcbAWB

  • andrea December 23, 2012

    Great read : “@RaamDev: Freed from the paywall today: Breaking Barriers to Self-Expression http://t.co/iPi2xOnC”