What’s In Your Suitcase?

I am trying.

Trying to get my mind off all the negative thoughts threatening to drown me. See? I didn’t even watch the COVID-19 Presidential briefing this afternoon. But that did not help much. Exactly half an hour later when I looked at my phone, I had the entire speech. At first I worried that my home may be outside the designated Nairobi Metropolitan Area (this should make me happy, no?). Then I realised I was quickly going the path I am trying so hard to avoid. I must remain positive.

What better way than to write something?

I love TED Talks. The team at 330 Hudson Street, New York does a great job sending weekly TED Recommends, which are personally recommended TED Talks based on my interests and motivations.  This week I got Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts, which is odd since I have watched that talk at least a couple of times before. But then it hasn’t garnered 25.8 million views for nothing. It is a powerful speech. Cain, whose book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking puts a name to something many people, myself included, have felt about their life experiences, but often struggle to categorise.

But I do not want to write about introversion, extroversion or even what she calls ambiversion. I am least qualified to, anyway. However, listening to that talk today, one of the three calls to action that Cain makes as she concludes caught my attention. In addition to 1. End the madness of constant group-work, and 2. Go to the wilderness like Buddha. Have your own revelations, Cain makes the appeal to 3. Take a good look at what’s inside your own suitcase, and why you put it there.

Now, this call to action is not just for the introverts but to everyone. It got me thinking about my own metaphorical suitcase. What does it contain? Have I let the contents be seen by those around me? If no, why not? I like to think of myself as an open book but the feedback I have received over the years paints a very different picture. To date, I’ll do or say something and people who I interact with on a regular basis, will look at me like they are seeing me for the very first time. In other words, I have items in my suitcase that are not for “public consumption” or at best are reserved for those very rare moments.

Cain’s next statement challenged me. She said, and I paraphrase: while it is natural to want to keep some items in your suitcase and to guard them carefully, you should every so often take them out of the suitcase and share them with people around you because the world needs you and the things you carry. Now, that was a light-bulb moment!

We all have so much to offer. Even the Bible says so. Our gifts only differ according to the grace God has given to each of us (Rom 12:6). But our gifts are not there just for us. They are given to be shared with others. By holding back, we not only deny the gift, but also deprive those who should receive its benefits. To make matters worse, we lose the capacity to grow the gift, which comes with sharing and making room for more.

I have been listening in on my daughter’s online lessons and the teenagers’ willingness to share has left me amazed. They have appointed subject leads among themselves who take the rest of the class through difficult topics during breaks when their teachers are not there. They have learned to share, something I pray remains with them throughout their lives. It could be that my generation was socialized differently but one thing I know that holds many of us back is fear, shame and vulnerability.

We will padlock everything into our brains, afraid of sharing our thoughts even on social media. We are paralyzed by thoughts such as: What will people think? What if I offend someone? Dr Brené Brown, a research professor who has spent more than two decades studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame says:

Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen. To love with our whole hearts even though there’s no guarantee…to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, to be this vulnerable means that we’re alive.

We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable if we are to come alive. To be vulnerable means being able to tell your story wholeheartedly. This in turn, involves reaching deep into your suitcase and pulling those aspects of your identity, values and beliefs, as well as capabilities that makes you, YOU. Then sharing them with the people around you.

I love writing. Make no mistake, I’m nowhere close to the best writers that I so love to read. In fact, my self-criticism and comparison to other great writers has made me hide my head in the sand for a very long time. I started this blog back in 2014 but soon self-talked myself out of it. I now know that I don’t have to be the best to offer my unique expression to the world. I don’t have to be perfect to make a serious impact. Bringing forth the best version of ME is what matters.

I am willing to give it a shot. I am willing to work at becoming the best version of ME. This dear reader, is me saying: Consider my suitcase opened!

I only ask that you be gentle with me…