A friend of mine shared a poignant story this week that I've been excited to pass on to you.
In 4th grade, her teacher asked for volunteers to go to the library to find some facts about penguins to share with the class. She raised her hand, and was thrilled when the teacher picked her for this special project! She spent the afternoon diligently learning as much as she could, and came back excited to share her penguin presentation with the class.
But instead, when she came back to the classroom she was met with shouts of "Surprise!" and "Bon voyage!" -- a special party being thrown just for her, to celebrate a multi-week vacation she was about to take with her family.
"When do I get to tell people about the penguins?" she asked the teacher.
"Oh, you don't have to do that. We just want you to enjoy the party." was the reply.
"But really, I want to share what I learned!" she persisted.
"No, we really don't need you to do that," the well-meaning teacher insisted. And so she never did.
In fact, she never willingly spoke in front of any group, ever again. Because that day she learned a formative lesson: "People don't want to hear what I have to say."
That wasn't really the situation; nevertheless, the belief became so deeply ingrained that it shaped the next several decades of her life. I'm not really a public speaker, she would tell herself. I get too nervous. I'm much better 1-on-1.
Until this week, that is, when she finally decided to face her fear. She shared that 4th grade penguin story as the designated speaker at our monthly networking meeting, and proceeded to give one of the most honest and moving presentations I've seen.
I've been rolling her story around in my mind for days now, seeing it from all sort of different angles.
I've been thinking about how, even if our intent is good-hearted and pure, we can't ever fully predict or control how we impact other people.
I've been thinking of my own core childhood experiences that taught me pernicious things like, "I don't belong" and "I am unwanted by my peers," and wondering what those situations would look like if I went back in time and witnessed them as an adult. Would it free me to see things differently?
I've also been wondering what leads us to learn the lessons we do from our experiences, and whether our strongest gifts and desires are also innately the most vulnerable to being shut down. Is it possible that those areas where we feel the most wounded and afraid are precisely the ones we must lean into if we are going to feel fulfilled?
Later this month, I am launching my first half-day Happiness Adventure Challenge, encouraging people to work as teams to take small actions to create happiness, and challenge beliefs that get in the way.
If this sounds fun to you, I hope you will join us. And if it sounds daunting to you, I especially hope you will join us, because it is in that willingness to stretch ourselves that happiness lives.
Who knows, maybe you'll even find someone to talk to about penguins.