Here I Go Putting Myself Out There...
I am so happy to be married.
Relax everyone, this isn’t another love note to my wife (although one more is never too many! LOVE YOU KELLY!!)
When the chips are down, it’s actually no small comfort to have a dedicated partner and teammate. It softens the sting of defeat, and it makes victories all that much sweeter.
But there’s a more important benefit, one that I immediately realized when I first committed to Kelly, and one I never take for granted.
I don’t have to date anymore.
I feel incredibly fortunate not only to have found the love of my life, but also to have found the love of my life before the advent of Tinder or Bumble.
The casually superficial nature of online dating puts people like me - adorable and high-achieving but shy and overweight with an anxious personality and a weed habit - at a distinct disadvantage. Lord knows how much lonelier those platforms would feel if literally no one swiped on you…
(Technical note: Kelly and I met each other officially through work, but our romantic relationship ‘technically’ jumped off when I saw she had a profile on OKCupid. I joined OKCupid at the prompting of another coworker and Kelly popped up in the list of potential suitors but definitely wasn’t in a “high matching percentage”. I forget the algorithm. Anyway, one day I was discouraged and saw her profile and thought ‘y’know she’s always been super nice, let’s see if she wants to go have a drink’ and I messaged her. I truly didn’t have romantic intentions at the jump, but I was surprised at how kind and caring and fun she was, we really hit it off and went deep fast. So TL;DR TECHNICALLY OKCUPID is how Kelly and I started dating)
Not that my hit-rate was any better in real life.
Before Kelly, I only had one serious girlfriend. I told her I loved her.
And I truly did. And she said she loved me.
But I never was my true self around her.
I couldn’t have been... I didn’t fully know myself.
In retrospect, it might not have worked out. There were a lot of things we didn’t share with each other, a lot of things left unsaid. We’ll never know.
Unfortunately due to events outside of my control I was compelled to go help my dad run his BBQ restaurant in Ottawa, IL (which I think at this point is more than just a blog post-worth of a story…). I moved most of my things back to Evanston, left the rest in a Dogtown basement, and began my year in the trenches of the restaurant business.
Long distance only worked for a few months, and when it became clear we weren’t likely to live in the same city anymore, the writing was on the wall.
It was definitely heartbreaking, but a necessary reckoning for both of us as the strain of distance became unsustainable. We cared for each other too much to leave each other exposed to further heartbreak.
The rest of the year I was in Ottawa, I socialized and I flirted (and I even made a few awkward overtures) but making a romantic connection was difficult. I was already an outsider from the big city with a fancy college education and a black father (and a spotty family reputation in that small town!). Add to that I wasn’t as confident as you should be as a grown ass man. I took a few shots, but far fewer than I probably should have, according to Wayne Gretzky..
The ex moved on, got married, and I think had at least one of her two lovely children in the three years that passed before I met Kelly.
I have a guilty secret to share.
As much as the ideas I’ve heard from Brene Brown intrigue me, and as much as I’ve written about them and they resonate with me personally, I have never read one of her books.
It’s not that I don’t want to. I’m kind of worried what else I’ll find, honestly.
One of my former colleagues (and a current friend) tuned me into the podcast On Being, hosted by Krista Tippett. On Being is a meditative and provocative dive into the nature of humanity, and Tippett is a thoughtful and open interviewer and thinker.
Tippett was partially interviewing Brown about her new book Braving the Wilderness. Now again, I did not read this book. But the ideas that Tippett and Brown discussed in this short podcast helped me reckon with my journey to that point.
Brown is a social science researcher and a writer/storyteller. She speaks a lot about courage and leadership being a function of how vulnerable a leader can be. In Braving the Wilderness, she lays out that one of the key human drivers is the search for belonging. She then contrasts the idea of belonging with how human social circles are typically structured.
Humans spend a lot of time trying to fit in.
We see social circles with prescribed sets of social signals and norms, and as individuals we feel like we will not ever belong to this group, because we don’t see perfect versions of our whole selves reflected in the general values signaled by the group.
So, in order to gain acceptance into the group, we hide or change our behaviors that would cast us as outliers in an effort to fit in.
Paradoxically, we can never belong in this group if we never bring our whole selves to the circle. We risk violating people’s frames of us by revealing what we’ve hidden from them, maybe our whole lives. We fear being cast to the outside of the circle. We ‘fit in’, sure, but at what cost to our emotional health?
Then she lays out this scenario. What if you were just, y’know, always your whole self? Sure, it’s initially pretty lonely, and that’s the bad news. But we all need to learn how to be ourselves, and also how to be by ourselves.
Then, when you’re out there being your whole self and speaking your truth, whatever attention you draw or repel will be completely aligned to your truth. No hiding, no sacrificing pieces of yourself to fit in. The circles you build around this truth will allow you to be comfortable knowing that everyone in this circle sees and accepts you as your whole self. This is the feeling of belonging, and it’s transformative in how you as an individual, and your circle as a group, can execute in the world.
Pun slightly intended, but this idea resonates with me as a musician.
I thought of all the training and focus and work it takes to develop as an individual musician. How to develop your style, or your voice. I trained for years to understand chords and scales so that I could freely express myself through the language of music.
And writing music can be a very lonely process. But if it’s any good, and if you stand up and sing your song, you will draw attention.
When you build a band around a group of people passionate about producing a common sound, the energy is incredible. Creativity and productivity skyrocket, and that group can theoretically scale their efforts to live off their craft. This is the fantasy, and for the vast majority of artists it’s just that. But having a platform to share your art is exhilarating and worth the effort.
Anyway, I synthesized all this into an analogy about melody and harmony in the song Fresh Faded (and Roseli lays it DOWN on this song if you haven’t heard it):
I was born into a diverse predicament
Found my niche, but spent so much energy fitting in
I’d rather spend my time being alone
To find the strength to be alone,
And just keep singing my tone
And then just wait until them harmonies come ringing along
Mute the sour notes, and keep the choir singing the song
And then you find the deeper meaning of love, the melody…
Then you find a deeper meaning of love, it’s heavenly!
All this said, and with all the warm/fuzzies Brene Brown evokes, that shit is much easier said than done.
Alright so that last tangent was meant to feel wistful, but as I stated in my first sentence and will restate here, I am so happy to have Kelly in my life.
But also as mentioned, I was ‘single’ for three years.
Again, I was an anxious guy, and fairly shy. Also self-conscious about my weight. Also not entirely sure of myself as a person and what I valued and believed in.
So I didn’t shoot many shots, and when I did, I always took the lack of reply or the polite disinterest personally. It was devastating, the rejection.
Being married means not having to roll that particular die anymore (listen, I’m not ignoring adultery is a thing but please note the argument I’m laying out here is pretty strong evidence I am not personally advocating for that path for myself)
The best part about loving Kelly is that feeling of belonging.
Shifting our relationship from professional to personal was initially awkward for us.
When I finally opened myself up to Kelly, it was a revelation. I could be my whole self in front of another human, and she didn’t run screaming. In fact she dug in, she embraced me, and then she showed me her whole self. It was(is) a sublime experience, that level of connection.
Before her I don’t think I was that way with anyone. Not friends, not even my parents. I’d hide these pieces of myself to some groups or these other pieces of myself to others.
Now I’m just me, and she’s her, and we have created a formidable us that has weathered triumph and tragedy in a relatively short period of ten years (anniversary in September!)
As I lived and grew with Kelly, I began feeling more comfortable living my truth, and eventually began sharing my truth more broadly through music, and now through writing and in conversations.
It is attracting attention, and that attention so far has been exhilarating and addictive.
Loosening my hold on the idea of fitting in has been scary, but also liberating. Sure, it was occasionally lonely going, but it invites a more inclusive, accepting environment for me to exist within.
And I’m taking this energy into my job search.
At the core, my fear of rejection is rooted in anxiety.
A job search is just like promoting a record, or like dating, or pitching a sale or a new project at work, or like any other activity where you put yourself out into the world for critique.
I think we all fear rejection. And I think that fear led me to years of inaction in many realms of my life. It was tasting the fear of never having taken the chance at all that set all this into motion.
What happens if that cute girl I met in the office says no to my overtures? (hint: she didn’t)
What happens if I pour my heart into a project or idea and the team hates it? (Hint: they didn’t)
What happens if I struggle through producing my first record and it sucks/I hate it (hint: It doesn’t/I don’t)
What if I confess my passion/enthusiasm for the cannabis industry and it alienates me from players in my network? (so far so good…)
People have been telling me they admire my bravery. But the lack of action earlier in my life is maybe my only regret.
I think of that adage: the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, but the second best time is today. And regret and anxiety are looking in the past and future, respectively.
They are, as an old poet once quipped, the twin thieves that rob us of the moment.
I have been honing my tone in the past few years, and my voice is clearer and resonates from deeper within me than ever before.
I am ready to find my new choir.
As a final reflection on this idea of rejection, I often think about a comment my therapist once made. “You talk about this fear of rejection, have you ever thought you might be afraid of succeeding?”
It immediately reminded me of a reflection by American author/poet Marianne Williamson that floated around some of the more esoteric executive leadership courses:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
This felt like such a wonderful idea when I first read it. But facing this deepest fear has put me squarely on this path I’m on.
And I am truly enjoying the moment! Thanks, as always, for reading! Doc Wattson
Native Stranger Productions
P.S. (shameless plug) Vaccine dose #2 completed! Studio opening again 5/15! Record/Mix rates available. Want to produce that podcast you’ve been meaning to get to? Want to record that love song for your special someone? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to for rates and to schedule times.