An uncomfortable truth is like a confession in many ways. It reveals something that might otherwise go unnoticed to someone who has no idea that you feel/felt that way. You own an uncomfortable truth. It’s where you say, “I felt hurt by your last letter” rather than, “you really hurt me”. But it’s also more specific.
One thing that really grinds me is when people say, “I liked it!” but can’t say what they liked about it. An uncomfortable truth is able to identify itself within a context and to let itself breathe. That is, there’s no need for resolution. It needn’t go anywhere, it can simply be.
Recently, I sent an email to a client who had just paid off a long-standing invoice. In the email, I talked about my appreciation for such a massive effort on their part. Then I did something unexpected. I told an uncomfortable truth.
I told my client how it felt to undercharge for my services, and that it was something I had to work out for myself; something I would process in my own way. I did this in the spirit of professional vulnerability. You see, this client is also a fellow professional development consultant and intuit. I figured they would recognise the fact that what I had to say wasn’t about them and that my feelings about undercharging were separate from how I felt about the work we had done together. It didn’t turn out that way.
From the response email, I’m not sure they heard me. It seemed strange to me, at first, that a person with the same work experience and, let’s face it, even more education than I have, would not get the gist of what I was saying.
As soon as I read their reply, I penned my own “explanation” but stopped before sending… to pause in the moment, and let whatever happen. I made coffee, thought about them on the road with their pain and gratitude, realised it was way too early to phone, and sat back into my office. Until it occurred to me to write.
For the longest time, I have known and people have assured me that what I have to say is useful. That the words I write in my notebooks almost every day could turn someone’s life around if only I put them out there - in a book or email. And while I’ve been working toward this and I can appreciate the sentiment, there’s little pre-marketing instruction for what I do.
The way I work is in the moment. I don’t know what the article will be about until it’s finished and sometimes even then it’s not clear where it belongs. How exactly am I to put it out there when I can’t predict what it will be? How can I set a writing schedule, when I don’t know what or when I’ll be writing? More than this, where am I to put it in the meantime, if I can’t say who it’s for?
I’m like a medical intuitive who can’t see who their patient is. I’ve got the writing but no sense of how it will be useful and to whom. This not knowing is part of a greater un/knowing that occurs in surrender so it is not a problem to be solved. It is simply how I am. At least in this moment.
As a businesswoman, I guess I am expected to care about outcomes and growth and profit. I’m also aware of the expectation that more is better; that the more people I inspire and help, the greater the impact that grows my bank account and allows me to do more good in this world (which is the basic rhetoric of 'more equals better' that I encounter in business building circles). But since I completely trust all that is, and there is no measure of success or failure, and no back-and-forth or give-and-take, only what is, then I’m not focused on impact or outcomes. I’m not even thinking about my bank account, which must sound strange coming from someone in business… if you don’t know oneness.
• Instead of setting schedules for writing, I simply do what I’m told in the moment (and end up with pieces like the one you are reading right now).
• Rather than focusing on my impact, I simply do what I’m told in the moment (and end up doing business with wonderful people who appreciate what I do).
• Instead of measuring success or failure, I simply follow my instructions (and honour the experience I’m having without ever needing to compare it to any other).
• Rather than sharing my gifts or holding onto some quid pro quo view of the world, I simply allow my experience to be mine, their experience to be theirs, and all the stories about what’s going on to co-exist with equal weight (and relish in the spacial privilege this affords).
Which brings me back to the email with my client. You see, although their reply got me started, they are not the cause of my writing. That would be a quid pro quo back-and-forth picture of the universe. If they were the cause then my writing would be a reaction. Which it is not.
My writing is an instruction. I am responding to the urge that comes from listening and being with. I cannot blame my words on anyone else. I cannot credit anyone else for my inspiration. Inspiration comes from silence. It breathes who I am into the moment, and its cause remains unknown.
Whether you see this instruction as untraceable or acausal, the experience of it is the same. It says, “your client did not write this email for you to be inspired by. Their reasons for their doing are their own”. It also says, “you do not write for them or anyone. Their readings are their own.” If you want to understand the relationship between cause and effect, you need to step outside of surrender and oneness. If you want an explanation of who inspires who, you need to adopt separation and divisibility.
Alternatively, if you want to understand what it means to you and how it relates to your responsibility then silence and sound, prayer and penance, meditation and movement, writing and reading, weeping and cuddles, or a view of life happening out the window can all take you there if you let it… if that works for you.
No one can really say what you need in order to have a revelation about this or anything else. Where you stand is where you stand. When people say or write things that make sense to you, chances are they did not mean the words in the spirit you engaged them. Chances are, you re-interpreted what they had to say according to what you needed to hear in that moment; whether it was antagonistic or empathetic or anything in between.
Anyway, enough about messages heard and unheard. Here’s an excerpt of the email I wrote confessing my uncomfortable truth. It has been edited to conceal any identifying remarks:
“We are indeed all paid up on the invoices which makes you an absolute legend. A massive effort on your part no doubt. Most appreciated.
On that note, if I’m honest, there’s still a bit of residue around charging so little for my time and expertise (sometimes less than $5 p/h), and all the counsellor-mentor time I didn’t invoice for… but that’s something I need to work out for myself. I could have charged more and I could have chosen not to spend all that time and energy processing your (distress??? I’m not sure how to put it in a way that honours what you were going through). But I chose to be financially and professionally accessible/approachable/obliging… amateur - in its original meaning, for 'someone who acts with love' - even.
None of which has anything to do with you (or the money). It’s just something I’ll process on my own; something I thought you might appreciate… knowing, something you might appreciate as the purveyor of ‘whatever you can afford and think it’s worth’. Or not. I guess we can never know how other people read our sentiment. Only how they respond to it, and even then it’s not the most accurate of interpretations since our reading is itself inaccurate - an interpellation at least and re-conception at its most bloated with re-meanings.
By the way, I discovered a new word yesterday - imbroglio. Just fabulous!
Anyway, my fingers are icicles at the keyboard right now so i’ll go make some tea and trust you get this in the spirit of love and vulnerability it was penned.”
Having a reaction? Or are you hearing your own instructions? Either way, what does ‘uncomfortable truth’ mean to you? And how would you feel having to tell at least one every day, even only for one week or one year of your life?
How would things change - relationships, work, communication, language? What feelings would you have to process out loud and in silence? What difference would having a mentor make if you took on this “challenge” and became someone brave(ly) transparent?
Keywords: #responsibility #rights #equality #ownership #honesty