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home : columns : columns July 27, 2015

7/1/2014 12:52:00 PM
Of a certain age...
By Sue Stafford

In a recent writing workshop, I was encouraged by one of the authors leading it to not "be afraid to be a touch bolder in your storytelling ... to take a few more risks."

My initial response was, "but I write for a small-town weekly and do I really want to take greater risks in front of my neighbors who I will see at the grocery store?"

Upon reflection, I realized that thought is often in the back of my mind as I write this column, like a built-in governor that keeps me from being bold and taking risks. It is easier and safer to simply provide food for thought without creating controversy or exposing too much of myself.

We were told in the workshop that a good weekly practice is to write a letter that makes you sweat, a thought that made me wince. We were reminded that being a writer means putting yourself out there, and when I do that, I am taking a risk. Isn't the same thing true for all of us - that being human means putting yourself out there?

Generally, the word "risk" conjures up thoughts of danger, hazard, jeopardy or threat. Why would I want to put myself in that uncomfortable position? But another definition of risk is possibility, which in turn can mean opportunity.

So, when I am willing to risk telling you that I just turned 70, and that I sometimes doubt my own abilities and feel insecure, and that I think the ever-increasing income inequality in the U.S. is one of the biggest threats we face, I am creating the possibility for more honest and meaningful dialogue, and a feeling of freedom, like opening up a window and letting in fresh air.

Congruence is when my outside matches what is going on inside. You know how it feels when someone asks you how you are and you smile and reply "fine," when in fact you aren't? Your marriage is in a rough spot, your parent is ill, you've just received a troubling diagnosis, or you're worried about one of your children. I feel dishonest, shut-down, and disconnected when I allow myself to deny my truth with a smile.

Sometimes it is more expedient to smile and get on with my day. But if I have an opportunity in the right setting to choose to be more transparent, a little vulnerable, and take a risk to speak my truth, the result is usually positive. Often, if I allow myself to share a part of me, it provides others the opportunity to open up their door and through mutual honesty, a deeper, more meaningful exchange may take place. I am reminded I am not alone in my human struggles, and I am stronger because of that shared knowledge.

Risk and threat or possibility and opportunity? My attitude and intention are what make the difference. I choose opportunity.

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