Coming Out of Your Closet
Updated: Mar 25, 2020
I was chatting with a gay friend of mine the other day and he shared with me the frustrating challenge of having come out of the closet, only to be placed in a box. It seems that people often want him to fit within the confines of who they believe him to be, and they expect him to behave accordingly. It’s not unusual for straight folks to prefer he not discuss being gay, and along the same lines, it’s not unusual for gay men to judge him for not being more flamboyant.
I realized that if my friend were to change his behavior to appease the people around him, it would be like going back in the closet. It also occurred to me that regardless of being gay or straight, we’ve all found ourselves in a closet at one time or another. After all, a closet is really just the space we occupy when we step away from the truth of who we are so that we don’t disappoint the people in our lives, or ourselves, for that matter.
Have you ever experienced this sense of feeling restricted in the ways in which you’re “allowed” to show up in the world? I see this all the time with moms who feel like they have to perform in specific ways to avoid being “mom-shamed.” I see this with friends of color who can’t wear their hair in natural ways for fear of defying their work’s “culture” and the possibility of being reprimanded. I’ve watched wounded souls who are grieving a tragic loss conceal their pain because they know that their friends are uncomfortable with being around such pain. And my heart hurts for those with a non-binary sense of gender identity, who are forced to go through life wearing a mask so they don’t suffer the social consequences of living authentically.
At some time or another, we’ve all changed how we show up in the world in an effort to please others, while sacrificing ourselves. It seems that our choices for ways of being are often limited due to our social environment. But what if you could start showing up in ways that feel better and more authentic? What if you could tap into that inner pilot light, give it a little spark, and then turn up the flame a little bit? What if you could create an opening in your life for experiences, interests, and connections that feel nourishing and generative?
The sense of excitement that you feel at the prospect of sharing your unique contributions with the world is what I refer to as your wiggle. This wiggle is the part of you that wants to come out and play. It’s the part of you that wants to be part of the conversation. And it’s the part of you that doesn’t mind exerting the kind of energy that could be considered “work” because this part of you has a full tank of gas and a roadmap leading somewhere you really want to go.
In my experience, closeted wiggles are usually met with a sense of frustration and resentment. It’s really hard to play big and live a fulfilled life from this space. But I believe some focused activities can help your wiggle come out of the closet. Here are some ideas:
Listen To Your Body
Your mind can be manipulated by the stories you’ve created and the meanings you’ve attached to them. “I should do more…” or “I should be more…” Shoulds often reflect the expectations that we feel others have of us. In our attempts to please others, we often stifle what’s truly important to us to avoid disappointing them.
But your body is a great source of wisdom. It’s directly connected to that quiet, inner voice that reminds you of who you are and what you really want in life. Begin to notice when your body feels heavy versus when you feel light. Often, I think you’ll find that a sense of heaviness accompanies responsibilities and tasks that drain you or consume your energy without replenishing it. A feeling of lightness, however, tends to be present when what you’re doing fuels you or nourishes you in some way.
Begin to focus on what’s going on in your life when these contrasting feelings are present. For example, if you’re a busy mom shuttling your child/children all over town for their activities and also making sure you’re present for every sports game, how does your body feel? Do you feel heavy and tired, or worn down? Do you ever start to resent your mom-duties? When are the times that you feel light, with a pep in your step? What’s the difference between these two scenarios?
When Are You Not Expressing Yourself
When you feel heavy, do you ever notice that it’s because you’re holding in part of yourself? You may find that you’re taking on the expectations of others and holding them, without releasing anything in return. This often takes the form of sacrificing your personal expression. I totally understand that this kind of personal expression can feel risky. But as TED Conference speaker, Ash Beckham, explains, “all a closet is, is a hard conversation.”
You are worthy of being heard and represented in your life. You’re not doing the world any favors by shrinking and playing small. Your family, your community, your workplace- they all deserve to have the fullness of you and the gifts you bring to the table! Ash Beckham mentions in her talk that sometimes you just have to rip off the Band-Aid and get the conversation started.
What are the conversations you wish you could have? What are the outcomes you would hope for? How does not having those conversations serve you? On the other hand, how could having those conversations enable you to show up fully in life? Let’s try this on for size. Imagine you find yourself in a situation at work where you’re expected to perform the same tasks over and over. We can even take it a little further and say that you’re also inheriting other employees’ undesirable “leftovers”- tasks they don’t really want to do and tend to pile on you.
What might a hard conversation sound like? Perhaps you schedule a meeting with your boss or a mentor and say, “I don’t feel like the company is fully benefiting from the skills that I bring to the table. I believe my contribution would be greater if I could spend more time working on these types of projects. Can we find a way for me to share my assets in a more productive way?” If your work environment is not conducive to a conversation that helps you to show up fully, maybe it’s time to consider whether you want to stay in that job. Imagine how much more alive you’d feel if you got to spend your time in ways that energized you!
In A Perfect World...
I have a friend who is a retired aerospace engineer. He’s an accomplished scientist and I can see him struggling with the idea of walking away from his trade in this next stage of his life. But what really lights him up is when he talks about his interest in Pre-Columbian architectural engineering feats. In a perfect world, he’d be in South America, researching these ancient cultures, and documenting their engineering marvels while writing a book about the subject. So my questions for him are, “What if you pursued that interest? What’s possible? Why not go down that path?”
My questions for you are, what does your perfect world look like? What lights you up and allows you to feel alive? What if you had more of that in your life? How can you carve out time to incorporate those activities into your daily routine? Maybe it’s going to the gym or yoga more regularly. Maybe it’s taking an online course in something you’ve always wanted to learn more about. Maybe it’s competing in a triathlon and committing to all the activities leading up to it. Or maybe it’s taking the risk of trading in your current job for your dream job. Fill in the blank: What if…?
What kinds of conversations would you need to have to make parts of this perfect world a reality? If you’re a mom whose family is the center of your universe, and you dedicate all your time to making sure your children are active and engaged in life, you might find that your own wiggles aren’t being met. A conversation with your family might sound like this: “I’d really like to take a creative writing course at the college. Joey’s mom is going to all the same soccer practices and games that I’m going to, so we’ve decided to take turns driving you guys back and forth and cheering for you at your games. She’ll be cheering for you at half of your games, and I’ll be cheering for you at the other half. How does that sound to you?”
Be The Example
Standing in your power does not benefit you alone. You are surrounded by others who are also afraid to stand in their power and to be seen and heard. When you bust through that closet door to live a life that matches and mirrors the truth of who you are, you are giving the people around you permission to do the same. And if you’re a parent, pursuing your passions is the best gift you can give your children. You’re teaching them that living from a place of wholeness is not only important, it is expected.
The world needs you living fully! Take risks. Step out of your comfort zone. Try something you’ve always wanted to do but never thought you were (fill in the blank) enough. Your community benefits from your voice and your actions when they’re fueled with heart and soul and energy. You already have all the answers to living fully; the answers reside inside you right now. Close your eyes and listen for your wiggle. Honor it with your attention and your action. Be brave and open that closet door!
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