So, I was on the phone with my friend, Will, the other day. He’s a good friend that I use to work with. We saw each other almost everyday at the office, hung out, got lunch together, spent hours talking about ministry and our future goals, our families have hung out together, he loves playing with our son, and he’s even come over many times to help me fix a few things around the house.
I haven’t seen him for a few weeks, and I was calling him back about some tickets to a show that he and his wife were going to that night. There came a point in our phone conversation where we just ran out of things to talk about, and there were a few seconds of silence over the phone.
In an effort to be funny, but at the same time, wanting to see if my friend missed me, I asked: “So, ya miss me?”
And immediately, his response was, “I DON’T GET EMOTIONAL LIKE YOU DO!!”
I guess I was asking for it, but still, I was a little hurt by this and the best comeback I could come up with at that moment was, “Jerk! You have emotions you don’t even know about!”
(I don’t know if I was trying to psychoanalyze my friend by saying that he was in denial, or if I was just trying to be mean here. Either way, I totally failed at both, because I felt hurt and I was shootin’ blanks on wit that day. The best way to describe me in that moment was two words: awkward dork.)
This incident reminded me of another.
I was hanging out with Chris, Terrence, and J. Hoang in my living room, talking about their first year of college, when Chris started talking about the college confessions page on their campus.
We began talking about the different kinds of confessions that people were confessing on college campuses nowadays, and some of the ones that we found most interesting were the ones that have to do stereotypes or racial biases. One of the funnier ones that Terrence mentioned was a confession that said, “I’m a Korean guy, and I suck at LOL (League of Legends).” We thought that was hilarious, because that is one of the biggest stereotypes out there today: that most Korean guys are incredibly good, if not amazing, at online gaming.
It made me wonder what a Chinese man’s confession would be, so I said this, just to be funny: “I’m a Chinese man, and I’m okay talking about my feelings.”
We all laughed, because we were all Chinese, and said, “Yeah, that’s a good one.”
If this was a confessions page, I think that would be my confession: I’m a dude, and I like to talk about relational dynamics and feelings, but I’m afraid that the guys can’t handle it and that they might look down on me.
I’m the oddball. If a bunch of my good buddies were swapping big fish stories, I’d be jumping in and asking why we are even swapping stories on who actually caught the biggest fish. I’d be teasing (or calling out) how one of the guys got his feelings hurt earlier and now he’s just trying to one up the other guys just to prove that his manhood is still intact.
I know talking like this throws a lot of people off or make people feel uncomfortable, but I guess I’m tired of the bravado and the pretense that tells me I’m not allowed to be afraid, vulnerable, or have weaknesses.
Perhaps I never saw myself fitting that macho man mold, because I found that my strengths lie outside of what our culture is telling us what being a man is suppose to be. I’m giving myself permission to be how God sees me, and I know the first stop is embracing His love and grace, not my fears and shame. This is what I believe.
Like most myths and stereotypes, they were meant to be broken, and just a few days ago, I was talking with Will over lunch and he actually admitted that he actually keeps his feelings bottled up most of the time.
I just sat there and thinking, “That’s awesome. I shouldn’t stop letting people surprise me.”
I’ve been walking into walls, bumping into corners, and stubbing and hitting my toes on a lot of things lately. It’s really weird. Somehow my brain is telling my body to cut corners when there are actually obstacles and things in the way.
For example, the other day when I was bee lining towards the front door to leave the house, my brain failed to register that there was a corner I needed to maneuver around, and I smashed my shoulder hard, right into the wall. This was not an isolated incident, because I’ve also been tripping over and smashing my feet into bedposts, table legs, couch corners, and half-opened doors a lot in the past few weeks. It’s ridiculous, because this is my own house we’re talking about here.
So, of course, I complained to Winnie, after having cursed the bed frame I just maimed myself against, and she, very logically and rationally, said, “Why don’t you just look where your feet is going?”
To this, I replied, “Because I learned to walk 34 years ago. It’s more important for me to look at the destination, rather than looking at my feet.”
But then, it clicked.
The epiphany didn’t come to me at that moment, but the next day, it dawned on me. I do this all the time in my life. I try so hard to look ahead; but ironically, it’s the things right in front of me – that I am not paying attention to – that’s always tripping me up and getting in my way. My mind is too focused on the future, the “what-ifs,” that I don’t stay in the here-and-now, the present, dealing with what is in front of me.
Some people say time travel is impossible, but I don’t think so. I spend most of my time in the future, worrying and trying to anticipate everything that could go wrong. I play out all the possible scenarios on things I care about most, trying to forecast the future, good and bad. This is how I cope with feeling vulnerable – a way to feel some sort of control over the chaos I sometimes feel inside. It is a buffer.
Unfortunately, it removes me from the present, and I wind up feeling indifferent and removed, missing out on the joys and sorrows of the moment, living my life as if I am reading about it in a non-fiction novel, instead of actually living it. (I also psychoanalyze and navel-gaze about the past a lot, internally gridlocked on old hurts and issues, and then defensively tries to predict about the future, but then, that’s another topic in itself.)
Perhaps I do this, because then I don’t have to risk feeling sad, angry, hurt, jealous, disappointed, rejected (perhaps more accurately, self-rejected), and ashamed. But I also miss out on feeling happy, satisfaction, contentment, accomplished, accepted, joy, peace, courage, forgiveness, restoration, or healing. If I avoid feeling sad, I will also avoid feeling truly happy.
I cannot choose one without the other, and from my personal journey, the negative more difficult emotions wind up surfacing in cold forms anyways; ie, bitterness, anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic issues. We can’t entirely ignore it.
Like I said, ironically, it’s the things right in front of me that wind up tripping me up and running me into walls. It’s the things right in front of me that I choose not to focus on that will eventually hurt me in the end.
Maybe I should regularly take out my contacts and let my near-sightedness do its job.
This last Saturday, when my wife, Winnie, my son, Jayden, and I were eating our overpriced bacon-wrapped, BBQ turkey leg at the LA County Fair, there was a Radio Disney stage show going on next to our eating area. The host of the show was a black guy, jamming it up with a DJ and their assistants, pumping up a crowd of 20 vivacious elementary school kids, and 10 junior high kids that were so excited that they forgot to be overly self-conscious. As we watched the show progress, they even got the adults so railed up on stage that everyone forgot how old they were and were just having fun.
At one point, the host and the DJ were bantering back and forth on stage about what they do when they feel awkward, and the host said this: “The trick to feeling awkward in social situations is to talk about how awkward you feel in that moment.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the DJ quipped, “Yeah, but then, that would be the only thing I’d be talking about all day.”
When I heard that, I thought, “Wow, that’s an interesting way to deal with awkwardness.” With most Asian people, it is taboo to talk about how awkward you feel.
I know this, because I use to and still sometimes do this. There are some Asians who think that talking about awkward feelings will only make the situation worse – one might run the risk of embarrassing the other person for making you feel awkward, and then, you’d feel even more awkward for even saying anything. The whole system just gets more and more complex, and things only get more awkward and more embarrassing as time goes on.
To them, awkwardness, embarrassment, and shame are all synonymous, and there is a heavy price to pay for being vulnerably direct with others; because sometimes it results in dishonor and people losing face. So, practically, it’s easier to avoid unnecessary conflict by not talking about awkward feelings at all. It’s easier to pretend like nothing is happening, sweep it underneath the carpet, and hope to God that it would go away.
However, I think there are consequences to living like this. To me, avoiding awkwardness means…
· Always playing it safe, anticipating and predicting every
scenario in life – which is impossible.
· Having to look perfect, even when I’m scared, anxious,
and falling apart inside.
· Never disclosing how I truly feel, good or bad.
· Living in isolation, learning not to trust, or care for
· Avoiding intimate conversations with those I love.
· Not believing I can rise above the uncertainties I fear
· That I allow awkwardness to defeat me.
I’m convinced that the best thing anyone can do in awkward situations is to talk about the ginormous elephant in the room, and to be authentic about what they are feeling.
It’s like what Brene Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly, about shame: “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists…If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroys it.”
I agree that if we put language to what we experience and begin to tell our stories, it sheds light into the darkness we fear so much. For me, the darkness I’ve been trying to control, by avoiding awkwardness, is the rejection and hurt I believe that’s going to happen, if I ever allow myself to be vulnerable. This belief had become an unyielding certainty for me, because deep down, I believed I was unlovable and unworthy.
Yet, in reality, the only certainty we have about awkwardness is that no one can ever avoid feeling awkward in life. No one is exempt, and therefore, it levels the playing field for everyone, because awkwardness is ubiquitous.
My college professor, Jerry Root, says this to all his students: “If you’re not feeling awkward in any area of your life, you’re simply not growing.” I think that is awesome! We can choose to see our awkwardness as inherent flaws and white-headed pimples that needs to be covered up, or we can see awkwardness as opportunities for growth, the birthplace of courage and transformation that will one day mold us into the people we were suppose to be. The risk is up to us, but I believe we are braver than we think.
I invite you to share your comments, thoughts, and stories on the topic of awkwardness. I would love to hear them!
As an Asian (Chinese) American, I know this phrase rings true in my life. Quitting means more than just giving up. It is one of those verbs that we fear will turn into a noun that defines us in the eyes of other people.
As a verb, the word ‘quit’ is quite useful in our day-to-day life. Phrases like, “let’s call it quits and go home,” “let’s quit while we’re ahead,” and “let’s quit before someone seriously gets hurt,” are all fine examples of it’s practicality.
So, “to quit,” could even be a positive display of self-control and restraint, but as a noun, the word “quitter” is usually negatively associated with being lazy, weak-willed, fearful, and shame.
Recently, I resigned from my church ministry job of 3 years at a local organization. In the end, the organization was just not a good fit, and there were many issues that we couldn’t see eye to eye on, so it was probably best that we go our separate ways. I had hopes of being a catalyst for change in this organization, but when I quit, I realized that nothing really had changed at all! I felt worthless, like a complete failure.
A few days later, I came across this quote by Henry Cloud that said this: “When you know you are in the wrong place and you know deep down that it’s not going to work out, the worst thing you can do is to hope.”
That quote really hit a nerve. I think there were many times in the last 3 years I told myself, “Things will get better,” over and over again, but my instincts (and my body) were telling me something different – I was not sleeping well, tired all the time, constantly worried about losing my job, anhedonic, depressed, overeating, and had a tick in my eye for almost a year.
After hearing that quote, I’ve wondered if I was actually afraid of failing and feeling worthless – too caught up with the shame that “quitting is never okay” – that I started hoping that things would change and get better, when, in reality, I knew in my gut, it wasn’t going to happen.
Now, I’m not saying we should all be cynics and give up on hope. Hope is the definition of what it means to have faith, and what it means to trust and be courageous in the face of fears and difficulties. However, I used ‘hope’ in order to avoid my fears, rather than facing them. To put it bluntly, my hope that things would get better was an illusion; an illusion that helped me control and keep my fears of failing and feelings of worthlessness at bay. It’s another way to say I was in denial, thinking things were going to improve.
I think it takes courage to face something ending in your life. It feels vulnerable, because shame and fear can feel like an unexpected shot to the gut, leaving our psyches emotionally asthmatic, immobilizing us because our personal identity and self-worth is at stake.
Of course, this applies not just to quitting or losing a job. It applies to anything that we’re invested in. It applies to relationships, and it also applies to any situations where we feel most vulnerable.
In Ecclesiastes, it says this: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away…”
There is a certain inevitability to what happens with us in life, and no matter how hard I try, I’ve come to realize that I cannot keep vulnerability at bay with a myth that says, “It is never okay to quit.” No matter how hard I try, I cannot avoid the hard choices and hard situations that make me face what I fear or are ashamed of most.
Despite how messed up things are, I think we were created with the strength and ability to face great adversity. But, I also believe that we can’t do this alone. So, since we are fellow sojourners of this journey of life, I’d be interested to know what you think and how you deal with quitting and loss?