A couple of years ago, when I was feeling quite sick of myself, I made a hasty decision to sign up for a mindful self-compassion program. It was a week-long event which I knew to mean that no stone would be left unturned. As with all rash decisions I quickly regretted it and as the weeks drew closer I tried to cancel my registration several times.
Because I was afraid.
I was afraid that if I had the chance to really face my inner feelings I would surrender to them and never return. I was afraid that if I started to cry I would never be able to stop.
I was afraid of me.
Needless to say, the course was life changing. I learned how to not be scared of my emotions; to love myself throughout all my feelings (good and bad); and strategies to cope when I might feel triggered by circumstances.
I realise now how closed my old fears had kept me.
Just as I was afraid to face myself during the course, I was also afraid I might see myself in others. This meant I never really wanted to connect with people on any more than a superficial level lest their stressors triggered my own worries. I was afraid their stories would compound my own deep fears. That somehow a personal lived experience might be catching. Worse still, not only did I prefer not to hear the stories, the best I could do was sympathise with the person because I wasn’t brave enough to share in return.
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Skip ahead three years to the current day and I realise how crazy my fears were. You can’t catch someone else’s struggles. Most importantly I can see now how many real connections with other people I probably missed. It’s these real, authentic connections that are so important in the small business community because we need each other for business success.
People like those most like themselves.
Brene Brown has is so right when she talks about the importance of practising empathy over sympathy.
Empathy says to someone “I can feel your pain” whereas sympathy implicitly says “I’m glad you have the pain and not me”. I know now from experience that the more I can empathise with others the greater my connection is to them. When I’m in a conversation with a small business owner who wants to have a meaningful talk, I make sure they know I can relate to their feelings (maybe not always the situation, but feelings can be common across a range of situations), we likely have shared fears, and I am present to their stories. I’m not afraid of their experiences. I don’t have to make things better. I just have to really hear them.
Ultimately, business relationships are built on the connections we feel to one another. Today in my work as a mental health advocate I often include the importance of reaching out to others in times of great stress. I have to hope that if someone takes my advice they reach out to a person who can empathise with their situation. If they can, they will most likely have a lifelong authentic connection and isn’t that the best way to build a strong business network?