When I was little, I had a nagging sense that something was wrong with me. It felt like my mom wanted me to be someone else, a smaller version of my father, the football star, the homecoming king.
Instead, she got me. The kid who was into science and reading nonstop, the “brain” at school, the fat slow kid who, at least until an early growth spurt, got picked last in gym class every time.
And I learned early on that my mom really didn’t think much of me, my friends, or my interests.
I was 12 when Star Wars came out and I convinced my parents to go with me (why didn’t I go with my friends? I suspect it’s because I really didn’t have many at that point).
It was a Saturday matinee and I remember being stunned from the very first scene, the rumbling star destroyer appearing at the top of the screen and continuing to get bigger and bigger for what seemed like forever.
For those of you who are too young to have seen the original Star Wars in the theater (now called Episode IV), it was like nothing that had every been on screen before. (I got chills just watching the opening scene on YouTube to refresh my memory.)
After Luke Skywalker prevailed and the Death Star was destroyed, I walked out into the parking lot, squinting in the afternoon sun, stunned by what I had just seen. I could barely speak. And I will never forget what my mom said to me.
“Jeff, if you liked that, you’re weird.”
And that, in a word, was my identity.
My friends were weird, my interests were weird, and even though I was active in high school (football, baseball, choir, the school paper, and yes, I was even a mathlete), I never really felt like I fit in with any of the many groups I was part of.
I probably had what would be called social anxiety (and medicated) today, but to me it was panic attacks and I finally figured out, after a decade of intermittent crippling anxiety, that meditation helped.
Meditation was weird.
Going on retreats was weird.
When I was at retreats, it was weird to be a lawyer from the corporate world. When I was back at work, it was weird to have gone on retreats.
But over the years—decades, really—I realized a couple of things.
First, that there were people who were actually fascinated by my interests, and by how I showed up in the world. They were interested in my retreats! I didn’t have to hide them!
Second, that I had a deep empathy for other people’s stories. That because I had never felt seen or valued for who I was, I was determined to really see others, in all their beautiful wounded complexity.
More than two decades of meditation practice has only deepened my capacity to witness others, and increased their willingness to tell me things they have never told another living soul.
Why am I writing this?
Because my pain—the pain of not being seen for who I really was—became my purpose—seeing others and their limitless potential.
Today I am a secret keeper, a guide, a catalyst to radical change in others because of my capacity to make space for that change without judgment.
My experience is that most people have some deep pain. Some way in which they feel inadequate. Something they hide because they are ashamed.
Much like I assumed that I was weird and unlikable. Much like I hid my personal development work for many, many years.
And yet it was the very thing I was most self-conscious about that was my biggest strength. It turned out that the work that I had done to relieve my pain could be used to help others relieve theirs. It had been my purpose before I knew it was my purpose.
What is your pain? What is it that you are ashamed of?
Could it instead be the source of your superpower? If only you would reveal it to the world?