My hands were sweaty. I saw the others gathered at the bus stop. I was new to bus stops. I was new to the neighborhood. They were talking and laughing and looking so at home. It took every ounce of courage to walk up. Every day it took courage to walk up. It was like that for six months.
This may sound like a childhood memory, but it is not.
This is one year ago from a woman in her early 40’s who by all standards appears confident, secure, friendly, and comfortable in her skin.
So when a blog reader wrote, “I feel isolated every time I walk into the schoolyard with my children because I feel I don’t fit in,” I got teary. I understood. And I wanted her to know she was not alone.
I’ve always experienced great apprehension when approaching groups. Walking into parties, classrooms, meetings, conferences, cafeterias, and social gatherings is difficult for me. I’d rather stay back, just listen, and keep my voice to myself. But if I do, an invitation—a very important invitation—is lost. Let me explain …
I was asked to speak at a conference a few weeks ago. Many people from my book publisher were also in attendance and they were hosting a gathering for their authors. I thought about the initial entrance and my hands got sweaty. For me that’s always the hardest part. Eyes turn to look … people huddled in conversation … my mind racing about what to say. I used to decline opportunities because of that initial angst, but I’ve learned a little trick: ask someone to go with you.
In this case, I invited two incredibly wonderful authors and human beings, Kari and Kelly, to join me. I would excitedly introduce them to my publishing team in hopes it would benefit them as well. The three of us walked to the party together and by the time we arrived, I almost forgot to be nervous. With two kind people by my side, the whole evening went far better than expected.
Later one of them said she felt like my invitation to the publisher’s party was a divine invitation to life—that despite there being so many established writers in the world, there was a place for her voice too.
I began to wonder if anyone really feels like she (or he) belongs.
A few days later I was pulled aside at a gathering in my neighborhood. Above blaring 80’s music, a quiet voice strained to thank me for being genuine and always having a welcoming smile for her. She said she often felt on the outside. I said, “You are not alone.” She had a hard time believing it, but the more we talked, the more she believed I understood.
So there I was pondering this vulnerable glimpse of the human heart I’d been given through a blog reader, an author friend, my neighbor, and myself. Our outsidedness was palpable.
I instantly thought about the ones who aren’t speaking up—those whose hands get sweaty and don’t have a friend to go with … those who talk themselves out of showing up even though they really want to go … those whose voices we’ll never hear because the eyes that turn to look are too intimidating.
For some, that fear of not belonging, of not having anyone to talk to, is paralyzing.
But what if they knew someone getting ready to approach the gathering was feeling the exact same way?
What if they knew someone is thinking about attending but is afraid too?
I was thinking we needed a universal sign, one that says, “I’m being brave by showing up right now. Can anyone see me?”
As I was mulling this over, my 12-year-old daughter told me Lunch Bunch was starting up again. There is a sign-up sheet at the middle school for students who’d like to sit with the special education students at lunch. Although my daughter was excited, I vaguely remember her being nervous the first time she did it.
“I love to see you so pumped about this. What was the first Lunch Bunch like?” I asked.
“Well, I wasn’t sure how it would go so I invited a friend to come with me. At first, no one was talking, so I just started talking. I asked questions and if the person across from me was silent, I just talked. I shared things about myself that I thought might be interesting to them. After a couple of times, a boy started talking back. I think he is getting used to me. I think he just needed to see it was okay to talk to me. Now I am not nervous, and he is not nervous.”
“Wow,” I said genuinely impressed. “I am so glad you didn’t give up even though it must have felt awkward at first.”
“I didn’t feel like eating so clasped my hands together so I wouldn’t do anything embarrassing. It made me feel calm—like I was holding my own hand. You can hold your own hand and be brave, you know.”
I tried not to cry.
Because that was it.
That’s when I knew a universal sign would be born here in this place where a million readers come each month to feel less alone in their struggles and truths.
So here’s what you need to know:
The next time you walk into an intimidating setting—whether it’s a party, a church, a school, a classroom, a club, a fitness center, a meeting, or a social event, clasp your hands together. Say to yourself: “I am not alone. Someone else is nervous too.” Then look around. Perhaps now you know someone else feels uncomfortable, you’ll see someone else holding his or her own hand too.
And when you see those with clasped hands, remember
it is an invitation
it is a plea to be noticed
it is a hope to belong
it is a light that wants to be seen
it is a voice that needs to be heard
Go up and ask a question. Say something funny or honest or weather-ish. But whatever you do, resist the urge to walk away.
Don’t walk away from the chance to offer a divine invitation to step fully into life and shine in all your glory.
Let me hear your voice.
Let me hear your voice.
It helps me share my own.
P.S. I think there are some children & teens that could really benefit from this message. I'd be grateful if you'd help reach them by sharing.
Thank you for being part of The Hands Free Revolution – letting go of distraction, perfection, & pressure to live more & love more in the time we are given. Because of you, there is a sense of belonging & hope here. My new book, HANDS FREE LIFE, is filled with specific daily actions you can take to build up another human being & meaningfully connect despite what happened yesterday. It is currently available at Target stores or online for a discounted price of $7.99.