Are you confusing being an open book with being open?

You may recall that each year I choose a word that represents the approach or attitude I want to have in my life for the next 12 months. This year I chose the word 'open'. I've been thinking a lot about the word these past months. It's been challenging for me to hold a posture of being open. Nevertheless I have persisted.

The last time I went back to school was in 2010. I went to Royal Roads University to get my MA in Leadership. It was a residency program and we received a list of things to bring. On that list was tissues. I didn't think much of it at the time. I thought it was just something that wasn't supplied that we might want. I later discovered that the reason we needed to bring tissues was because most of us would be crying at some point. Or in my case, sobbing. The first year residency was designed to do a deep dive into personal leadership. It was like group therapy at times where you were exposed to yourself and the parts of yourself that you prefer to hide. Those things were brought out into the open so that you could be a better leader and become aware of your personal limitations. We looked at the things in our lives that could undermine our leadership. I wish more leaders would experience this type of transformational learning.

I've been thinking recently about one of the big 'aha's' I had during that time. It had to do with being open. I always saw myself as a 'heart on my sleeve' type of person. I thought I was open. I didn't have any trouble sharing what was going on in my life. I've told my story of childhood abuse, my wayward teen years and shared many of my struggles with people publicly. I learned that was not being open. One of the books we were required to read was a book called Learning in Relationship. I've been re-reading it this week. Here is what the author, Ronald R. Short, says about being personal vs being open:

Occasionally in my trainings, folks have resisted practicing the skills because they thought they were playing psychologist and “shrinking” each other. They feared that to engage from the inside-out was to reveal their private lives. They believed it forced them to be too personal. This is why is it so important to recognize the difference between being open and being personal. If you are personal, you tell others about your personal life — what you do, where you are from, how you live; about your marriage, about your kids, and the difficulties you have. They learn about you. If you are open, you tell others about the impact they have on you here and now; what you think, feel and want in the moment. They learn from you.

You can see there is a big difference between the two. All my life I thought I was open and I would even say "I'm an open book." But really I was just sharing personal information. To grow in relationships we need to learn to be open. We can actually hide behind our stories and our history.

There is room for being personal but if you want to learn from other people and grow in relationships you need to change your focus from what happens to you to what is happening within you. One of the big learnings for me was to speak from the 'I". When I can separate my internal experience (what I want, I think, I need, I feel, etc.) from my external experience I can then grow in my relationships. It may sound difficult or confusing but trust me learning to tap into what is happening inside of you will help you be a better observer in your life and keep you focused on what is most important. It takes time and practice and working with a coach can help you learn in relationships.