Who gives you permission to speak your mind, to share your opinions? Who gives you the stamp of approval, granting you the authority to speak on a subject? Is it a college or graduate degree? A job title? A salary tier?
What about in terms of life experience? Who has the authority to talk about the experience of being a human while encountering x, y, or z?
If you ask me, I say you do. As a human encountering x, y, or z, I think you have the authority to reflect on your experience and tell others about what you’ve learned.
This topic came up during the beta round of the Authentic Writing Intensive. In our group of all women, feelings of imposter syndrome were common. We shared coming up against blocks such as “Who cares what I have to say?” and “How do I know if I’m qualified to say it?”
Our culture values formal education and degrees highly. We tend to believe people with more letters after their name, even if they haven’t lived the experiences about which they’re dispensing advice.
I think by only valuing the advice of “qualified experts,” we’re missing a lot of wisdom. I’m not recommending you listen to trolls on WebMD about your cramps rather than calling your OBGYN. Of course not. I’m advocating for more grey area, for appreciating lived experience alongside formal education.
My best case scenario is learning from someone with both: someone who had a lived experience that was so profound, they went on to study or practice in that area. For example, someone who had acute health issues remedied by Traditional Chinese Medicine, leading them to study TCM and open their own practice.
I’d trust that person to speak to the benefits of acupuncture and herbal tinctures.
I’d also trust their client to speak about their experience having stomach pain and using herbal tinctures to relieve that pain.
Do you see the difference?
I think we’re all “qualified” to share about our personal experiences. And if we can do so after we’ve processed the pain, it opens up the possibility for some really powerful reflection.
Sharing Cathartic Messages
One of my favorite books on communication is Catalyst: Speaking, Writing and Leading for Social Evolution. (I know the title doesn’t have an oxford comma...don’t judge me for loving it anyway.)
In it, author Sasha Allenby talks about cathartic messages. She discusses both the power and potential pitfalls of delivering a cathartic message, saying there’s danger in sharing pain disguised as catharsis. Here’s how she explains the difference:
There is a particular tone of writing or speaking that I call “sharing the pain.” This is when we set out to say or write something evolutionary, something life-changing, something that is intended to lead our audience to transformation, something that is supposed to blow the lid off their current paradigm, but we have not processed or moved through what we are sharing in our personal evolution. So, instead of contributing to change for our audience, we end up sharing our own pain. This might create an emotional response in our audience. They may get some temporary relief from relating to what we have shared. However, in terms of contributing to change, we widely miss the mark. Our audience is ultimately not able to break out of their existing pain because we weren’t able to model moving beyond ours.
Using the example above, if the TCM client shared about their debilitating stomach pain, some people in their audience might say, “Oh hey, I get stomach aches, too. That’s cool that I’m not alone.” But the impact would kind of stop there.
If the TCM client shared a message after they’d processed, grown, and found some solutions, it might be more impactful. Rather than talking about their stomach pain (which could come across as complaining), they could deliver this message: “I used to have debilitating stomach pain that prevented me from enjoying meals or going out to eat with friends. I saw this Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, tried these herbal remedies, and learned this about my body.”
They could talk about the journey of better understanding the way their body functions and how they started to connect dots from one seemingly disjointed habit to another. They could talk about getting better connected to their physical body and might inspire others to do the same.
That messaging has power. It’s inspiring without being preach-y. Those are the kinds of messages that I’m all about. Those are the kinds of messages I think the world needs right now.
Consider this me granting you permission to talk about your experience as a human, especially if you’re talking about it from a place of “here’s what I’ve learned.”
If you want to dig into your own blocks such as imposter syndrome and “who cares,” it just so happens that I’ve created the perfect container for working through those feelings: the Authentic Writing Intensive. You can learn all about it here.