Talk Less. Smile More. Not only is this advice from the hit musical, Hamilton, but it is also advice that I have heard a lot in my life. Well, I\’ve heard the 1st part a lot, the second part not so much as I have always been a smiley person, but I get the first one a lot. I tend to translate the second into \”Listen more.\” I remember someone once telling me that we have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason. We should listen twice as much as we should talk. If that\’s true, my ratio was way off.
It\’s something that I struggle with, honestly, and anyone who knows me will not be surprised. I burst with things to say loudly and resolutely, even if I will change positions in the next 5 seconds. I wear my heart in my vocal chords and for better or for worse, The world has always been subject to listen to my stories. I know that when my family would take our massive road trips to Maine (4 long days in the car with us 4 kids) my sister would sleep, my brothers played video games and I talked. My dad joked that I would talk the whole way from Texas to Maine. \”Why can\’t you sleep like your sister?\” he would ask, exasperated that he was made to listen to me yammering on about whatever I wanted. I imagine I annoyed him with my daily gossip about what was happening at school or with so-and-so and what I wanted for my next birthday…..the list goes on and on. I sought out friends in school that wanted to listen to me more than talk themselves, and I eventually married one of those very people, who I imagine was secretly relieved when I \”spoke for both of us\” at our wedding. Talking is literally my favorite thing to do in this entire world.
I don\’t even need something to say, really. The physical act of forming words out of my thoughts, no matter how mundane, is comforting to me. There is something organizing about making sentences in the external world that looks so much clearer, feels so much clearer, than the garbled mess within my mind. My mind is running so fast and with so much energy that my words cannot even keep up. There is always more to say that I just can\’t. I also get caught up on needing to be understood, like, really understood. So I repeat my words in myriad ways with the hope that the person listening to me will resonate with something and understand what I\’m saying. I desperately want to be understood, although not in the typical emotional way. I want you to understand my mind. My mind is more valuable to me.
So that being said, I have always had this internal struggle. How much is too much? How can I be myself and express myself authentically while not dominating the conversation? How can I let people know that I am engaged and interested and understand what they are saying without interjecting my interpretation of their words? How can I maintain my friendships without annoying everyone around me because I talk way too much and too loudly? This is the balance I struggle with daily.
It never really occurred to me that this could relate to my being a woman. I was well aware I talked \”too much\” ever since I was little. I always assumed it was a me thing, not a girl thing. But this last week when Elizabeth Warren was silenced by the GOP, I was reminded that women, specifically, are told to \”sit down and shut up\” far more often than their male counterparts. Yes, I probably talk \”too much\”, but maybe the threshold of what is acceptable is already lower anyways, which exacerbates the issue. Perhaps, were I not a woman, I wouldn\’t have been made to feel so guilty about the amount of airtime I wanted (and often took despite my punishing ego afterwards).
And it\’s that guilt that has often made me smaller than I actually am. My fear of taking over and dominating the conversation results in my calculated silence in events. I have private rules now at meetings that I will not be the first to talk and that I will make a concerted effort to focus on listening rather than sharing myself with the world. That I would spend more time reading and absorbing and less time writing and creating. I\’m still not the best at it, but I have been trying. And it is absolutely overwhelming.
I feel like I\’ve been injected with so much information that I can\’t even make sense of it all. From my books, to my shows, to my work, to my emails, to twitter, to facebook…..it never stops. I learn and gather and sort information like I am a curator in a museum but with nowhere to place my stuff. I had to delete over 200 emails I had starred to come back to because it was straight up stressing me out just the amount of information I would have to sift through. This is a weird phenomenon for me. I love information and data. I thrive off of ideas and plans. I am rarely ever overwhelmed with thoughts. On the contrary, normally ideas and thinking exhilarates me. Maybe it\’s a low level of depression that is making all my normal* fun-time activities a chore and encouraging me to eat tons of sugar and mindlessly watch Netflix or maybe that response is my way of dealing with information overload. The only other time I remember feeling like this was when I was writing my thesis in graduate school and I got into an unhealthy Pokemon addiction at odd hours of the night.
So I think I have to do something different. I have to be honest with myself about who I am and what I need to keep myself balanced. I need to delete the emails that don\’t bring me joy and consolidate my information streams. I need to express myself more (hopefully in writing on this blog) so that I can share all the stuff that I\’ve been shoving into my head. Maybe I don\’t talk too much at all. Maybe that\’s a lie I\’ve believed because to talk is to have power and agency and my ego does not want me to risk standing in my true power.
\”She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.\” – Mitch McConnell