In 2013 I made about a dozen New Year’s Resolutions. Like most Americans, by February I was actively achieving 0% of them.
So to kick off 2014, I changed my tactic and I only made one resolution. Instead of focusing on a list of things that would make me look or feel outwardly different or inch me closer to achieving that ever-elusive-best-external-version of myself, I decided to focus on something small, something internal, something harder to measure.
My New Year’s Resolution for 2014 is to look people in the eye more often when I’m speaking.
I don’t have any trouble grazing eye contact with a large crowd during a speech like the one I gave at our “House Blessing” ceremony in Cebu last month. (Check out the pictures here!) I don’t have a hard time looking people in the eye when THEY are speaking– in fact, few things make me happier than making someone feel heard and cherished when they speak vulnerably, especially when girls like Jacky tell their stories for the first time.
But for some reason, when I’m speaking about myself with one person or a small group, I find it impossibly painful to look people in the eye as I recount personal details.
Everyone loves to hear the stories about My Refuge House and I love to tell those stories. But people who are interested in our work often want to know about me. And talking about myself in a way that truly lets people in doesn’t come as easily ro me. Transitioning from life in the Philippines to life in the US was one of my greatest challenges. I couldn’t understand why my personal stories mattered, especially when an important issue like trafficking was on the line.
Over the years I have learned to be less rehearsed and more open in the way I communicate. However, I have also become increasingly self-conscious about how my words are being received. So much so that when I do attempt eye contact during my story, I will sometimes completely lose my train of thought and not be able to finish the statement!
As a person who has typically been described as confident, this really bothered me. So I began to ask myself: What do I gain by not making eye contact? What do I lose?
I gain a false sense of security by not making eye contact: I can’t read or misread facial expressions. I am safe from any perceived judgments by refusing to see wandering eyes or bored expressions.
But I’m also losing out on fully embracing a moment with someone. No matter how deep or profound or vulnerable my story is, if I don’t make eye contact, I’m not really, truly, allowing the other person to live that experience with me. I’m robbing myself (and others!) of a potentially meaningful encounter.
If girls like Jacky, who have been through so much pain and heartache, can stand in front of a crowd and through tears, proudly share her story, then surely I can learn to look someone in the eye when I explain my fears and concerns and shortcomings.
So next time you see me, be sure to tell me if I’m making eye contact or not-I owe it to Jacky to keep trying.