Notes from Underground Template
"I have this editor in my soul who is constantly editing my story. I’m guessing I’m not alone. We all edit our stories: We edit that time we made a mess of a project at work, and we shift the blame to someone else. We edit the time we yelled at our kidsーor we erase it altogether and it becomes a blank frame we forget to tell our spouse."
Greetings Senior Fellows, et al.,
I have this editor in my soul who is constantly editing my story. I’m guessing I’m not alone. We all edit our stories: We edit that time we made a mess of a project at work, and we shift the blame to someone else. We edit the time we yelled at our kidsーor we erase it altogether and it becomes a blank frame we forget to tell our spouse.
This seems to be a natural part of the human process. We just want to present our best selves to the world. But this same, seemingly innocent posture also leads to a curated life where anxiety and envy drive us headlong into hyper-edited worlds like social media (or wherever we feel the need to present ourselves to the world in ways we think are flattering). It does for me anyway.
Maybe we are poor editors. Maybe we see the world in ways that can be small or opaque or selfish. Maybe our stories are not meant to be edited by us. Maybe, just maybe, we leave out the parts that really matter. I do.
In the last letter from Kris he asked us a simple question: What are we doing today that 10 or 15 years ago we couldn’t ask for, or even imagine? The invitation is expansive, and at least, for me, it took my mind wandering through the story of my life. I began to see a highlight reel of accomplishments, achievements, and successes.
Then it hit me. This highlight reel wasn’t actually real. It was edited. It had special effects and maybe even a cool soundtrack. This story was the edited version, and it did little to present the parts of my story that actually make for a good story. I had edited out things like struggle and doubt, fear and failure.
This is a problem. This is a problem because there is the part I am tempted to leave out. It’s a part that I could never have imagined becoming an integrated part of my story. And yet it has made my story so much richer and real.
It starts like this:
“You have cancer.” My wife began to cry and I just sat there. I was almost relieved to find that all the ways I had been suffering for the past few years were validated in that one crushing word.
But here is the thing: getting the diagnosis didn’t change me. All the love and support I got in those first few days didn’t change me. It felt good, but it didn’t change me. It wasn’t until weeks later when most of my friends and family went back to their daily lives, and I was finally alone with my body and the invisible cancer deep inside my bones. The silence changed me.
The silence asked questions no one else dared to ask: Was this my fault? Could I have done something to prevent this? Am I going to die?
As those questions and others took their inquisitive turns, I began to hear a different kind of voice and a different kind of question: are you going to fight this cancer or are you going to integrate this cancer?
The other voices fell silent again, and all I could hear was, “Are you going to fight this or integrate this?”
I had spent 34 years fightingーfighting to have power and money, fighting to be desirable or to win. I knew how to fight, but something felt wrong about fighting this cancer.
I remember taking a walk at Golden Gate Park with one of my best friends Scot. Scot was a fighter and he took on every challenge he could find. He ended up giving his life to this pursuit while summiting Mount Kilimanjaro 3 years ago.
Scot was a fighter and he said what any friend would say: “We are going to beat this thing! We are going to fight cancer!” I am not sure why it came out this way, but I asked, “How can I fight myself? And what good will that do me?”
My truth was uncomfortable and contrary, and it looked weak – like I was giving in. It may sound weird but my truth was, “this is me.” Cancer wasn’t something else that I could fight. It wasn’t separate. It was part of me, and it could be a part of me for the rest of my life.
I had to figure out how to integrate the thing that could also end my life. This was and is my impossibility. I have been on a journey and said “yes” to integrating the very thing everyone tells me I should expel, the very thing that could take my life. It is a part of me, I take ownership of itーwhether I caused it, or it was given to me, or it was chance. It is me. It is a part of my story.
I am thankful that I can tell this story to a community I trust. A community that has invited me to tell my whole story, not just the edited version. It is only when I open up myself and my story to a broader community like this one that others can help me to tell a bigger, more human story.
This, I believe, is what we do. We help the communities we serve tell stories that seem impossible to tell. We help them dismiss the editors that are denying and suppressing the parts of their story that make it real.
Perhaps most of these editors are from outside the communityーpeople like me, who are habitually editing out weakness and failure from their lives. Perhaps that is why I admire this community so much. It helps me integrate the very thing I am tempted to exclude.
And that has changed my life.
Director of Operations