We Contain Multitudes

Chad Dickerson

Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)

Awakin FeatureWalt Whitman once wrote, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

It’s possible to be a person with all of a multitude of experiences all at the same time. You can be a kid barely removed from a trailer park with an illiterate grandfather and disruptive mental illness in your family and go to Duke and study Shakespeare and build a successful career and eventually go to New York City and take a company public as a CEO. I actually think we would be better served if we had more people in leadership positions in public and private life who have known what it’s like to be broke, to see the tragedy of a grandfather reaching the end of his life not knowing how to read, to win admission to a fancy school and feel like you shouldn’t be there at first but then dig deep and carve out your place there and in the world beyond. Any leader of any organization of sufficient size will work with a diverse group of people and having a diverse set of experiences can only help build empathy.

In my personal life, I get invited to fancy dinners and such. Sometimes when introducing themselves, people lay out their professional accomplishments and I find myself wanting to know the real person, not the LinkedIn profile. I’m wondering: what were your struggles? What were your parents like? When did you feel uncertain and how did you overcome it? How did you get here? I realize that no one is obligated to share those things with me and I never press. But some of my best conversations at those kinds of events have come when I’ve let my guard down and told the person beside me a little about my real not-LinkedIn-profile self. Quite often, that person opens up in some way.  We laugh about the first time we went to a dinner like this and had to figure out how the place settings worked, or about how we felt when we interviewed for our first big job in a strange city. Or the person beside me might have grown up wealthy but suffered difficult challenges in life that wealth can’t address and overcame them. Some of these conversations have become the basis for deep loving friendships that I treasure.

Maybe if we all gave each other the space to be complex people — not reduced to public perception, our professional bios, our LinkedIn profiles, others’ narratives of who we are — we might understand each other better and give ourselves the room to be messy but wondrous human beings.

As Whitman wrote: I am large, I contain multitudes. We all contain multitudes. Or as George and Tammy sang together on “Two Story House”: I’ve got my story, and I’ve got mine, too."

And so do you. We should all tell them proudly and in their full complexity.

Chad Dickerson was formerly the co-founder and CEO of Etsy. This post was excerpted from here.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that we contain multitudes? Can you share a personal story from a time you were able to share your non-LinkedIn-profile self with someone? What helps you offer space (to yourself and others) to be complex people?

Add Your Reflection:

8 Previous Reflections:

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    On Sep 14, 2019 Ronnie Dunetz wrote:
    Lovely article! We need to let more people know us authentically far away from the "LinkedIn profile". That is one of our greatest challenges, how can we develop more compassion, appreciation and value for the varies parts of our existence!

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    On Feb 7, 2019 LuAnn Cooley wrote:
    I love this. One of my born wealthy, living the dream friends is now navigating his deep understanding of climate change and the struggle to reconcile his values with his peer group. I hear the multitudes within him in our conversations and find myself cheering on the ones who want to be different and work for a better, more equal, just and sustainable world, but know the others in him have just as strong a voice and may lead him into another, but perhaps still profound path. As odd as it sounds, I much prefer knowing the complexity of a person. :)

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    On Feb 5, 2019 me wrote:
    I believe we contain multitudes. we are Large. We can have space for all.

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    On Feb 3, 2019 David Doane wrote:
    We do contain multitudes, in more ways than one. We are part of one another. We share our atoms, and the atoms that are part of my body have been part of the body of every other being. Further, whatever happens to me affects others, and what happens to others affects me. And there are many aspects to me. Given my inclinations historically to be guarded, the process of sharing my non linked in profile has often started with the other being open and real with me, which has resulted in my being more open and real in return. And when I have been open and real, as happens more and more over the years, the other is more that way with me. I've learned, sometimes painfuly, that if you want the other to be real and open, be real and open. I've learned that if you want to have a friend, be a friend. What helps me offer space to be complex people is my learning that we're all complex multitudes, and that the meeting of real complex me and real complex you is what is meaningful and ful... [View Full Comment] We do contain multitudes, in more ways than one. We are part of one another. We share our atoms, and the atoms that are part of my body have been part of the body of every other being. Further, whatever happens to me affects others, and what happens to others affects me. And there are many aspects to me. Given my inclinations historically to be guarded, the process of sharing my non linked in profile has often started with the other being open and real with me, which has resulted in my being more open and real in return. And when I have been open and real, as happens more and more over the years, the other is more that way with me. I've learned, sometimes painfuly, that if you want the other to be real and open, be real and open. I've learned that if you want to have a friend, be a friend. What helps me offer space to be complex people is my learning that we're all complex multitudes, and that the meeting of real complex me and real complex you is what is meaningful and fulfilling for me, so I do it, at least sometimes.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Feb 1, 2019 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    My life is not a straght line. It has many turns and twists. My life is not monociolor. It is muticolor. Some light, some bright, some dark, some pleasesent and some unpleasa.It a mixture of colors..My real self is not LinkedIn profile. I relate to what Walt Whitman says " I am large, I contain multitudes." When I was young I had a small circle of close friends. We got deeply connected by being vulnerable and sharing our thousands of joys and thousands of sorrows.We gave ourselves and each other room to be ourselves. All of my friends have passed way. I still feel in my heart the loving, intimate and deep relationships we had created with each other. What helps me to offer space to myself and others is finding time and opening our minds and hearts. Small and shallow talks come and go without creating depth in our relationships. Today I had invited my Jewis friend to my class to share her expereinces of practicing her faith.I have known her for the last ten years without being... [View Full Comment] My life is not a straght line. It has many turns and twists. My life is not monociolor. It is muticolor. Some light, some bright, some dark, some pleasesent and some unpleasa.It a mixture of colors..My real self is not LinkedIn profile. I relate to what Walt Whitman says " I am large, I contain multitudes." When I was young I had a small circle of close friends. We got deeply connected by being vulnerable and sharing our thousands of joys and thousands of sorrows.We gave ourselves and each other room to be ourselves. All of my friends have passed way. I still feel in my heart the loving, intimate and deep relationships we had created with each other. What helps me to offer space to myself and others is finding time and opening our minds and hearts. Small and shallow talks come and go without creating depth in our relationships. Today I had invited my Jewis friend to my class to share her expereinces of practicing her faith.I have known her for the last ten years without being deeply and lovingly connected with each other. In the class she talked about how her grandfather was gaschambered by the Germans. How her mother had gone through torturing expereinces and how she felt when she came to America. It was a very moving true story. There were tears in her eyes and profound pain her voice. We got deeply connected with her and she felt the same way..

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    On Feb 1, 2019 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:
    Every one of us is more than one descriptor and so much more than our jobs. I relate to this on so many levels: as a survivor of childhood abuse and trauma, as the daughter of a father who had multiple suicide attempts and died when I was 22, as someone who grew up on the very lowest edge of middle class and ate cereal for dinner, as a former spouse of a partner with severe bi-polar/ADD and was a pathological liar, as the sister of an alchoholic brother now 26 years sober, as a former anorectic, as a Cause-Focused Storyteller who chose to sell her home and possessions to create a volunteer literacy program and had no idea what she was doing but somehow it worked out, to the 51 year old woman I am today who became a traveler collecting, presenting and performing stories worldwide and now sharing Steer Your Story across the US all the way to Alaska to provide workshops for other survivors to steer their internal narratives to be more empowered and better reflect their strength and truth ... [View Full Comment] Every one of us is more than one descriptor and so much more than our jobs. I relate to this on so many levels: as a survivor of childhood abuse and trauma, as the daughter of a father who had multiple suicide attempts and died when I was 22, as someone who grew up on the very lowest edge of middle class and ate cereal for dinner, as a former spouse of a partner with severe bi-polar/ADD and was a pathological liar, as the sister of an alchoholic brother now 26 years sober, as a former anorectic, as a Cause-Focused Storyteller who chose to sell her home and possessions to create a volunteer literacy program and had no idea what she was doing but somehow it worked out, to the 51 year old woman I am today who became a traveler collecting, presenting and performing stories worldwide and now sharing Steer Your Story across the US all the way to Alaska to provide workshops for other survivors to steer their internal narratives to be more empowered and better reflect their strength and truth of who they are today Oh yes, we contain multitudes. And when we see each other as complete human beings including our challenges and those traumas that we survived which then informed who we are today, we are so much more! I started sharing my truth publically about what it was like living with and trying to care for a parent with multiple suicide attempts. Then I spoke more on social media and in presentations about my own experience with different brain chemistry (episodic situational depression and anxiety). This vulnerability and sharing my full self resulted in others sharing their journeys too. It opened up amazing conversations with such depth. Since April 2016 I've also gone public about the childhood s*xual trauma and it peeled back another layer for others to share their stories too. And here I am on a journey all the way to Alaska in service to creating space for people to share their stories too. I am grateful. If you want to learn more, please visit: www.steeryourstory.com Hugs from my heart to yours, Kristin[Hide Full Comment]

    2 replies: Sidney, Keith | Post Your Reply

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