I attend a church with no paid clergy. The weekly “sermon” is a set of short talks delivered by two or three members of the congregation—often from the same family—who are asked to speak for about ten minutes each on a topic of spiritual significance.
Because the average congregation is about 300 families, it’s not uncommon to see someone speaking whom you’ve only met in passing, or even don’t recognize at all. So it’s customary for people to take the first couple minutes of their time to introduce themselves. And I’m always curious to see what aspects of their lives people choose to highlight. Here’s what I’ve noticed.
Men tend to focus on their careers: I’ve been a sales rep for various major pharmaceutical companies for thirty-seven years, which has meant I’ve spent most of my life on the road.
Women tend to talk about their families: We have four girls—our oldest, Janie, just got married last summer, and our youngest, Lisa, is a freshman in high school who loves to dance.
Retired people often mention hobbies: We are so thrilled to have moved here where the weather is good enough to play pickleball all year round!”
And younger people tend to focus on their education: I graduated from Caltech last year with a degree in engineering, and my husband is training as a nurse.
Very often people chronicle where they’ve lived, unique things they’ve done or accomplished, and how long they’ve been a part of the community. It’s a sort of two-minute who-what-when-where of a life.
We all have a superficial narrative about ourselves that we get in the habit of presenting to others. It’s a story we tell that often has reference to status markers—things that we think will help others get the measure of our place in society. It’s a highly curated form of self-revelation, one that speaks neither to weaknesses, fears, or vulnerabilities; nor to deeply-held values or beliefs.
And yet—despite our habit of hiding beneath the surface—we crave knowing and being known. We long to reveal our motivations, our preoccupations, and our quirks. To share with the world the why and how of our lives, in hopes of finding a similar story of full humanity reflected back to us in the eyes of another.
My husband and I have moved a lot, so I’ve engaged in the church-talk introductory exercise dozens of times. And I’ve noticed that despite my bottomless longing to be seen and known in a new community, I too, usually succeed in nothing more than superficiality. But I wonder: What if I created a two-minute story aimed at maximum authenticity? What if I armed myself with a new narrative that could help turn a common introduction into a moment of self-revelation? Could I create an everyday sense of intimacy by inviting people beneath the surface and into the depths of my inner world?
Hello, my name is Shaylyn.
I was born and raised in a place that doesn’t feel like home to me, and I’m still not sure where home is. I’m here now, but my husband and I tend to get wanderlust, so we may not be here for long.
I’m about halfway through my expected lifespan and I’m still not sure what I was put on this earth to do. But deep down I know it’s something fantastic and important, and I chase after it every day. I tend to get depressed when it feels like I’ve lost the scent.
I long to live on a farm and put my hands in the dirt every day, but I’m afraid that I’ll never get there. I live to reflect, to write, to communicate, and to share, but I often get worried that I don’t really have anything valuable to say.
Determination is my super-power, and because of that I’ve achieved things I never really thought I could or would. And though my accomplishments might impress, I always wish people understood just how unlikely they really feel to me.
I’m deeply empathic—not so much as a virtue I’ve cultivated, but as a hard-wired trait that sometimes makes me literally wince when I see other people get hurt. This often means that I get overwhelmed by the suffering I see in the world, and by my inability to do anything meaningful about it.
What bothers me most is when I see things wasted—money, time, talent, resources. And I secretly pride myself on my efficiency and my ability to find creative uses for things that other people discard.
I love my daughter fiercely, and even though I get short tempered from time to time, I think I’m a great mom. I wish I had more children, but I wonder if I’d be overwhelmed if I did.
I’m not a natural when it comes to laughing, but I married someone who is, which helps. But I am good at seeing things others don’t—details, patterns, subtexts, small wonders—and this brings me joy.
What I value most is community, but relationships don’t come naturally to me. One of my greatest fears is that I’ll never really have a deep sense of connection the way other people do.
But I’ll never give up trying.