October 19, 2011

Where Does Your Brilliance Lie?

I’m a big fan of seeking wise counsel, and from just about anyone who will give it: friends, paid professionals, parents, postal workers, kind-looking strangers. My feeling is that you never know what bit of wisdom someone might have to share. And though it so often feels that no one in the world has ever been in our particular bind or funk, chances are someone has. Someone, somewhere has felt the way we do before.

So I wrote to a stranger––two of them actually––who had made creative, good-looking lives for themelves. I peppered them questions, and sent those missives out into the dark recesses of the internet, preparing myself for silence.

But both women responded to me––and with kindness and consideration, to boot. At the risk of sounding florid and cheesy, I was really touched by their willingness to chat with some random stranger. I think of all the times I keep my head down and my blinders on, so focused on walking my own daily beat. Go to work, go to the gym, come home. Eat dinner, call my mom. Watch TV, look at shoes online, crawl into bed. It was so refreshing to reach out of my own bubble and into someone else’s, to listen closely to their story, their choices.

And so I listened. But both of these women quickly turned the questions on me (snap!). One question, in particular, has rung in my head for days: Where does your brilliance lie?

Does that question make you feel fired up and inspired, too? (And maybe a touch nervous?) Your brilliance. It’s not just what you’re good at––it’s a piece in you that shines bright. Each of us––yes, you and you and you and you (and me, too)––has a resplendent smarts about her. It might be buried under some insecurity or fear or denial, but it’s in there. Maybe it’s already out in full-force, each day in your life––hat’s off! That, I think, is the goal. To know it, to name it, to claim it, to live it. Your brilliance––whatever it is––has enormous value. Unfortunately, I think we are all to often in the business of undervaluing what we can offer this world.

Because isn’t that the thing? I think of Mary Oliver, whose poem guided me this week like a north star. She built a life around her brilliance, and offers it up like pearl, each day. Her brilliance is also her offering.

And so I reflected a bit on my own brilliance (and I will fully admit that modesty is so much in my bones that it’s hard for me to even write that sentence. Practice.) What is my offering? I’m awfully proud of this community right here: that what I try to put down in words feels welcoming, warm, and thoughtful. And I hope that anyone can drop in, new readers and old friends, and instantly feel some familiarity and some comfort. I hope, too, that there might be a spark of inspiration or gratitude that you can carry right back into our own life: that you will stop and notice the changing leaves outside your window, or look into the eyes of someone you love a little longer, or give yourself whatever it is you’re craving––a tea break, an Etsy perusal, a deep, easing breath at your desk, a bouquet of flowers, an early bedtime, a rare steak. That’s my brilliance, I think: keeping my senses wide open like an aperture, chronicling them, and sending out those feelings, of gratitude, of joy, of wonder, out like little waves of light, from my life to yours. Pass it on.

Now you. Don’t be bashful.

Photo: Lori411 on Etsy

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  • Rachel Wagner: I think a lot of this lies in recognizing the small victories we have each day. If it takes a giant accomplishment to feel brilliant, we won’t have very many such moments. It might sound funny but being single I make it a point to compliment myself on a good dinner, a cute outfit, a well written blog, a project at work completed. If I don’t say it sometimes it is left unsaid!
    Also don’t be too quick to discount your accomplishments. Nobody likes a brag but we can also be confident and happy with what we have achieved.6 years ago

  • Barbara: This may be just what I needed to read today… just when you start to think all the efforts you put forth each day to make a difference, make yourself happy, give joy to those around you and your loved ones are futile efforts, a post like this comes along to remind you the importance of it all. Thank you for reminding me of that.6 years ago

  • Cadi: Now that’s a question that I plan to digest for myself because heaven knows that I’ve been feeling like I’m missing something lately. “Where does your brilliance lie?” I’ve semi-abandoned my blog lately for lack of inspiration. Thanks for giving me something to chew on, I think it is going to send me back there really soon.

    I’m sit here under a blanket, lamenting that I have to go to work on such a glorious, foggy fall morning, digesting your words and my coffee. There are times that I think you act on my thoughts, so much alike do we think. I admire your moxie, adore your blog, and think you’re such an inspiration, Sarah.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find my brilliance. I know it’s out there somewhere.6 years ago

  • Amy C: Sarah, I’ll tell you for sure what one of your brilliant, lovely talents is. Have you noticed how deeply intuitive you are to the moods of the people around you, even if they are around you via cyberspace? I (seriously) can’t count how many times you write a deeply personal, self-specific reflection, and it seems like you wrote it just for me – and then when I scroll down to the comments, voila! There are 50 other women all chiming the same thing (“I needed this today! I was feeling the exact same way!”) I think your ability to be so in tune with the changing seasons, cultural shifts, the needs of (especially) women our age, and your own deepest self is such a brilliant gift, and even better, one that you are able to communicate through writing! It really brightens my day 🙂

    Alright, on to myself. My brilliance? I think it would have to be my passion. When I light my passionate nature, it burns like a sun, charging my life and the lives of those around me. I love that about myself, and I love how it inspires others to action.6 years ago

  • Franne: Woman, you hit the nail on the head when describing your own brilliance. I’ve been reading your words for 5 years and always feel refreshed and hopeful upon finishing a post. Thank you!6 years ago

  • Julie: You did such a lovely job capturing your brilliance! You are such a powerful connector – of ideas and people and culture. A fantastic gift.

    I think my brilliance has something to do with enthusiasm (I can get really excited about all sorts of things!). This is going to be fun to think about more.6 years ago

  • Lana: I think the problem that most people, including myself, have with this question is that perhaps we are made to feel like our brilliance isn’t, well, brilliant enough. Society tends to label us by our profession or by how much money we make. So when I say, my brilliance lies in my little blog (from which I make pennies on a good day) and from cooking my family amazing food (which no one pays me to do!) it makes our
    “brilliant thing” seem unimportant.6 years ago

  • domestikate: Thank you, as ever, for saying exactly the right thing at the right time. I’m not ready to answer yet, but the question is going on a post-it above my desk to be pondered, and guide me forward.6 years ago

  • Rachel, I completely agree! The best kind of brilliance is in the everyday. And I love your tradition of patting yourself on a dinner and day well-done! My new feeling about this is: if we’re not complimentary and kind to ourselves, who else will be?

    Barbara, Your comment reminded me of something funny from over the weekend. I misheard my friend talking about her utility room and I said, “Futility room?” Anyway, I know that feeing well.

    Cadie, Moxie is such an underused word, and thank you! Whenever I feel uninspired (which is a lot), I try to remember that it’s as necessary a part of the creative cycle as feeling fired up and alive.

    Amy C, It’s so funny: I never thought of that as a talent. I always just considered it a coincidence. Could it really be intuition that makes you think, “I was feeling the same way”? Anyway, thank you for pointing that out. I do always love to hear the chorus of “I needed this today!” because, of course, I needed it too.

    Franne, Five years! My oh my! I’m so glad to hear you feel refreshed and hopeful. That’s awesome.

    Julie, Yes! Enthusiasm! I agree! I hope there are ruminations on this on your blog to look forward to. 🙂

    Lana, Hmm…I think I know what you mean. Like grass is greener syndrome, or the nastiness of comparing your brilliance to others? But that’s a losing proposition. I mean, I can think of lots of blogs that I think are “better” than mine, but where does that get me? Just feeling bad about what I have to offer. I think working on a blog you love and making food with love and care are just about two of the most brilliant things I can imagine.

    domestikate, so glad to hear that! this one is certainly worth pondering!6 years ago

  • brie.: ooh such a great question – i’ll be chewing on this for days. thanks!6 years ago

  • Anne-Liesse @ Bulle & Blog: You’re so right about your brilliance ! This is exactly why I love reading your posts.

    I’m going to try and ponder mine, now. Quite a difficult task, really, but certainly an enlightening one. As an expectant mother on maternity leave, I can’t define myself through my social or professional identities any more, and sometimes feel lessened by it. Although I’m already a mom + a volunteer + a food blogger. Not making money these days should NOT prevent me from defining my brilliance…

    I love the idea of complimenting oneself on the smallest things. I’ll try and do it more often – it just can’t hurt !6 years ago

  • Karen: Sarah, I love coming to your blog because you seem to capture and put into words what I need to be hearing. You are a beautiful writer 🙂6 years ago

  • Susan: Sarah, another exquisitely written post, thank you 🙂 My brilliance (my joy, my passion) is my photography. I only discovered my love of and and natural engagement with this art form in the last 12 months and it has changed my life! Thank you for giving me another small nudge today, with your words, to appreciate and savour having found my brilliance!6 years ago

  • Lana: I feel like perhaps I left my point unfinished. (That’s what having a toddler sitting on your lap will do to you! HA!)
    But yes, I agree wholeheartedly with not comparing yourself to others. I believe that no matter how trite you think your special talent may be it may sparkle very brightly to others. We all have gifts and I think what I was trying to say it that we think of those gifts as “hobbies” instead of a huge part of who we are.
    For instance: I recently watched a movie where a woman was asked what she did for a living. Her reply? “Well, I’m a teacher. No, I’m a photographer who teaches on the side.” That resonated very loudly within my mind.
    Always, ALWAYS, embrace your passion and never be afraid to share it with the world. 🙂
    I loved this entry.6 years ago

  • Laureen: I know what Anne-Liesse means about feeling lessened by not being able to define yourself through the social & professional identities we create.

    For a really long time I tied my brilliance to the sport I played in high school and college. Whenever I walked into a room or competed or was introduced to new people, I felt like I knew my brilliance, like I held it in the palm of my hand and let it shine. I never felt afraid.

    But then, obvs, I graduated–and there’s really no ‘professional’ way to play my sport–and suddenly I didn’t know where my brilliance was anymore or how to harness it in the same way… and I still feel like I don’t, .

    So, thanks for this post, Sarah! It’s just what I need. I’m really excited to take on this challenge and think more about where my brilliance lies within me–not just with what I do. And then to see how I can reignite my brilliance again so that it shines through my work, etc.6 years ago

  • molly: “..wide open like an aperture…”, indeed.

    exquisite, sarah, this piece and your brilliance, both.6 years ago

  • Heather Grilliot: I love your writing…much brilliance lies there. Coming to your blog is always like a soft landing spot from my chaotic day. I always find peace here. Thanks as always6 years ago

  • EB: I would love to know who the women were and just what about them sparked your interest in asking them.6 years ago

  • Hilltop Hausfrau: So lissen…I have pretty good self esteem…that’s why this post makes me stand at my place at my PC in my living room and SALUTE YOU here from Vancouver, Canada!

    I energize my little family each and every day with exciting and lively ideas. Making the every day magical. That’s MY brilliance…6 years ago

  • Arwen: I loved your posts this week. They sparked things in me. I actually developed a Tarot spread based on the poem and this post. So thank you.6 years ago

  • Doris: Hi Sarah,
    I absolutely adore your writing. This is definitely one of your many brilliant talents. I came across your blog a few months ago and keep coming back for more “Aha!” moments, for lovely reading and for a sense of companionship. Thank you! I would also like to know how you found those two women you asked for council. Funny, I like to do the same thing. Is it because it is easier to see yourself through other people’s eyes? Because they give you a different point of view? I don’t know.

    I have been thinking about where MY brilliance lies. The answer is not really there yet, it is odd and ends and something I cannot really quite grasp yet.

    Thank you for inspiring me and so many others.

    Greetings from Germany!
    Doris6 years ago

  • Nancy: oh wow, this is a beautiful and inspiring post 🙂 thank you so much for giving me a reason to think about my own brilliance.

    after thinking about all the little things I do with my time, I’ve decided that my brilliance is my passion.
    my idealistic, romantic passion for life – for big things and little things… for food and for travel and for books that capture you and for music that courses through you… for helping those who can’t help themselves and for trying with every piece of me to slowly right the wrongs of this world… for one day becoming a mother.
    it’s this passion that will lead me to a number of different careers, a multitude of countries, and a broken heart for every wrong I fail to fix.

    thank you 🙂6 years ago

  • M.M.Mohica: This was really inspiring, it’s so easy to focus on all the bad things about yourself, and to let them overwhelm you in your mind. For years during high school I never showed anyone anything I wrote, but I recently went through all those old writings and found with an older more objective eye… wow, I was pretty brilliant, and I can only have gotten better, right? haha. Now I’m a Freelance editor, writer, poet, w/e I get paid for – and I’ll be making an attempt at my first novel in November for NaNoWriMo. I think it’s going to be an awesome b-day present to myself, wish me luck? And thanks for reminding everyone it’s alright to acknowledge that part of them that’s brilliant 😀6 years ago

  • Anne-Liesse, “Not making money these days should NOT prevent me from defining my brilliance…” Absolutely! This is tough in our culture, but recognizing our brilliance as separate from money-making is so key!

    Susan, I LOVE that you just discovered your passion! There is something so hopeful about that to me, that we can all continually discover things about ourselves and find new expressions for our creativity. So inspiring!

    Lana, I love that movie answer!

    Laureen, I love your comment because it reminds me especially that our brilliance doesn’t even have to be tied to one thing. At the risk of sounding hokey to the extreme, our brilliance is always the unique energy that we bring to the world, and the many ways that we let it manifest. Also: this is a good question to ask the people around us: What is my brilliance? Sometimes the people close to us can see things we can’t.

    Heather, “a soft landing spot.” I love that. Thanks, lady.

    EB, I will write you directly!

    HH, I can literally feel your energy through your comment, which is pretty amazing! 🙂

    Must report to work duty, but I’ll respond to the rest of you later on. 🙂6 years ago

  • Arwen, I’m so glad to hear that!

    Doris, The first woman I reached out to because she often writes for the Kripalu newsletters, and I find her writing to be inspiring and grounding at the same time. So partly I wanted to thank her for those monthly nuggets of goodness, and partly I wanted to find out more about her day-to-day.

    (Tangent: I am sort of obsessed with the quotidian details of the everyday, always have been. If the conversation allows it, I love nothing more than for someone to walk me through their day, from the moment they wake up until bedtime. I just like hearing how other people do it!)

    With the second woman, I mentioned to a co-worker that I was looking for some insight about a particular topic, and she said, “Oh! Let me introduce you to my fabulous friend!” So that’s the serendipitous way that happened.

    Which brings me to a bigger point about asking for advice (and now I’m writing a novel!): I can set off a web of connections. One person can connect you to another, and then lo and behold, your advice web has grown exponentially. Kind of powerful.

    Nancy, I love your beautifully written comment (so filled with your brilliant passion!), that I cant wait to click over to your blog and read more!

    MM, Good luck on NaNoWriMo! It sounds like you have the wind at your back for this one! 🙂6 years ago

  • CB: Sarah, you always remind me of the beauty in this world. Your reflective essays both soothe and inspire. Thanks for always brightening my day.6 years ago

  • Doris: Hi Sarah,

    I totally agree on your reasons for asking for advice from other people, especially if you think they have a knack for doing something that you are not so experienced in and trying to learn. I love your story about the network that developed all of a sudden right in front of you. This is great and I feel that there is something so deeply human about it, too. Most people are more than willing to share their experiences and thoughts. Sometimes all one has to do is – ask. 🙂

    This is also what I love about blogging (although I am not very experienced and am still struggling with my shyness to go out there and really do it). It can connect you with people you would never meet if it were not for the internet. Powerful, if you ask me.

    Have a fabulous day!
    Doris6 years ago

  • Cindy: I think it is so funny that you sent random emails to people. I have done this on FB a few times. I searched my name and found one women with the exact same name and she actually emailed me back. I haven’t heard back from another lady. I try to explain that I am not a creeper, but we had mutual friends and their pictures spoke to me or whatever caught my eye. OH wellz.6 years ago

  • pascale: Thank you for your blog, for your beautiful writing!
    And, yes!, you inspire me and many others, you make me think about things.
    I’m not sure about the “brilliant part” of me yet…but i will look into it…;-)
    Hope you have a nice weekend and a lovely new week!!!
    pascale, belgium6 years ago

  • maryellen: What a timely post to stumble across. I did the same thing, reached out to someone I didn’t know via email with a few questions – and got it right between the eyes!

    A very unprofessional, unclear, and unhelpful response. Oh well, oh well, oh well… Many people operate from a place of fear, I guess.

    Malcolm Gladwell talks about “connectors” – people who genuinely enjoy connecting with others and pulling the thread further to introduce and include others with similiar focus and aspirations.6 years ago

  • Sweaters and Cider: I agree that your brilliance is comfort, friendliness, familiarity. I’ve been reading this blog for years– it’s like the first sip of coffee. My brilliance is my maternal side (even before I had a baby), openness (to adventure, strangers, etc), and persistence 😉6 years ago

  • Adrienne: My particular brilliance lies in telling the truth about myself so that others can see that they’re not alone. I based my blog on it and really enjoy not hiding my faults to an obsessive level, which is what I feel most of us are taught to do.

    I feel like fear and loneliness drive a lot of what happens in the world and that if each of us opens up about our mistakes and confusion more it would lead to many of us feeling better about ourselves and treating each other better.6 years ago

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