Glennon Doyle: How Going Off Script Can Unlock Meaning in Your Life
Yesterday I was waiting for the lady behind the post office counter to help me. She wasn't acknowledging me, and I was getting impatient. My impulse was to tap my foot or clear my throat to register annoyance. But then I really looked at her and decided to change things up. I noticed she was wearing a pretty locket, so I asked if there was a photo inside. The woman stopped what she was doing and clutched the necklace as if she'd just remembered it was there. Then she opened it and showed me a picture of a girl inside. "She's beautiful," I said. "Who is she?" The woman explained it was her daughter, Laura, who'd died 17 years before. I told her how sorry I was, and that I could see how much she and Laura resembled each other. The woman's eyes lit up and her body language softened. "It's good to hear her name," she said. I felt her pain and her gratitude, and I, too, began to feel softer and more open.
Sometimes it's the other way around—someone goes off script with me, surprising me by offering exactly what I need at precisely the right moment. I remember once, when I was exhausted to the bone during an especially rocky time, a stranger approached me at a book signing and said something along the lines of: "I see a tension in your eyes that I recognize from when I'm stressed, and I just feel like I'm supposed to tell you to go ahead and use up every ounce of energy and courage you have today—you'll get a refill tomorrow." I didn't have to wait for that refill. Her kindness changed the trajectory of my day. For weeks I repeated that phrase to myself—"you'll get a refill tomorrow"—whenever I felt overwhelmed.
Illustration: Keith Negley
At speaking events when I take questions from the audience, women often tell me things like: "I want to be real with people. I want to stop acting and be myself. But I'm not even being real with my family. How do I start?"
I tell them what I've had to learn myself: When it comes to authenticity, family is not the starting place—they're the final frontier.
Being real requires that we shed our roles, but families are where those roles are most deeply ingrained. Are you the free-spirited, flighty, irresponsible sister? Are you the detail-oriented, predictable daughter? Are you the hippie? The clown? The scapegoat? We all play our parts. Families are living, breathing ecosystems that ask each of us to perform a specific function. And as everyone knows, no matter how much progress you think you've made in life, the second you walk into the home you grew up in, you revert to being a 14-year-old. We can't escape it!
When taking the risk of going off script, start small—with a stranger at the grocery store or on an airplane. Then try opening up to another mom in the school pickup line or to your barista. Touch a neighbor with an unprompted confession. When a friend reveals she's having trouble with her sister, tell her about a time when you faced something similar, instead of just saying it will be okay. Be truthful with people about your fears. Invite them in. Dispense courage like Halloween candy. When we dare to go off script, we are reminded to live awake, and that each person who crosses our path is a teacher.
Glennon Doyle is the author of Love Warrior, a 2016 Oprah’s Book Club pick, and founder of the online community Momastery and the nonprofit Together Rising.