Having a Sense of Humor About Your Neurosis Is a Guaranteed Way to Connect With Others
It may also prevent unnecessary dry cleaning in the future
I was dreading this moment.
A perky flight attendant had just stopped at our aisle and lightly touched me on the shoulder to let me know she was there. I jumped like an electrified cat. My nerves were shot from a full day of travel with my two-year-old who was in tow with me for a corporate gig. His sister had just been born days earlier and my wife needed the space to focus on our newborn.
I was juggling client calls, presentation prep, solo parenting, tight layovers, and extra luggage to make this whole brilliant solution of traveling with a toddler on a business trip work. A friend was meeting us at the hotel to babysit during my actual presentation, but for the travel part I was on my own.
My son loved our first two previous flights, especially the snacks. So after our third take-off he was on the lookout for those magical amenity carts, pushed by friendly big people who dispensed free goodies from them, like some kind of magical reverse-halloween where the treat-bearers come to you.
“And what would you like?” the flight attendant cooed to my son, as though no wish would be denied.
She was leaning well over me now to take his order, bypassing any parental authority I thought I should have. She probably thought I could just use a break, which was true, but this was the opposite. She was actually about to make my job much harder.
Well, because of the drinks.
We weren’t at home with our Walmart sized stacks of extra clothing, the inventory of which was often exhausted in a single day of feeding and caring for our inquisitive and active son. I had a limited supply of shirts, socks, pants, jackets, underwear and patience to draw upon in the event that food solids and liquids might escape their intended destination (optimistically his mouth) and wind up instead airborne and looking for a place to land.
So when my son gleefully replied he wanted his favorite drink — “orange juice!” — I was (1) not surprised, and (2) filled with dread. And as lovely and well intentioned as she was, this flight attendant clearly did not have children. Who hands a two-year-old a plastic cup full to the brim with orange over the head of a barely coping father in mild turbulence and smiles like all is right in the world?
Not a parent—that’s who.
So there I was, watching my kid actually do a damn admirable job of steadying this full cup of juice while standing in his seat. He guided the beverage to a successful landing on the tray, which he’d opened right after takeoff in anticipation of snack time.
But now I was watching him like our terrier stares at the rat hole in the side of our garage. If anything moved, I was ready to catch it.
Children don’t eat and drink with efficiency. They favor frequency. Where an adult might pick up a glass half a dozen times, keeping their hand on it between generous sips, my child would fully pick up his glass, consume several molecules of its contents, and set it fully back down to look out the window. Three hundred and seventy-six repetitions later (if the cup remained upright that long) it would finally be consumed. This was harrowing, because it was the “picking up” and “putting down” operation, especially while standing in his seat, that posed the most potential for a spill.
We’d gotten this far in the day without a single mishap, and I was determined to conclude the trip with a perfect record. All I had to do was guard that orange juice successfully for this last short flight and victory would be mine.
I took a breath.
“You got this,” I muttered to myself. “Just relax, and stay alert.”
I inhaled slowly to center myself, keeping one eye on the tray, the juice, and my son—without making it look like I was tracking his every move.
So I was ready when he suddenly bent forward, his hand darting out enthusiastically toward the cup with sudden and evident carelessness.
Thanks to my lightning reflexes, my hand reached the juice cup before him. A single mismanaged one of my fingers, however, accidentally caught the lip of the cup and set it flying off the tray. It ricocheted off the airplane window and came to a stop at his feet, a Tropicana puddle in the middle of this seat.
My son didn’t register what had happened for a second. Juice had splattered over every piece of clothing he had on, as well as his favorite stuffed animal, now in hand.
As it turns out, the plush toy that was also on his tray was what he had been quickly reaching for. That’s right. Not the juice at all.
I had also soaked up a good amount of the juice. I could feel the sugary liquid already creating a sticky bond between my leg and my jeans.
There’s a purity and innocence in the gap between a shocking event and the distress of a toddler. It took my kid a moment to register what had occurred, and in that liminal space I saw only his purity and openness, trying to make sense of what had happened. My remorse at having sullied that purity was immediate.
Once he registered what had happened he cut loose with an open wail of dismay, crying out, “Why did you do that daddy!?”
Yet I had no way to explain.
Attempting to communicate the layers of overthinking, anticipatory suffering, and unnecessary anxiety that I had created for myself, and now sprayed my surroundings with, was the result of a long cultivated neuroticism that had taken so many years to master it would be impossible to convey.
I was mortified on all counts.
“I’m so sorry, honey!” I said. “Daddy was just trying to help you keep your drink safe.”
“That not helping at all!” he wailed.
“I know sweetheart, I’m really sorry,” I went on, mopping juice off his shirt with our two tiny airplane napkins.
And he was right. I wasn’t helping at all.
I had only failed to check my neurosis—as I should have along with my luggage—safely away in some other location, and enjoyed the flight with my son.
Once again, I tried to calm myself with a slow deep breath, and realized I probably needed a new mantra.
“You got this,” wasn’t doing the trick.
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Public neurosis is a healing force
Being self-honest about our character flaws and idiosyncrasies endears us to others, because it signals that we are just like them. Demonstrating that we’re comfortable with who we are gives others permission to do the same.
In addition, embracing and studying the pattern of our eccentricities brings a level of self-awareness that can help us diffuse its future impact.
I heard a quote years ago that I’ve never forgotten, even though I am now unable to remember or track down the author. But it goes like this:
“All neurosis is a state in which we ultimately get what we don’t want.”
My example illustrates how fixating on what we don’t want, which is the entire basis of neurosis, actually magnetizes what we’re desperate to avoid.
I remember watching my dad teach my little brother how to ride a bike when we were kids. My father had taken him to a large field near our house that had ample room to navigate. There was a single large oak tree at one end. My brother was so worried about hitting the tree that he kept his eye on nothing else. His fear of hitting it was fixed in his attention, which resulted in actually running right into that tree—each and every time—in a wide open field of possibility.
Private or suppressed neurosis disconnects us from others, because we are ill at ease then with ourselves. Public neurosis engenders connection, a sense of humor, and restores a view of the open field we’re standing in.
Podium Day Is Now Discovery Day
Each Saturday we’ve been meeting to share our stories with each other and I’m realizing that nothing we do in our sessions comes close to speaking from a podium. We’re informally sharing about our life experiences in a conversational way.
So for now, I’m no longer going to call it Podium Day, but Discovery Day.
The format will be the same. Each week I’ll share a prompt here in the newsletter and then anyone can join in to listen to the stories of others, or share a story themselves based on the prompt. Don’t hesitate to register, even if you’re not sure you can make it. At least you’ll have the meeting link in case it works for you to attend.
And discovery is truly what happens in these sessions. We learn more about ourselves, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going from our stories.
OUR NEXT DISCOVERY DAY
Saturday, Feb 17th, 9 am PST - Podium Day
This week’s storytelling prompt is celebrating our human quirks. Come with a story to share, or just show up and listen. Participants frequently find that listening to others tell their stories sparks a valuable and useful memory for themselves. This week is open to all subscribers.
52V is a new Pivot to the Podium group project where we meet weekly and support each other to publish one short video a week. Recording video is a great way to practice speaking and storytelling without needing to arrange an in-person audience to improve your speaking skills.
You’ll get weekly support and feedback from me and other group members to:
choose a topic if you need a prompt
share a draft of your video
get feedback from the group
and then publish a final version publicly if you wish.
This is a perfect opportunity to get support if you’ve been thinking of starting a YouTube channel.
Thursday Feb 15th, 10 am PST - 52V Club
We’ll review this week’s video postings, provide each other with feedback, and set goals for the coming week.
Open to paid subscribers. (You can attend once as a free subscriber if you want to get a feel for the group.)
My 52V Video for This Week
I didn’t have a subject for this week, but woke up to an email in my inbox from another Substack author, inviting me to answer some questions as part of a feature series he’s sharing on his own publication. It was a perfect opportunity to use the questions as prompts for this week’s video rather than just providing a written response. I’ve shared the excellent questions asked by Joseph below if you’d like to use them for your own video or speaking practice.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel for Pivot to the Podium here if you want to follow my progress and be notified of all new uploads.
In this video I reference this article written by Mak regarding culling email subscribers.
And here are the questions I answered on the video from
Imagine yourself around a campfire, throw a log on and take a seat....
Let’s check in - What’s top of mind for you right now? (could be profound, banal, funny, stupid, whatever...)
The pace and digital-nature of modern life can make meaningful engagement and connection difficult - what do you find most challenging?
What was the last thing you did to disconnect or slow down?
What helps you stay connected to other people?
What’s one simple thing you get a lot of joy from? (non tech-based!)
Are you part of any communities (in the general sense of the word)? What do you get from it/them?
What do you know today that you wish you knew five years ago?
What was the last thing you learnt about?
Who inspires you at the moment and why?
What’s one thing you’re working on that we should know about?
Finally, you’ve spent the evening around a crackling fire with like-minded people - what are you going to take away?
And finally . . . please let me know
What kind of content is most helpful to you?
Thanks for reading Pivot to the Podium this week.
Pivot to the Podium is a reader-supported publication. To receive additional support and guidance for speaking and storytelling, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.