I was deeply touched by Frank Warren’s TED Talk, on Half a Million Secrets, delivered last March (2012).
Frank Warren invited people to anonymously send him their secrets in 2004. Now, eight years later, he is the “owner” of over half a million secrets. People from all over the world, shared their ‘shocking, silly and soulful’ secrets. He created Post Secret, “an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.”
What are the secrets we are keeping and why are we keeping them? And, most importantly, what makes us want to share them with a stranger?
We keep secrets for many reasons. Sometimes it’s shame and fear of being found out for who you really are. Sometimes it’s to protect someone else. Sometimes it’s for fear of being misunderstood, misjudged. Sometimes it’s just to protect yourself.
Our secrets can vary… Maybe your secret is that you spend far more money than you can afford, or that you don’t really like your wife’s cooking but don’t want to hurt her by telling her, or that you’re ashamed of your parents, that you wear padded bras to make your breasts look bigger. Maybe you’re in love with someone else other than your partner, or you’re a Facebook addict, a sex addict, drug addict or love addict.
Or maybe you’re afraid that you’ll never find the love you’re looking for, or you’re just scared of commitment or you think your girlfriend should not wear that garish red lipstick because it gets on her teeth and it makes her look like a vampire but you don’t want to hurt her feelings…
The list can go on, from the mundane to the sacred. But they are still secrets and they’re important to you. Your secrets could define who you are and who you’re not… secretly.
I generally think of myself as a very open and accessible person and yet I know I carry my own secrets, things I may not have shared with anyone. Some are my own. Some are the secrets of others that I’ve been entrusted with and I’ll keep them because I’ve sworn confidentiality.
I have secrets from childhood that probably define who I’ve become, I have secrets about who I have loved and not loved, secrets about what I really think of people, and secrets I feel bad about. I sometimes try to keep my thoughts even a secret from myself.
I also have secrets of poignant moments shared with someone that I cannot share with anyone else because the poignancy and the emotion only means something in that moment and to the people who have shared them with me. I have secrets about inner jokes with someone, which I can’t share with anyone else.
I have secrets about what I desire, what I love or hate about myself, about what scares me or makes me feel vulnerable or about what I really want to be when I grow up. I suddenly realize that the list goes on. I’m quite secretive, after all.
Some secrets are meant to be kept for a good reason because revealing them may not necessarily make the world a better place, or make you or someone else feel better. And these should be kept. Because they belong to you. Or to someone else.
Sometimes you keep a secret because the deliciousness of that secret consists in letting it stay so. It’s something for you to take out in your own secret private moment, to be looked at, to be relived, or to be cherished and then carefully tucked away. But sometimes we do want to share these secrets with others. Clearly it is so, which is why Frank Warren’s PostSecret initiative is so popular.
I find different ways to deal with my secrets. Sometimes I may write my secret out in a poem, or a blog post; others I may just sit on my couch in my living room listening to music or the rain and think about these secrets that make me who I am. I will then affirm them to myself. Yet sometimes, like those who posted theirs on Frank Warren’s website, I secretly want to share mine too.
Why would we want to reveal our secrets?
Because deep down, in a place that we don’t often visit, all of us want to be acknowledged, affirmed and loved for who we are. We want someone to witness our lives, to let us know that we are worthy, we matter, we count.
It is probably an innate human desire, to feel that our lives are unique and that our uniqueness—what makes us who we are—matters to someone else and it matters to the world, while we’re still alive, or even after we’re gone.
We all need to reveal ourselves to someone, be it a partner, a lover, a friend, your mother or brother or even a stranger online. We have a need to be seen and gently held, and asked the most mysterious, yet revealing question:
Who are you, really? Pull up a chair and un-secret yourself.
Mihirini is a Leadership Coach, Organization Development consultant and a conversation facilitator. Her professional persona is projected through her company, Corporate Druids, and she is forever reinventing herself, her life and work and finding that she is showing up more and more at work as herself. An occasional poet and sporadic blogger, you will frequently find her daydreaming and reflecting and sometimes making dreams happen. She giggles and laughs often, especially at the cosmic jokes of life.
Living in the tiny isle of Sri Lanka, with its incredible rich bio diversity and amazingly resilient people, where both the sublime and ridiculous can happen all at the same time, keeps her grounded with the reality of life.Learning from many failed and some delightfully successful conversations, she is committed to deepening her ongoing intimate conversation with herself, her family, friends, clients and nature, curiously engaged in creating and becoming the world around her.
She is currently completing her PhD research at Ashridge School of Business, UK, focused on the Art of Conversation. You can write to her at [email protected] or read about her evolving thoughts and work on her website or follow her on Twitter.
Editor: Andrea B.