In Scary Close I tell the story of going to a therapeutic retreat center. Basically, emotional rehab. It’s a center in Tennessee where you get nine months of therapy in seven days. And it’s intense. It’s a program capped at 40 people. And when you arrive, you turn in your cell phone, can’t give anybody your last name, and aren’t allowed to tell anybody what you do for a living.
In other words, they strip you of all the stuff you use to impress people. You just get to be you, without your ace cards.
It sounded easy at first.
But then I realized pretty quickly how much I enjoyed letting people know I was a writer. I swear I’d never noticed it before, but my job had become closely tied to my identity. My job was “why I mattered in the world” and without it, I felt naked. I felt like I didn’t matter. People weren’t trying to sit next to me at lunch to ask questions about writing; they weren’t asking questions about my books. They weren’t asking me about anything.
Soon, though, I came to enjoy it. I noticed people started talking to me, the real me, not the “role” I played in the game of life. In other words, I was important because I was human, not because I was a writer.
And that felt good.
I never would have known how much my identity was based in what I did, but it was. Over time, at the retreat, people began to discover I was funny, or thoughtful, and I connected on a deeper level with strangers than I had in years.
I wish the world worked like this a little more. I wish we didn’t feel the need to walk into a room and throw down our ace cards—cards like what we do, what we’ve accomplished, who we know, and so forth. I wish we could just walk into a room and feel connected because we’re human, because we’re walking miracles regardless of our jobs and accomplishments. That would be a good world.