This past year, while leading parenting groups in a women's prison, I met Dan, the facility's drug and alcohol counselor. He started every class with the following scenario: Pretend you are invited to a potluck dinner. What are you going to bring? Are you going to scrape together leftovers from the back of your refrigerator, or are you going to bring your best dish? The notion was intriguing and kept me exploring the question: "What does it mean to bring your best dish?"
At different times, we all fail to show up. I recently called a friend to brainstorm ways to better manage my travel schedule. Within minutes I found myself listening to her complain about carpools, and how she barely has time to get to the drycleaners after work, let alone to the grocery store. I understand how my scheduling conflicts triggered her, but I felt unheard. She may have picked up the phone, but she never showed up for the conversation.
Just this morning my daughter needed a moment of my time. I was so focused on what I was doing that I failed to really listen to her. If I was any more focused on myself instead of her she might have asked for a new kitty and I would have agreed. It took my eleven-year-old to tell me I wasn’t hearing her to make me understand she felt ignored.
Bringing your best dish is bringing a positive, kind, and compassionate version of yourself to all dealings with others. Have you ever been to a party and noticed people gravitating toward someone? It wasn't because of his cologne. It was probably because he put out an attractive quality or energy. I can't remember a time where I've said, "Oh look, there is a hostile angry person sulking in the corner, I think I'll go and make conversation." (By the way, the grumpy person probably came to the party "knowing" he wouldn't have fun and created a self-fulfilling prophecy.)
To bring your best dish consider the following steps:
- Step 1: Do your best: You can't hit a homerun if you don't step up to the plate. Decide to show up for people and for yourself. You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to get it right every time. Just do your best.
- Step 2:Don't judge: Don't judge other people and don’t judge yourself. You are unique and have something special to offer - remember to treat yourself that way.
- Step 3: No regrets: We often beat ourselves up for what we didn't do, didn't say, or for kindness we failed to offer. No need to live in the past, or the future. All we have is the present. Rather than regretting what you might have done imperfectly, focus on ways that you can bring your best self forward now.
Shakespeare may have said, "All the world's a stage" however, upon reflection, like Dan, I believe it's more like a big, cosmic potluck dinner. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad, and sometimes it falls somewhere in-between. Whether you are at a party, in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or talking one on one with someone, always accept the invitation to participate in the conversation.
Ultimately, bringing your best offers the greatest opportunities for connection, getting what you need, giving to others, and experiencing joy in life. Since all opportunities come through people, everyone benefits when you put your best self forward.
Everyone wins out in the end.