The #1 Problem with Standing Out

And 5 situations when it's worth it.

The world came to a screeching halt as all eyes turned on me and I turned beet red. “Is she supposed to sing that loud?”  My worst junior high fears were coming true in the middle of the music room. My voice was too much. Our teacher disagreed with my classmate and we moved on, but I took note:

Don’t stand out or someone might call you out, Andrea.

Indeed, they may. This very point is one reason why I struggle so much with figuring out what to say and how to say it and why it took me so long to start writing. But here I am. I’m sure it means that eventually I’ll be called out for one thing or another. But I’m at a point that I’d rather speak up for others than hide from them.

Stand Out

I wonder if the possibility of getting called out is why so many people hold back when they have something real to say in conversation? It seems safer to blend in unnoticed than go “off-script” and say something that questions the status quo and makes people think. Maybe we all have a tendency to get stuck in the unofficial script written by the tribe around us. It’s nice to have social norms to help us know how to interact with others, but there are times those norms become a cover for the real voice inside.

Perhaps when someone asks how are you, you say “fine.” But what if you’re not fine?

Maybe when you tell someone you are struggling, you say “but God is good.” But what if your heart really isn’t sure of God’s goodness in the midst of your brutal struggle?

What about the times when someone gives you a compliment and you say you’re “no big deal?” What if you really are a big deal and saying you’re not is saying your friend doesn’t know what they’re talking about?

Photo by Laura Bernaro

Photo by Laura Bernaro

I know a lot of amazing people. If I’ve met you, you’re one of them. (If I haven’t, I hope to get the privilege someday.) And each of these amazing people are way more amazing when they use the voice of their hearts instead of simply saying what they’re supposed to say.

I know a lot of people who are quiet. I love those people. They seem to have wisdom I long to hear. Quiet wisdom is powerful, but there is a difference between quiet and silent. Many people have great things to say but hold back because they are afraid of standing out for fear that they might be called out for rocking the boat or upsetting someone else.

Go Off-Script

It’s hard to know when to go off script, but I would like to suggest a few times when it’s good to say what’s on your heart. Find “Words To Say” that go with these situations by subscribing to my weekly email “Voice Lessons”.

If you want to connect with others and nourish their souls, try going off-script in these situations:

  1. When you see someone who is struggling. Imagine what it’s like to be in their situation. What might touch your heart in such a moment? Don’t worry about inflicting pain, they’re already in pain. What if you were the friend who let them release their pain in your presence without hushing them? Connecting with you in such a moment has more potential to stir life in them than advice or hushing.
  2. When someone puts you on the spot, the temptation is to immediately agree with whatever they say. Why? Probably because we don’t want to cause waves or appear confused or weak in the moment when we don’t know what to do. But you do not need to give people immediate answers. Most of the time it is best to put space between the conversation and your response when you feel caught off guard.
  3. When someone gets upset with you. I hate it when people get upset with me because their disapproval makes me feel like I’m worthless. Sometimes we fight back. Sometimes we silently seethe. But there is another way. You can own your mistakes. You can question the other person’s response. You don’t have to say whatever the other person hopes you’ll say.
  4. When someone starts gossiping. You do not have to participate in gossip. I realize that it is difficult to back out of conversations like this without judging or making others feel uncomfortable, but you can do it. You don’t have to nod your head and agree. You don’t have to laugh. You can smile and redirect the conversation. You can.
  5. When you feel annoyed. I know. It’s tempting to lash out or be passive aggressive when you feel annoyed. Me too. But we don’t have to react to others with anger. We can ask ourselves what is making us sad in this moment – because if we’re angry, there’s most likely sadness under that anger. So dig a little. What life-giving words could you say?

I realize that going off-script in these moments can be really difficult. That’s why I created a little list of things you could say in each of these instances called, “Words To Say: 25 Sayings for Awkward Moments.” You can have this pdf to print or keep on your computer or phone, along with a weekly email from me offering resources and inspiration to help us communicate in life-giving ways that make deep impact. Find it by clicking here: Words To Say.

Words To Say

Please share this post with others who might be interested. I am hoping to give another 30 copies away this week. I will have more to share very soon!



Andrea Joy

What Every Friend Should Know About Offering Advice

5 Questions and Responses

I realize it’s hard to find real friends. I’ve heard a lot of complaints over the years about how people don’t really listen, they don’t really care and they don’t really want to connect deeply. But I believe that while it may seem that way on the surface, there are actually WAY more lonely people longing to connect than we realize.

Yesterday one of my articles ran with Her View From Home. The point of the article is this: there are more kindred spirits out there than you probably realize, but it takes courage to find them. I offer some suggestions about how to do so: (click here to read the article and share it if you think it might help someone.)

There is something else I learned about finding connections that feel like kindred spirits.

Photo courtesy of Tauni Morris Photography

We are all different on the surface. Our differences are enormous. Different genders, religions, cultures, stages of life, hobbies, interests, etc. The list is not infinite, but it seems like it is. With all of those differences, how could we ever find someone like us? How could we ever find a kindred spirit?

Let me tell you! By focusing on our humanity. What makes us all human? We all have bodies, thoughts, feelings, goals, longings and deep fears. And we all need love. But you’ll only have surface-relationships if you only talk about surface things. You will keep feeling alone and distant from everyone else if you try to “fit in” by doing what others do and saying what others say. No. If you want to actually connect and be known, if you really don’t want to feel alone, you’ve got to be brave and get to the heart.

Simply being there to listen and see the insides of a person is helpful. You don’t have to change them. Simply inviting a friend out of the darkness of secrecy and shame and into the light where they are loved can change a life! There may be a time for advice, but stick with the 80/20 rule. Listen and acknowledge 80% of the time and then when it feels like the other person is ready, go ahead and offer your wisdom – but only about 20% of the time. If you meet their pain with your wisdom all or most of the time, they’ll start to feel disrespected and tune you out.

5 things to ask and do to see and acknowledge the heart of your friend:

  1. What is my friend excited about right now? Be excited for them without bringing in your own story.
  2. What is my friend afraid of right now? Allow them to admit it without trying to dispel their fears.
  3. What is my friend longing for right now? Assume that there is a longing even deeper than the one they admit, but don’t press too hard. Do they say they long to be married? I’m sure that’s true, but what about being married do they long for? Validation? Companionship? To feel loved?
  4. What is going on underneath my friend’s frustration right now? Is he sad? Does she long for something she can’t find?
  5. How is my friend’s health? Is she getting enough sleep? Does he need a break? Is there anything I can do to relieve their physical burden?

Don’t give up on finding kindred spirits. Don’t give up on connecting and love and hope and the power of loving people right where they are.

The world needs your love.

**Tauni Morris Photography: Facebook (click here)


How To Get More Out Of Movies

...and life

What questions and expectations are in your mind as you enter the theater to watch a movie? Are you asking if you’ll like the movie? Do you expect action or romance? Do you ever wonder what gift the movie has to offer you?

I get a lot out of movies and I love to talk about them with others. And when I say I get a lot out of them, I’m not messing around. I declared that Frozen literally changed my life and I’m not even being sarcastic. (Read about that here.)

Abstract ThoughtDespite my self-declared distinction as a “writer,” I prefer the movie over the book every time. It might have something to do with the fact that I think in shapes and vague images and have a difficult time imagining elaborate descriptions, so I skip to dialogue. The “Abstract Thought” room as depicted in Inside Out is a perfect example of what happens in my head.

But I love the movies. I don’t have to focus hard on imagining, so I can just think and feel. And that’s where the magic happens for me.

Open Curiosity

Let’s look back to Les Miserables which came out in December of 2012. I recorded my observations about why I got so much out of the movie at that time, but the concept of open curiosity applies to every movie…every life.

Considering the many criticisms I heard regarding the quality of singing and singers chosen for the Les Mis, I was surprised the noticable lack of musical precision did not bother me as it often does. Instead, I was lost in the moment, inspired with every note. This is why:

  • Curiosity.

    Rather than participating as a critic looking for certain elements, I came to the theater wondering what the experience would be like. Curiosity is an interest that doesn’t expect a certain answer. There’s no subtle demand to wondering…no agenda. Just the question.

  • Openness.

    In my curiosity I didn’t guard my emotions like I often do when I don’t know what to expect. Instead, I gave myself permission to trust the filmmakers to draw me deep into a story and experience that took me to the depths of despair and up to the power of grace and love and redemption.

I realize that other directors may have set a higher standard of musical excellence. Other actors may have interpreted the characters differently. Other cinematographers may have chosen different shots or angles or lenses… But in the middle of the film, I wasn’t thinking about what they should have done to give me a different experience. I was experiencing. I made a mental decision after the first imperfect note to trust the artistic choices of the filmmakers and enter into the experience they were offering.

In the end, I was overcome by hope and desire. I sensed God’s presence with me – His love for the world – the great need for His light – a desire to love another and “see the face of God”.

Criticism Is The Safe Path

Why is it so tempting to view to view our life, others’ lives and God’s interaction in our life with a critic’s eye? I wonder if it’s partly because we are afraid of the unknown. We want the security of knowing everything will work out for the best, so we try to figure out how to make life work out for our idea of best. Rather than being curious, we are critical.

I can’t believe he said that!
What was she thinking?

Viewing life as a critic allows us toLive Dangerously pull out of the experience (where it is quite dangerous since who KNOWS what might happen) and close off our emotional responsiveness. From this seat in the house, we do not have to feel vulnerable or sad because we can be angry that someone did something differently than we’d hoped. Maybe it was a friend. Maybe it was ourselves. Maybe it was God. But there must be someone to blame. Rather than being open, we are closed and cynical.

In The End

Granted, I knew the plot of the Les Miserables story. I knew it was going to be miserable. I knew the misery would be redeemed in some way. So perhaps the fact that I knew the end of the story made it easier for me to remain open in the middle of despair.

I don’t know how every story will end here and now. People will get hurt. Some will feel tortured. I will die, though I don’t know how or when. There is ugliness, despair, misery. It’s awfully hard to feel hopeful when I don’t know what might happen in the end.

Or don’t I?

The thing is, if I consider what the Bible says and believe there is a bigger story…
if the end is one where justice and love rule side by side…
if there is a greater goal than happiness here and now…
if the whole world is in the pains of childbirth as the New Creation is born…

If my story is not the end…

If my story contributes to the greater Story…

Revelation 21:4-5
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

If this is the end, can I trust God in the middle of the ups and downs of my story?

Open curiosity or closed cynicism?

What do you want to ask of the movies? What do you want to ask of life?

Following Curiosity Where It Leads

It’s one thing to be taught.
It’s a completely different thing to follow curiosity where it leads.

Photo Credit: Yogesh Kumar Jaiswal Creative Commons Text added

Photo Credit: Yogesh Kumar Jaiswal
Creative Commons
Text added

The other day I was in the car with the kids when we drove by a building and I spontaneously stated:

That is Lincoln Elementary School.

 Is that where all of the kids in Lincoln go to school?”

Actually, it’s a school for kids in North Platte. But the name of the school is Lincoln.

 “There are a lot of things named Lincoln!”

Do you know WHY there are so many things by that name?

Photo: Penn State Special Collection Creative Commons

Photo: Penn State Special Collection
Creative Commons

Our kids are five and eight. Although they recalled a couple of basic facts about President Lincoln and slavery, the significance of Lincoln’s impact on our life here-and-now was still a little fuzzy. After discussing the basics of the Civil War, Grant opened a new door and my heart went pitter-pat.

“It’s a good thing we don’t have slavery anymore!”

I wish that were the case, Grant.

We talked about modern-day slavery in December when Amelia and I participated in Dressember (read about that here), but this time felt different. This time the kids were engaged by their own curiosity. The little doors to their hearts were open and hungry for more. I held the sacred moment with tender conviction and shared that there are many people who have to work for no pay and under terrible conditions. I went on:

Recently IJM rescued children in Ghana who are your age. They were on boats where they were forced to fish all day long, every day. That’s why Amelia and I participate in Dressember. We wear dresses every day in December to help raise money to rescue more kids and grown-ups from slavery.

“What can boys do?”

So much, son.

What Can Boys Do?There are intensely personal issues at play in this discussion. It confronts my consumerism, prejudice and self-deprecation. The weight of injustice is so heavy, I often ignore it.

The curiosity of my children persuades me to feel it.

Ah, but that is the inherent danger of following innocent curiosity where it leads. I might have to face that which I otherwise ignore. I might be confronted with my own inconsistency, prejudice and selfishness. I might have to change.

It’s not every day that I point out the name of an elementary school as we drive by. I’m not sure what compelled me to do so the other day. I felt the invitation to say something, so I did. I had no idea where the conversation would go – no agenda. We just kept responding to one another and let the conversation unfold.

Photo Credit: Zoriah Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Zoriah Creative Commons

And now I’m researching fair trade clothing and thinking about what my five-year-old boy can do to participate in the fight for freedom.

I wonder where their curiosity will lead next?

Wherever it is…I’m in!