From the platform stage, the speaker in the room directed our eyes toward the center of the table, where a few blank sheets of computer paper laid neatly and orderly next to sweating water pitchers. Maroon pens with the hotel’s name script-screened in gold sat stacked on the white linens like an unfinished game of Pick Up Sticks. The ballroom’s ornate chandeliers twinkled overhead. “Write down your deepest insecurities,” he said. All of a sudden, the room got a little warmer and felt a little tighter. Nervous beads of sweat weren’t dripping down our faces, but it sure felt like it, because we didn’t know what was next. We didn’t know who would see them, who would read them, if we’d be asked to share them at our table or confess them out loud. We all felt vulnerable, because there’s nothing scarier than handing someone your Kryptonite and trusting them not to use it.
Just before we reached for the emotional execution tools, a video played on the large screen. It opened with fog and mist steaming up from the dirt and rocks of a dense forest of towering California redwoods. Panning the massive trees up and down and side to side, the voiceover explained that the strength and greatness of the world’s most inspiring creation is possible because it shares its deepest weaknesses and insecurities with its neighbors. Redwoods have far-reaching, shallow roots, and unless they’re intertwined with the ones around them, who then lock arms with the ones around them, they can’t survive the storms long enough to grow to their full potential — and even if one could, all on its own, it’d have no one with whom to share the view from the top.
As we all reached for our pens and paper and scribbled our deepest insecurities — small and messy enough so know one could read over our shoulders — we did two things that, up until that point, we’d never done before: we made them real and we made them solvable. Then, before we could share them with anyone around us, the speaker asked us to fold them into paper airplanes, and together, we gave our insecurities their first public flights. We shared our deepest weaknesses and insecurities with our neighbors and, for the first time, started intertwining our roots.
Today feels like the last day of summer camp. We’re making the drive from Santa Barbara back to Scottsdale where we’ve spent four days attending United 2014, a conference for photographers who focus on three things: serving others, sharing our gifts, and celebrating new photographers. Soon, we’ll blog about all three. For now, though, as we drive back to Arizona, we’re thankful that our friends strengthened us when they could’ve weakened us, built us up when they could’ve broken us, and loved us when they could’ve loathed us. Instead of sending us home with our hurts and fears, they’re sending us home with erasers and answers. Instead of sending us home with an Achilles heel, they’re sending us home with an antidote for our Kryptonite. And instead of sending us back with just our roots, their roots are coming with ours, and ours are going with theirs…