We’ve all been there; we enter a room full of people—whether it be a holiday party with co-workers, an intimate dinner party with friends, or a family gathering—and feel a subtle wave of panic roll over us, as little insecurities begin their whispering in our ear. We feel unsure of how we look, (am I over or underdressed), how we will be perceived, (do people like me?) and suddenly feel like we don’t have anything to say (am I actually interesting?)
I had a chance to interview a longtime friend and event partner of Darling, Steve Fortunato, about this very issue described here—an overall restlessness within our own skin that prevents us from belonging and feeling at home within ourselves. Through his company, Hospitality Collaborative, he’s rewriting the narrative around how we show up with others and how that affects the spirit of our own homes. His perspective is needed and helpful, so I hope you enjoy our conversation below.
Sarah Dubbeldam: Since I know a bit of your story Steve, I know that you were bullied for many years as a child and that caused a lot of insecurity in your life. Tell me how this affected how you showed up in social situations?
Steve Fortunato: At some point the wound tells a story, and my story of being so mercilessly bullied and excluded was I don’t have value.
From that point on, I didn’t know I was doing that, it was just how I showed up. When I showed up in a space, my lens was looking for messages of validation and affirmation. As I grew older and learned a little more nuance and social skill, I was able to mask those desires in more socially acceptable norms and less self-aggrandizing ways. But make no mistake, those needs to receive messages of affirmation—that I’m creative, or that I’m talented, or that I’m intelligent, or that I belong in the room—that sonar was still going off looking for affirming messages. And all of that goes into a way of showing up in the world that says, “here I am, here are my talents, here’s my creativity, here are my ideas, here are my opinions, here are my perceptions, here’s my point of view,” which is really just saying: “I want to prove that I have something to offer.”
SD: That’s so interesting, the way you were able to identify the wound that was driving your behavior. How do we begin that self-discovery process for ourselves?
SF: So I’m not a Catholic myself, but there’s a Catholic mystical priest who’s an author named Richard Rohr, and one of the things he says is that we actually “suffer to get well, and that oftentimes we don’t do the work of examining and looking at the framework of our ego, examining and looking at our programs until our programs aren’t working.” And one of the crazy things about proving yourself, or trying to prove yourself, is that it works until it doesn’t.
And so I would say that for a long season of time, trying to prove myself felt like it was working, my circle of influence was growing, my gifts were opening doors, my ideas were manifesting and creating businesses and opportunity. But then at some point the program that you’ve created in response to your wound stops working. Your program catches up with you and you begin to suffer, your relationships suffer, your contentment suffers, your sense of comfortability in your skin suffers. And you have a choice then, you can white knuckle it and push harder, you can medicate and numb the suffering, or you can get curious and go, why am I suffering? Maybe it’s my program.
And I think for me, trying to bring intentionality to my marriage, to my fathering, to my business, I started asking, “is this program of proving myself, is it working? I don’t know if it is.” So how did I come to see that? I think I suffered into awareness, does that make sense?
SD: That absolutely makes sense, and I’ve been there too! Where suddenly everything collides, and you realize that it’s simply not working to keep trying as you are. Give us some tips! How do we move out of our “program” so that we show up differently?
SF: One of the things that I think is really important for us to remember is that the energies that our programs of survival run on are not going to be the same energies that our path to healing runs on.
It’s like how the point of a needle can feel everything except its own point, the energy that you use that is backfiring in your relationships, you’re not going to be able to use that same energy to promote your own healing. So I think for me, honestly the first step was just in noticing, and just seeing what I was doing. And then remembering that no one is berated into change, and the same way that I would not berate my 10-year-old son into learning how to surf and think that he would be motivated to keep trying, I’m not going to berate my 10-year-old wounded self into trying to become secure. Recovery, I believe, is a universal need that we all have and is about recovering a part of ourselves that’s still stuck and wounded. And so for me the first step in healing is just noticing that I’m wounded and accepting that, just accepting I’m rolling with some insecurity, I’m showing up with some insecurity.
SD: So as we enter this season of hosting and socialization with family, some wounds might pop up. Walk us through how we can navigate this in light of all you’ve just shared.
SF: One of the things we teach through Hospitality Collaborative is our hospitality framework, we call it the “virtuous hospitality framework,” and the first step is speak kindly to yourself. And we actually say speak, because for me there’s power in words, and so when I actually say out loud to myself, “Hey Steve, you belong in this room, you’re enough buddy, you’re enough, and I care about you,” there’s something really powerful in me speaking to the younger wounded part of myself out loud that helps ground me in that place.
So for me, the very first step in walking out of my wounding, was making myself feel at home, actually just verbally saying, “You belong dude, you’re okay. You belong here, you’re enough, you’re seen and you’re valuable,” and what that starts to do is quiet that young part of me that’s scanning eyes for approval and acceptance, and I show up in a room very differently.
SD: I love that advice; it’s so simple and practical. When you’ve practiced this, what have you seen shift in the way you interact in a social or hosting situation?
SF: What we don’t realize is that when we are driven by insecurity, we’re actually driven by a taking energy. We want to take affirmation, the spotlight and compliments because we’re driven by a need, because something in us is unsettled and unfulfilled. And people subconsciously, or consciously feel that taking energy, and that is what I believe creates this vicious cycle, where we’re showing up, and what we’re thinking about is what we are owed and what we deserve by way of how much attention we are getting. We are thinking, “How much attention are you paying to me in this conversation? How many questions are you asking me? How many of my accomplishments are you validating? How many comments have you made about my house or my style or my color?”
When I settle that question of my own belonging—not once and for all, because I don’t think it’s a once and for all thing—is that these moment-by-moment transactions become a chance to re-anchor ourselves in a sense of belonging. It could happen 15 times at one party, where you feel like you have a great conversation and then it ends, and you hear in your mind: “I don’t know who to talk to right now,” and then all of a sudden you start scanning the room and you’re like, “one of these things doesn’t belong and it’s me.”
And we start showing up with generosity, and we’re not thinking about what we’re owed, and if this conversation is 50/50, and if you’ve noticed my clothes, or my coffee table, as much as I’ve called out your clothes and your coffee table.
SD: What a note to end on, wow, thank you. I want to start practicing this right away and what perfect timing for this holiday season. If people want to hear more about what you do at Hospitality Collaborative, where should they go?
SF: For catering and events you can visit our website. If you’re interested in hearing more about what I shared here, on this podcast I speak about these themes in greater detail. We also have a framework we teach around these topics that I love sharing with people and businesses. If you want to bring this framework into your personal life or into your business, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much!
Images Via Karen Khuc