I was hanging out with a friend recently, and he was listening to some of his “happy birthday” voicemails on speakerphone. And wouldn’t you know, there was a nugget o’ wisdom hiding in one of those messages.

For the sake of clarity, let’s call my friend “Samson” (mainly because I never have an opportunity to use that name). So, one of Samson’s friends called to leave a “happy birthday” message, but what ended up happening was a five-minute speech about how she couldn’t make it to his party, followed by an extensive list of justifications for her decision. And I do mean extensive.

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I love to talk about needs. I’ve written about setting people up to fail when what we really want is our needs getting met; I’ve talked about how needy we all are and how unexpressed needs can wreak havoc in relationships.

Well, this voicemail taught me that when try to fool ourselves into thinking that we don’t have needs (why hello there, martyr), or we feel that we don’t deserve to have our needs met, we can end up being really self-centered.

Here’s a loose transcript of Samson’s friend’s message, which again, was supposed to be about wishing him a happy birthday:

Hey, Samson. So, I’m not going to be able to make it to your party tonight. Joey [her son] isn’t feeling well, and I know you guys don’t want him getting everyone sick, so I’m just not going to be able to make it. 

I’m really bummed I can’t be there. I wanted to come, but with Joey being sick all week, and the rest of us starting to come down with whatever bug he’s got, too, I’m feeling pretty worn out and…

Okay, no joke, this went on for five minutes. (Data courtesy of the iPhone message timer.)

At the very end there was a rather limp and dejected, “happy birthday,” but otherwise the entire message was about this woman’s justification for needing to stay home.

I share this not to make fun of this woman, because, hell, up until a few years ago I was the queen of weird messages like this, because simply stating a need (“I need to stay home”) felt super scary and selfish to me.

The irony? Not stating our needs often results in messages like the one above, which, when you think about it, are pretty selfish–exactly the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve. The purpose for the call was Samson’s birthday–celebrating his special day–but this was mostly overlooked outside of the perfunctory bit at the end.

What might this message sound like if this woman was cool with having needs and expressing them?

Hey, Samson–happy birthday! I woke up this morning, laughing my ass off about that time you and I went to Colorado for your birthday and you skied into that line of grade schoolers. hahahaha Good times, buddy.

I won’t be able to make it to your party tomorrow because the family and I are currently passing around a flu bug, but I’ll be thinking seriously celebratory thoughts for you!

So glad to know you, my friend. Let’s figure out a time when I can take you out to lunch after I’m no longer contagious. Love ya! Have the best birthday ever!

Which call would you rather receive?

When I read the two transcripts, I feel totally different in my body and mind. Can you feel the energy difference between the two?

When we embrace our needs we free up so much energy that can then flow along more affirming channels. If I had to describe the difference visually, with the first call, I see the woman’s energy clustered tightly around her, forming a protective wall. It’s smothering and constricted. The second call, in contrast, looks like an arc of energy flowing from the caller to Samson, creating a bond of energetic love.

When we embrace our needs, we free up so much energy that can travel along more affirming paths, like a path connecting two friends, or a path fueling a new creative venture. When we deny our needs, our energy gets clogged and trapped, isolating us from the world around us.

Our needs are a powerful tool–use them!

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