Personal Writing

What do you miss when _________ masks _________?

Warning, this is a vulnerable, and not terribly attractive, post. I can’t guarantee that you’ll resonate with all of it, but I bet if you change out my tendency for whatever your go-to insecurity-cover is, you’ll find something for yourself in here, too.

I woke up this morning and pulled up my Aura app. Today’s selection had one called “Curiosity Instead of Judgment.” I clicked on it as much for its brief, 4-minute length as for the intriguing title.

The coach said, “We’ve all approached someone or some situation from a place of judgment. You’ve already arrived at a decision. Judgment becomes a barrier to having a meaningful conversation and developing understanding. It can be helpful to remember that judgment comes from an assumption. It is typically not a hard truth.”

She then went on to say that when you come from a place of curiosity, you can be present in whatever moment or with whatever person you are in front of. Curiosity encourages conversation and insight and often results in a deeper understanding, which you can then take forward into other areas of your life.

I listened with interest and found myself wishing I’d heard it yesterday morning because I set myself up for a perfect place to practice it.

A little background

  • I had a relatively high-profile job for 13 years, until May 2023, and knew a lot of people, but I was known as a vocal advocate for the arts and really nothing else.
  • I assumed when I left that job that my profile would follow me to my Spark work and that I would continue to enjoy the benefits of it.
  • That absolutely did not happen. Instead, I found that many relationships I felt were deeper than professional in actuality were not. I was no longer the go-to person for anything, and I missed being at the tables I had grown accustomed to being invited to. I couldn’t get people I knew quite well in my former capacity to return emails in my new capacity. My feelings were hurt, and I started to resent this new lack of identity.
  • I decided late last spring that this community was no longer for me. It was too small for me. It didn’t “get” me. I pulled away from community programming and networking opportunities.
  • I intentionally began to grow my network further afield and had a fabulous year doing that. I value a number of the people I’ve gotten to know because of it. I’m starting to do some work outside my community, and it’s moving in the right direction.

The story at hand

But before the end of 2023, I had a conversation with a local young woman whose work is similar to Spark work, but different enough that I was intrigued to connect. She’s successful, and I’ve watched her profile rise in the past couple of years with some envy. I enjoyed our conversation. She mentioned they were holding a women’s summit in the new year and that I should get a ticket.

One more piece of back story: I am not a joiner. Of anything. I can’t say why exactly, but I’ve always been that way.

Actually, that’s a lie.

I can say why: it’s rooted in absolute insecurity.

If I join and fail, how will I be perceived?

If I join and don’t belong, what will I do?

If I join and do belong, am I not all that special after all?

Oh that last one hurts because it’s the closest to the truth, and I’m only just now understanding it. It’s taken 51 years and 15 days to get that clarity!

Sometimes I can get past those deep-down insecurities, so I got off that zoom call and purchased a ticket.

And yesterday, I attended it.

The whole drive there I told myself what I was going to walk in to. Who I was going to encounter. How I was going to feel.

Cliffs Notes (technically Dayna’s Notes 😂)

A crazy room filled with hundreds of young-ish women talking way too loudly and squealing with delight over basically nothing. I’d be a square, grandmotherly type. Whatever I wore would be wrong. My hair would for certain be lifeless, my bangs stringy. My wrinkles, really only visible when I smile big, would be on full display no matter how dour I appeared. The few extra pounds I put on over Christmas would be visible to all no matter how boxy the sweater I finally chose to wear was.

Aside: Remember how I always tell you no one is thinking about you as much as you are thinking about you?

Two things: 1) Take your own damn advice, Dayna Del Val! And 2) This perfectly proves my point!

My eyes were already tired from all the rolling they would be doing in that kind of public-private way judgemental people do to let others know they are trying to hide their disdain…except they aren’t at all. I have multiple blue ribbons and a few gold medals in that particular sport.

Back to the story

I was pretty worked up by the time I shuffled in off the cold, icy parking lot to the warm space filled with, as anticipated, young-ish women. Except there was no yelling, the music was gentle and the lighting was inviting. The stage was simple and elegant; the tables were beautifully set.

I walked into the main room and looked around at a sea of women, generally in their 30-early 40s, some on either side. I realized I didn’t recognize anyone.

A choice I’m trying to make more and more lately is to just stop and be rather than revert to my standby safety nets—in this case, pull out my phone and put my head down to avoid looking as uncomfortable as I felt.

I bravely walked up to a couple of women generally my age. We laughed about being ancient and hoped we’d each find the day valuable despite feeling quite certain this was an event for younger women. After all, what did we really have to learn by this time in our lives?

Spoiler: So, so much.

Then I saw a younger woman I had met at an event I spoke at last fall. I went up to her and asked if I could sit by her. Turns out that was an excellent choice because we ended up spending the full day with our partner, and we started making some fabulous plans to work together.

Long story short, it was an overall good day.

A truly great day, if I’m honest.

At one point, they asked for a volunteer and I felt my hand shoot straight up.

I had a split second to decide that this room might have women waiting for me, waiting to (re)Discover Their Spark, and the only way they could know about it was if I shared it.

So I did.

And for the 5 or so minutes I was on that stage, I forgot about feeling old, limp-haired, wrinkly and chubby. Instead, I was eager to share my work and curious to receive their feedback.

I connected with a number of women who found me afterwards to learn more, whom I’m meeting for coffee, who have mutual connections to people I know from my arts advocacy years.

One of the keynote speakers was a few years behind me in our theatre degrees, so I knew who she was from having admired her on stage a number of times. She shared a deeply personal story, and I was truly moved by what she had to say and inspired by the way she made it universal for us all.

The big lesson

I intended to write to her and say something like, “I’m sure you don’t know who I am, but I watched you on stage throughout much of your college career and always found you compelling. Thanks for a great keynote today!”

Instead, she beat me to it by sending me a connection request on LinkedIn.

When I accepted it, I wrote:

Bravo on a fabulous talk today! Thanks for sharing pieces of your journey and the inspiration.

Would love to connect over tea/coffee one day soon. Perhaps there are ways we can be supportive of each other and/or collaborate.

Congratulations again and thanks for today!

I woke up this morning to this response from her:

Your presence—voice, stature, everything—has always amazed me. Certainly, that stems from getting to watch you [in various productions] and watching you lead The Arts Partnership—you are a role model for so many women, me included.

This type of feedback means a lot to me, no matter the giver, but things are always amplified when they come from someone you’ve long admired. Thank you.

I’d love coffee/tea and a chance to hear about your mission to Spark and reignite passions.

Thank you, Dayna. This was the cherry on top of an already delightful day.

I don’t share this with you to boast. I share it with you for some very simple reasons:

When we show up, when we get out of our own way, when we get both quiet and brave, extraordinary things can, and often do, appear because of it.

Was walking into that room hard for me yesterday morning?


Did extraordinary things happen when I just took a deep breath and walked in anyway?

I’ll let you be the judge of that.

If you’re still reading, thank you! I really do try and not write chapter books as blog posts, but this one hit me hard in all the right ways. You needed a full picture of it so that you can now do what I so often pose to you:

Over to you

Where are you letting judgment mask your own insecurities? Can you dig beneath the surface of your go-to reactions and find the actual root of why you’re sabotaging your own journey? What’s keeping you from receiving the blessings and gifts that are waiting for you if you’ll just get out of your own way and simply say yes?

I’d love to hear how this post landed for you—share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Don’t fear the ugly insides your own story and don’t be afraid to share them. It’s in the sharing that we find we are not alone; it’s where we learn that all the ugliness is simply masking the beauty that is each of us, waiting to emerge.

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.


  • Carolyn Jungclas

    What a terrific story and bravo for putting yourself out there. I’m so happy that you are connecting with these wonderful people who are encouraging and supportive. Way to go!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *