And here I am again, walking away from the podium at the Conference Center at SeaTac after giving what I believe to be a pretty good talk, I mean, I always do my best under the circumstances. Which today means I did not flinch when the women seated at the nearest round table kept nodding.

Generally I like nods, they make me happy, thrilled that someone is actually listening. Except she wore floppy metal earrings that jingled, key-like, every time she moved her head. Which was pretty much every time I moved mine. It was like listening to a custodian move through the room.

It’s taken me years to feel comfortable with all the surprises I am faced with on the spot. But I am, finally.

I’ve written before how even embarrassment doesn’t, well, embarrass me as much. But today was a real doozy. After admitting something I perhaps should have kept to myself and turning two shades of red, I sort of got a kick out of myself.

It wasn’t a big, earth-shattering admission. Not like the one I had to admit last week after agreeing  with the latest Trump-thump: “Oh! No! We can’t leave NATO!” Even if I have absolutely no idea what NATO stands for, who exactly belongs to it, or what they do.

Asked what the most difficult part about speaking is, I admitted that distracting sounds have come to represent all the unexpected things I’ve learned to cope with, calmly, while staying on point. “Luncheon-speaking (which, is what I was doing, and in my world, is code for: get hold of and try to keep everyone’s attention while they pass the bread and butter, kvetch about how cold the soup is, cut up chicken into bite-size pieces, and eye the desert trays) can be challenging," I said, "but not as much as unkindness, and how I’ve learned to spot the unkind listener way before he or she walks up to me with an expression that is maybe not mean, exactly, but definitely not kind either. I’ve also learned there is no hiding from these people.”

I knew right off I’d have to give details, so I told how the downward curve of this unkind woman’s mouth would seem perfectly normal had I just addressed, say, terrorism, or the Alaskan Way Viaduct, but my talk was about how we can better accept and support each other.

“But who doesn’t love an unkind stare now and again?” I said. “With its penetrating gaze and all the tension building inside?”

This made everyone laugh. It’s always the best thing when they do that.

Then I shared how unkindness does something good for me, too. It makes me realize how I once had so much to prove — to others, to myself — but not anymore. And because my audience was mostly women under the age of forty, I told them that this was the most delicious, dignifying kind of self-esteem.

Nods all around. Jingle, jingle, jingle.

I can’t help but soften when I get to share something as personal as this. I melt. Such honest admission trumps all. Trumps whining about how expensive Seattle is, complaining about the men who urinate in our alley after drinking beer at the 5 Point Cafe, and who is getting a divorce.

Next, when asked about something I’d written about feeling sorry for a woman wearing a heavy Burka on one of our hottest summer days, and how I actually said so, I admitted that I’m not sure why it’s so impossible for me to keep my mouth shut sometimes. “Maybe it’s because in some instances, if I do remain silent, I won’t be able to forgive myself, it just won’t feel right. And yet, if I do speak up, I can suffer the aftermath just as deeply. Which makes me wonder if the message here is that there is no right way to feel. In the end, we just have to trust ourselves, be ourselves.”

I love how I get to say these things to people who need to hear them. Which, of course, is all people.

But for young women just starting out in their professional lives, well, I enjoy it even more. “And now that I’ve figured all this out intellectually,” I said, “I’m through trying to figure it out emotionally.” Pause. “For now anyway.”

Ah, the perfect note to end on.

MARY LOU SANELLI is an author and speaker, who teaches master dance classes throughout the world. Her website is