Find out what it really means to be N.I.C.E. and how this little word might be holding you back.

Last week, I had two revelations.

During a recent therapy session where I’d reprocessed an intense memory, my counselor said, “What was this like for you?”

“Fine,” I automatically replied.

I’d said this several times over the past few weeks—each time hoping to communicate that I have the internal resources needed to do this work, which sometimes feels as comfortable as a colonoscopy prep. That day, I realized I might mean something else.

“Well, you know what fine means,” I said, sharing Aerosmith’s definition for F.I.N.E. (Fucked Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional).

We both laughed, then agreed this definition probably applied. 

The next day, I met with a client who’d submitted a sensitive scene for review. Early in our session, I asked what thoughts she’d had since sharing this excerpt with me.

She grinned sheepishly. “My brain keeps saying, ‘Well, that’s not very nice.’”

It was a phrase I knew too well. 

How often are we socialized to think this way and then act accordingly? 

Looking nice on the outside often means accepting unacceptable behavior in an effort to be more likable, turning down assignments or opportunities because they might cause conflict, and ignoring our muse, revising toward social acceptability, or shelving perfectly good writing projects, fearing we’ll offend so and so.

While all sexes can be socialized to think this way, women are often programmed to be nice.

We’re told nice people are likable, approachable, and make others feel comfortable. Nice people create harmony, unity, and consensus.

As my client waited for a response, I channeled my inner Aerosmith and created an acronym for nice.

Not ICharge of my Experience.

Hearing it was a revelation for both of us.

Later, I thought of my harmful relationship with N.I.C.E., like the time I felt compelled to smile and listened to a male bus passenger who insisted we have a conversation or the time I watered down my opinion during a business meeting so I wouldn’t be seen as too aggressive.

But one time really sticks out.

In my early twenties, a male roommate said, “I think you’re the nicest person I know. You’re so easy to talk to and be around. You always seem to know what we need, and you hardly ask for anything in return.”

At the time, I felt honored by what was meant as a compliment. Being nice had worked!

Forty-something me sees this moment very differently. While I’m sure my friend meant well, I have deep compassion for the young woman who didn’t even know she had the right to honor her needs. I can also see how setting N.I.C.E. as my default resulted in many years of feeling F.I.N.E. and not even knowing it.

Growing up, my brothers and I were avid fans of G.I. Joe. I remember little of the cartoon beyond its PSA tagline, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.”

The other half is doing something about it.

I spent the Independence Day holiday assessing my relationship with F.I.N.E. and N.I.C.E. While I’ve made progress in this area, there’s more to do if I’m going to live the big, beautiful life I’m after.

So, I asked myself the following questions:

  • What would life be like if I eradicated N.I.C.E. from my vocabulary and behavior?
  • How would that transform my writing?

Next week, I’ll explore the difference between N.I.C.E. and some of the attributes I want more of, like authenticity, kindness, and compassion. I’ll also talk about how these words impact both what we allow ourselves to write and share with others.

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