A few weeks ago, I posted about living with anxiety. I wanted to write a follow up post on the responses that I received, but that week Katelyn was all, “I’m going to write about vulnerability and Brené Brown”. And I was all, “Umm that’s exactly what my follow up post is about.” So I wrote about my six month anniversary instead and contemplated if I should post this blog because I didn’t want our posts to be too similar. But, I decided that it must be something really important if both Katelyn and I, separately, decided to write about being vulnerable. I wrote the majority of this post before seeing hers, so excuse any overlap or similarity. (Remember how at the beginning of this journey I told you that sometimes Katelyn and I are scarily alike? This is one of those times).
I first encountered Brené Brown a few years ago as part of an assignment for seminary. As part of our degree, we had to have a mentor and do something called a “character contract” each semester. Pretty much we pick an attribute or character skill that we would like to develop such as compassion or humility. For my first semester, my mentoring director suggested I work on a practice called shame resiliency. She knew that I had been struggling with accepting and trusting that God had truly forgiven me for my past and present mistakes. I was drowning in shame and incapable of trusting my past to anyone. I had no idea what shame resiliency even meant, so she assigned Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame. These were truly formative during my early years at seminary as I grew to understand what it meant to be vulnerable before God. But to be honest, I didn’t take it much beyond that. I continued to keep myself hidden from the people around me, be it friends at school, in my church community group, or even family. I don’t exactly know what propelled me to tell a bunch of strangers and friends alike about my struggle with anxiety on a blog. But the responses were more than encouraging. Before I share about them and how it relates to Brené Brown’s talks, I want to throw out two disclaimers. 1) I am not sharing these responses to brag. More than anything, the responses prove that what Brown says in her talks and her book, Daring Greatly, are true in the real world and I have now experienced it myself. And 2) I am not usually a fan of self-help/ self-improvement books for a number of reasons. They tend to be rather hokey, cliché and pithy while attempting to be profound. I’m not here to give you a book review, but Daring Greatly is so much more than that. First of all, it is backed up by years of research and clinical studies. Second of all, it aligns with my values and beliefs as a Christian (even though she only ever describes herself as spiritual). And thirdly, she’s hilarious and not trying to be anything other than herself.
So let me give you a quick rundown of what Brown’s book says. We are all created to connect with others and it is connection that provides our lives with meaning, purpose, and joy. Without it, we suffer. I agree with this whole-heartedly, taking it a step further in my own belief system that we were created to connect first with God, then with others, with nature, and even with ourselves. Brown says that “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experience.” In essence, she says that we live in a culture of scarcity, of never being or having enough- not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, not enough money, etc. Which leads us to feel shame at who we are, especially in comparison with others. In short, shame is “not enough”, whatever that may look like for you. (For me, as I mentioned above, I felt that I wasn’t good enough for God, that there was no way he could truly forgive my past. And if he couldn’t, neither could other people.) This in turn leads us to fear being vulnerable- a fear of showing who we truly are, the work we’ve produced, the art we’ve created, etc, because we don’t want to be told that we aren’t good enough, the work isn’t good enough, the art isn’t good enough. (This is a very quick summary of a much larger piece of work that YOU HAVE TO READ because there is so much more amazing stuff in there! She talks about how to build shame resilience, how to be whole hearted, how to know who you can be vulnerable with, leading and parenting with vulnerability, etc.) But the most interesting thing to me that arose from her research is this: when other people are vulnerable and allow us to see them, we find them brave and applaud them. In other words, being vulnerable is not weakness but rather courage.
And I found this to be true from my own post on anxiety. I wanted to share my experience but I was terrified of truly being seen by others. What if they judged me? What if no one understood? What if, what if, what if. But somehow, I managed to write about it. And you know what happened? I received more responses than any other post I’ve written so far. I got texts, FB messages, likes and comments on the blog. I was called brave multiple times, told I was inspiring and that my openness would encourage others. A friend admitted to me that she suffered from similar symptoms and felt encouraged to see a doctor. A family member shared that she suffered from anxiety for decades, something that had never come up between us and helped me understand myself more. Another family member told me he was “welling up” (a big deal for this particular person). Not one person told me that I had shared too much, criticized or judged me (at least openly), or laughed at my mental illness. The girl I mentioned in that post came up to me and hugged me in silence. I had dared greatly and shared a big piece of who I am to the world, and the world told me… “That was BRAVE.” Like I said, I don’t tell you this to brag. I tell you this to encourage you. Daring greatly is being courageous enough to let yourself be seen. What are you afraid of? What haven’t you tried for fear of failure or criticism? I’m definitely not saying to share your biggest secret on Facebook if there is no foundation of trust there. (Brown actually writes about oversharing as a way of pushing people away and running from vulnerability. And how sharing publicly needs to be done with set boundaries AH! Seriously, go buy this book. Haha) But Katelyn and I are here to help you dare greatly and let yourself be seen- at work, in your art, in a relationship. We created our blog to encourage people to be authentic and live creative lives. I have written “dare greatly” on a piece of paper that I see every day to remind myself to be authentic, to let myself be seen, to be brave, and to know that I AM ENOUGH. How can we help you dare greatly and encourage you that you too are enough?