Vulnerability in Writing and Life

Perhaps it’s the daffodil shoots peeking up out of that brown grass (don’t hate, spring comes early in Nashville) or maybe it’s just my own sense of routine that is giving me more time and space to get things moving, but I’ve felt an urge to create and a surge of energy.

With renewed energy comes ideas, with ideas come connections, with connections come attention and projects, and then, all of a sudden, I’ve snowballed myself into feeling like I’m under too much pressure.

I know some of it will get done. I know not all of it will get done. Projects fall apart and don’t work for so many reasons. The scary part is: what if I fail?

Oh right. What if I fail.

Just thinking those words makes my heart speed up and puts a rock in the pit of my stomach. What if?

Well, what if I succeed? Even just a little bit?

I left teaching almost 3 years ago. Last night I told a friend a story about how I made a difference in a child’s life: her mom was fighting with boyfriend, it made daughter scared for her own safety and that of her mother.  All I did was sit, listen, and fill out some online forms. This girl came back to me a few months later and thanked me, saying that one afternoon was the reason she still lived at home, that she and her mom still lived together. The girl told me that after Child Services visited and talked to Mom, she realized how much her relationship was hurting her daughter, and ended it. Of course, I told the girl she should be proud of herself. She spoke up; I just listened.

Until last night, most of my memories of my last few years of teaching were negative. This one bubbled up from inside of me and had to be told. I just did my job, but I actually made a difference, and I had forgotten that. I made a difference because I took the time to listen to a child. I made myself available to her, took a risk that what she was saying was important enough to listen to, and took action, and it paid off for that child. I had forgotten that for so long.

bird photo via morgeFile.comWe all do things to build walls, to protect that little baby-bird heart inside of us. It is so vulnerable to pain and rejection, the slightest brush can feel devastating. When I left teaching, I thought I needed to take a break to build up my defenses again, that teaching had broken them (and me) down so much that I needed to heal. I was wrong.

I’ve always been quick to cry, but I like to think it’s from a heightened sense of sympathy, in the true sense. I can put myself in someone else’s Nikes far too easily. If your childhood cat finally spent his 9th life, I’ll cry with you. If you finally met your goal of jumping rope for 45 minutes straight, I’ll jump for joy for you, you poor tired thing. This tendency to emote is often confused with vulnerability, but they are far from one another.

What I didn’t understand a few years ago is emotion and vulnerability can both be positive attributes. Leaving yourself vulnerable to rejection and failure, you also open yourself up to new possibilities. Expressing your emotions is a beautiful thing, as long as those emotions don’t rule your life (remember the mantra: I am not my emotions).

So, right now, when there is so much going on in my life, so many new and wonderful things starting to take shape, perhaps what I am feeling is a little vulnerable. My first reaction is to retreat, to curl up against it and maintain status quo. But if first reactions were everything, I’d never know the joy of Brussels sprouts or the thrill of swimming in the ocean.

It’s time to open up my hands, let that little baby-bird heart get some air. Otherwise, she’ll suffocate in there. And maybe in the meantime, I can just push through these emotions that go along with being vulnerable, and get to the fun part: creation.

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7 responses to “Vulnerability in Writing and Life

  1. I’m so glad! I love moments like these when all of our work and doubts seem like its worth it. This is why I continue with Thoughtful Minds United because it makes a difference in others life, even if just a few. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. I hear you. And yet, failing and being vulnerable are the only paths to true growth. Quite a conundrum, right? Doesn’t seem fair. Reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and it’s such a help.

    • Thanks for the book suggestion! I’ll add it to my list. And you are exactly right, we have to fail to succeed, but it’s so hard! No matter how many times I hear others tell me that it has to happen, it doesn’t make it any less scary!

  3. I get the most out of life when I jump off a “cliff” and have no idea how I’ll land. I used to have the fear of failure rule my life, but now, not so much. However, I’m fearful that I’ve removed myself too far from being accountable and now I don’t do anything about learning from my failures. 😛 Regardless, jumping the cliff to come back to Seattle is a step closer to get back to who I want to be. Thanks for this!

    • Thank you! I’m excited to come and see you in your new/old home. Jumping off of cliffs is a dream I used to have as a kid, but there was always a soft landing at the bottom. Maybe life is still like that!

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