Thursday, September 12, 2013

I choose authenticity.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.  Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.
-Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

I feel like I need to come clean.  I haven't been completely open with this blog.  I've been holding back.  I've been too scared to say what I really wanted to say because I was (and am) afraid.  Even more afraid than I initially realized when I told all my friends how reluctant I was to start this kind of blog.  Of people reading.  Of people not reading.  What they may think or not think.  Do or not do.

And there's more: Right now I don't know when -- or even if -- I'll find the courage to say what I really think and feel.  I'm not even sure if blogging is even right for me.

I've been struggling with being more open, more real, more vulnerable in my personal life and in that process I've realized that I haven't been truly authentic in this blog either.  I think I'm going to try to do better here, but it's still much too early to know whether or not I'll chicken out.

But at least being open about not being open is more open than I have been. If only barely.

Because of my private nature, many of my friends and family members throughout the weeks and months and years have encouraged me in their own various ways to be more open, more authentic.  A few weeks ago, when discussing this blog with a friend, she mentioned the work of Brene Brown. 

It was a hectic time for me, but I mentally filed the name away, deciding to google her TED talk later.  Later never came.  The following week I was doing a completely unrelated internet search on a topic for my husband, clicked on a blog related to that search and saw in the sidebar the picture above.  I choose authenticity.  Intrigued, I clicked.  It was Brene Brown's website.  I decided I should probably listen up.

In one of her TED talks (which you can find on her blog), Brene asks her audience if they feel like admitting their struggles and failures is weakness.  Hands go up all around.  (Mine would have too.)  Then she asks if they viewed the others on the stage before her during that event who admitted their failures and vulnerabilities as courageous.  More hands in the air.  (Mine would have gone up higher.)

But still, recognizing the connection between vulnerability and courage doesn't necessarily make it easier in practice.  I thought back to times in my own life when I've taken leaps of vulnerability and what Brene calls "the vulnerability hangover."

Some of my more open friends talk about the relief that comes from talking and sharing.  The feeling of a burden being lifted.  For me, after I let someone in  -- no matter how much or how little -- it's brutal.  I contemplate running away.  Physically running away, cutting all my ties, changing my name and starting a new life.  Seriously.  And I never want to see that person who now "knows" ever again.  Ever.  It takes weeks and months for me to feel comfortable again.  The vulnerability hangover.

But I can say that there is healing in being open, even if it takes years. 

When I thought back over blog-related vulnerability, I couldn't help but recall writing my marriage proposal story.  It took me four years to work up the courage to tell any other living person the details of Johnie's proposal(s) to me.  Whenever people would ask, I would say, "Oh, it was low-key."  If they pressed, I would say, "It was private and we decided not to talk about it."  If they were too close for me to keep things private from them, I would say, "It was a little disappointing and so I just don't want to talk about it." 

In truth, it was very disappointing and embarrassing to me.  And I was afraid that if people knew all the lackluster details they would think I had failed somehow in my husband-picking efforts.  That they would judge me, my husband and our marriage as somehow less than.  And during those four years, any time marriage proposals would come up in conversation, my heart would sputter and my mind would race for what I could say when eyes turned to me.  During those four years, thoughts of my proposal would regularly bring me to tears.

I began writing the story of our relationship still deciding how I would handle the proposal story.  I didn't think I would have a big audience, but when the day came I had an uncomfortable number of eyes on the story.  I knew I couldn't just skip the proposal and I didn't want to lie.  I thought about making the proposal a couple sentences at the end or beginning of an unrelated post:  After a low-key, private proposal, wedding plans began in earnest...

But that was cheating the story.  So I took the plunge and told it.  And then fought waves of nausea.  Hovered my mouse over "delete" and resisted the urge to click. 

I received more feedback from that blog post than any other I have ever written.  Private messages from girls also embarrassed and disappointed by their proposal.  I had unknowingly created a secret sisterhood without even trying.

It didn't happen overnight, but several years after being open about my painful proposal  I've healed from it.  I laugh at it.  It really doesn't bother me anymore.  I think it is a beautiful, quirky part of our story.  I went back and re-read the account I had written a few years ago and realized I add in even more details when I re-tell the story these days.  I have some trouble remembering why I thought it was that bad for so long.

So even though I fully recognize the pay-offs of vulnerability, I still can't find the strength to make the jump yet.  But maybe tiny steps of boldness are better than being fearfully frozen still.

And maybe you can join me in the scary, daunting, but very-much-worth-it quest toward living openly, wholeheartedly.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.  -Theodore Roosevelt