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Posts Tagged ‘vulnerability’

“There’s always been a bit of the Princess archetype in you,” she said. (And she’s totally right; there always has.) “And I thought you had manifested that for yourself, that your life was settled and you had gotten your happily ever after. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but I didn’t see you.”

In her talk on vulnerability, Brene Brown says that the word courage comes from the word coeur, French for heart. What is courage? She says it is telling the story of who you are with your whole heart: in other words, allowing yourself to be seen, choosing the authentic. It takes courage to tell our stories. It takes courage to be honest and open. And it takes courage to infuse our artistic work with truth.

Coeur.
Photo Credit: Miriam Cardoso de Souza via Compfight cc

She also mentions the importance of having the courage to be imperfect. And let me tell you something about the Princess archetype. It’s not all bad: it includes a healthy dose of positivity, some chirping birds, romance and adventure. But it also contains no space for imperfection. The Princess in the fairy tales is perfection in essence: she is beautiful and charming, she is talented, she can sing and play music and dance and speak twenty languages, she always knows what to say, she has a sweet disposition, and she never ever feels angry or tired or upset. She can only feel fear when she is in danger as a plot device to allow the prince/knight/fool to rescue her, self-actualize, and win her as a prize. And she is always brave and smiling.

Being the Princess means not being seen for yourself.

I have been the Princess. I have tried to be perfect in every possible way. I have worked to be attractive and charming and to always set people at ease and know the right thing to say.  Whenever I have made a mistake, it has meant falling short of impossible standards. I have tried to please everyone and hate admitting that I need anything at all.

And yet, it has only been through surrendering the Princess archetype that I could begin creating the life that I want. It has only been through searching for people who don’t need me to be that Princess that I could finally be me, with everything that encompasses. It has only been through finding my coeur to begin to tell my story that I could create authentic connections with other people. Being able to see other people and being seen yourself, as it turns out, go hand in hand.

When I think of all those years I was trapped in the tower of Princess-hood, I feel very sad. Now that I’ve rescued myself, I try not to be perfect with appropriate imperfection. I don’t always smile. I am not always brave. I sometimes put my own needs first, and I am allowed to ask for things. There is space for me to have emotions. The world doesn’t end when I can’t always be strong.

It feels very strange to not be a Princess. But also very right.

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I screwed up last week. Multiple times.

Photo by Kate Sumbler.

Here’s what happened. I got really excited about that vulnerability TED talk, which you can probably tell by reading what I’ve written about it. And I decided I wanted to be vulnerable about All the Things…or at least several of the things. So I was pushing myself on multiple fronts at pretty much the same time, which meant two weeks in which so much was going on and so much of it was challenging and emotional exhaustion now.

Apparently this is called a vulnerability hangover, but to me, possibly because I was so enthusiastic, it felt more like a vulnerability OMFG eight car pile-up on the freeway. Fun times.

But there was a strategy behind my madness! Or you know, maybe I’m just incredibly skilled at finding the bright side of the lemonade in that strange-colored cloud over there. But as it turns out, one way of finding out what we most need to work on is to push ourselves to a failure point and then watch what happens. (I don’t necessarily recommend this, by the way; but if it’s happened anyway, you might as well learn something from it, right?)

So as it turns out, my failure point was not being assertive enough. And I didn’t fail at this once, oh no. I failed at it multiple times. Like at least three, and realistically probably more than three. So I know it’s something worth focusing on for the next however-many-months-it-takes. Interestingly, I’ve written an article for this blog entitled “How to Become More Assertive,” but upon re-reading it, I’m not finding it super helpful, so obviously I need to write a new article all about it in the not-too-distant future.

I don’t like writing this. I don’t like telling you how I failed. I procrastinated for a couple of hours before I could make myself type this up. I watch bloggers like Penelope Trunk and James Altucher who let it all hang out and write all about their often spectacular failures, and I’m completely riveted even while I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, I could never do that.” Even now I’m not giving any particulars, which I tell myself is to protect the innocent but in reality is mostly me being a wimp.

But here’s the thing. I want to write about what making change looks like. And change involves taking risks and making mistakes and failing, sometimes repeatedly. It’s not like a training montage in a movie, and it’s not like that moment of realization in novels when the protagonist figures out what is really important. It’s messier than that. And it takes a lot longer than five minutes and seven costume changes.

But it’s part of the process. I keep reading about how the bad and the good go together: how suffering can presage positive change, how failure leads to success, how we embark on the hero’s journey and come back wiser. How before we can rebuild, we have to tear down. Change is certainly interesting and rewarding, but it is not easy.

So I’ll begin thinking about assertiveness. And I’ll fail to be assertive a lot, in a variety of situations, in a myriad of different and creative ways. And gradually I’ll become better at it, and I’ll mess up less often.

This is what change looks like.

 

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I stumbled across an interview with Brene Brown (whose TED talk I mentioned last week), and at the end she says if she was going to found a museum, she would call it “a Museum of Epic Failure.” At which point I instantly emailed a link to the article to my friend and said, “This is the title of my next blog post!”

Photo by the National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institute

We have such strange ideas about failure and success. I meet people again and again who assume that, having failed at something once, it makes sense to automatically give up and not try again. They wonder at the fact that I have written THREE novels, even though none of them are yet published. They make comments that call into question the entire premise of one of my failures, as if I have now automatically learned better.

Sure, sometimes a failure, and the lessons we learn by failing, cause us to change directions. Sometimes we decide we’re better suited to doing something different, or we’ve found a new passion to pursue. Sometimes our viewpoint has changed so that we no longer want the same things we wanted before. But failure can also mean that the next time we try, we’ll apply what we’ve learned this time around and do better.

Meanwhile, when we stop doing something we’ve been successful at in some form or another, people get confused and tell us it’s “too bad.” And if they like us (aka social success), they tell us to “never change.” There’s this idea that once success has been achieved, we need to hold onto it tightly while avoiding change at all costs.

This is an example of black and white thinking at its finest, where success is positive and good and to be cherished, while failure is negative and bad and to be avoided.

What is often overlooked is the necessity of failure. When we take a risk, it is risky because there is the possibility of failure. If we were one hundred percent sure we’d succeed, it wouldn’t be a risk at all, would it? And so many great successes and helpful learning moments come from the willingness to take a risk and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

Most great art–be it visual, literary, musical, or theatrical–comes from reaching to see where we can go, from exposing ourselves in the act of creation.

Most great relationships–be they platonic or romantic–come from opening up and being authentic with one another, while not knowing how we’ll be received.

Most great entrepreneurial ventures–be they tech start-ups or service businesses or local merchants–come from taking the leap into the unknown and committing ourselves and our resources to a particular vision.

When we are engaged in these activities and being honest with ourselves, we know we are taking risks. We know we may fail. And it is when we allow ourselves the space to fail (say goodbye to perfectionism!) that we are capable of our best work.

Which is when we realize that failure isn’t inherently bad. It teaches us, it pushes us, it leads down paths we wouldn’t have noticed by ourselves. It makes success, when it comes, more meaningful, even while it keeps us grounded and connected. And when failure comes instead, and we feel flattened by its impact, we can remind ourselves of the alternative: staying safe, cramped, and complacent while being too afraid to really try.

We are each in the process of creating our own personal Museum of Epic Failure. I’ve already collected many interesting exhibits in mine. And each one has helped to shape who I am today.

Even things that are uncomfortable can have reasons to be celebrated. Is there a failure you’ve experienced that you learned something important from or that you’re grateful for now? Feel free to share in the comments.

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A couple of weeks ago I watched a TED talk by Brene Brown entitled “The Power of Vulnerability.” It’s twenty minutes long, but I highly recommend watching it when you get the chance. Brene Brown is a researcher who spent years studying vulnerability, shame, and human connection, and she shares valuable insights from her work and how it has affected her own life.

I’ve been seeing a common theme coming up this year, and it comes up again in this talk: that connection and well-being come from the inside, that they arise from our own beliefs and attitudes about ourselves.

I saw it in James Altucher’s post about Kamal Ravikant, who was desperately ill and miserable until he turned things around for himself and ended up writing a short book about the experience. His secret? He told himself that he loved himself a billion and one times.

I saw it in the reading I was doing about attachment styles. Apparently people with a healthy attachment style tend to assume that their needs will be met. And guess what? More often than not, their needs are met, one way or another. Part of this is probably because they are asking for what they need, and part of it is because they are attracting other people who are okay meeting some of these needs. The fact that they assume their needs are okay and will be met shows a greater sense of self worth.

And now here is Brene Brown, telling us that the one thing separating those people who experience a lot of love and belonging in their lives from those who do not is a sense of worthiness. When we believe that we are worthy of love and connection, when we believe that we are enough just as we are, then we can embrace our vulnerability, find our authenticity, and achieve greater connection.

And in her list of traits that these “heart whole” people have in common, she mentions them having compassion for themselves, because otherwise they are unable to have compassion for other people. This idea relates back to the Nice vs. Kind trap and one of the reasons being a people pleaser ultimately doesn’t work out so well.

At the end of last year, I wrote a post called “You are Worth It,” giving this message in yet another way.

This idea of worthiness circles back around on itself in a feedback loop. Take the recent World Fantasy Convention as an example. I entered into the convention feeling comfortable and like I belonged. Because of that, I was more relaxed, having a better time, and able to be very much Amy. So I could connect more easily with both people I knew and people I was meeting. Then people started joking that I knew everyone (not true, but thank you!), which made me feel like I belonged even more, and so made me connect more. Rinse and repeat.

Very Much Amy

The key point, though, is that the nifty cycle I described started with me. It began with me taking my career seriously and feeling like I belonged in a group of professionals. It began with me taking myself seriously, as a person worthy of respect. Without that, the cycle wouldn’t have had a chance to feed back on itself.

We talk a lot about authenticity: to connect with each other, and in a professional context, to connect with readers. This authenticity comes from the courage to be vulnerable. And make no mistake, it does take courage; this blog has taught me that. And here we find another loop: courage builds feelings of worthiness, and a feeling of self worth increases our courage. 

Let’s be brave together.

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