do-over

Do you ever wish you could have a do-over? You, know a day when you could simply go back to bed, wake up again and start the day over? Well, today was one of those days. I can’t say why, really. Honestly, as far as days go this one was fairly average. But, all day I have felt like the cloud that’s been hovering over my city has been more directly hovered over my head.

I suppose some days are like that. “Rainy days and Mondays” kind of thing. But it’s so frustrating when I can’t talk myself out of the funk that has taken over my spirit. And, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason, except maybe the weather. But, why is it that some people are more prone to dance in the rain and others to hunker down and hide from it?

Clearly, I’m the latter kind rather than the former…

“Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow had the right idea. This evening I caught a glimpse of orange out my window, so I opened the front door to see the most amazing sunset. I’m glad I took the time to notice. It was quite something. The sky was saturated with orange and purple and a little pink, vibrant colors stretching out across the horizon.

I didn’t dance, but I did breathe, deeply.

I guess that’s something, right? I do wish I knew better how to let go of whatever it is that weighs down my soul on days like today and find the freedom to dance. I’ve never been much of a dancer. I’m much too self-conscious, much too entrapped by my shoulds and ought tos and crazy self-expectations. *sigh*

Oh well. I suppose for today it is what it is, and tomorrow will be my do-over. Perhaps I’ll be brave and will dance… just a little.

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vulnerability hangover

Vulnerability should come with a warning label. Being vulnerable and letting people in is a really good thing and necessary for real connection. However, you’ll probably feel like an a$$ within 24 hours of letting yourself be seen.

So, after my last post (you know, when I talked about wanting to be more vulnerable and let people get to know me better!), I decided to practice a little. An acquaintance had asked me to coffee to chat about my counseling practice and what it was like starting my own business. I agreed, knowing that I’d appreciate the opportunity to cultivate a friendship and to help her out as much as I could.

The conversation started with the usual, “It’s been so long.” “How’ve you been?” etc. Then she filled me in on the business she’s creating and the purpose of her invitation to coffee. I saw this as a prime opportunity to practice a little vulnerability and to come clean with someone about just how my first year or so of self-employment has gone. I explained to her everything I wish I had done differently and what very important steps in the process I had simply overlooked. I spoke very honestly about the struggles and challenges I’ve faced and offered what little guidance I felt I could. I shared my journey with her. I even went so far as to tell her about my dream for the future.

Let me tell you, I was feeling pretty good. I was proud of myself for opening up and finally NOT saying, “Work is fine. Everything is great!” And, she was very receptive and empathetic and appreciative of my honesty and vulnerability. She shared with me. I shared with her. It was a great experience of connecting with someone and feeling heard. We said goodbye, and I headed to my car.

THEN. Wah-wah… In the twenty paces between the cafe door and my front seat, it began – that sinking feeling, the rock in the pit of the stomach, the barrage of self-critical thoughts that inevitably flood in after feeling like you’ve said too much. “Why did I have to present myself as such a failure!?!” “Why did I tell her about my dream for moving forward?” “Why didn’t I just stick to the facts?”

Bam. Vulnerability hangover.
(I can’t claim the term, btw. It belongs to Brené Brown. And, it’s oh. so. accurate.)

Why is it that when we’ve shared even a tiny bit of ourselves, a little bit of truth about our lives, our hopes, our fears – why is it that we often end up feeling terrible?!? I think it’s because we’re so self-critical and judgmental that we assume everyone else is just as critical and judgmental of our journeys as we are. Thinking back on it, I’m pretty sure my friend was genuine in her appreciation of my story. And, I honestly don’t think she was judging me at all. AND, it was really liberating to tell my truth rather than find a way to sugar coat what has actually been a rather difficult year.

I think vulnerability takes practice. I think we have to be intentional about sharing our truth with people we can trust to hear it. And, I’m guessing the more practice we have at it, the easier it will become. I certainly hope so, anyway.

Sunday evening I went to a friend’s house for a dessert party. As is usual in a gathering of friends and acquaintances, someone asked me about work. This was not the opportunity to practice my vulnerability (at least I didn’t think so). I gave a very polite, “Work is good,” and walked away. Funny thing is, I still felt like an a$$. I had not been even the slightest bit vulnerable but had rather lied to this man’s face. And, it felt rotten.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we practice our vulnerability in every circumstance or with every person. Brené Brown talks about vulnerability with boundaries. We’re not required to expose our underbellies to strangers or people we don’t trust. We all know over-sharers, those people who tell their business to anyone who will listen – the grocery cashier, the lady at the neighboring gas pump, the bank teller. I’m not talking about over-sharing. But, I’m wondering what it would have been like had I neither revealed it all nor lied about work being peachy. Perhaps I could have said something like, “You know, it’s been an interesting year. I’ve learned a lot about starting a business, and it has definitely not been easy!”

I think I would have felt more authentic in my interaction. I may have even received some empathy and experienced a different kind of connection with my friend.

Anyway, I don’t regret sharing my story over coffee last week. I trust that what I shared was with good intention and was received with integrity. And, while I did experience that hangover and I did question the brutality of my honesty, ultimately I feel good about revealing a bit of my truth.

So, I’ll keep practicing. I’ll remember that being vulnerable means taking some risk and potentially feeling really exposed and nauseous. And, I’ll remember that sharing a bit of one’s truth can lead to authentic connection. And, that feels pretty darn good, I have to tell ya…

it takes a village

Have you ever met someone who is dreadfully determined in their independence? I mean the person who refuses to ask for help, refuses to accept help when offered, and is determined not to be a burden and not to need anything from anyone? Well, you have now. Hello. My name is Marjorie, and I’m obnoxiously independent.

According to my parents, I’ve been this way for a very long time – like since I was 2-ish. Apparently, my nickname as a toddler was “Miss Independence.” I’m pretty sure most toddlers start out this way as they begin to separate somewhat from their parents. They want to open the door by themselves. They don’t want to hold your hand to cross the street. They want to pour the milk by themselves. They definitely don’t want help washing their hands in the sink (even though it’s far too high up for an effective reach).

Question is, why do some of us stay that way – fiercely independent, I mean? I honestly have a visceral reaction to having to ask for help. I really do. It’s one of the most difficult tasks for me. I HATE needing help. with anything. Even when I try really hard to convince myself that people have the ability to refuse, I manage to cloak myself in a huge mantle of guilt. It rarely crosses my mind to let someone else open a door, carry my bags, help me move, give me a ride, etc. I HATE ASKING FOR HELP!

Thing is, we all need help sometimes. And, it isn’t just about needing help with tasks or during hardships, it’s about being connected. It’s about community.

If there’s anything I’m learning as I get older it’s that I can’t do life independently. I mean, I can try. I can open my own doors and lug my own grocery bags. I can even haul boxes and hail a cab. But, at the end of the day, if I really want to find meaning in my life and to live fully and wholeheartedly, I can’t do that in isolation. I have to be open to connection.

In my life, I have hurt friends and sabotaged potential love relationships by refusing to connect fully. It isn’t an intentional choice – not connecting. Here is where I could insert a quote from my last post about that which makes us afraid. Connecting is scary. Allowing ourselves to open to and be vulnerable to relationships of all kinds is frightening. It means being known. It means exposing our imperfections and often those things about ourselves we work so hard to hide. And, ultimately, it means we might get hurt.

Have you ever had your heart broken? And, I don’t mean by your kindergarten sweetheart who broke up with you on the playground (although admittedly traumatic at a young age). I mean the kind of heartbreak that actually hurts in your chest. The kind that leaves you sobbing yourself to sleep for weeks. The kind that causes you to question every ounce of your own worthiness. If not, let me tell you – it sucks!

What happens to many of us after this kind of hurt is that we armor up. And, I don’t mean we protect our temporarily sensitive hearts, I mean we gear up in full on body armor. Head to toe, “I will not let anyone hurt me again. Ever.” When we feel exposed and vulnerable, the last thing we want (or so we tell ourselves) is to be known, for our secrets or those parts of ourselves of which we’re not particularly proud to be seen by another. And, for some of us, it’s difficult even to reveal the parts we like because we’ve convinced ourselves we aren’t worthy of the connection.

I’m currently a professional counselor, and I used to be a hospital chaplain. So, I’ve managed to make a living out of knowing others without ever needing to be known. Because of professional ethical boundaries, it’s important that I not reveal much about myself to my clients. In the hospital, I witnessed some of the most vulnerable and sacred moments in others’ lives while they really knew nothing more about me than the name on my badge.

I burnt out at that hospital job and am quickly shrinking away from my current occupation. I’ve wondered for a while why. What occurs to me now is the isolation, the reality of not opening myself up to others. For a long time I convinced myself that I could be ok carrying intimate knowledge of others without needing to share my own story, without needing to experience mutual connection.

I was wrong. It takes a village, people. I need my village. I need to connect and to experience the fullness of being in community. I was wrong when I thought hiding and ‘protecting myself from hurt’ would actually be less painful than being disconnected and unknown. It isn’t. It’s just as painful and perhaps more so to realize that I can count on one hand the number of people I’d say really know me.

And, so, I’ve started answering more honestly when people ask me how I’m doing. I’m attempting to swallow my pride and perfectionism and show my true colors (even when they’re bleeding into one another). As difficult as it is, I’m trying to be more intentional about letting others in and allowing myself to be known. It’s a little frightening. I take that back. It’s a LOT frightening. Writing this blog is simultaneously terrifying and liberating. Most of you don’t know me. But, some of you do. Some of you are part of my village, whether you realize it or not.

And, that’s just it. Being in community with others means knowing we’re in it together. It means not being afraid to be seen. It means feeling safe in our vulnerability and imperfection. It means raising one another up and helping one another to find our voices and our authentic and best selves.

So, in case you’re one of those fiercely independent types who thinks you can take on this life by yourself, my encouragement is to acknowledge your village. And if you don’t have one, find ways to cultivate community for yourself. It’s really that important. Pretending that we can keep ourselves safe and protect our abilities to be self-sufficient by refusing to connect is hurting not only ourselves but those who wish to join us on our journey.

It takes a village, indeed…