This is one of my favorite pieces of wisdom because I’ve found it to be so true in my own life. Any problem I've stuffed down, pushed aside, or ignored, only came back stronger until I dealt with it.
The "escalating whispers" in my life have come in many forms over the years, but one I continued to ignore most was the call of vulnerability — to allow the world to see me as I was, the real me, flaws & all. I spent most of my life having only surface-level friendships but very few close friends...and never really a best friend because the criteria for being someone’s BEST friend is intimacy.
My biggest fear for most of my life was someone not liking me, so I made sure I acted in whatever way necessary in order to be well-liked. And, for the most part, I succeeded. I was well-liked, just not well-known.
My wake-up calls to make a change came in many forms: the fizzling out of friendships, the break-up of relationships, and the recurring loneliness that came with not having a best friend to call when things got tough (that would require admitting things got tough). But the whisper I felt most repeatedly—like a nagging that grew stronger & stronger—was the urge to pursue my passion of writing.
The desire to write in itself wasn’t the problem, the problem was I had no interest in writing fiction novels, poetry, or newspaper editorials. My desire was to write about my own life--thoughts, observations, and feelings about the lessons I've learned and also stuff I'm going through in real time--a very ill-fitted dream for an introvert that has difficulty being vulnerable. Maybe that’s why the desire was there in the first place...maybe my soul was screaming to run free and be authentic while my mind kept tight hold of the reigns. Eventually I surrendered to the nagging & started a blog.
But this would be a safe blog, I decided. I would be careful not to share too much and the way I figured I could accomplish this was to only write about my experiences as a teacher. This way, I figured, I could satisfy my desire to write without divulging anything too personal. I wrote with the intention of helping--I offered tips & suggestions and, looking back, the tone read a little like this: “here...I know a lot and I am going to teach you all I know.”
While I did have some knowledge and experience to share that had value, my writing was devoid of connection, realness, and personality (you know...ALL THOSE THINGS THAT MAKE PEOPLE WANT TO READ STUFF). I began posting and realized pretty quickly that the only thing worse than having people hate what you wrote is to have them ignore what you wrote. I hardly ever had interaction with the posts I published and my readership dwindled instead of growing.
This all changed through what I now see as an act of grace. One day I was feeling super frustrated with ALL the madness that comes with being a mom & teacher and thought “oh my God I’m going to explode if I don’t get all this off my chest.” I sat down and wrote for the first time with NO rules— whatever came to mind went on the page. It was the fastest I’ve ever written anything, the words just flowed. When I was done and read it back, something felt different...good. Despite my usual inclination to keep my shortcomings to myself, my gut told me to share the post. And what did I have to lose? Virtually no one was reading my blog and if I was likely quitting anyway, I may as well make this my last post.
A little under an hour later I picked up my phone and saw that I had over 20 notifications on Facebook (that was a lot for me). My heart sank. “Oh s**t!” I thought, “what the hell did I just do?” I logged on to my blog page and couldn’t believe what I was seeing: the post had gotten over several hundred views and been shared over 20 times in less than an hour. (Commence panic attack)
I immediately had what Brene Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover”. I was embarrassed and filled with guilt for sharing with the world my frustrations about my personal life as a teacher, wife, & mother. I also regretted putting out there to the world that I didn’t have it all figured out—far from it actually. I wanted to unpost it, to take it all back, but I knew it was too late. I dreaded reading the comments, where I’d surely gotten slammed for sharing so much.
But as I read them, I was shocked that not one was negative. Most were along the lines of “thank you, you put into words exactly how I'm feeling.” I realized that the vulnerability and realness that came through when I wrote from my heart is what people had connected with. That’s what had been lacking in my writing, and in my interactions with others, all this time.
Connecting with people in this way was more satisfying and fulfilling than I could ever put into words--that connection was what I had been searching for my whole life, I'd just been going about it the wrong way. Showing my imperfections, letting my guard down—the very things I thought would drive people away—drew them to me. And my writing became the one place in the world where I felt I could go and be totally free.
This realization changed the way I approached not just my writing, but the relationships in my personal life as well. From that point on I made it my number one objective to stop trying to be perfect and just be REAL. I retitled my blog as my full name and decided that the only rule I'd have for my writing this time around is that there are no rules. I knew I could trust myself to be vulnerable and share in a real way, while still knowing what what was to keep private, just for me.
The whispers and nagging stopped as my outer life began aligning with who I was behind closed doors. I thought I mastered that whole vulnerability lesson until a new opportunity presented itself to take it to a whole new level. Isn't that always how it works?
I am now testing the boundaries of just how vulnerable I can be by trying for another baby after experiencing a loss. Knowing what that pain is like and still saying "yes, I'll take the chance of going through that again to experience the joy that’s ALSO possible" has required a BIG leap of faith for me. The ultimate act of vulnerability for me will be to hold a positive test in my hand and decide to choose faith and hope every day for forty weeks over fear.
When I was in the process of reaching this decision, I happened to watch the biopic Jackie about the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. What I hadn't realized before watching the film was that she had actually been the mother of five children, not two. She miscarried with her first child, had a still born daughter her next pregnancy, went on to have Caroline and John, Jr., and then gave birth to a boy that only lived two days. What's even more remarkable was that she lost her husband only three months after her son's death.
And I'm worried about getting hurt again? I'm wondering if I'll survive it? It seems anytime I'm caught up in the drama of my own life, I'm humbled by someone else's story. That’s the power of sharing our stories, sometimes it puts our own into perspective.
Some may wonder why she put herself through this again and again after experiencing such loss. I believe this is the power and strength of the love that comes with being a mother. We lay our hearts out there (sometimes again and again) for our babies, despite knowing the pain that could come.
Loss aside, just the daily experience of motherhood in itself is a constant opportunity to practice vulnerability. I heard someone say years ago that once you have a child it’s like walking around with your heart outside your body. I don't know what the ending to my story will be, I just know there's a nagging that's whispering to my heart, once again, calling for me to be vulnerable as a mother this time...to let my guard down & take a chance on love.