Vulnerability: AKA Something I Suck At

I stood in my kitchen yesterday, eyes watering from cutting onions and thought,  This is why I bought them pre-diced.  But for some reason or other the diced onions I’d purchased smelled rancid and I wasn’t about to ruin the chili by using those. So I keep dicing and blinking tears.

I thought about the year that dicing onions was the closest I ever got to crying. I was numb and knew if I let myself cry, I’d fall to pieces. Since I wasn’t sure I’d be able to put myself together again, I just continued to keep it together, to put one foot in front of the other. Keep calm and carry on.

Because I have a reputation for being calm and collected. I’m a steady, sturdy girl. I’ve been described as reliable, responsible, and all things that make for a good baby-sitter, fairly typical first-born and all around good girl. Part of it is my nature. I am easy-going and flexible. I’m not easily flustered. I know how to roll with the punches. But more than that, I know how to make it look like I’m okay. I am quick to present myself as having it together. I mean I’m not above admitting when I don’t know the answer and I’ve never had a five year plan, or even a one year plan. But usually when I don’t know what I’m doing, I know how to make it at least look like I know what I’m doing. Which isn’t always a bad thing, especially in my line of work. It’s generally a good thing to feel confident that your nurse knows what she’s doing.

The trouble is that I like the control of it. I like being able to manage my emotions. I like knowing that I have the ability to compartmentalize and by simply reading a good book or binge watching a TV show, I can push back emotions that bubble under the surface. Once I compartmentalize, I can go on presenting a pretty picture of poise and composure. Or at least do a decent enough job that most people buy the line that, “I’m just tired,” or, “Busy,” when they question if I’m okay. Because I like looking like I’m okay. No pride there, eh?

But as I stood there, dicing those onions, I looked out my kitchen window at the rain falling and the trees on the hill. I felt like those trees. I’m changing. The leaves are just beginning change color. They aren’t vivid oranges, reds, and yellows. There’s just a subtle hint of color. It won’t stop you in your tracks and leave you breathless but there’s enough difference that if you look for it, you’ll find it. That’s the trees, that’s me.

A month ago, I was talking to a friend. We were having a very honest conversation and I told her how I suck at being vulnerable. She told me we should have a week of vulnerability and see what happens. If it went badly we could, “have a crying party and build up walls.” It was mostly a joke but something struck me and it became a challenge. Could I be vulnerable?

I wasn’t sure. But I googled Brené Brown because I remembered she did a vulnerability study and this TED talk popped up. It’s definitely worth watching. Here’s the part that smacked me in the face:

 There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.That’s it. They believe they’re worthy. And to me, the hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection, was something that, personally and professionally, I felt like I needed to understand better. So what I did is I took all of the interviews where I saw worthiness, where I saw people living that way, and just looked at those.

What do these people have in common? [. . .] And the first words that came to my mind were whole-hearted. These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness. So I wrote at the top of the manila folder, and I started looking at the data. In fact, I did it first in a four-day very intensive data analysis, where I went back, pulled these interviews, pulled the stories, pulled the incidents. What’s the theme? [. . .] And so here’s what I found. What they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original definition of courage,when it first came into the English language — it’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were,which you have to absolutely do that for connection.

The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable,nor did they really talk about it being excruciating — as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing.They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.

She continues to talk about how the problem with numbing the bad feelings and experiences is we miss the joy too. I know this first hand. I’d lived it and I don’t ever want to again. She concludes with this:

But there’s another way, and I’ll leave you with this. This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen,deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

By this point I am feeling one thing: deep conviction. So, I tell my friend that I’m going to try to be vulnerable. I felt a little bit nauseated but it convinced me I was right. Conviction usually makes me feel like I might throw up. That night at home group when it was time for prayer requests, my heart was thudding in my ears but I managed to spit out an honest request. I blushed as I shared what felt “silly” and “girlish” in comparison to what I’d deemed as “worthy” and “serious” requests. Fortunately my attempt to be vulnerable was met with the kindest words, encouragement, and understanding.

So, I go through the week trying to be more open. I try to answer direct questions with truth. I may not be an open book (no matter how long I live) but I share more than I would have before this challenge. At the end of the week, my friend and I touch base. She asks how it’s gone and I tell her I think I need a month to decide if it’s worth it.

A month later, I know it is. Oh, it’s not easy, not one bit. I fight it. I’ve had moments where I’ve put up walls, deflected, and generally failed. I’ve had a couple conversations where there’s been too much silence as I try to make my lips articulate what’s going on in my head and my heart. But I also had these really great conversations with people because I’ve let them see what a blushy mess of a girl I am right now. I’ve gotten to know people better. I am having a harder time not letting what I’m feeling flicker across my face. It’s a little disconcerting to me when people can guess why I’m sad or smiling but I’m slowly getting used to it.

I’m taking more risks. I’m attempting to be more open. Sometimes it’s worked out really well and other times I’ve found myself apologizing and having to try, try again. This month has been a roller-coaster of emotions. It hasn’t been calm nor business as usual. I haven’t been steady. It’s weird and sometimes it’s made me weird by extension.

I know I’m just starting down this path of vulnerability. The closest I am to wearing my heart on my sleeve, is to kind of put it out there on my sleeve and then cover that sleeve up with a jacket but it’s a start. It’s a risk I think I’m going to have to keep on taking because even though getting hurt is a real possibility, and honestly an inevitability, there’s too much good and sweet and wonderful I’ll miss if I don’t risk it.

I hesitate to even post this. It’s very real and very messy and I’ve already confessed how I like to appear to have it together but these words were echoing in my head and I felt like I should put them in writing. And then I thought definitely no I should not do that. Too much. But in church this morning, while I was debating, Matt read this verse:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. ~2 Timothy 1:7

This verse is one of the verses written across my heart. It has been a mantra I’ve clung to over the years. I’ve repeated it to myself as I’ve spoken things I’ve been afraid to say. I carried it with me through places I was afraid to walk. It steadies me when I have shaky knees. It’s conviction and courage all in one verse. And just hearing it felt like a push to write. To put a little bit more of myself out there. To let one more wall drop away and receive more space to breathe. To live a little bit more open and free and love a little better. It may be messy and hard and sometimes it really hurts but I think this whole-hearted way of living just may be a crazy-wonderful-beautiful way to live.

Singleness, Downton Abbey, Fears, and Flirting

If I used Twitter, I would file this under #confession. But I don’t tweet because #imissedthebandwagon and #athispointwhybother. Nevertheless, this is a confessional of sorts on singleness, Downton Abbey, and one of my greatest fears.

Being single, female, and twenty-seven is a strange thing. It’s not bad nor good; just strange. Having spent twenty-six and half of those years not “in a relationship,” I’m more or less used to it. It’s what I know, but definitely not what I desire. And certainly not how I anticipated my life unfolding. Sometimes I’m grateful because not being attached to a significant other has allowed me be the me I want to be without having to factor in someone’s expectations. There’s a freedom to it at times. And there’s a quite hope that someday, in the nearish future, I’ll get swept off my feet.

That being said, singleness is different when you’re no longer in your teens or early-twenties. Continue reading

The F Words

I failed my driver’s test three times. No, you did not read that wrong. I failed it three times.  (Insert woman driver joke here.) Not the written portion; I rocked the written permit portion. I passed driver’s ed with flying colors, despite hating every minute of it. But the first time I got in the car with the test monitor, I was so nervous I missed the green arrow sign wasn’t on . . . yeah not my finest moment. I think that time I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t had enough hours behind the wheel. And let me assure you failing made me leery to get back behind the wheel. After some time passed, I tried the test again. This time I failed not because I did anything wrong but because I was too cautious. Okay . . . The third time, well, the third time I tried it at a different DMV and there was a weird interstate cross-over thing I didn’t know how to navigate having never encountered one before. Another failure on my record. The third time was not a charm.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, I really don’t like failing. I’m not a true Type A. I’m not very competitive- for better or worse. Sometimes I wish I were a bit more competitive. But for me, playing the game and watching other people compete is just as much fun as winning. This is why I’d never make it in law school. I don’t expect perfection of myself either. Maybe I used to but I’ve learned that it’s never going to happen and I can spare myself a lot of emotional trauma if I give myself the grace to not be perfect. But while I may not expect perfection or a perfect score, I always expect to do well or at least pass. Passing is good. Failing is not, not at all.

And the thing is, when I fail, I feel like a failure. I definitely felt like a failure when I failed my driver’s test for the third time. I remember feeling like a failure when I was little and taking piano lessons. I’d practice over and over but once the music sheets got more complicated than “Mary Had a Little Lamb” I could never get my fingers on the right notes or find the right tempo. I’d sit there with my piano teacher that I loved, and mess up over and over. Finally, I couldn’t take screwing up any more and I quit. I remember feeling relieved but also being very disappointed in myself. Now, I’ve just accepted that after years of chorus and music classes that there’s something about reading music that my brain cannot and probably will never grasp. But at eight I just knew I failed at something I thought I’d be good at.

Feeling like a failure creeps into your self-image. Let me assure you this is not a good thing. The problem with feeling like a failure is that sometimes it makes me go to lengths to ensure I do not fail. And when I start fearing failure I’m in big trouble. It keeps me from taking risks or trying new things. I start putting up walls and live inside a boring box of known abilities and areas of safety and proven success.

The F words: fear and failure, fear of failure, these are the words that whisper in my ear and turn me into an insecure, lesser version of myself.

I was watching baseball awhile back and I heard a phrase that I’d never paid enough attention to hear, “struck out looking.” I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant but quickly discovered, courtesy of Google, that it was when a batter was out on a third strike when he didn’t attempt to swing at a “good” pitch. It’s the opposite of struck out swinging. It’s okay to strike out swinging, at least you were trying. What was it Babe Ruth said, something like, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”

How many times have I struck out looking? How many times have I been so afraid of striking out that I’ve watched the pitch come in and not swung afraid it might a bad one? Why do I let the fear of failing, the fear of striking out, the fear of looking stupid, the fear of being too much, the fear of not being enough, the fear of overstepping, the fear of being just me and not someone else keep me from swinging for the fences?

You’ve Got Mail was on TV again the other day. I love this movie. It’s one of the better 90’s chick flicks. And being a girl who loves books and emails, this one’s become a sentimental favorite. Sometimes I watch it for just a few minutes and other times I watch until the final scene where Brinkley bounds around the bend at the park. This time the following scene jumped out at me:

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, valuable but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?

Kathleen Kelly’s words could be my own. I think I could accept if my life ends up being small as long as it is also valuable. But I’m no longer okay with striking out looking and letting the F words run my life. If I’m going to fail (which is inevitable), then I want my failure and my mistakes to reflect that I’m trying new things. That I’m daring to dream a little bigger and be a little bit more brave. That I’m attempting to knock one out of the park. I think I could use a life filled with more home runs. Maybe you could too?

On my forth attempt to get my driver’s license, I passed. And you know what, holding that plastic card in my hands was even sweeter because I’d failed so spectacularly on all my previous attempts. And maybe that’s the silver lining that comes failure: a chance for a beautiful redemption.

I guess there’s just one thing left to say, “Swing batter batter swing!”


What I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Started Nursing School

Today I helped host a meet and greet for new nursing students. It was a little surreal thinking that I’m entering my last semester in a few weeks. It doesn’t feel like that long ago that I was the new student wondering how on earth, I, a spill-prone klutzy gal would manage to keep my bright white scrubs clean.

I remember walking into orientation, surrounded by unfamiliar faces and being bombarded by too much information. Well-meaning students who had just completed their first semester tried to give us advice. My take away was that was nursing school was impossibly hard, I could kiss my social life goodbye, my life should now henceforth be devoted to studying, and above all don’t panic.

Well, panicking hadn’t entered my mind. I had felt that sense of peace of knowing I was in the right where I was supposed to be. I was nervous, sure, but I hadn’t considered panicking until I heard people tell me at least ten times not to panic. Fortunately, as I left I found a voice mail message from my nursing buddy who was entering her last semester. I quickly called her back. “Naomi, should I be panicking?” I asked. She laughed and laughed. She told me I could do it, that sure nursing school is hard but I’d be fine. She was right.

So here’s what I wish someone had told me before I started nursing school:
Continue reading