Monday, November 25, 2013

Art and Vulnerability

"Vulnerability" seems to be the buzz word these days.  Most notable in the work of Brené Brown, it's also popping up in many of the books and blogs I read.  Recently I enjoyed a getaway to an event hosted by Emily Freeman of Chatting at the Sky, based on her wonderful new book Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live.  Emily shared that we are all made for art; after all, we were created in the image of the great Artist.  

Our art may take different forms (writing, music, parenting, or work in any field that springs from our passion), but we each have an unique artistry to offer the world.  Even though this art is at the foundation of who we are, creating it is not simple or easy.  It takes courage to offer our gifts, particularly as we deal with inner and outer critics.  Sharing our true selves and deepest desires is vulnerable stuff...what if others don't accept it?  What if we give all we have and find that it's not enough?  Do we have anything uniquely special to give?

Vulnerability comes with great risks, and yet, I'm learning that the ways we live without it can cause even more damage.  I believe that the swing we're seeing away from the "I'm just fine, thank you, and I can do this myself" mindset to the longing for authenticity and community comes from the pain of wearing masks for too long.  It's hard keeping up an image and pretending things are okay when we feel broken inside.  It's difficult managing appearances, controlling our situations, environment, and those around us so that we can have the semblance of perfection that we crave.  We can work so hard to keep it together and just feel empty inside.

I started this blog as a way to be vulnerable, to force myself to peel back the facade a little and come to terms with a life, that while beautiful and full of blessings, does not always match the picture I have in my head.  I spend far too much time bemoaning how my children won't listen and too much energy trying to force everyone into submission.  I grew up in a very loving but unstable household, and I developed controlling tendencies as a way to compensate.  I want to be the perfect mother and wife, and I have unrealistic expectations of what that means.  When I inevitably fail, I feel guilty and am convinced I will always be a failure.  I have a hard time expressing what I need, and then grumble when I don't get my unspoken wants.  It's been an exhausting way to live (for me, and my family, too, I'm sure).  I'm slowly learning, though, that through the power of sharing how I feel, I'm more likely to get what I need.  Others are accepting of the "real" me as it frees them to be authentic as well.  They are not looking for perfection in me, and they are relieved to know I'm not expecting it from them either.

This retreat weekend came about when I told my husband I wanted to attend, and that I wanted a night in a hotel to relax and process the experience.  He was happy to oblige as he is always encouraging me to take better care of myself (and stepping in to rescue me when I don't).  I'm still working on not feeling guilty as I know the time away makes me a happier mom and wife, and I'm even excited to return home and spend a few solo days with the kids as John leaves to go hunting, and then we enjoy the chaos of the holidays together with our extended families.  "At the Barn" was a lovely time of listening and connecting.  Many shared dreams from their heart, and shared their honest struggle through tears.  Others offered encouragement through their on journey of having been there before.  As an introvert, I sat and took it all in. 

As I listened and appreciated the openeness, I realized that it is often missing in the larger world.  While we live in a culture of oversharing (instagramming every meal, tweeting every thought), there is a fine line between authentic vulnerability and a plea for attention.  The former leads to empathy and intimacy (I feel with you, "me too"), while the latter screams "see me".  Do we reach out in connection and community, or as a way to market and promote ourselves?  I have struggled with that line due to my engagement with social media (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, blog).  Am I sharing to join in with others or to create and maintain an image?  Will my "friends" feel encouraged or overshadowed?  As it's more difficult to generate true community these days, it's also harder to know how to reach out without oversharing  and without being pushy or disingenuous.    

It was a message for me to ponder, seeking how I share myself.  Am I sharing who I really am or crafting an image or brand?  What is my art and how will I offer it to others?  It forced me to confront the demon of comparison that often blocks me from sharing my art.  It's easy to give up and think that I will never be there, and maybe that's okay.  For now, I'm grateful for the time to explore these questions and tend to the seeds of dreams planted within me, and nurturing those who share the garden with me.


  1. Loved reading your heart. So many of the things you mentioned are struggles I face as I try to figure out the purpose of my blog and my writing. Your question about really sharing yourself or crafting a brand is great food for thought. For we are not a brand to be marketed. We are real and we need community. A lot of other things you said gave me much food for thought as well. :)

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your kind words. I just read your post on the event, and I loved your focus on grace. I'm in the same place of continuing to process the event and not knowing what it will all mean, but being certain that it mattered that we were all there. Blessings on your journey!

  3. Jenny, this is amazing. You are speaking my language in every sentence! I tend to be controlling as a mom and spouse (my poor family), and I often fail to communicate what I want and sulk when I don't get it. I feel tremendous guilt when I have to leave my kids behind, even just for a couple of days. And my husband is a hunter. We should be best friends! Anyway, thank you so much for sharing this. Reading your reflection post added another dimension to my own experience, and I think this is what "At the Barn" was all about. We are the treads, and together we weave a beautiful tapestry.

  4. Thanks, Yuko! I appreciate your words and it's good to know we are not alone. I've been enjoying reading your blog and you have a gift. I'm inspired by how you're sharing it and the vulnerability and authenticity you show. I like the image of us being threads weaving a tapestry together. Blessings to you!