I have been trying to write a memoir for a few years now and, as I attempt to write it, I’ve experienced everything from excitement to fear, doubts and struggle. The book I’m imagining will be a spiritual memoir and it will require me to get personal about some difficult things in my life.
Bringing anything to life, whether it’s a business or a book or a piece of art, anything we put our blood, sweat and tears into, is in itself a spiritual quest. It forces us to face ourselves and get real. It forces us to be vulnerable.
Ugh. Vulnerability. We hate it. We avoid it at all costs. No one wants to feel weak or exposed.
But what if vulnerability were a strength?
Brené Brown talks about the power of vulnerability in her famous TED Talk from 2010, that has now garnered over 30 million views.
The reason why I think that talk speaks to so many of us is because what she offers is hope. She dispels the idea that vulnerability is some evil thing.
Even though we know vulnerability is part of living, we try to sweep it under the rug. The common thing, as Ms. Brown expresses it, is to “knock discomfort upside the head, move it over and get all A's." It's something we do. "No vulnerability here, no sir," we try to convey, whether verbally, through action or with our bodies.
The strain of hiding our vulnerability, what we consider our weakest side is tremendous, it weighs heavily on us. Ms. Brown offers us relief. "Let go," she seems to be saying. "You don't have to be tough all the time."
We are now 8 years later since her talk, and there are still stigmatism and major doubts around vulnerability.
I was on a group call some time ago, made up of artists and entrepreneurs. One woman nailed it on the head when she said: "We need loads of confirmation that we are valuable, that we are good enough, that we can reach our goals, that our vision has merit. We have doubts, over and over again, even after success, whether we still ‘have what it takes.’”
And yet, as she pointed out: “It's astonishing that on the one hand, even when we get constant and repetitive confirmation of our abilities, we still doubt that we can succeed. On the other hand, we need zero confirmation or evidence that we could fail.”
We believe in failure without question.
After a successful best-seller, an author could begin writing a new book and instantly battle through doubts. Our brains seem to be hard-wired to go instantly to the worst-case scenario. We are putting our heart's work out in the world, and we are deathly afraid of the response.
Yet, here's the amazing thing about vulnerability that Brené Brown has discovered: When we battle forward, when we become that "man in the arena covered in sweat," it doesn't matter that we doubted. We are taking action, we are moving ahead. Because it won’t matter what anyone says or does. The doubts we feel, the fears, the gut churning and butterflies, they never go away. What matters is that in spite of those feelings, we still fought the good fight. Even if we get the crap beat out of us.
Many famous people still have stage fright. Some of the hottest celebrities admit it. Even people from the past had stage fright, including Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln. They hated speaking in public.
But they did it anyway and they changed the world.
I've been told by some people that they admire my ability to write about personal things, to open up and be vulnerable. I decided that if I can't be, then writing is not worth it to me. If I make others uncomfortable by being open and direct, then it's really not about me, is it? Maybe there are things in their lives that they're uncomfortable with. I have plenty of those myself. Many of them I'm not ready to divulge yet and maybe I never will admit to some of them.
This much I know. I would rather be vulnerable than hard, or silent, or dishonest, or scared. I would rather be vulnerable and face difficult experiences with a pure spirit. I know I won't always be able to do it. There will be times when I will hide my true face, when I will pretend I'm not affected, when I will put on a brave mask when that isn't at all what I'm feeling.
I write because it feels right. Because it isn't about me and my discomfort. It's about the message. It's about connection. It's about doing something when you're scared shitless to do it. It's about humanity, about heart, courage and getting over shame. We are all weak at times, and it takes a brave person to admit it.
When it comes down to it, I think we need to give ourselves a break. I need to give myself a break. Writing a memoir is one of the hardest forms of literature to write, because it requires opening up, revealing parts of oneself that have been kept hidden for so long.
I went to the literary festival in Newburyport this weekend and attended the talk “Writing Hard Stories,” with a panel of four writers, three of whom have published memoirs: Melanie Brooks, Mark Doty, Alysia Abbott and André Dubus III. Andre Dubus wrote the memoir “Townie” and he said in an interview with Melanie Brooks:
But know this: true for you may not be true for someone else. That’s ok. Because truth is always largely subjective. What’s important is that you are true to you.
Now when I think about vulnerability, it's about facing myself. Facing my own truth and owning up to it. When I can do that, it doesn't matter what anyone else says or thinks. I know I did the best I could to be honest.
What kinds of things do you find it hard to be honest about?
[Cover photo by Saffu on Unsplash]