The Power of Vulnerability

Small puppy peeking through bushes

Last week, I posted a blog about feeling hopeless. It was a little scary for me to share. Maybe a lot scary. I wrote it from a place of strength and wellness, but I was very open about a rough couple days I had the previous week.

One of the things I’ve been struggling with lately—as a writer and an entrepreneur—is showing up authentically. I’m good at the supportive, uplifting stuff. But sharing about the harder things activates all sorts of fears for me, and they all boil down to this: worrying about the judgment of others.

It just about kills me to admit that.

All my life, I’ve been proud of thinking for myself, not going along with the crowd. Peer pressure always seemed lame to me. I think when people try to pressure others to conform, it is often really about their own doubts about themselves and their choices. When you can see through the surface behavior to what’s really going on, it doesn’t have power over you.

Which brings me back to caring about what people think.

Of course, I care about how people react to what I share. In fact, I want them to react, because I want to touch people in ways that make a difference, no matter how small, in their lives.

But the truth is, some people just won’t relate to what I have to say. Others won’t like it, some will misunderstand it, and everyone will have some sort of judgment about it.

The challenge is to show up anyway.

When I was in fourth grade, my family moved to a new city. I left the group of kids I’d gone to school with for four years—all of my school life. At my new school, because I was new (and vulnerable), some kids were quite mean to me. For the first two weeks, I came home every day and cried.

Then one afternoon, I thought, “I would never  treat another human being that way!”

Something clicked. As soon as I realized I had no respect for those kids, I didn’t care what they thought of me.

And then, something interesting happened. The very next day, no one was mean to me—no cruel teasing or attempts to belittle me. It was that dramatic. Overnight.

Of course, there were a few times over the years, when a mean kid would say something to try to hurt me, but it didn’t get under my skin. That’s probably why it rarely happened.

I learned that there is real energy in our beliefs. Every time I “tried” to not to care, it didn’t work. It was only when I really didn’t care, that the miracle happened. And it was based on being true to my values.

I didn’t try to put on a “tough” skin, or act like someone I wasn’t. I stayed true to myself, and learned an important lesson about life. I could be both vulnerable and strong.

So—what is the power of being vulnerable?

You may help someone. You never know who may be struggling with the same thing. Sometimes just knowing we’re not alone makes a world of difference.

Your authenticity shines more brightly. Some of the energy caught up in hiding who you are gets released into simply being yourself.

You gain resilience. When when you practice good boundaries and listen to your intuition about what you choose to share, and with whom, you learn that it’s safe to be real. As others accept you for who you are, you learn to accept your own frailties, which strengthens you.

And the truth is, there are people who want to know who you are, what you think, how you feel. I’m thrilled to see the movement of energy in Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. I’m in awe when I read Rumi’s poetry. I laugh out loud at the cat videos people post on Facebook.

View through colored glass in kaleidoscope

The perspectives we share with each other are kaleidoscopes of meaning.

They are little stained-glass windows into someone else’s soul.

They enrich our experiences on this earth. They add depth, lightness, and beauty. And I am grateful for all of it.

To borrow a piece of wisdom from one of my clients, don’t “hoard” yourself and your gifts!

How can you bring more of who you are into your self-expression?
(And what are you waiting for?)

Diving into the Mystery Pool

When you’re making art, your mind and your subconscious play together. When you write, the narrative of your story—or the structure of your ideas—emerges with just enough surprises to keep you curious.

Hand holding lit match

It’s like walking in the dark, while your mind strikes matches and tosses them in the direction that leads you to the heart of what you have to say.

Sometimes, while you’re dancing with your curiosity, something deeper will tug at your consciousness. That’s when you know it’s time to stop dancing, and dive.

I call it “diving into the mystery pool.” It’s exciting. And challenging.

In the center of the pool, it’s so deep you can’t see the bottom.

Sometimes it’s murky and filled with shadows.

Woman underwater in white flowing dress

And just beneath the surface, you sense the fluid movement of your instinctive mind: eyes shut, yet watching, seeing, knowing.

Pay attention to what it has to tell you.

If diving to the deep places is exciting, what keeps you at the surface? What is challenging about diving into the mystery?

Perhaps the fear of being judged. Or feeling deeply. Or seeing the essence of something, when you wish it was something else.

Given all that, how do you find the courage to dive?

First, re-frame the ego’s point-of-view.

We all know to lock the inner critic—the uber editor—outside our study door when we’re just trying to get a draft written. But there’s a more insidious saboteur lurking in the corner of the room that whispers, “what will people think?”

Don’t let that question silence you. Let it inspire you.

For most of us, banishing judgment is easier said than done. On a deeper level, it’s about accepting that you are not here to be perfect, whatever that is. Mistakes are meant to lead us to a deeper knowing of ourselves, others, and life.

It helps us when we know each others’ foibles. We get to be comforted that we’re not alone, and we get to have an “ah-ha” moment—delivered by your insight.

We want your perspective. We want you to show us how you see the world. We want to follow your lit matches in the darkness, to find the treasure hidden there, that only you can lead us to.

That’s what’s so magical about art.

Second, commit to authenticity.

Being authentic is not just about being free of pretense, it’s about being vulnerable enough to feel the deep meaning of our lives, often through what we have lost.

When you’re committed to being authentic, you are willing to swim in the difficult stuff.

Your authenticity invites others to go deeper. The realness of your life means more than any idea of perfection. It’s your genuineness that moves us, because at the core, we recognize ourselves.

Even if your perspective is new to us, when you share it in a real way, we experience the universal in what you have to say: the clenched stomach; the open heart; the moment when we all peer into the abyss, and we see what only we are meant to see.

Third, the truth will set you free.

Nothing holds us in shackles more than the lies we tell ourselves.

For a while, it might feel better to skate on the surface. But when we look unflinchingly at what we are called to explore, we gain deeper respect for ourselves, grow stronger, and model the way for others.

There’s a freeing inner shift that happens when you accept the truth of a situation, rather than fight it. Maybe it’s the release of all that energy it takes to pretend.

With your emotional and mental energy flowing again, you have access to a wisdom that enriches all that you create.

Fourth, honor your spirit.

Several years ago, my dad sent me some old photos of our family at the beach. When I looked at this one, it caught my heart.

Little girl standing on beach

In the full photo, I’m standing with my brothers and my mom at the beach. I’m holding my mom’s hand, and posing.

Looking at this earlier version of myself struck me to the core.

I reconnected with the perspective of seeing life as a huge panorama of possibilities. And my love for that little girl—for my self—made me realign with the potential I came into this world with.

I need to live deeply, and create from that place. I don’t want to let that little girl down.

Who are you? What is it that you do not want to leave this world without doing? Writing? Painting? Singing and dancing?

Honor your spirit. You’re here for a reason.

Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart
and his friends can only read the title. — Virginia Woolf

Here’s to opening the leaves of your book, and getting to see life the way only you can see it!

When Both Things Are True

As I mentioned in another post, A Clutter-Free Life, I’m in the process of going through everything I own to get rid of items I don’t need or want. My motivation includes making space in my house, simplifying my life, and making room for who I am becoming.

Making space and simplifying were the “easy” end results that I wanted. Making room for the next phase of my life was harder, because I knew that I had to let go of part of who I wanted to be, but did not become. My faith and hope in living a more authentic life gave me the courage to take a deeper look.

Who Were You?

Little girl dancing in the rain

I sorted through a lot of things from when I was a little girl. Things my mother saved: report cards, kindergarten paintings, little notes I wrote to her and my father. I found seven different notes that were part of my guerilla marketing campaign to get a kitten named Jeremy, complete with a drawing of a kitten on each one! (For the record, it didn’t work, but my later campaign to get a dog did, thank God.)

I also found a series of essays I wrote for school when I was sixteen. I loved those; they were a fun peek into my mind at that time. I didn’t believe in reincarnation, although I was “open to the possibility,” because I realized that no one knows for sure. I seemed to think that living over and over again as different people was a silly thing to do, yet I thought hanging out in heaven for eternity would be too boring. (Well, okay then!)

When going through these things, it was clear to me that I no longer identify as much as I used to with my younger self. When I originally saved these things, my childhood was a much nearer experience than it is now. My little girl self is still a part of me, but it feels odd now to keep things like my kindergarten paintings. Would I ever look at them again? Not likely. They simply take up space, from a part of my life I already lived. (But those essays are kind of cool, so I’m keeping them, even though, years from now, I may find them and wonder why in the world I saved them.)

Looking at who you were can tell you a lot about who you are now. It’s the beginning of the narrative of your life story. It sets the stage, comic or tragic, that your current life emerged from. Looking at things from my childhood gave me an orientation point for the other things I looked through. It reminded me of who I was, and where I came from.

Who Did You Think You Were “Supposed” to Be?

I also found artifacts from my prior professional life. It was the life I chose, because I couldn’t imagine being able to have the life I wanted. It was the consolation life, I guess. Not all bad, but not that great, either.

I found lots of technical writing work samples, including published manuals that I wrote, and a very old printout of an early online help system that I wrote and helped design. I threw all that out, without a second thought. (Okay, I recycled them.) All those years of work, but they no longer mattered to me. Some of that work was interesting and challenging, but it wasn’t meaningful.

Sometimes, not living the life you’re to meant to live is part of the journey. It’s living the status quo life, believing the consensus reality that tells you that your real gifts aren’t wanted. A wise teacher once told me, it’s learning about something via negativa, by what it is not.

I thought I would be more regretful about that period of my life, but correcting my path has taken the sting out of staying on the wrong one for such a long time. That’s been a good, and surprising, lesson. You can’t change your past, but you can change your future. It’s easier to make peace with a mistake, if you are already working to correct it.

Who Did You Want to Be?

The hard part—what I really dreaded—was going through the things that were once a part of my hope for my future that I never realized. Because this loss is something I can’t change in the future, it’s harder to look at. But I did. (And I still am.)

Baby shoes on wood floor

I found a little red fold-up chair I sat on as a child. A set of play kitchen appliances. Doll clothes my grandmother crocheted. A tiny porcelain tea set. A child-size table and two chairs. One of my baby buggies. The big doll my parents gave me one Christmas. (I still remember how I felt, walking around the corner to see her—not wrapped!—in front of the Christmas tree, wearing a green satin ballerina outfit that my grandmother made.)

The things that still have sentimental value, I’ll keep. The others, I’m letting go. No little girl of mine will sit on that chair, or push that buggy, or hear about her great grandmother who made all those doll clothes by hand. Anyone who thinks that letting go of a life unlived (but truly wanted) isn’t as much of a grieving process as losing part of what you lived (but still want) is sleepwalking through life.

When I was little, I was fierce in my commitment to look at things that scared me, or hurt me. I would think about them, and let myself feel what it would be—or was—like, because I wanted to stay strong enough to stay sensitive. I didn’t want to avoid the hard things; I wanted to be fully in my life. I know in my wisest self that this is how I need to live, but the more loss I experienced in my life, the harder this became for me.

Part of reclaiming my authentic life is living with loss, not finding an intellectual or spiritual platitude to box it away in a corner. I want to live all the parts of my life. And I’m always surprised that when I do, as difficult as it is sometimes, I often have the sense at the same time, of it being all okay. I see that both things are true.

Whatever your losses, opening up to them can be a kind of healing; instead of spending so much energy to push them away, you integrate them into your whole life. And I always ask God for help, and I remember to still my mind, and listen to what comes. I’m never disappointed if I am sincere.

To move forward, we have to let go of the parts of ourselves that are no longer true for us, and sometimes we also have to live with the grief of an unlived dream at the same time. That grief is part of who we are, and it affects what we have to give to the world.

Who Are You Now, and Who Are You Becoming?

So, what do you do with the unlived parts of your life? You can decide to live them, or let them go. And if you let them go, what’s in the space left behind?

By accepting what we’ve lost and grieving for it, we are brought back to the authenticity of who we are now, and who we still can become. We see ourselves more clearly, so we can make a life that is in alignment with who we are. We have the courage to be real.

I love to coach, because I help people with their next steps. I help them see that the empty space is rich with possibility. Who do you want to become?

This is a poem I wrote about grief, not with anyone in mind, but with everyone and everything in mind. For those of you dealing with any kind of grief, I offer this as an acknowledgment of how hard it is, and with a reminder to be very, very kind to yourself.

The Loss of You

Outdoor bonfire under starry sky

Shapes crouch and dance
slowly around a hot fire.
They are human and not human,
from a past so dim it flickers;
light, dark, light, shadow.

The place is beyond words,
where thought is as pale and fragile as a moth.
When I try to explain the loss of you,
they laugh a song that shakes their bodies.
Their leathery skin sprouts feathers.
Noses harden into sharp beaks.
Their black eyes, reflecting firelight, are round, piercing, infinite.

Their wings shudder. And then they wail.
They keen from their bellies.
They pluck beakfulls of feathers
and spit them into the fire,
transforming them into smoke
rising like breath in the cold night air.

Then, they settle.
They stop and perch on the sandy soil.
Their feathers fall like old leaves.
They become human, and not human, again.
They begin to slowly dance around the fire.

A vast, dark sky dotted with stars arcs over them.
Behind them lies a deep, still lake filled with everything that has been lost,
and everything that will be found.

What loss do you need to grieve and integrate, to move forward to the life you want to live?

The Map of Possibilities

There’s a wonderful, simple map of possibilities, and it looks like this:

Diagram of magic map

I love it because it looks like our comfort zones are like islands, and the magic is offshore, in a place where perhaps we can’t see land, and we don’t know what’s next. (I may be a bit of a romantic.)

How do we do it? How do we step out of the boundaries of our little havens, off the firm island into the watery realm? First, we need a boat, or just a bit of imagination.

Imagine yourself floating quietly, absorbing each moment as it enters your consciousness and echoes deep inside you, subtly changing the shoreline of your mind. And imagine hoisting the sails and gliding through the unknown, adjusting and adapting as moments crest and fall. You can achieve whatever you are called on to do—or to be.

Next, it takes motivation, courage, perspective, and support to leave the safety of the harbor.

What Motivates You?

Motivation is the force that pulls you out of your comfort zone when you want or need something beyond the familiar boundaries of your current life.

For example, the first trip I took to Europe, I was alone and I didn’t speak Italian. My companions were a phrasebook, an independent spirit, and the absolute commitment to experiencing something new. What motivated me? I knew that underneath all the surface obstacles, would be the chance to see the world with new eyes. And by new eyes, I don’t just mean the vision of someone changed by her experiences; I also mean the way we look at the world as children, when it’s all new, and full of discoveries: eyes filled with wonder.

Ponte Vecchio

And I did just that. I walked along the Ponte Vecchio, saw the statue of David, and looked out of the paned windows of the Uffizi at the Arno as the sun lowered in the sky. I leaned on the wide stone windowsill of an old Tuscan villa and watched the misted hills rolling green and soft in the golden sunrise. It was absolutely wonderful!

Michelangelo's statue of David

What do you really want? (Not what you are “supposed” to want, what you truly want in the secret places of your soul.)

What calls to you?

Take a moment, and be with this question. Notice what comes up.

What Gives You Courage?

Many times, we know what we want, but we talk ourselves out of it, because it seems like there are too many obstacles—the first being facing our own fears of stepping outside of the known, into the possible. You call on your own courage when, despite your worst fears, you step out of your comfort zone anyway.

And remember, at the edges of fear, there’s excitement!

On another trip, I had to take a vaporetto from my Venice hotel to Marco Polo Airport for an early morning departure. It was still night when I stepped out of the hotel onto the cobbled street, and walked to the end of the calle where the black water of the canal lapped against the old stones.

Venice at night

I was alone on a dark, deserted street in Venice, in the middle of the night. I was also unsure whether the water taxi would even show up. Yet it is one of my most exquisite memories.

The sky was clear, with a nearly full moon. The white stones of a nearby building glowed in the moonlight.

It was quiet. Nothing moved but a slight breeze. No footfalls or voices echoed in the maze of stone. I felt like I was the only person awake at that moment in the city.

Eventually, a vaporetto pulled up. I was the only passenger. We sped through the Grand Canal, passing the illuminated old buildings under a moonlit sky, and I arrived at the airport in time.

Venice canal at night with moon

What if I hadn’t the courage to take that trip? All that wonder, and beauty, would exist out in the world, but not in my own experience.

What gives you courage?

When have you mustered the strength to do something that felt a little—or a lot—scary to you? What helped you to call on your natural courage when you needed it?

Celebrate that you did it. It matters.

How Can Your Perspective Help You?

Perspective is where experience and the mind meet, informed by the spirit. You can choose the perspective that the world is magical and beautiful, and you belong here. You can believe that you are meant to grow and experience and expand. You can feel that your life is deeply meaningful, and that you have a calling.

Why? Because choosing those perspectives allows you to see through the limitations of negativity, to experience the connectedness of things, the meaning of events, and the beauty of being here.

(You can choose a more dour perspective, if you wish, but all that gets you is stuckness, and the same experience, over and over. It’s up to you to choose how you want to live your life.)

For example, if you’re somewhere new and you don’t know the language, you can’t just walk into a store and ask for what you need. You have to stop and think about it, look it up in a phrasebook, speak it phonetically, and hope the sales clerk understands what you mean.

Dress in Paris shop

There’s a barrier, and to step through it, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable, feel frustrated, and even look ridiculous. (The time I pantomimed cleaning my ears with a Q-Tip in a Paris drugstore teased a small smile out of the formal, polite sales woman. Only after I did it, did I wonder if twirling your finger near your ear was an international symbol for “crazy.”)

I could have looked at that kind of barrier as a huge problem, “one more thing” that made international travel more of a chore than fun. But I never did. It was an exciting experience to me, because it was new. It required me to think on my feet, be open, and take risks. And that is the perspective that supports me when I’m trying to make my way through unfamiliar terrain.

What is your perspective on all the possibilities awaiting you?

Are you scared? Bitter? Frustrated? Helpless? Excited? How about simply being curious? How does that change anything for you?

What Support Do You Have?

The support available to us is as wide as the horizon: part ourselves, part others, part universe. I’ve found that most people want to be helpful, and surprising coincidences seem to conspire to support me, when I take responsibility for my part, step out of my comfort zone, and keep my perspective open to possibilities.

What support do you have for stepping out of the familiar and growing into the next phase of your life?

School? Family? Friends? How can you get the support you need?

And here’s the wonderful miracle of it all: when you move out of your comfort zone, you expand your comfort zone. Your inner and outer worlds grow bigger. You realize you have more room to experience your precious life, and your confidence in yourself grounds you in that expanded life. You can do it.

What do you want? How are you going to show up in your own life, in a way that you step outside of your old habits and into the embrace of the true magic of the world? And when will you do it?

You can start your journey now.

Translating Elephants into Art

Sensitivity is a gift. Highly sensitive people possess the fine tuning to be keenly aware of subtleties in their physical and emotional environments. We’re extra sensitive to smells, sounds, even light. It’s important to us that our environments are not just functional, but beautiful.

Wallpaper print with multi-colored elephants

We intuit connections between things, and feel others’ emotions so keenly, that we are often quite conscious of what’s going on underneath the surface.

But when we see the elephant in the room and point it out, we learn quickly that it makes some people uncomfortable. So it can be pretty frustrating when others want to talk about things like road construction, while one person in the room is secretly angry with another, someone else is feeling hurt, and we see deeper connections in the interaction everyone is having.

What do you do with that kind of complex perception?

Maybe, after a while, you clam up. You stop bothering. You sit there, bored out of your mind, or filled with anxiety from the emotions you’re picking up, knowing that if you try to address what you see, the other people in the room would either look at you like you were crazy, or get angry that you described the elephant at all.

But all that does is drain your energy and hide your wisdom.

Being highly sensitive is really like speaking a different language. And part of the beauty of high sensitivity is that it can be translated through artistic expression: writing, photography, composing, painting, acting—any kind of self-expression that translates your complex experience into something others can experience in their own way.

Let the wisdom of your sensitivity infuse your life—and art.

Woman standing holding flowers

Your sensitivity may help you beautify the environment for yourself and others. It may compel you to write about highly-charged topics in your mission to tell the truth, however uncomfortable. Your sensitivity may flow from your fingertips to into a painting that moves someone to tears.

In whatever way you are meant to, express your vision for the rest of us.

We not only want it, we need what you have to share with us.