A few years ago, so much was happening for me and I was over the moon about it. There were big writing contracts, trips happening and videos being made. In the photos above, I was prepping for a photo shoot in Betty Crocker studios. I’d just filmed a cooking video. I felt like things were falling into place. Until … they weren’t. Slowly, the great things I’d worked for began to unravel and fade away. I was left wondering what I was doing and how I had gone from sought-after to just another struggling writer.
I hated it. I felt like I was failing. And the shame of it all was more than I wanted to talk about. How could I let things twist in the wrong direction like that? I wish I talked about it more though, and addressed it. Perhaps then the slide wouldn’t have lasted more than a year. It’s only in the last eight months or so that I started picking up the pieces and creating a new and more powerful vision for myself.
Over the last week, I have read Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. It’s about the power of having the courage to be vulnerable and live your truth, which Brown purports can get you free to live a wholehearted life.
Daring Greatly made me uncomfortable. When she spoke of people who “don’t do vulnerability,” I couldn’t help but think that’s me. I squirmed. I wanted to stop reading. But while stewing in the discomfort, I also found myself nodding and finding new wisdom in the words.
In Daring Greatly, the author talks heavily about being vulnerable (it’s a good thing, she says, and important), having intense courage and disallowing the shame that undermines our ability to really go for it. Anyone with big dreams should be reading this book. It has so many big and wonderful lessons — and every uncomfortable moment and gut-wrenching discussion about things I have always avoided (vulnerability, I am looking at you) was worth it.
This book really struck me hard as a writer who lives out loud. When I was working in newspapers, I quickly developed a thick skin. For as many people who were grateful for my work, there were some who seethed every time I exposed an injustice or revealed an uncomfortable truth. I was threatened, gossiped about and even once sued by a school board (whom I had just won an FOI case against). That I could handle because I knew what I was doing mattered.
As a blogger, a writer on the internet and an occasional online video personality, things are different. The attacks are more personal. The anonymity gives people false courage (though anyone who writes unkind things publicly under an assumed name is anything but courageous). That’s why attacks online can be so much more hurtful, angry, absurd. Brown experienced this after her TED talks were put online.
I’ve experienced it too. When I filmed a cooking video for Betty Crocker a few years back, the YouTube video drew nasty comments about my appearance and my voice. The video topic was portion control and people, under the blanket anonymity, talked about how I was overweight and had an “annoying voice.” They could attack me because they were safely on the other side of the screen where no one could see them.
But believing that such vulnerability can only be perceived unprofessional and weak, I didn’t say anything publicly. I kept my pain and deflated spirit to myself — beyond sharing a light version with a few friends. But under the surface, those comments hit me hard, and left me questioning my goals, my trajectory, my everything. After reading Brown’s book, I have thought a lot about this and particularly how being hurt doesn’t define me or my work. And it certainly didn’t make me weak. I am human. And frankly, those anonymous comments? They don’t matter. Those people are cowardly. The hurt, on the other hand, matters because I let it alter what I was doing. I let it create what Brown calls “Gremlins” in my head.
I believe strongly in constructive criticism. It’s important, and to be successful as a writer, you have to receive it with an open mind and heart. In my 11+ year career, it’s been invaluable to my growth and development. I ask for it, I beg for it and even when it’s tough, I am thankful for it. But criticism that attacks the person and not the work isn’t constructive. It’s just cruel. I also won’t ever brave it silently, letting it eat at me. Hell, I probably will try to just not read such things.
It’s not easy to bare your soul. But Brown’s book makes me want to do it more. She makes me want to tap into my vulnerabilities and open wide up. And if it only touches one person with a quiet and internal “me too,” then I will have done something worthwhile.
Thank you, Brené Brown.
Please join me over the next month as we discuss Daring Greatly on BlogHer. It’s sure to be a great conversation.
Disclosure: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.