“Being an artist means forever healing your own wounds and at the same time endlessly exposing them.” – Anette Messager.
I have no idea who Anette Messager is, but that was the quote written on a t-shirt that I bought in South Korea. Don’t get me wrong, I do love sounding like a pretentious prick, but this time I only bought the t-shirt for its colour, not for its meaning. (To be clear, I still believe a sweatshop t-shirt can bring a lot of meaning to your life). Now that I am older and a bit wiser, I’d advise you not to buy a t-shirt with a tiny quote written on the chest. When people try to read it, they will squint their eyes and concentrate real hard, which creates, to say the least, an uncomfortable type of staring contest.
The quote, however, makes me think about my two year long writing process. When I began writing in my blog and posting it on Facebook, it was mostly to be a little quirky. I still felt a bit vulnerable doing so, because showing anything that you have created for the world, however small, sets you up to be criticised. But after having posted my blog articles for a while, the fear around it slowly disappeared. I no longer felt vulnerable posting articles which mainly consisted of sarcastic jokes. Somehow, when the fear of judgement disappears around your work, so does your vulnerability as well. And then, you are no longer challenging yourself. You could claim that you are still being courageous, because you are doing something that not everybody else are doing. But that is like thinking that a naturally charismatic person and a very shy person are equally brave when speaking in front of a large crowd. They might both have done a very good job, but that does not make them equally courageous, because one was being vulnerable, and the other wasn’t.
Without really thinking about vulnerability, I decided in the end of this April to write the article “Tinder Shamed”. I wanted to write it because it was honest, and I didn’t want to hide that truth through elaborate jokes that didn’t expose my vulnerability. But I was really scared when posting it and second guessed myself a lot of times. I understand that the fear I was feeling was not due to real danger. I wasn’t leaking highly classified government information about the United States, I was just writing about common emotions. However, I was so afraid that once it was posted, I was going to feel shame.
I fell upon Brené Brown’s Netflix special “The Call to Courage” a couple of days ago and it really moved me. She’s a research professor who has studied vulnerability and shame for 20 years and written five bestselling books about it. She defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” However, the greatest lesson that I learned from her speech, is how she defines vulnerability.
Brené Browns argues that people who choose to live a life, daring to be vulnerable, choose to live in a metaphorical arena. And those who live in that arena, not only do they run the risk of failing, they are guaranteed to fail. But they are also the people who will experience true success. They will definitely face rejection, but they are also the only ones who will face real connection. They will undeniably face criticism, but they will also face genuine appraisal. As Brené Brown puts it “Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”
But let’s be honest, it is more than scary living in the arena. It’s terrifying to not have a sense of control, of not wearing a shield and running the risk of being heart broken, not only once, but multiple times. It’s scary to love someone so deeply, that you’re scared of losing them. To create something unique and show it to the world, even though people may laugh at you. To be brutally honest with a friend, even though they might hate you afterwards. Because of this, only the truly courageous people choose to live in the arena. No matter how they fail, they will always be brave, because they choose to live a life in which they cannot always control the output. They choose to face this risk, because they do not want to lose their authenticity.
But vulnerability is not only about doing things, it’s fundamentally about allowing yourself to be seen for who you are. And that’s a reason why we hate being vulnerable, because in a way it demands us to expose ourselves. It demands us to be fully seen with all our imperfections and flaws, and to let go of the carefully constructed image that we are more comfortable showing people. When we were kids and felt vulnerable or shy, we ran to one of our parents and hid behind their legs. Now as adults, when we feel vulnerable or shy, we take up our phones and check our notifications. I see this everywhere, in myself and in others. Usually when there’s an undeliberate silence, or when we are standing alone at parties or even when we spot someone too early before walking past them. In those split seconds, we have no control over how we are being perceived. We are just being seen for who we are. We are vulnerable and it is super uncomfortable. Therefore, it is not strange that we despise it and try the utter most to avoid it. Because it is not only the beautiful emotions that lie in vulnerability, also the feelings of alienation, shame and loneliness. You run the risk of feeling worthless, pathetic or like the major of loser town, population: you. (I haven’t said that since I was twelve).
So, here is how I make sense of this catch 22 situation; In life, you choose what things you are willing to hurt you, just as much as you choose what kind of happiness you want to feel. I think real maturity lies in understanding that there are no cheat codes for a rich and substantial life. You do not get to be lazy and comfortable and at the same time experience true connection, love and happiness. When you choose to live a happy, rich and substantial life you also choose to feel great pain, loss and sorrow. Avoid them both, and you are left with cynicism, numbness, apathy and indifference. If that’s not a life you want to live, then buckle up my friend for an inevitable emotional roller coaster.
In the end, my most vulnerable article became the one people related the most too. So I end my last Lundtan article by urging you to dare being vulnerable. To choose to be courageous, because you understand, that what inflicts the greatest pain, will also inflict the greatest love.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world and courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
– Brené Brown