“Is there something about me, that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?”
Brené Brown, a research professor whose TED talk about the power of vulnerability has been viewed over 25 million times, spent a decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.
Connection, she says, is why we are here. It’s the essence of being human and what we all crave.
Curiously enough, I stumbled upon her words this past weekend trying to escape all the notifications blowing up my phone.
Connection. Community. Tribe.
How many times had I seen these vague terms tossed about in praise of an industry whose victims I somewhat accidentally attacked?
In fact, it was the number one criticism I received. The only rebuttal, and one that I couldn’t quite grasp. I sat cross-legged in my office chair and poured over dozens of blogs defending their livelihood and repeatedly insisting that my words did not strike a nerve. At one point, I wondered aloud what the hell I was looking for, and why I was so fascinated by these women.
I desperately wanted to hear why I was wrong.
I read post after post claiming I wrote intentionally sensationalist clickbait before storming off the internet in a fit of rage, and that I’d earned my fifteen seconds of fame through a hateful and profanity-laced rant using stereotypes to my advantage. I read post after post admitting that I had made valid points, that the vile and inauthentic world I had described does exist, but to clarify – “not here, not on my blog, not in my tribe of women who write blogs like mine.”
They felt sorry for me, that I had not found that connection. They felt disbelief, that I could betray such a community. They felt a collective disappointment, that I had not delivered my message in a more uplifting tone. They felt fear for me, that I had burnt so many bridges I’d never be hired again. They felt pity that I had, in their eyes, alienated myself from my biggest audience.
They assumed there must be something wrong with me. I must have more going on in my personal life than meets the eye. I must be such a miserable person who chose a miserable path. I must be hurting and lashing out. I must be so insecure and unhappy.
…This is why you should not write when you are sad or mad. This is why you should sleep on it. This is why I write with exclamation marks. This is why I choose to share only the happy parts of our life, and I’m okay with that. We all have things we want to write about, but we can’t, because the reality is that dirty laundry doesn’t belong on the internet….
I was confused reading these labels and explanations strangers had offered on my behalf. I am none of these things. I am happier and more confident in my personal life than I ever have been. In my darkest days, a couple of years ago when my life was a perfectly curated lie, I would have never been able to speak so raw and without fear of being hurt more than I already was inside. And I didn’t feel a gaping hole in my chest, so maybe something was wrong with me that I didn’t have this deep yearning for belonging in their community? I guess at one point I was searching for that though, because after all I did start a blog about my life as a mother, just like they did.
But I became a cautionary tale.
I wrote something real, and unfiltered, and that’s not allowed. If you do that, you’ll never find this empowering connection that these women talk so much about with their lists of ten reasons to ignore me and continue on exactly as they are. This sense of belonging in a community that I apparently was never #blessed enough to experience in fruition, and yet seems to be the only ethical and acceptable driving force behind a mother wanting to start a blog.
I still wish someone could have told me why I was wrong about the monetized industry that is “mommy blogging”. I wish there was hard data on the positive impact native advertising is having on society. I wish there was proof that influencer marketing truly is “stealing dollars” from traditional media, changing the world in the process, and that it’s not a bubble waiting to pop. I wish that the mothers trapped on the inside could hear themselves and see that corporations are taking advantage of them, rather than defending their authentic belief in the products they’ve chosen to promote and share.
For the record, this is the last time I’ll write about this topic here. I have no intentions of beginning a career out of marketing to bloggers or riding this media horse into the sunset happily ever after. There are plenty more stories to be told, and contrary to popular belief at the moment, I do believe that having a voice is a responsibility.
I only have this left to say:
I have been there, feeling alone and questioning whether what I contribute as a woman and mother to our society, is enough. I understand that by writing a blog, there is a hope for connection and to belong in a community.
I heard you.
I understand that my words may have hurt others, but I beg you to ask yourself why.
I know that when you tell a story about your life, you always end it with a smile on your face because you think it demonstrates strength. I know that you want to be an inspiration to others, and show that no matter what curveballs are thrown your way, that you’re able to put a positive spin on the situation and share how it all worked out eventually.
You aren’t liars, and you may not be intentionally inauthentic. But you aren’t doing yourself any favors.
Believe that what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.
In Brené Brown’s talk about her extensive studies on human connection, she found that people who have a sense of worthiness (the wholehearted, she calls them) only share one common trait. They simply believe that they are worthy of love and belonging, because they embrace vulnerability as neither comfortable or excruciating, but just necessary.
“Vulnerability is kind of the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it is also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”
If connection is why we are here, then vulnerability is how we find it.
When we attempt to numb vulnerability, we numb everything. When we attempt to select emotions, to pick out the bad parts and say “I don’t want to feel these anymore”, we fall into a dangerous cycle. When we are afraid – we try to perfect and pretend, and therefore we are never really being seen. When we attempt to block out the dark, to highlight only the sunny and cheerful, we will forever be seeking genuine connection.
“When you lose your capacity to care what other people think, you’ve lost your ability to connect. But when you’re defined by it, you’ve lost your ability to be vulnerable.” – Brené Brown
I am not saying that I don’t care what you think. But I refuse to be defined by it.
To be vulnerable is to say “I am alive, and I am enough.” I am comfortable with all my messy, raw, dirty-laundry, hormonal, imperfect, profanity-laced ups and downs. I am comfortable with my past and how it has shaped me. I am comfortable with the way that I write, as it is the way that I think. I don’t feel that emptiness inside causing me to hope for a place to belong, the need that draws so many women in and causes them to defend their “community” of blogging. Because I am comfortable with vulnerability, and therefore I already instinctively know I am worthy of love and belonging.
I am human, and I am wholehearted.
But I promise you, it hasn’t always been this way.
There is power in vulnerability, in putting ourselves out there, and letting ourselves be deeply seen. Not without fear, not without introspection, not without hurt feelings – but without apology.