“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” –Brene Brown
As a writer, I am constantly submitting some part of my soul to someone else for approval. It’s a bizarre feeling. To some extent, it’s an occupational hazard, but it isn’t just writers who experience it. We’ve all been criticized by difficult people at some point. Most of us can think of that one bad boss, most ministers I know have experienced critical congregations, and if you’re a parent, surely you’ve felt the glaring stare of a stranger in the grocery store. We’ve all been asked to share some part of our personal lives with people, only to have it picked apart by less than gracious folks. And for me, it is part of the daily grind.
This is my world.
My thoughts have been jumbled the past few days. My emotions have been simmering, and I’ve been swaying to the all-too familiar song of shame. I knew I had allowed someone’s directness to hurt my feelings, but I was embarrassed to admit I was responding to my emotions by shutting down.
After a long talk with a dear friend, I could say it out loud. “I’ve allowed criticism to feel personal. I’ve let someone’s negative opinion define my self-worth, instead of helping me do better work,” I told her. She laughed because she knows the business. The pieces began to come together as we talked. Even though my writing seems to be taking off, shame’s song of “not good enough” was still ringing in my ears.
The more I write outside my own blog, the more I open myself to criticism. Constructive criticism is good because it pushes me to grow. I always walk into the room ready to do the hard thing. But then the voice of shame calls me a loser and ruins my day. Have you ever allowed “this project is missing something” to translate into “you are not enough”? It’s my biggest struggle.
I remember working so hard as a kid, bringing home grades most of my friends envied. But there was a time in my childhood when any grade less than an 85 meant I would be grounded. Average was not good enough. And neither was I. That is the voice I hear when I walk into the room now. Average doesn’t cut it. If it wasn’t perfect on the first try, the voice in my head tells me I’ve failed.
Brene’ Brown explains that vulnerability encompasses courage, honesty, and truth. In her book Daring Greatly, she says, “The willingness to show up changes us, It makes us a little braver each time.” It is as true for writers as it is for the little league player who longs to tell his dad he is, in fact, scared of the ball. Or the wife who wants her husband to see she is drowning in the busyness and could really use a little help. Vulnerability isn’t easy for any of us at any stage, but when we do it, we invite others into our deep spaces and the world becomes a little more beautiful. Our vulnerability allows us to be truly seen, and appreciated, for who we are.
Life comes with lots of editors: some we invite into our work, and some invite themselves. There are people who peek over the fence to tell us exactly what we should have done, when all we were hoping for was a chance to belong. Maybe it’s your boss, your in-laws, or the stranger at the grocery store who shames you for allowing your two-year-old to have a sugar cookie at 10a.m. Even if you did invite someone else into your life, only you decide how much weight you give their opinion. I listened to the voice of shame in my ear, telling me to quit, because a very busy professional offered quick – yet genuinely constructive – insight. Shame told me to stick to my day job.
Screw you, shame. I’m still here.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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