A few months ago, shortly after receiving the news that I did not get into grad school, my sister called me. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to talk because I was on my way to an exam. The following is the gist of our conversation:
Lisa: Do you ever watch TED talks?
Me: Yes - all the time. I told you about them.
Lisa: Oh, I didn't remember that. Have you watched the one on vulnerability?
Lisa: You should watch that....I thought of you when I watched it. I think it's hard for you to allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Me: ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I'VE GOTTEN DIVORCED, ATTEMPTED DATING, AND JUST GOT TURNED DOWN FOR GRAD SCHOOL. I AM THE POSTER CHILD FOR BEING VULNERABLE! This is what I thought. What I said was, "I don't have time right now I'm on my way to take a test." (Almost the same thing.)
Lisa: You don't have to watch it right away. Just promise me you'll watch it. I think you'll really like it.
Me: Yes....(unsaid portion: Yes, but I don't want to. I am very skilled at being vulnerable and will soon be offering courses online.)
Fast forward to the next night. I was thoroughly enmeshed in a combo pity/study party when I decided I needed a break, so I actually pulled up the video on vulnerability that my sister recommended. I wasn't going to watch to figure out what it had to teach me...more to prove why I didn't need to watch the video.
After just a few minutes I thought, "Oh crap...Lisa's right...this is me! Shoot."
Pause the above story....
Many years ago I was helping in my daughter's kindergarten class. The teacher had taught art for many years and had the children do a lot of amazing art projects. One day, while helping her prep for the next project I asked her, "Why is it that most children love art when they are young and want to show off what they create...but as they get a little bit older most of them stop pursuing art?" "They stop believing they can do it." she said.
The video resonated so much with me that I got in the car and went to Barnes & Noble that night to purchase two of the books the presenter, Brene Brown, had written. One was, The Gifts of Imperfection, the other, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't) - Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough."
I started with The Gifts of Imperfection because, well, it was shorter. I was in the middle of finals, after all...that and I felt I had an abundance of imperfect gifts, emphasis on imperfect. The length of the book did not match it's depth and I found I needed to read it again...this time with my trusty highlighter. It took some time. After each chapter I needed time to ponder. When I finished it for the third, yes third, time I wanted to get a copy for every person I knew. It had that much impact.
I won't go into a summary of the book...you need to read it yourself, or at least watch/listen to the TED Talk. What really hit me was how much we stifle our wishes, our dreams, and our needs in order to appear to have "it" all together AND to avoid looking anything other than put together. What if I pursue this dream and fail? How embarrassing! (Grad school being the perfect example. I felt like I wanted to show everyone my transcript...look I got all A's! I'm not stupid!)
My battle cry most of my life has been, "Don't worry about me...I can do it all by myself." When I got divorced someone said to me, "You're so confident you'll be fine being alone." (I have been told many little gems like this.) I had to check and see if someone else was behind me. I think I must look differently than I often feel. Asking for help, until recently, was humiliating...after all I should be able to do it all, right? I've always been willing and able to help others and would never look at them differently - but heaven forbid I have to ask for or receive help. My thought would be "I should be able to take care of all of this." I even knew, intellectually speaking, that there was an error to my thinking, but emotionally I just couldn't seem to change.
I've made some progress. For example, I actually asked a couple of very nice guys out. They both said no. A couple of years ago I would have been mortified that I had asked and been turned down. I would have felt foolish and gone down the if path. "If only I were (fill in the blank) they would have said yes." But this time I felt fine. The fact that these two guys had a momentary lapse in judgement...in that they said no ;) ...does not change the fact that I enjoy talking with them and consider each to be a good friend. Progress, right?
Now...back to the conversation I had with the kindergarten teacher. What if it's not so much that the kids stop believing that they can, but rather that they're afraid it won't be just right. Their art won't match what they think the world wants to see. They might embarrass themselves. What if no one else understands why they made the sky purple, or understand that the painting needed only 3 colors? What if their painting doesn't look like there neighbors'? Just imagine how the world would change if we could teach children to break the cycle of trying to be everything, while often feeling like nothing. My hope is that I can, at least a little, undo some of that within my own children by changing myself first. Let's be brave together.