Last weekend I experienced what shame researcher Brene Brown calls a "vulnerability hangover." You know that nightmare of walking in public only to realize you're completely naked in front of others? Yeah, that's what it feels like.
It happened after I posted a ~personal sharing~ about performance anxiety growing up and how I'm pushing past it today. I was in the middle of writing last week's issue, when I thought fuck it, there's something I need to say right now and if I don't say it now I probably never will. I also thought my sharing might inspire or comfort at least one person struggling with the same thing, and this gave me courage to act. So while I don't regret posting, I still burst into tears later recalling my intense childhood fear of being laughed at onstage and the lingering anxiety of being ridiculed by peers behind my back.
If we knew each other from school, you'd know that I wasn't always this comfortable expressing myself. In fact, I had a major blushing problem that popped up in almost ALL my social interactions, or any time I had to do anything remotely brave—reciting in class, asking for what I wanted, or even paying for something at a store. Literally, my inner insecurity was so bad that it would manifest as total redness on my face, neck, and arms.
Growing out of that debilitating trigger-response pattern was some tough shit, but necessary as hell. While I don't have everything figured out, I've definitely grown because I can now talk to strangers and pay for things without involuntarily turning scarlet. I admit the fear of judgment never entirely goes away, but with tons of practice, I'm now able to share my ideas with the world without immediately spiraling into shame.
When I talked about all this in the video, I felt like a burden was lifted. But I equally wanted to hide my rawness behind armor, an exterior that would protect me from the possible judgment of others. If people saw the real me would they still like me for me? I just felt....vulnerable. Exposed. It wasn't fun to realize I had let something from deep in my past still hold power over me all these years. But as corny as it sounds, saying it out loud felt like I was setting myself free.
In her famous TED talk, Brene describes the vulnerability hangover as "the gut wrenching feeling that happens the moment we decide to get real about who we are, what we want, and how we want to express it." She goes on to define vulnerability as "uncertainty, risk or emotional exposure while equally being the birthplace of love, joy, belonging, courage, empathy, and most of all, creativity."
That's the good news and bad news: it's impossible to live an authentic and truly creative life without embracing the messy bits of ourselves, the parts that don't match neatly into an Instagram feed. To borrow a page from Brene's The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes:
There's a lot to unpack here because living authentically looks wildly different for each person. It's a practice, not a destination. But what we do know is that there are specific "ingredients" that will grow you into it: courage, compassion, and connection. As much I'd love to give you a 12-step formula into practicing vulnerability, it's something only you can choose and define for yourself. Remember, it's your world, but only if you make it so. But what I can tell you is that oftentimes what we make along the way to figuring it out becomes our art.
From my experience, I learned that the first half of the battle is learning how to suspend your beliefs about yourself. To overcome my blushing problem, I had to unlearn the mostly unconscious but tightly-held shame agreements I kept with myself that I was unworthy to be seen, heard, and loved. As long as I believed this deep down, it also meant that whatever I made would also feel unworthy and never enough.
Now, I like to think of each piece of art I've ever put out as evidence of that suspension of belief—each @polipaints artwork is tangible proof that for a couple of hours, maybe longer, I was able to choose courage over shame to let the Creator's energy flow freely through me. Birthing something new meant I was able to set my armor down long enough to admit through colors that it was never about "me." I am simply a creative vessel. There are no right or wrong answers, only the choice to express.
People might love what I make and what I post or they might hate it, but my self-worth is no longer up for negotiation. Worthiness was something only I could give myself. The moment you allow someone else to dictate your self-worth is the moment you disconnect with your authentic self.
Of course, this is a lifetime of a work-in-progress. Living in courage is something I consciously continue to choose. While I was simply born lucky with artistic inclinations, I had to earn every ounce of confidence I own today. I never would've been able to intentionally grow my art if I didn't keep pushing through the massive tasks of learning how to be vulnerable and living a more authentic life.
Now I ask you: why are we so quick to accept others' creativity but question our own? Aren't you too just as worthy of a creative life as the next artist whose work you look up to? My friend, you have a story only you can tell, art that only you can make, and a life that only you can live.
This quarantine, one positive thing I'm embracing is the time to reflect on these questions about living fully. If there's anything this crisis is showing us, it's that life is far too short and fragile to live with regrets. My challenge for you this week is to examine your past for the invisible agreements you've held with yourself: What positive and negative beliefs have you embraced about yourself about being worthy of giving love, receiving love, and practicing creativity?
It will take work, but suspending your outdated ideas and limiting beliefs will change your life. Slowly, then all at once, you're giving yourself a chance to dream again.
With the struggle & strength in me, I honor the struggle & strength in you—
PS. Feel free to share the artwork below & tag @polipaints!
PPS. Happy Easter! Here's where I drop my recos for the week!
READ: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown - 10/10 would recommend
This book has so much to unpack, I'll probably reference this title again soon. I currently own 3 of her titles but this is by far my favorite and the most concise.
WATCH: Brene Brown's TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability - Watch Mama B in action. This is one of the most-shared TED talks like, ever. Brene speaks and writes with so much compassion, conviction, and candor, she's like the Beyonce of navigating matters of the heart.
LISTEN: suspend your beliefs, a feel-good Spotify playlist by yours truly - feel good tunes for living with more courage !
Thank you for your time. Whether you loved, hated, or felt nothing towards this issue of #StudioNotes, I want your feedback! Reach out via email or IG DMs or Twitter. Stay healthy and with any luck I'll see you again next Friday! xx
Read my next letter, Vol. 6 - Thank U, Next.
Read my previous letter, Vol. 4 - Reverse Your Desire.
Binge read from the top with Vol. 1 - Start With Why.
The artist, elsewhere: