Who you gonna be, if you can’t be yourself?

I am writing as I am coming out of a very tiring season of life… one that I have undoubtedly grown in, yet one that has drained me of my usual inspiration and emotional stability. My defenses are down because I don’t have any energy to nurse them. My perfectionism is loving my present state and is seeping in like oil from a marine rig spill. It seeps it and it is thick, impeding my soul from inspiration and joviality.

So perfectionism becomes my norm and not an exception. I am not strong enough to resist societal and personal pressures of perfection from my surroundings. Why am I writing this? Because I think you probably, deep down, can identify. We live in a world of scarcity, which greets us in the morning, telling us we didn’t sleep enough last night, then accompanies us through the day. Not enough. We don’t have enough money. We aren’t put together enough today. We aren’t fitting the cultural gender norms enough (for females: nice, thin, & modest; for males: emotional control, primacy of work, violence, and pursuit of status) . We aren’t thin enough. We aren’t smart enough. We aren’t working hard enough. This line of thinking quickly turns into… ok, well, I should do this more, I should work out more, I should be working at a better paying job because most of my peers my age have surpassed my station, I should be a “better Christian”, I should run to the store because this shirt is so 10 years ago, I should be more interested in this popular hobby, I should have made first team, I should appear to be more invincible, I should act like I care who Justin Beiber is dating, I should be having children right now, I should be prettier so I won’t get bullied, I should be shorter, I should be taller, I should be married by now, I should have the latest iPhone to keep up with the times, I should, I should, I should.

Where am I getting these ideas? Oh my friend… from many, many conversations carefully dancing around the topic of scarcity, without every calling it out for what it is. I’m not going to be silent or sugar coat today. I don’t have the energy to do either. Just enough energy to write my truth.

These “shoulds” take over and honestly, we listen to them, we conform, and we become a shell of who we really are deep down… we become a shadow of who we want to be. And let’s not fool ourselves… the shell looks ok on the outside, but hideous in the inside. It sucks our energy out of us to be someone or something we are not.

Who are you going to be if you can’t be yourself?

Dr. Brene Brown, a vulnerability and shame researcher writes in her latest book, Daring Greatly: “We can’t give people what we don’t have. Who we are matters immeasurably more than what we know or who we want to be.”

I frankly don’t have the energy to compare myself to someone else any longer. I am my best when I love who I am. I am able to help and love and change things when I am at my best. I will not become a shadow. This is me. Accept me or move along.

As I pen this post, I am reminded of some chillingly appropriate lyrics from: “Pick Yer Nose,” by Ani Difranco, a folk music lyrical genius.

How come I can pick my ears
But not my nose
Who made up that rule anyway
How can you say that’s the way it is
That’s just the way it goes
Why don’t you decide for yourself
What you can do
And what you can say

I think shy is boring
I think depressed is too
I think pretty is nice
But I’d rather see something new
All these plastic people
Got their plastic surgery
But we got a big big beautiful
We got it for free
Who you gonna be
If you can’t be yourself
You can’t get it from t.v.
You can’t force it on
Anybody else

‘Cause I’m not going to pretend
That I don’t pick my nose
That’s just the way it is, my friends
That’s just the way it goes
This is who I am
What I do
And what I say
If you like it, let it be
If you don’t, please do the same

I fight with love
I laugh with rage
You gotta live light enough to see the humor
And long enough to see some change

So today, I will celebrate myself for who I am. I will honor all of the parts of me. My gifts, my talents, my body, my smile, my knowledge repertoire, my spirit, my spirituality, my laugh, my passions.

I freely admit I am imperfect, I don’t know everything there is to know about biology, I do not have a huge bank account, I may not have the wittiest response, I do not have the strongest arms or fastest mile run, and I will probably screw up something in the next hour if given the opportunity.

But I can promise you that I will be kind to you, that I will hug you, and I will respect you for who you are. I can promise you I will fight for equality with my hands and my faith. I can promise you when I say I will pray for you that I will. I can promise you that when you speak to me, I will be present and attentive. I can promise you that I will give you dignity. This is me; I am Kate.

So see me. See right through me. And let me be.

I always welcome comments. Even on personal posts like this. Tell me your story… tell me how you pick your nose.

I’ve Crossed Over To the Other Side

What I’ve come to realize is that I’m attracted to vulnerability… to baring one’s soul.

…like a hummingbird is drawn to a feeder of a red sugar-water cocktail, so I am drawn to vulnerability. Not in a subservient or helpless kind of way—but the stuff of transparency kind of way.

Anne Lamott, a favorite writer of mine, has written best-sellers containing story after story about her recovery, subsequent motherhood, path to faith, and her struggles with bulimia, with self-image, with the war in Iraq. Why is she so widely loved and quoted even in the non-faith community? Because she writes about such life stories that the reader is almost always able to say, “me too!… I can’t believe she struggles with thigh size too!… I can’t believe there are some mornings when she can barely emerge from bed too.” It’s real stuff… transcending her writing studio into the spirits of needful readers.

It reminds me of folk music… a genre full of hand written melodies that span generations… sung by laborers toiling and citizens insurrecting. Ani Difranco is one of my favorite contemporary folk artists. She is loved and endeared by her fans for her blunt, often course, albeit powerfully moving lyrics. Writing about rape, anger, chauvinism, judicial injustice, racism, heartbreak, love, and motherhood, she seems to have the artistic genius and certitude in her songwriting that adds a whole other dimension to folk music. She is completely raw and vulnerable. And yet this state of being so very exposed is something that I am completely attracted to… something that I think is called vulnerability.

So I’d like to breach this subject of vulnerability for a moment. And I’d love for you to come with me.

First off—let’s get one thing straight– in reference to the “v” word, I’m not talking about posting a status about all the day’s occurrences or the 2.5 seconds of anger you experience towards a TSA agent which causes you to impulsively tweet about the injustice of modern airport security. (Although I will say the full body x-rays and rather intrusive “pat downs”—both of which have recently occurred in my life– do force one to take the plunge into a sort of vulnerability). Rather, I’m talking about relationships… I’m talking about friendships… I’m talking about loving a friend or a partner so much that your soul is stirred when you make eye contact with them. At that moment, you know that you have reached the deepest level of emotion possible.

It takes you off guard and it scares you to death. See now, you’ve got to figure out what to do with that emotion… how to translate that emotion into communication.—

How do you tell him/her? Alas, here comes the ugly business of vulnerability. The fear that creeps in that insists you just aren’t good enough to love that deeply, that you don’t know enough about love, or that maybe, and most detrimental of all, you don’t think you deserve to feel that emotion… that you are somehow unworthy. You cannot treat yourself kindly because you feel you don’t deserve that love… after all, loving yourself is an embellishment and not a necessity, right?

Piling on to that is the idea of fear of when you do somehow navigate vulnerability, you open yourself up to being absolutely taken apart… able to be cut deeply by the ones you let in. Exposed like fresh, pale, winter skin being drenched in the summer sun’s radiation.

So bare your soul? Well… to let you down lightly and in the gentlest way possible… I’m not entirely sure.

I’m not sure because I’m not good at this lets-let-everyone-see-the-flawed-yet-beautiful-Kate business. But what I am starting to find out in my own imperfect way, is that being vulnerable is the path that leads to the deepest, most sincere, most unpretentious connections with myself, with my spirituality, and with other humans. It’s like saying…—“Hello world! This is me: here I am with my tiny little, unresolved issues like fear, guilt, inadequacy, pride, and an uncanny ability to be stuck on myself. It’s nice to meet you, what’s your name?!”

As scary as the whole being exposed business sounds… it’s actually quite freeing because here’s a secret… most of us are in the same boat too. We’re scared… we weren’t given operating instructions for living in this crazy world… we aren’t quite sure how to do all of this. By being vulnerable, I am showing those around me, me. The real me. And thus, I am welcoming them to say “oh—that’s me too… wow, I’m right there with you!”

I’m not so idealistic as to believe that being vulnerable with a friend or partner isn’t closely accompanied by pain and deep hurt.
It is. You let someone have access to cut you deeply (and they will), but you also open yourself up to loving that person thoroughly in the most profound of ways. Love that makes you ache. Love that brings you to tears of joy.

Maybe vulnerability comes in different flavors for all of us.

Maybe to you it means that you’ll stop trying to predict or control every situation.

Maybe to you it means that you’ll start seeing yourself as worthy to belong and be deeply loved.

Maybe to you it means that you’ll start letting yourself feel the gamut of emotions like grief, shame, joy, disappointment, fear and then being honest about feeling them instead of numbing them.

Maybe to you it means you will start being okay with imperfection.

Maybe it means to love with no guarantee of the love returned to you.

I think for me… being vulnerable is a little bit of all of these things. But maybe most of all… it means to me… that I’m fully living.