November 10, 2010

Why Vulnerability is the Answer.

I just returned from a week and half on the east coast. Ten days of work and participation to mark the closing of old chapters and patterns. The rush of the new fills the void as though drawn by the invisible, yet palpable, vacuum you didn’t mean to create but did.

As with all transitions and rights of passage the lingering stillness of the space-between – the eerie quiet of the calm before the storm – feels charged with a sort of reckless anticipation, like a runaway train barreling through the night…a momentum that you started but have no control over stopping. Your voice no longer holds sway and despite the mental knowledge otherwise, every ounce of your being longs to control, to hold tight, and to direct your course towards what you long-ago dreamt was your ideal outcome.

But life has other plans.

Luckily for me I’ve gotten rather used to the atmosphere up here on the cliff-edge – on the mountain of actions both past and present that have created this makeshift foundation – and I pat myself on the back for recognizing what choice I do have, as a gift.

And there is much I can’t change on this mountaintop – sitting here as I am. I can’t change it’s particular composition, the crags and nooks of past heartbreaks, defeats, and life-changing moments that forced upon me new muscle, new resolve, new navigational skills, those events that left me panting one ledge higher, relieved to be alive. I can’t change the flora and fauna that join me on this edge – the fruits of my efforts that blossom on my soil, that withstand the winds of change and hunker down with me against the storms. I can’t change the demons – those avatars of sinking regret and fear whose glowing eyes penetrate the darker spaces, waiting for just one misstep, to declare their existence justified.

I can’t change any of these things, that is, without laying the bedrock that will affect the soil that will grow the seeds to flower my world tomorrow. I can’t change any of these things without stepping into the dark, extending a wary hand, and introducing myself to fear, to fault, to regret. – without living, breathing and being my vulnerability in the face of the unknown.

How many countless passages and doorways do we walk through in one lifetime? The number is staggering I’m sure. But this particular fork in the road has a distinctly different flavor than those I have faced before. That flavor reeks of choice.

Without hanging for long in the land of metaphor I’ll just come out and say it. The sector of my life that brings in my bread and butter, that avenue of entrepreneurial success, surprising though it was, is lingering in limbo in my grip. In a shade as grey as San Francisco fog, somewhere between letting go and holding tight.

I realized one long day about six months ago, with sore hands and a stiff back that my time is best spent NOT running this particular business alone. That the quality of life and spaciousness that I ultimately seek is not found in my 10 x 10 office, nor in the corridors of shipping service buildings. In fact, the discovery of spaciousness is not only void in these places, but a damn near impossibility to attain at all if I were to continue on this treadmill of familiarity.

And so we find ourselves at the threshold or passageway where you know, really truly know, that this pattern, comforting and rent-inducing though it is, is on its way out as the centerpiece of your adult life. You are, in fact, choosing the unknown in an effort to create more fertile soil. Whoa.

In lengthy self-analysis, in the vacuum created by choosing the bright and shiny, but scary new, I ran up against a few insecurities:

Namely, I see myself as a student of life. Which is all well and good, except when it comes to exercising authority over what skill sets are unique to you in the land of competition. Regularly deferring to others’ can only take you so far – in my experience it’s kept me creating shaky businesses built on emotion and pouring coffee for the loudest voice in the room.

Two: I imagine myself being financially successful down the line – like ten years down the line. Which is silly really. There are people all over the world buying and selling companies, making millions fresh out of their dorms. My cousin Anne, who just got married in Washington DC, is one of the top real estate sales people in the area, at 29. Whatever self-doubt I have about my capacities as an income-producing adult are keeping me deferring to the ‘well, I’m an artist’ excuse.

Three: I’m all over the map. A part of my character that I’ve always secretly liked, I can simultaneously play many roles and wear many hats. But in this time of introspection I began to wonder if ‘loving variety’ in my career was just a fancy way of dragging along plan B and plan C and plan D – just on the offset chance that plan A would come up short. Is it fear of failure or fear of boredom? Your guess is as good as mine.

Suffice it to say, at the brink of my Saturn return, I am demanding answers to unknowns, stirred up by the murky waters of transition.

Dr. Brené Brown, a researcher professor at the University of Houston, has spent the last 10 years studying a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness – a title she uses to describe people who move through life from a deep sense of worthiness. In her analysis she paints a picture of self-worth as linked to vulnerability, and the courage it takes to be authentically, and un-apologetically you in all sectors of life.

She found that the main difference between people who have a sense of worthiness, and those who don’t feel they’re good enough is that who have it, believe themselves worthy. That it. Diving deeper she found that what underpins the concept of worthiness is vulnerability – those that feel themselves worthy fully embrace vulnerability in an understanding that what makes them vulnerable, makes them beautiful. This, of course, requires a great deal of courage to let go of who they think they should be to embrace who they really are.

She asks: How do we engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to embrace our imperfections and to recognize that we are enough — that we are worthy of love, belonging and joy?

Perhaps more relevant for me right now than love, belonging and joy is believing that I am enough to be worthy of the success, respect, and ownership that we face most specifically in our careers and business endeavors. Am I worthy enough to have the career of my dreams and the success that comes along with it? Worthy to own my particular skills and worldly offerings with determination and without apology, worthy enough to choose the relationships in my life that serve, and to choose the boundaries required to sort out those that haven’t served in a looooooong time?

Market research shows that consumers, when presented with too much choice, will in fact, not choose at all. Paralyzed in the face of looming indecision, what-ifs, and self-doubts. When you choose to disentangle yourself from the familiar, knowing that each step contributes to the next layer of substrata on the mountain of your life, the mountain that you cannot go back to change, only forward, the result is equally paralyzing.

Here I am, sitting on the cliff-edge, once again shaking from the relentless wind, caught in the momentum of a process I started and yet of which I command no control. Staying with the breath as it is all I know to do, I breathe in and breathe out vulnerability. Somewhere in the depths of my being lights a flicker of a voice, much older than me, than my mountain, that says simply: you are worthy. And suddenly I realize that the mineral composition of my life is one big affirmation – one big YES, one soft voice of self-worth that lights the courage of the heart for tomorrow.

We all have the tools we need to manifest our dreams if we were only to believe ourselves worthy of them. Insecurities along for the ride, I take the next step with determination and greater clarity. I am worthy. I am worthy. Brené said, “vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears it’s also the birthplace of joy of creativity of belonging and of love.”

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