Risk and Vulnerability

vulnerability-quoteWhat is the riskiest thing you’ve ever done? Jump out of an airplane? Travel abroad alone? Leave a job or relationship that wasn’t working? Start a business? Pursue a dream? Something else?

For me, it was to put my uncensored writing out there for others to see – and to criticize. I thought I would be safe when I signed up for a creative nonfiction writing course, with a small group of adults who had a passion for the craft. Our instructor set clear ground rules, one of which was to critique the writing, not the writer. This rule gave me the courage to share my work without censuring myself, for the first time ever.

So imagine my shock when, during a group critique of one of my essays, a classmate said, “I can’t imagine writing that about my [insert very close relation].” A pair of middle-aged women (I was in my early 30s at the time) nodded their heads in agreement as they whispered to each other and sent me disapproving glances. I looked to my instructor to correct them, remind them of the ground rules, but she didn’t. I felt betrayed by my classmates and by her. Worse, I felt like a naughty little girl who had done something very wrong.

After that class, I went back to writing in the closet for years and stuck mostly with fiction. Fiction felt safe because the characters weren’t real people and the stories came from my imagination. For a while, I also wrote feel-good news stories for a local newspaper. Then I started blogging, where I walk a fine line between speaking my uncensored truth and carefully choosing my language so as not to offend others or incite their  wrath. All low-risk writing.

Recently, I was reminded of how vulnerable we are when we put ourselves out there in any way, whether it’s speaking our truth, sharing our art, making decisions others don’t understand or approve of, or bucking society norms and/or traditions to follow our dreams or live more authentically. We open ourselves up to all kinds of judgement and criticism from others, some constructive and well-meaning, some downright mean. Sometimes it is the silence of indifference that hurts the most.

Risk-taking requires courage in the face of fear; it also  requires the willingness to be vulnerable. There is always a chance that we might be harmed, whether emotionally, financially, physically or in some other way.  But if we want to step out of our comfort zones and grow, if we want to pursue goals and dreams, if we want success that goes beyond the ordinary kind, or if we simply want to share our art in the most authentic way possible, we must take risks. That almost always leaves us vulnerable.

Have you ever felt truly vulnerable? I went through a brief period where someone had hurt me deeply, and as a result I felt incredibly vulnerable. It was as if every armor and shield of self-protection I had ever worn was ripped away, leaving me raw and exposed. Instead of fighting the feeling, I gave into it and an odd thing happened; I started to like it.  The softness of it felt light, and it carried a beauty and authenticity I hadn’t experienced before.  I was enveloped in a sense of peace and contentedness. Then after a couple of days, the outer shell started to harden again and the feeling went away, though I never forgot it.

Next time you’re wrestling with whether or not to take a risk, I encourage you to move beyond courage and embrace vulnerability.

soft-is-strong

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33 thoughts on “Risk and Vulnerability

  1. I love this post! I definitely understand the feeling of betrayal and hurt that can come with criticism of honest, uncensored writing. Similarly, I was in a poetry class in university and the whole class started bashing my poem. It can be a very difficult experience to overcome, and I also felt that the instructor should have moderated the class a bit better. It took quite a while before I showed my work to anyone else, and I still feel a little embittered about the situation. Looking back, I agree with you and think that this experience has helped to shape me into a stronger and more passionate writer and a more compassionate reader of other people’s work. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, although I am sorry that you, too, had to go through a similar experience. It definitely feels like a kick in the gut and can diminish your confidence for a time. Recently, I posted a synopsis and query letter I wrote in preparation for submitting a romance novel, and I have to say that my blogging community gave me more constructive feedback in a kind way than any writing group ever did! (and I know the synopsis was kind of lousy, as it was my first). I guess on the plus side of our experiences is that we have learned to develop thicker skin. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Other bloggers are a humongous part of why I love blogging as much as I do. I’ve found people who have a huge passion for books and writing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s been so inspiring and I’m incredibly happy to see that you seem to have had similar experiences. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I still feel vulnerable from time to time with some of the actions/words from the people close to me. It hits me hard every single time….I honestly don’t think their intentions are mean. However the thing I learned from that (and keep learning) is the ability to calm myself and quietly and peacefully stand against it and speak what bothers me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This sounds like a good skill to have and you say it so eloquently, Svet: “quietly and peacefully”. I agree that those closest to us can hurt us the most and it’s usually because of them that we build the walls of protection around us, sadly. Thanks for reading and for your comments!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I think that you had every right to be upset when other people in your writing group made inappropriate comments. Writing groups generally have ground rules – and they are there for a reason. It’s frustrating that sometime people don’t think about how their comments might affect others.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, Sheryl. His words felt like such a harsh judgment and personal attack. They had nothing whatsoever to do with the writing itself, or even the story, just one word, literally, that he seized on to try to make me feel bad for some reason. So weird.

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  4. The sad fact is, there are good writing groups and there are bad writing groups, and you certainly found a bad one! Those comments were totally out of line, and the leader should have nipped the whole thing in the bud. (Yet another reason I’m not so good with groups!)
    But what you said about risk and vulnerability really rang true with me. Like you, I spent years writing “feel-good” articles for local magazines and newspapers, careful to please not only my editor but also the people I was writing about. And I can’t tell you how boring it became! Writing what we truly think and feel is very risky, and it can cause pain, but it is real, even the hurt. You’re right, the more we try to avoid being vulnerable, the less we are showing of our true selves. You’ve given me something to think about here, thanks for that!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Ann. I enjoyed writing the news articles, but I felt more like I was simply conveying information, and trying to do so in a somewhat compelling way, and not really engaged in artistic writing that comes from experience or the soul. As for the groups. I really appreciated your blog post about it. I’ve thought a lot about it since then because it was the first time that I realized that I’m not good in groups, either. I’m fine in a social setting like a wedding or something, but when it’s more involved than that it’s tough. So thanks for that.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. An excellent piece of writing Kim.
    You write so well.
    I posted a poem on my site recently, called
    Cancer on Blue street. I was quite concerned about
    publishing a poem about cancer.
    No one seems to write about such a deadly subject,
    and when I wrote it I did not have the word cancer
    in the title.
    And then I thought, what the hell. I’ve had cancer and
    survived, I have every right to write about this subject.
    If people don’t like it. Tough.

    That was the hardest poem I ever had to write,
    but write it I must.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for sharing this, Alan. I remember that poem. It was quite intense and truly heartfelt. I remember thinking it was told from cancer’s perspective, then you told me it was the wife’s (or partner’s), I believe. As you know, I’m not good with abstract. Of course, when I read it I had no idea that you had had cancer and, thankfully, survived it. The poem means that much more to me now. I’m sorry you had to go through that, but I’m glad you are alive and well and writing beautiful poems. There is a blog I follow that is actually all about cancer and the author of it writes very eloquently about it (not poetry though). Not sure if you’ve come across it, but here’s the link: https://fonzandcancer.wordpress.com/. I am always doing this to you, aren’t I, trying to connect you with other bloggers. I can’t help it. It’s part of my nature to want to connect people who I think might like and appreciate each other. I do it at work and parties all the time 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree Kim. For myself, I’ve learned that I can share better when I really don’t care. For example, I could care less about what my father thought about my blog or the content on it, so it was a lot easier for me to write with raw emotion and transparency because, I seriously didn’t care what he thought or how he viewed it. I find it more difficult to write about people whose opinions still matter, a little bit.

    …and I certainly don’t know what I would’ve done had I been in a writing group where people criticized me, instead of my writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Not caring can be such be such a blessing. I need to get more into that mindset. I still care too much what people think and it’s like a self-imposed prison at times. Regarding that class, I wracked my brain trying to understand why some of my classmates seemed to be intentionally unsupportive and as is my usual default, I figured it was me, that I just wasn’t likable enough or something. I did say something to the instructor about what that young man said and she waved a hand and literally said who cares what he thinks. The problem was, at the time I did care and I wish she had said something in class. Other than that, she was a terrific instructor. But when I taught my Writing Our Stories class I made sure we spent a fair amount of time on the ground rules and we even practiced a few rounds before we dove into it for real. The college freshmen and sophomores did a better job than grown adults!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Thanks for the encouragement on risk taking. It does take quite a bit of courage to expose your soul through writing to the world. Glad you found strength to continue and excel with your talents. Blessings, dear lady.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I somehow knew you were ready to write this post Kim, although I’ve no idea how as I barely know you. I think it’s an important piece, and really quite profound, such that could only be borne out of an unusual acuity and personal experience. You’ve executed it perfectly. Many congratulations.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love this post, Kim., though as I was reading it I became angry with your fellow classmates and especially the instructor for not reinforcing the guidelines of the class.
    You write about vulnerability so honestly that it’s easy to feel the pain you’ve experienced in the past and how that feeling of peace came over you. Allowing ourselves to become vulnerable to others in any way is very difficult but also very freeing.
    Like you and others in here, I’ve struggled with what I should or should not write about at the risk of offending someone, which it appears I did in my last post. But the more I wrote and become comfortable here, the more I realize this is my space, my thoughts and my choice on how I choose to put it out there. Why should I be influenced by what others might think? Doesn’t that take away the purpose of being here?
    Keep writing what you want and how you want, Kim. You’ll be happier…and so will we.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Was that the post about words? I loved that post. I’d been arguing with my husband when I read it and wasn’t saying some nice things and your post made me stop and think that my son may overhear me speaking this way to his father and that is not good, and I changed my approach – all because of your post, George, so thank you for that. I’m surprised anyone would be offended by that. I guess the bottom line is that we never know how our words – whether written or spoken – will land on others. Lately, whenever I am feeling like I’m struggling with being myself and/or speaking my truth insofar as how others will perceive it (arguing with my husband notwithstanding), I think of a particular well known person (whom I won’t name) who has been through the ringer and back and I think if she can go through all that and survive, surely I can write this little post (or do whatever else it is I’m worried others might judge. Thanks for reading and commenting, George!

      Liked by 1 person

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