March 24, 2021

What if we were Willing to be Emotionally Vulnerable & Say “This is Me.”

Brené Brown is one of my fangirl crushes.

(Terry Gross, the host of the NPR classic, Fresh Air is another).

When I first heard of this sister social worker who is also a researcher, writer, and speaker, I easily identified with her struggle at times with the twin fears of shame and vulnerability.

Having grown up believing something I thought I heard my mother say, “Don’t do anything we would be ashamed of,” I watched my p’s and q’s, was a “good girl,” and did my best not to rock the boat or make waves. I became a consummate people pleaser and am now a recovering codependent.

It wasn’t until my mom was on hospice in 2010 and we were having many of our heart-to-heart conversations that she corrected my error. “We never told you not to do anything we would be ashamed of. We told you not to do anything you would be ashamed of.”

A holy shift moment if ever there was one, since I had been using their approval as a barometer for my choices. Keep in mind, I was in my 50s at the time when I had that revelation.

Throughout my life, I tapdanced for approval, was a competent chameleon who shape-shifted to accommodate the needs of others, and lived in fear that I would be found out. Cue Imposter Syndrome. I had to make it all look good.

Only now, am I open to be seen for who I am, not who I want others to see. I take my inventory every day and ask myself about my motivation for how I present myself.

The pandemic has made a difference. Mostly staying at home, I dress down. I can count on a hand and a half the number of times I wore makeup in the last 365. One benefit of mask-wearing. I haven’t gotten a haircut in a year, which is actually pretty cool, since I am letting it grow out, and my locks that were once buzz-cut short are now below my shoulders and they grew in curly.

As I am now 62, I have taken note of the wrinkles and laugh lines around my eyes, the looser skin that defies the daily workouts I do in my makeshift living room gym, and the slower pace at which I am compelled to move. When I take walks with my son, daughter-in-law, and stroller-ensconced grandson, the adults ask if I’m okay since my breathing is sometimes labored. The baby just smiles and laughs. Childhood asthma and a heart attack in 2014 have made my inhale and exhale more challenged.

I think about my athletic father, who at the age I am now, had six-pack abs and worked out daily. What he didn’t know at the time was what was brewing under the surface, Parkinson’s Disease, which would rob him of his robust energy, and eventually take his life.

I would much prefer to have that vitality and be seen as more youthful than I am. My memory blips are more frequent and I have to search for words that would have been easily accessible. That’s where a thesaurus comes in handy. I just started taking one of those brain-boosting supplements. I’ll keep you posted on its efficacy.

Several years ago, I was invited to speak at a conference called “On Purpose Woman” in Maryland, hosted by Ginny Presley Robertson. There was a funny story from that day that I told from the stage. I must have gotten dressed in the dark that morning since I noticed when I got there that my shirt was on backward. I went into the restroom to change it and noticed whilst in the loo that my underwear was on inside out! I left it as is. The audience laughed in recognition.

When I shared the tee-hee tale with Ginny recently, this was her response.

“I remember that great story. It reminded me of a story from back in my corporate days. It was the first day of my new job. I was coming in to run a department so, of course, wanted to make a good first impression. I had on my navy-blue-grey pinstripe wool suit with the appropriate jewelry, etcetera. It was stylish, yet professional. Manicure, hair, makeup—check!

I’m getting out of my car to go in the building and I see my shoes. I have on one navy blue Naturalizer pump (closed-toe, medium heel, conservative). On the other foot was a navy blue shoe—with open toes and a bow and a higher heel. How I managed to walk out of my place to my car and not see my toes or notice I was walking a bit lopsided probably illustrates the stress I was going through those days.

When I realized what I had done, I panicked for a bit, and thought about going home and changing shoes. That would have made me late, which wouldn’t have been a good look either. Of course, no cell phones, so I couldn’t call my employer and explain why I was going to be late. So I took a deep breath and walked in. I went right to my office.

After everyone arrived, my boss came to get me for a meeting so he could introduce me to everyone. I showed him my shoes and he cracked up. So the first thing I did in this meeting is go up front and say—’I’m very happy to be here and…I want all of you to know that I know that I’m wearing two very different shoes, so we can just get that out there right now.’ Everyone started laughing and it was a great start to my time there.”

What if we could put it all out there in the beginning?

This is who I am: wrinkles, scars, wounds, fears, broken places. Memory blips that I call CRS (Can’t Remember Sh*t Syndrome). The whole kit and kaboodle. All the shoulda-woulda-coulda-what-if-and-if-only regrets. Wanting a do-over countless times.

Worthy of love and acceptance, just like you.


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