learned this year: vulnerability

When you're willing to own the worst things about yourself, the criticism of others starts to lose its stinging power. It's as if someone were to pinch you on a callous. Yeah, no, go ahead. I've pinched it so much myself, it's gotten pretty numb. Be my guest, though. Maybe you need to for some reason?

But first you've got to be willing to face yourself down, in the darkest alley of your mind, and see your faults straight on. That's hardly fun. And worse: it isn't even necessarily productive, unless you plan on doing something about them.

A friend once asked me about vulnerability, as it relates to blogging. "How do you do it?" she wondered. "I wouldn't want to give that kind of fuel to my enemies." This was a conversation some six years ago, and it's stuck in my head as I've grown increasingly vulnerable in my online presence. I've written openly about depression, suicidal ideation, taking off my clothes for money, and drug use. I've revealed myself to be vain, lazy, self-indulgent, judgmental, immature, passive aggressive, hypocritical, ignorant, and materialistic. At least, I hope I have. Because those are all flaws in my character that I'm well aware of, and happy to cop to. Because I know I'm working on them. Because no one is perfect. And because I want to be the kind of imperfect person that others feel they can relate to, in this space and in real life.

Being vulnerable and admitting the worst things about myself doesn't change those bad things. They're there no matter if I say them out loud or keep them to myself. And they only have as much power in the hands of others as I allow them to. When I accept myself, the acceptance of others becomes less important. It's still nice of course (I'm only human) - but it isn't a prerequisite for my happiness.

Right now I know what my priorities are. I know what fulfills me and what makes me happy, and thus where I want to focus my attention and time. I know what areas of my life need work, too. When critics wag their finger at me, I understand, I really do. Given the same set of opportunities, the same talents and advantages, chances are each one of us would do something different. Each one of us prioritizes things differently: relationships, career, family, friends, health, etc. And that's a good thing, because life would be really fucking boring if we all walked the same path.

My path is mine alone to stumble down. Not everyone will understand my journey, and that's okay. It's my journey to make sense of, not theirs. Being public with my choices will always open me up to criticism, to side-eye and judgment for them. But I've learned this year that turning my palms up and saying Yep, you got my number, with genuine humility, makes it easier to pull the slings and arrows out of my back, so I can get back on my path, and hopefully be a little bit further down it when the next batch hits.

Vulnerability on its own is a liability. But vulnerability coupled with self-awareness feels like pretty fertile ground for personal growth.