My Vulnerability Hangover
I am in the middle full blown vulnerability hangover. Yes, vulnerability hangover is a thing and it’s very real.
Last night I had a vendor table at a pop up shop fundraiser benefiting an organization I love, Sierra Pregnancy and Health Center. At my table, I had some stuff from my old shop like stationery and my devotional coloring book, but I was specifically asked there to bring my art.
Yep, my art was in public. And I was there, in public, standing next to it with full on impostor's syndrome pretending I was an artist whose art was good enough to sell. Uhhhh…
Last night's event was the accumulation of a couple of years of small steps of courage.
A couple of years ago, I was painting with my daughter and had a revelation. My daughter loves crafts. LOVES them. I’m pretty sure that her daily craft routine got her through her brother’s cancer and parents subsequent depression. Me joining in was her kind of bonding. So I bonded and painted on this large scrap sheet of cardboard with her. And I realized how much I loved painting. It was really fun, so why did I have all this nervous energy while doing it? Why didn't I do it more?
In that moment something inside of me decided to go crazy. No planned picture of a flower like I always, just painted. A color here, and a color there. It was freeing. I just went for it.
The nerves were because I had no natural art talent. I was never was close to extraordinary when I was in school, or even noticeable. Because of that art never seemed practical for me to do, even as a hobby.
See, I am a productivity junkie. My hobbies are projects where I plan, make, or create something that usually contributes to some bigger goal. Fun is accomplishing goals.
Not accomplishing something in your day, is just a waste of life.
Painting would never be a career or lead to anything to help my to do list, so I saw very little purpose in it. Then my son got cancer, and I started caring a lot less about all that. I started finding joy in stillness. I started finding the benefits of self care. And I just plain started not caring whether I was good at something or not. Little insecurities just seemed so much less important when your child is fighting for their life.
I was in the middle of that caring less phase when I was sitting with my daughter going crazy on this cardboard with various paint colors. Just doing whatever felt right, and who cares if it looked good or proper. It was fun. My daughter lost interest and left to go play with something else, but I kept going.
That moment of reckless painting abandon free’d me up, just enough, to buy a couple of paints and a canvas. Then there was more canvases. Then our dining room turned into my art studio.
It just made me happy in a way that I had never felt before. I fell in love with my paintings and the refresh sitting down for five minutes to paint gave me… This was for me, and only for self care. If it started getting stressful, I'm out.
That was brave step number one. Number two would be to tell people I was doing it. This is a bit more complicated and where a lot of my emotional/mental/psychological/crazy person issues start coming into play.
To admit to people that I painted as a hobby, even to my closest friends, I felt that then there was some sort of expectation of talent that I didn’t feel I lived up too. If someone puts the time and energy into painting as much as I do, they have to be good, right? And then they would look at it, see that I'm not, and think… well, a bunch of things but the one that bothers me most is that they would know that there is one more thing Jen isn't good at. That's heartbreaking for me. A lot of my life has felt like my academic career: I worked my butt off for B’s. Always B’s. Good but not great. Passable but not impressive. Most of the time I'm okay with that, but to show people something my heart is so invested in and them possibly think that it's not good. That's pretty rough for me.
But I did it.
To be fair I also have awesome friends who have been beyond encouraging. Their encouragement kicks the word encouraging’s ass.
That made it a lot easier. They still loved me even if I took on this crazy hobby that stained all my clothes. Then I started sharing stuff on Instagram. I have very few followers so it was a “safe” place because really, no one paid attention to me on there. Yet I still felt like I was sharing my new passion in a new way.
People would comment here and there. Strangers would push the little heart button and sometimes even start following me. Not like a crazy following (I'm lucky if I get 20 likes on any given post because I'm super popular, lol) but not crickets either. People didn't hate it. Or at least I don't think so. No one asked me to stop at least. I'm all about the small victories. I'll take it as a win.
I have gotten semi-comfortable with telling people. Most of the time I have some paint splotch on my clothes or on my hands (sometimes face) because I was painting before I ran out of the house. It's kind of hard not to own it when you are covered in it. Then I got invited to the pop up shop.
It was a huge compliment. A friend of mine who I know through my MOPS group, regularly saw and commented on my artwork through IG, was the organizer of the event. She invited me to bring my art. God Bless her kind soul.
I decided to do it. I loved her and the organization, why not? In preparing set aside a lot of intentional time to choose pieces, make some holiday decor to also sell, plan out my table, and so on. I was pretty good at staving off the nerves until I got there, and saw my table all done.
From one end to the other was me. Pieces of creativity from the last three years, all mixed with my faith, journey, struggles, and everything that goes into them, in one place. And not just the canvases.
I had the journal I made two years ago out of a need to start sharing pieces of my faith in a creative way. The postcards were made with a specific person in mind for each and every one. Bracelets that were to raise money when my son was fighting cancer.
But then there was the canvases…. Some pieces no one has ever seen. Some that came out of painting over mistake after mistake and ended up making something beautiful.
It was my creative self just out there. All these ventures done out of curiosity or just needing an outlet, but all very much intertwined with my journal for the last three or four years.
I haven't felt so raw in a long time.
And then I had two hours to stand there and watch people look at it. It's over but my gut still tightens when I think about it. For the first half hour I kept whispering “be brave...be brave...be brave….”
The awesome part was people seemed to like my stuff. I could watch their whole demeanor change. They picked up stationary, ran their fingers over textured paintings (which I allow and encourage), showed their friends pumpkins they liked, and so on. I saw smile after smile last night. Not just the polite “you are looking at me so I'm going to look over your stuff, give you a polite acknowledgment, and move on” smile. They were real ones, ones that made their whole body language change.
That was amazing.
The negative Nancy side of me keeps trying to focus on the fact that I didn't actually sell any art. But I sold a couple of pumpkins so I guess that's something.
I was raw and it seemed to make a couple people happy. That hits down into the part of my heart that fuels me. That thing that gives me life. For me that thing is when some struggle of mine can be used to help someone else. Now this isn't really a struggle but a vulnerability is close enough, so I'm totally going to count it.
Today though I have the hangover. The negative thoughts are hitting. The sensitivity from putting myself out there is still lurking. As Brene Brown (the amazing researcher who coined the term) put it, “You know that feeling when you wake up and everything feels fine until the memory of laying yourself open washes over you and you want to hide under the covers?” Yep I'm in full hiding mode.
It has a weird drain on you. I'm so out of it I sent both my kids to school in shorts...in the rain. To my credit we had our “just in case” jackets with us, but I still avoided eye contact with their teachers to be safe.
You'd think after doing something brave and raw, and it going fairly well, you'd be more confident and a pumped rock star. I'll get there… give me a couple months. Today and probably this weekend however I will be feeling all the feels there ever was, most of all the embarrassment feel.
Through this whole painting thing I've noticed a important life lesson: that when you are brave about the small things, like painting on a canvas even though you may be terrible at it, it helps you be brave when the bigger stuff comes. By doing these tiny and seemingly insignificant brave acts in my life has helped me get to know myself better, built confidence I never had before, and just make me a little more ready for when I need those big courage moments. Courage and bravery is a muscle and you have to flex it regularly for you to be strong enough for those big brave moments.
Even though I want to cry in my hangover stoop, and mourn that I didn't sell a dang thing, I'm a better person for last night. I did it. One less fear weighing me down, even if it was so small I barely noticed it. One less “what if”. That's freedom. One little silly step at a time.
I want to end with this: Now, what about you? What can you be brave in today? What can you do just for you? What can you do even if you are not good at but would be fun for you?
I say just go and do that thing. Go and be brave and be vulnerable. And it may hurt for a bit after but you'll be stronger in the end. You got this. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.