Who has earned the right to hear my story?

My list of things to write about is filled with topics that seem simultaneously too immense to tackle and too irrelevant to warrant attention. I want to write about counting – what counts, who counts, what do we count up, what do we count down?  I want to write a passive aggressive piece about the biggest occupational hazard of being a writer – exposure. I want to write about the relationship between trust and vulnerability. Let’s see if I can do it all by answering a question inspired by Brene Brown, “Who has earned the right to hear my story?”.

Counting

Brene Brown said,  “Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.”

I can count on one hand the number of people to whom I’ve spoken my story aloud. Those are the people in my life who “count”. They’re the ones I’ve learned to let in and have earned the right to hear my story. They are the ones who “mesh with my messy” and keep hanging in there and hanging on – no matter what.  I have learned to count on these people. I count down until I can see them. I count up the memories we have together and the anniversaries of our friendships. Earning a place in my life where you “count” doesn’t come naturally or even easily. It comes with time spent, loyalties exchanged, and a whole lot of patience. I’m a tough one to crack – a slow burn as one friend describes it. However, once someone “counts” and I count on them, my fierce loyalty and dependability means they’re in it for the long haul.

So if you want to “count”, you have to be willing to hang and hold on tight.

The Occupational Hazard of Being a Writer

Practically daily, Brene Brown reminds me of about the power of vulnerability and choosing authenticity.  Her work reminds me that being seen and owning my story is courageous. In fact, she says, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” This sentiment is one of the reasons I write. However, the hazard of being vulnerable is so unbearable to consider and the consequences feel multifaceted. It can lead to misconception and immense exposure. As a writer, certain aspects of my life are more public than private. I feel like sometimes when people read my writing think they know me better than they actually do. What’s challenging is that my writing is often editorialized to make money (or generate web traffic) and the choices I make regarding how to convey emotion, which phrases or formatting are more attractive to readers, and which examples to expand on based on what may be salient to or resonate with readers are only relatively representative of my lived experience. I cannot control the fact that people make inferences with the information they have (hey – we don’t know what we don’t know) and that’s hard for me to tolerate. Conversely, I don’t have the energy or obligation to “explain” myself to everyone in my life whom I feel has misunderstood my story by only learning of certain aspects of my life by reading my writing.

However, the hazard of being vulnerable is so unbearable to consider and the consequences feel multifaceted. It can lead to misconception and immense exposure. As a writer, certain aspects of my life are more public than private. Consequently, I feel like sometimes when people read my writing think they know me better than they actually do. What’s challenging is that my writing is often editorialized to make money (or generate web traffic) and the choices I make regarding how to convey emotion, which phrases or formatting are more attractive to readers, and which examples to expand on based on what may be salient to or resonate with readers are only relatively representative of my lived experience. I cannot control the fact that people make inferences with the information they have (hey – we don’t know what we don’t know) and that’s hard for me to tolerate. Conversely, I don’t have the energy or obligation to “explain” myself to everyone in my life whom I feel has misunderstood my story by only learning of certain aspects of my life by reading my writing.

So there’s a tension. I want to be understood and yet I’m hesitant to share about my life. At the same time, I’m anxious about the anticipation of being misperceived (something I cannot control – I realize) because the representation of myself via my writing feels raw and heavy.

The thing is for every 1200 words in a post, there are thousands more I decide not to share. The things I don’t share via writing are the details in my story, the nuances, that explain “me”. They are things like how I communicate, that I’m an introvert, that I hate being taken care of, and that when people push too hard, too fast I pull away. They’re the fact that sometimes my life is scary and sometimes I want to run, but I can’t escape it. And it’s the idea that regardless of all I’ve experienced, I don’t live my life from a place of being a victim. In fact, most people who know me don’t learn about all the things I’ve experienced – my story- for a long long time.

Except, via my writing, I do share parts of my story with the world. Here’s why:

Brene says, “We’re all grateful for people who write and speak in ways that help us remember that we’re not alone.”  After I press “publish” my writing is left in the heads, hands, and hearts of whoever stumbles upon my words. Being a writer helps me own my experiences and when I put my words out there my truth radiates. I learn I’m not alone. Which is terrifying and exciting.

The Relationship Between Trust and Vulnerability is Linear

Brene Brown argues that “Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement.” I tend to agree, yet I believe that as trust grows so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary and painful. It’s the kind of unwelcome discomfort that sits right on top of the fence wavering relentlessly between I need this and I cannot tolerate this. However, when you trust someone and you know they’re not going anywhere it’s easier to be vulnerable. Conversely, as trust decreases, so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. As a result disengagement and disconnection emerge. Two qualities that hinder the capacity to be open to receiving my story. The presence of enduring trust answers the question, “who has earned the right to hear my story”. Sharing my story is one way I can be vulnerable, and if I do not have a foundation of trust, then the privilege of learning my story isn’t accessible.

Conversely, as trust decreases, so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. As a result disengagement and disconnection emerge. Two qualities that hinder the capacity to be open to receiving my story. The presence of enduring trust answers the question, “who has earned the right to hear my story”. Sharing my story is one way I can be vulnerable, and if I do not have a foundation of trust, then the privilege of learning my story isn’t accessible.

Glennon Dyole Melton reminds us in Love Warrior, that “we can do hard things”. I interpret that to mean we can choose our adventures, make mistakes, acquire accolades and achievements, and overcome life’s challenges. Writing allows me to be the author and narrator of my “hard things”. I write because it helps me make sense of my story.  When I’m writing, I choose how the chapter ends and what the message is. This – writing – is hard. It takes courage to confront hard things and be seen. 

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