I’m not a very competitive person. I don’t play sports and don’t care who wins big events like the Super Bowl or the NBA finals. Over the years my competitive nature has dwindled and gone extinct for the most part. There is an exception, though.
I realized in the past year that I am a competitive person when it comes to storytelling. I would never have guessed it, but when I go to storytelling contests, I want to do very well. I want the judges and crowd to like me. I put a lot of practice into my stories and try and sculpt them to be perfect.
Last fall I told a serious story about how a friend helped draw me out of a suicidal situation. I told it for The Moth and this particular event happened at a comedy club. The crowd was greater than any of the StorySlams in which I’d participated. I’ve talked about mental health at storytelling events quite often and gotten a good response. But that was from people who were in a lounge environment. These folks expected humor, given that this event was at a comedy club. While the stories didn’t have to be funny, I could tell the crowd wasn’t going to be on my side as I shared about a personal, deep subject.
When I finished, the scores came in and they were nowhere near what I hoped. I wasn’t going to win. It stung to not do as well as I hoped, but even more so because I had made myself vulnerable. I spoke in front of a bunch of strangers who were not my usual audience. I put personal feelings out there—deep ones that tied to some of the lowest parts of my life. Once I saw those scores, I left the venue. I felt dejected and hurt. All that practice and self-exposure and all I got were a few laughs and a crummy score.
Yet, in some ways, this is what my life has become: making myself vulnerable. Recently, I watched Brené Brown’s special on Netflix, The Call to Courage. In it she speaks of the effort it takes to be vulnerable and asks us to take on that challenge.
Brown says that being vulnerable is scary to many people. Why? Because no one wants rejection. Yet every day when I share the stories I do on this blog, tell stories on stage, or speak with college students, I’m making myself vulnerable. Putting myself out there means the possibility of rejection.
It may seem easier to not share our stories. If we don’t expose ourselves, we don’t have to face rejection, which is a very primal, scary, and possibly devastating experience. But Brown states that vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, and joy. And we need love and belonging. It’s hard-wired into us as human beings. It helps make our lives complete. Getting rid of it is as difficult as trying to be a human and not breathe or have your heart pump blood.
To establish joy in our lives, we should practice gratitude. For myself, every day I’m trying to write in my journal one or two things for which I’m thankful.
We can’t control what will happen when we are vulnerable. Sometimes we’ll win the storytelling competition. Other times, we’ll get blank looks and some cursory handclaps. No matter what happens, though, vulnerability isn’t weakness. Instead, it’s that emotion that comes on us when we put ourselves out there, exposed, and unsure of what might happen.
It takes me a lot of courage to get up on stage. Sure, it gets easier over time and standing in front of the mic doesn’t seem as challenging as it once did. But even in the midst of sharing the tough stories, I find that there are always a few people to whom I can connect. I walked off that stage last fall and felt I hadn’t connected with others. But there was a guy who leaned over to me as I shuffled back to my seat with my head down and said, “Hey, great job!” I could tell he was sincere, and perhaps I connected with him.
I know not everyone is going to vocalize their feelings to me about my storytelling. But nowadays when I get up to tell my stories in front of a bunch of strangers, I do so with the hope that there is at least one person whose life I may impact. I need to at least try.
Because, as Brown comments in her special, it’s a lot scarier to get to the end of our lives and not show up. I want to use my experiences to help others, so the possibility of vulnerability pales in comparison to knowing I may give them a bit of hope.
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This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.