“Vulnerability is the birthplace of Creativity, Innovation and Change…”

The title is a quote from qualitative researcher Dr. Brene Brown, Ph.D, a social worker whose area of interest is vulnerability and shame. At a recent writers’ workshop, somebody suggested I give a couple of Dr. Brown’s TED talks a listen, and if you want to do likewise you can find the first one here (The Power of Vulnerability), the second here (Listening to Shame). They’re short, well organized, and like all the TED talks, interesting.

bye bye perfectSo I gave ’em the old listen, and… they’ve been stuck in my mental and emotional buffer ever since. One of the concepts Dr. Brown brings up is the notion of being worthy of love. When someone is ashamed–not oops, guilty, because they owe somebody else an apology, but ashamed–they feel unworthy of love. Guilt is usually described as “I made a mistake,” and shame as “I AM a mistake.”

Painful stuff, and potentially crippling. Shame feeds that sense of unworthiness, until everything that goes wrong in your life is somehow your fault and your fate, and you barely want to stir beyond the narrow boundaries of familiar turf because all that awaits you is more humiliation and failure. Your life becomes an exercise in diminished expectations and pain management, even as you appear solvent, healthy, and in control of a nice future.

I am recently returned from two weeks in Scotland and week long writer’s workshop–I was out of the law office for THREE WEEKS, though arguably, at least half that time was spent doing author stuff. I had a terrific time, in Scotland and at the workshop. I met interesting people, saw wonderful sights, ate good food, and got a break from the tedium of my usual ruts.

At Glencoe, enduring the awful weather and the dreary scenery...

At Glencoe, enduring the awful weather and the dreary scenery…

And yet, I was aware of having to remind myself; It’s OK to enjoy yourself! This journey to Scotland is something you’ve planned for months, scrimped for, and looked forward to. IT’S OK TO ENJOY YOURSELF.

Same with the writer’s workshop. My inclination was to hide in my hotel room, working, working, working on my current deadline (next year’s Scottish Victorian Christmas story), but criminy, Grace Burrowes: When else was I going to be able to hang out with other writers, shoot the writer breeze, and pee and moan about my work in progress? When I got home to my cats? Geesh.

So I took baby steps–had a drink before dinner one night, instigated some laughter at dinner another night. Asked somebody to take my picture at Glencoe so I’d have a tangible reminder: I was here in this happy place of my ancestors. I’ve posted pictures of ME on Facebook–in all my chubby, grey-haired, fashion-averse glory. I also let myself pout and sulk when it was time to come home, because this too, is part of permission to be worthy of happiness.

lady_450I have a long way to go, in terms of feeling worthy of all the joy that can be mine, but I’ve made a start. I’ve already planned another trip overseas next spring, where I will hang out with readers and writer buddies, have the occasional drink, and instigate some laughter at dinner.

What is the baby step you can take in the direction of granting yourself happiness?

To one commenter, I’ll send an advanced reader copy of “The MacGregor’s Lady,” the third story in the MacGregor Scottish Victorian series.


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36 comments on ““Vulnerability is the birthplace of Creativity, Innovation and Change…”

  1. I moved my office home last year since my husband retired and the move saved us a batch of cash. I find I need more socialization than I have been getting. Yesterday I went to Pipes in the Valley my first Celtic venture inspired by authors like you Grace. It was fun and I hope to attend more in the future.

  2. I am painfully shy around new people and I have a hard time being comfortable in my skin. As am getting older, I am making an effort to try new things and get out more to meet new people. I have been going to concerts and hanging out with my friends and getting to know some of their friends. It’s hard to break out of the old me, but I find that I like who I am trying to become.

    • When I was with new people in Scotland, I did OK, until we met the performers who provided us house concerts every night. The dumbest stuff came out of my mouth… I have no musical chops left, and yet I felt I should have said something musically intelligent.

      Then Susie Malcolm, one of the our hosts, told me, something along the lines of, “For traditional music, there’s a greater a need for an appreciative audience than there is for more performers. Everybody wants to be at the front of the room.”

      Oh. OH. I could be the MOST appreciative audience possible, because I’m a lost cause at the front of the room, and yet I know what it takes to get there. What I brought to the party was not only enough, it was the best possible gift.

      What you bring to the party is the best possible gift too, Sheryl. You bring yourself.

    • As someone who had/has a similar problem, it’s also sometimes easier to practice on strangers than with friends of friends. I would smile at strangers on the train, and chat with people in the elevator. If you say something stupidstupidstupid, so what? You never have to talk to them again! which is amazingly freeing, and a smile doesn’t even require words, and some days someone smiling back at me would be enough to make me feel like I made a nice difference in the world. And also remember to be nice to yourself–it’s hard to go against habit like this, and once in a while it’s okay to hibernate and wallow in being alone. Just keep pushing forward when you can. There’s no overnight cure, but enough baby steps in the right direction, and one day you wake up in a new place.

  3. Several years ago, my career and goals collided with my diagnosis of Lupus. Although I wasn’t initially receptive to their assessments, my doctors were brutally honest with me about the lifestyle changes I needed to make in order to get healthy. The first (and most unwelcome) change was giving up my career. Simply put, the stress of balancing my career with family life was shredding my immune system.
    During my first few years without a paycheck, I felt terribly guilty about not being able to contribute to the family coffers, and as a result, felt that I had to provide my family the most perfect home life possible. Needless to say, the pressure and stress I subjected myself to was every bit as damaging as the career had been! I had to eventually learn to embrace my “imperfection” and get happy within my own skin. Gradually, I learned that my happiness shouldn’t be tied to my financial contribution (or lack thereof) to our household and that it was okay to find some joy for myself. I no longer worry over maintaining a housework/project schedule (a little dust never killed anyone, right?) and I take time out of every day to take a walk.
    Amazingly enough, I’ve discovered that my happiness has made my family happier.

    • Amazingly, yes. Seems to me we’re born knowing that we’re entitled to some care and nourishment and cuddling. We cry and fuss and carry on mightily if those needs go unmet, but then… fairly early in the game, we learn, or we’re taught, not to wait our turn, but to forget that we have needs altogether.

      If I hear one more person say, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger…” I’m going to squeal. That which doesn’t feed my soul makes me less alive.

  4. I make sure that I have some laughter every day. I don’t care if it’s from reading books or from a comment a friend said but a laughter can always be a step towards my happiness. Talking to my nieces and nephews who are all 8 years and younger makes me feel like a little kid again and it brings back all the memories when I was younger. When I’m with them, I’ll be arguing with them like a kid or play games with them that a kid does.

  5. In order to prepare my addled mommy brain for its imminent return to full-time academics next year, I’ve just started an online English 101 course. The anticipation I felt before plunging in was no surprise, but imagine the shock and surprise of the flutter in my tummy, the sudden fears: What if you don’t have the time to do it properly? What if you CAN’t do it? What if it’s just like last time, 18 years ago?

    You must understand that I was THAT student in high school all those 20 years ago. The one who shone like a star, who delighted her teachers, transporting them in ecstasies of academic delight. I was held as a paragon of learning, as the reason they ever wanted to become teachers but had despaired of finding until I came along. I was Hermione Granger without the wand.

    But then I went away to college, not realizing I had spent all my academic capital in high school and was left with a tank of fumes. I fizzled. Not only was I empty, but I was directionless. The future I had clung to with both hands no longer held its appeal, and I no longer knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course all college students are supposed to have this existential crisis, but not me, oh no. I had been THAT student, and my future was certain and immutable and changing course was unaccountable. I felt tremendous shame at my failure, and feared my return home at the end of the year, knowing I would not be coming back to university. Worse was the prospect of slinking home to face the looks and comments I feared would be directed at me, the shock of my community at my failure, at my fraudulence. I was named Student of the Year for the ENTIRE CITY my senior year of high school – now here I was with nothing to account for it.

    The only academic highlight of that year was my freshman writing course. It was my only A in a transcript littered with Cs and worse. My professor actually told me that she had rarely seen freshman writing like mine, and that she expected my improvement to be stellar. I was incandescently happy to hear this – it was a balm to my shattered pride, and a ray of hope that I was not the utter failure I had feared.

    The following year I attended the local community college instead of the private university I had once received a generous academic scholarship from. After that second year, I chose to quit school, because I didn’t see the point in spending very scarce money for a degree in God-knew-what, when I couldn’t even imagine what career I wanted.

    So just 6 days ago I read what our first assignment would be and the topic of discussion to which we were required to contribute. My heart skipped around madly in my chest as I fought that fear of failure once again.

    Then, I got down to it. I lucked out – our first discussion and our first paper were, happily, on topics about which I have much to say. The words and thoughts and ideas flowed ceaselessly. I SOARED on the wellspring of confidence that sprung up from the bottom of that dried-up well shaft. I was up until 2:00 this morning making notes on every theme I wanted to dissect from the 2005 movie adaptation of Pride & Prejudice and oh I don’t know how I’ll keep it to just 3.5 pages double spaced. I know I am going to blow this baby out of the water and when I have said all that I have to say, that microphone drop will be followed a beat later by thunderous applause. This time is my time and I am oh so ready to shine.

    • This sounds a lot like my experience in high school and then in college. So nice to know I was not the only one who shined throughout high school and blew it in college 20 years ago.

    • Pride and Prejudice? Pride and Prejudice!? Oh, what fun. What serendipity, what a nudge from on high… Go, get ’em tiger!

      And yeah, about that college stuff. My dad was a college professor, my oldest twin brothers had PhDs at age 25. My oldest sister was Phi Beta Kappa and churning through her masters before I was in Junior High…. Dad and both brothers went into life sciences, and I was going to be a biochemist because biochemistry rules the WORLD.

      Washed out in the first quarter. Couldn’t hack the math–couldn’t hack it when I hit it in high school, and the condensed college version wasn’t any easier. So, OK, I played the piano a lot. Became a music major… my first recital, went down in flames before hundreds of people, I mean–oh, God, somebody get the woman off the stage, down in FLAMES and haven’t performed since.

      How I wish, how I wish and wish and wish, I’d come across Pride and Prejudice before my 25th birthday.

      Knock ’em dead. This IS your turn.

      • Thank you, Grace! Your words of encouragement and of commiseration are very much appreciated!

  6. My first baby step happened this past May, but venturing off all alone to the RT Book Lovers Convention. While that first evening was dismal the rest of the convention was amazing and I only hope I will be able to find a way to get to the one next May in New Orleans. Since then I have taken a few more baby steps by interacting with more people who are book lovers like myself, granted it’s all done online, but it certainly makes me happy. I am also now taking a baby step by writing again after a fifteen year break. Who knows what else what other wonderful steps I will take this year.

  7. OH, Grace, I so know what that means! I am 51 years old and just beginning to understand that I am more than what I can do for my family. And maybe its time that they actually find out that I don’t really just sit here on top of my phone waiting for them to call asking for my help. LOLOL They are learning and so am I. My husband and I are leaving this Friday for a two week trip to Italy. We will be out of touch. I know I will worry. But I think there will be a lot growing up for all of us during this trip. And I want to tell you a quick thing about a ”worthiness” lesson I learned. Years ago, I was planning a trip to London & Paris. and I asked my dad what I could bring home for him. He said he would like a photo album of all the things I see there. I said that would be easy enough. He added, “But I only want pictures of things with you in them.” Clunk. A whole new thing. Asking people to take my picture. Never did that before. But I figured out it really was fun looking at pictures of myself with the Eiffel Tower and Mona Lisa and Big Ben. Really, it is a lesson many of us can learn. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the posting, Grace. And so glad you had a good time and put yourself out there a little more. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I HAD A BLAST. From learning about whiskey, to hearing tons of good live music, to realizing that for some people, sitting by themselves on the bus is HARD… A wonderful, delightful, perfect trip.

  8. When I was in the hospital being treated for depression, my doctor stressed that I should be proud each day of some accomplishment. So, now I’m pleased when I manage to go to work every day, even though I’m in a dull, dead-end job. On weekends, I struggle sometimes to get out and do something, and when I don’t manage to get out, I’m proud simply that I got out of bed, fed the cats, scooped the litter box, and checked the email. Sometimes — that’s it. Oh, except for reading. I always have energy for that!

    • My mom is 89, and thank heavens, still spry enough to toddle around the neighborhood. I ask her if she had three wishes what they would be, and one of hers is to be useful to somebody every day.

      Not much to ask, but… she doesn’t hear well, she doesn’t see well, she gets post-stroke confusion. I wondered how she managed to feel useful, and she went on to say, “That’s why I smile at people when I’m out on my walk. It might be the only smile they get that day–or that week. Who can’t use a smile?”

      Your kitties know the difference between when you get out of bed, and when you don’t. And I believe, “whatsoever you do for the least among you,” means for all the beasts and plants, for the stars winking at us from so far away. A little appreciation, a little love and joy in your heart–the occasional blog comment!–and you’re making a valuable contribution.

  9. Lots of things are spiraling out of control right now – big $ problems, needing to find a new job & needing to lose 30 lbs – but I think a baby step I can take toward relieving stress is getting to bed a little earlier & getting enough sleep. I might have to take a pill to get there, but I think it is imperative. By the way, best of luck to all of you ladies who commented & thanks for sharing your stories. Glad you had a nice vacation, Grace!

  10. I’m about to hit 64 and I’ve finally learned to laugh at myself occasionally. I’ve had a couple of awful days this week but have survived them and know things will get better. I stumbled once this morning and fell in the street a few minutes later. My first thought was “I’m glad my umbrella is red” as it landed in front of me and luckily no one ran into me. Ordinarily I would have come back home gotten out of my wet, dirty clothes and stayed hidden inside all day. Instead I changed clothes, put the things from my purse into a tote bag, grabbed my walker and out the door I went. I made it to church in plenty of time, listened to a wonderful sermon, stood on an outside stairway to have my picture taken along with the other members of my Sunday school class, and enjoyed a pot luck lunch afterward. Then and only then did I come home and hibernate. Several people at the lunch were amazed that I had actually showed up for which I don’t blame them as I don’t attend church on a regular basis. I too have decided that I won’t let my chronic health problems, moderately severe Rheumatoid Arthritis and latent TB, keep me down. I keep telling my granddaughters that I’m not old so I decided to quit acting like I was. Grace I’ve got several books on order and need to add the others to my list. I’d love to win this ARC but even if I don’t I know I’ll get to read the book once it comes out.

    • Molly, you think you went to church for yourself, but you’ll never know how many other people–who need a break from their lives, who need some fellowship, and who need the Good News–were thinking, “If Molly Moody can take her walker through the pouring rain to get here, I can get here too.”

      You done good, Molly!

  11. I hate to keep going back to childhood, but it’s hard to change your mindset and to unlearn some things that were put into young brains. If you don’t learn self worth as a child, it may take a lifetime to think differently. The best some can do is take one day at a time ๐Ÿ™‚

    • As the twig is bent… My process has been one of trying to turn those childhood low cards into adult strengths. I see that the same imagination that had me sleeping with the light on into my thirties also gives me the chops to come up with romance novels.

      With respect to self-worth, I have work to do, but some of the fruits of that work show in my daughter’s choices. She’s not starting out as un-self-aware as I was, and that’s progress.

  12. You go Girl! you deserve the joy of living! Keep the baby steps, do what is comfortable for you and ENJOY – Life is meant to be enjoyed not endured….. I am so glad that you loved the trip and can do it again. Each joy will help with the writing… Georgie

    • You have said a mouthful, there, Georgie. It’s true that our bangs and scrapes and heartaches make for good writing fodder, but a grasp of how to reach for the happily ever after, despite all fears to the contrary, is the heart of a romance novel. So, 1, 2, 3, REACH!

  13. I believe that my happiness is steeped in my family’s peace and well being. As a mother and spouse we tend to link our own happiness to others rather than seek our own sources. As my children have reached adulthood and by extension, their own lives I have gooten a part-time job and and found that I enjoy some independence that I haven’t had in years. I read, have coffee friends, have a glass of wine with my husband without guilt.
    Sue Lucas

    • And all of those adventurous steps on your part have probably meant your husband can have some of the same joys in his own life–breakfast with the guys, nine holes on nice weekends, and so forth. Our courage affects others, just as our fears do, because you’re right: We’re connected.

  14. As adult women joy and happiness are elusive. We tend to view our own happiness as an extension of our family’s happiness. It has taken years to understand that I can feel happiness and joy in my own right.

  15. Because of some issues I have, health & medication etc., I’m weighty, and exercise is more difficult than it ought to be. It all adds up to some fat shaming. And I do it to myself. I think if I can’t love myself right where I’m at, I may lack the fortitude to change anything that I’d want to change. And it’s so hard to remember that acceptance isn’t defeat.

    On another, much happier note, Gabriel and Jenny came in the mail yesterday and BOTH were great. It seems like Jenny and Polly should hang out sometime. A lot in common . . .

    • Ellie, you and I should hang out some time… The body issues stuff is complicated. I recall in my mid-twenties going to a brother’s wedding, and making a comment to my next oldest brother about always being overweight. He looked me like I was nuts. “Growing up, you were never fat, you were just big, and strong as hell.”

      I’m four inches taller than my next oldest sister, and was often mistaken for the older sibling. It never occurred to me that being larger might not have meant being fatter.

      The situation is different now, because I AM overweight, but you’re right that acceptance is not defeat, in fact, I think acceptance is the first step on the road to healthy change.

      • If we did hang out . . . I find all the great restaurants! I have the body of a foodie ๐Ÿ™‚ I love “big and strong as hell.”

  16. Almost 20 years ago I made the decision to raise my son by myself. Other than work my life the past 19 years has revolved around my son. People ask what do you do for fun; the answer was always whatever my son was doing at that time or work. As his senior year progressed I keep saying I need to start doing something for me. Hard to put yourself first when for 18 years you put someone else first. Freshman year of college came with my son going out of state, still I found I only worked. I didnโ€™t realize how lonely I was to begin with as my son called or texted every day the first year and I worked even more. Now almost 20 years later my son is a sophomore in college and only calls once a week. Iโ€™m trying to not work as much and making myself do things outside of my son. So far only making myself go to the beach and read a book, but in December I will be taking a trip to London by myself.

    • Oh, Julia! London is a WONDERFUL place to visit, and you will have such fun.

      I did the single mom from birth thing too, and it’s not that I tried to wrap myself up in that kid, it’s that between holding the job and looking after her, there was NOTHING left of me or my budget to put into fun, socializing, whatever you want to call it (though I did buy romance novels, of course).

      I had no interest in “forming a support network” because–I thought about this–that would mean I had to support other people in turn. I was too tired to be lonely, and too broke to frolic.

      And you know what? The kid is out in the big world, I have my life back, and I probably wouldn’t do it much differently if I had to do it over, except for one thing. I did not model to my daughter the necessity for self-care very effectively. I got better at it over time, but with the old 20-20 hindsight…

      That aside, these years post-parenting just keep getting better and better. I hope they do for you too!

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  18. First of all I would like to say terrific blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing.
    I have had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my
    thoughts out there. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to figure out how to begin.

    Any suggestions or tips? Thanks!