Removing My Armor: Why I Want To Be Vulnerable

About four months ago, I finally received something I had wanted and worked towards for nearly two years: an offer to join an advertising agency as a copywriter. I was beyond thrilled. This offer meant that all the creativity and time I’d poured into my portfolio had been worth it, and it meant — to me — that I was talented and worth more than I had been settling for.

I love what I do. I get to write for a living. When I graduated with my degree in English, I cried at the ceremony because: A) Nearly everyone kept asking me if I wanted to be a teacher, and B) The answer was no. I didn’t even know copywriting was an actual career at the time. And now I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

The Review

I received my 60-day review for my new job a few weeks ago. As I sat down across from my manager, I tried to control my breathing and stop visibly shaking; being critiqued is not one of my favorite things.

“Katy, the feedback from your coworkers is, in a word, phenomenal.”
I beamed. She continued on, remarking on my trustworthiness as a writer, and how my work is always clean and requires little editing.

“The only thing is…” Oh, I know where those words lead. I braced myself.
“…across the board, everyone says you’re too quiet, and that’s leading them to assume you’re unenthusiastic about your work. People often ask me if you’re okay; they think you look sad.” Ouch.

Though I was hurt, I wasn’t surprised by her comment. In fact, for years I had acted that way on purpose.

Everyone has a defense mechanism. Mine is silence. And I’ve been using it since grade school.

Creating My Armor

Kids can be, in a word, assholes. I was an easy target for bullies; I had braces, endured an unusually long “awkward phase,” and not only did I join band, but I played trombone, the most uncool instrument there is. My self-confidence took hits day after day. In just a few years, I went through the stages of building up a shiny suit of emotional armor:

  1. Being completely happy with myself [Bullies enter stage left]
  2. Acknowledging my flaws (real or imagined)
  3. Believing my flaws defined who I was
  4. Feeling unworthy of friendship or connection because of these flaws
  5. Creating a defense mechanism of silence

If I don’t talk, no one can make fun of what I say. If I don’t talk, I won’t accidentally say the wrong thing and be embarrassed. If I don’t say anything, no one can tell me I’m wrong.

Sometimes it’s easier to hide.

If I don’t speak to people, they can’t hurt me.

But here I am, in a job I hope will lead to a fulfilling career, and the thing I created to defend myself is the one thing hurting me the most.
It’s time to drop my defense mechanism and be (gulp) vulnerable.

Embracing Vulnerability

While researching how I was supposed to suddenly burst of my shell after
15 years of hiding, I found a TED talk by Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability expert. Brown talks openly about how the only way we can truly connect with others and let go of shame is to embrace vulnerability.

If you have 20 minutes to spare, I highly recommend you watch her TED talk below.

Coincidentally, a few days after finding this TED talk, I met with a VP who was interviewing employees about culture in our office. We got to talking, and somehow the subject of my lack of confidence while speaking came up.

“I have a book you might want to read,” she said. “It helped me, and it could probably help you, too.” She handed me Daring Greatly, by none other than Brene Brown.

The title comes from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt — a quote so good, it is worth repeating here:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while
daring greatly.

I had put far too much stock in what the critics had to say. I valued their negative opinions more than my own sense of self. More than I believed in my abilities and worth. And it drove me into perpetual silent fear.

Fear that stopped me from pursuing good relationships, and from ending bad ones soon enough.

From expressing my wants and communicating my needs.

From embracing new career opportunities, and now, from advancing in my current position.

It may seem trivial to some, but for me to speak to people, be they coworkers, strangers, friends, or potential dates, and express my thoughts and opinions honestly, is to be vulnerable. And that’s scary.

But the false sense of protection I lose by breaking down my armor is far exceeded by the true connections I will gain by being myself. It will be a constant battle, but each small victory will be worth it.

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