On Happiness, Vulnerability, and Dreaming

Dear Reader,

I should begin by saying, I’m obsessed with TED Talks. Ok, maybe “obsessed” is too strong of a word, but I enjoy watching them and turning others onto watching them as well. You name a topic, they probably have a TED talk on it – power, invention, image, stories, women, education, on and on….

So when, one of my writer friends expressed her recent bout dealing with self-doubt, I was excited to see another friend of ours respond with a TED Talk suggestion. This one is called  “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” You can imagine my excitement heightened when I discovered I hadn’t seen this talk before. Eagerly I put on my headphones in my office, watched, and listened. The talk discusses training our brains to think differently, more positively by changing the lens through which we view the world, “our world.” One of the talk’s tips was to show/express daily gratitude. Each day, for 21 days, share 3 things you are thankful for. By doing these tips, the study posits that we can rewire our brains and perhaps change the way we think about success and how that is linked to our happiness.

For many of us, and I am speaking to this from my writer’s perspective, success is definitely on our brains. Who’s got an agent? Who doesn’t? Who has a chapbook? Were you a finalist for a 1st book competition? For those who are lucky, you get the book, you get published, and then your goal post for success, changes. It then becomes about how well is the book selling, what are the reviews saying, what about the second book – will that happen? Will it do better, worse, etc? For me, all of these questions and wondering whether or not we’ll “make it” is inevitably tied into vulnerability (another hot topic for us writers, and well, humans…)

Reader, I feel like the universe is making ‘vulnerability’ a theme for me in recent experiences. The V word just keeps popping up. In fact, another friend of mine just the day before wrote a blog: “Falling in love feels just as clumsy as falling down. Opening up and allowing myself to be vulnerable has sown a whole new crop of insecurity and self-doubt.” (Sigh, the perpetual cycle that plagues many of us…) I have to say that I love that Andrea was writing about love in this post. It makes sense. Anything to do with anything or anyone we love can bring up all those feelings of being afraid, scared shitless, and left in a perpetual state of confusion, insecurity, wonder, and excitement. We feel it in relationships, the initial getting-to-know-you-me-us, are “we” a “we”, but we also feel it with things we are passionate about. Perhaps this is why so many writers feel these emotions because writing is something that we love.

This of course makes me think of another TED Talk that I forced my friend to watch with me today called “The Price of Invulnerability.”  We watched it just after watching the Happiness talk above. During topics and points that he felt related to me, he pressed the pause button, then looked at me to see if his insight resonated with me as well. And they did, especially the beginning where the speaker talks about how we automatically assume the worst case scenario, almost as if we are afraid of happy endings. It’s weird and  ironic, but makes total sense that happiness and vulnerability are linked.

For me personally, if I really think about it… if I’m really honest… my “success”, my need to feel fulfilled by being busy, by trying to live an ‘extraordinary’ life is linked to my fears of being vulnerable. I am afraid of the unknown. I keep myself busy, I keep myself invested in so many orgs, volunteer positions  projects., etc. I’ve mentioned this before Dear Reader, but I am a planner. I like control. I set a goal and I go for it. But, I’ve never just surrendered. If I think about my writing, I just don’t have time for it these days. Sure I am writing to you, but the real-tough-sit down-spend hours-reading-re-reading-revising-re-visioning my manuscript hasn’t happened. I honestly don’t have the time unless I seriously re-prioritize and let some areas of commitment go. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to just surrender , go all in, and see what happens on the other side. By this I mean, why am I so driven by my ideas and hopes of success or making an impact that I couldn’t just let it go, move somewhere less expensive, be a starving artist, work at Starbucks or Target and just commit to my writing for a year.

These fleeting thoughts have been on my mind a lot lately and maybe it’s because this May it’ll have been a year since I finished the MFA. My once again driven by success mind thinks “I have no new publications, no agent, no book deal to show for it.” So I’m trying to rewire my brain for happiness and be open to vulnerability  In following the TED Talk advice, here is an alteration on the gratitude thing (b/c I honestly do give thanks everyday) and so I wanted to share a combination of hopes & dreams:

  • We dreamed of starting our own literary magazine for Indigenous women and women of color. It’s happening. We’ve sold 100 copies on Amazon so far and 30 in person. We were thrilled with Issue 1 and the Vday issue. We’re getting some amazing submissions for the next issue (still open for subs until 4/15) and the online journal’s been viewed in 81 countries, say what?!?!
  • I dreamed of making a difference…working with Native youth and hopefully inspiring some to pursue their own dreams. I’m thankful to have found a home and purpose working for this upward bound program that serves 22 diff high schools & 8 states in this country.
  • I dreamed of teaching and have been blessed to have had the opportunity to teach from the high school, community, to University level.

I am thankful. Many of the things I dreamt of have/are happening. And I still dream…

  • I dream of one day writing something others will need… to read to feel less alone in this world, to heal, to feel that each of us has a voice, and that that voice matters.
  • I dream of bringing people together whether it’s the voices / experiences / words in the journal or joining people to support causes, or connecting people I know who can help each other.

and there are even things I never even imagined that could happen, that are now unfolding. One week from today I travel to Chicago for the American Indian Speakers Bureau to speak, lead a writing workshop, and perform some of my poetry. I cannot contain my excitement! I feel blessed, excited, and you know what… happy!

In terms of my personal life, I’m making some new connections and meeting new people, good people, who I feel blessed, thankful, and grateful for. Although the reason some of these people have come into my life (or the reason I came into theirs) has yet to be revealed, I am happy and enjoying the journey. Though I am still struggling to embrace the shuffle I am open and excited for the challenge to let go of my constant need for control.

It’s always a mixed bag and being happy takes a conscious effort during the days when I get a rejection and I’m feeling down on myself. When the self-doubt sets in I try to remember what Jennifer said, “I need to remind myself everyday that I am good enough.” But I also know the fear with surrender and vulnerability is always there somewhere lurking behind the shadows of my happiness. So I am following Andrea’s words too, and telling myself “It takes grace to face fear”  because if you’re pursuing anything (or anyone) you are passionate about, of course it’s going to be scary, you’re going to have to face your insecurities and fears, but if it’s worth it – you go all in because without being vulnerable…without leaving yourself open, you’ll never get there.

So here’s to embracing vulnerability, fear, and (hopefully) doing it with grace. Here’s to going all in!

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