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7 steps to get you through a vulnerability hangover

Let me tell you a story about the time I led a rather unorthodox workshop in my school.

As part of a professional development day, our Headteacher decided that the afternoon of the training day would be given over to staff wellbeing, where staff could volunteer to run workshops on anything they wished as long as it was not work related for other staff to sign up to. You can only IMAGINE the excitement – normally teacher training days are very intensive and the thought of spending the afternoon doing something fun instead at work?

BRING IT OOOOON!

The Headteacher asked for submissions to be emailed to him so he could put together a booklet for staff to sign up to workshops with. All sorts of cool ideas were being submitted – yoga, life drawing, cycling, cooking, zumba … it was gonna be an awesome afternoon.

Being an art teacher I toyed with offering something art related, obviously. In the lead up to the submissions deadline I kept on cycling through the usual ideas, but didn’t really feel excited about anything.

I reasoned that if I was gonna offer a workshop instead of just sign up for something myself, and put in all the effort of planning and delivering it, then I wanted to do something I REALLY wanted to do (teacher’s time is precious and hard won, my friends).

Me being me, what I really wanted to do was something a bit more ‘out there’. I realised what I really wanted was to help people make an art work that captured their unique form of contribution in the world – a celebration of how who they are and what they stood for impacted the lives of others. Teachers give a lot –  I wanted those who signed up to walk away with a reminder of just how meaningful and unique their contribution was.

Once this idea came to mind, I just couldn’t shake it off despite how ridiculous I thought it would sound to those at work. Doing something so openly ‘woo-woo’ in my very practical and logical workplace felt very much like exposing myself for the crazy weirdo I am.

Thankfully, I had enough sense to understand that being afraid was a sign of how important it was to me. Also, despite being afraid of a LOT of things, I aim make a concerted point of doing it anyway just to prove a point (to who I’m not so sure, but that’s something for a therapist to look into one day XD).

Somehow I found the will one weekend morning to email the Headteacher my proposal. After spending a loooong ass time writing it up and trying to somehow put what I was proposing in writing without sounding like a new-age crank, I pressed the send button.

Here’s the internal dialogue following this:

*exhales after pressing send button *

*reality slowly dawns*

Oh fuck – I’ve just sent a crazy email to the person who pays my goddamn wages.

I’ll never be taken seriously again.

(scratch that, are you even taken seriously anyway?!)

*email pings – opens response saying that the proposal is fine and he’ll put it in the booklet*

Woohoo! He didn’t shoot me down and I’m actually doing this!

Oh fuck – I’m actually doing this …

Fast forward a couple of months later. It’s workshop day and I’m properly bricking it. About 8 people have signed up for it, a mixture of heads of departments, 2ic’s, heads of colleges and even a member of senior team. People who I have worked with, respect, admire (and a couple I’m even a bit scared of …).

Cue sweaty hands and the shakes.

3 hours later they’re walking out with their art works, thanking me as they leave. It’s been a funny afternoon – it’s not everyday you sit your work colleagues down to talk about their personal values and ‘purpose’, and then lead your superiors to make something from it. Luckily, I work with amazing people, so even if they thought it I was nuts they didn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all and I learnt something new about each of them as a person as a result of our 3 hours of weirdness.

I leave to go home on a high – despite feeling like I was showing my crazy in my place of work, it had gone really well and I felt on top of the world! On the train home I couldn’t stop smiling as I congratulated myself on growing a pair of ovaries and putting myself out there.

But as I turned into my road, I felt a sick feeling rising in my stomach. I literally stopped in my tracks as I felt my skin flush red and those shakes I felt at the start of the workshop come flooding back. I closed my eyes and mentally ran over all the things I spoke about in the workshop, thinking just how cringe-worthy and ridiculous I must’ve sounded to my very intelligent and down-to-earth colleagues, bringing up their faces in my head and recalling every possible eye-roll or forced smile I could interpret from their reactions to my words. Each imagined judgement felt a like a sharp pain as I wondered how I could possibly show my face after such a stupid move on my part.

I was blindsided by a very real and very unwanted shame-storm.

It didn’t leave for days, and I spent a lot of my time in the following weeks at work trying to avoid the people who had been in the workshop. Thankfully, nothing was mentioned about it, and I finally managed to forget about it all and carried on at work as normal again.

It wasn’t until a year later, reading Brene Brown’s book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ (which I advise you to go and read RIGHT NOW if you haven’t done so already. Go, I’ll wait for you.) was I finally able to realise exactly what happened, especially after I felt so happy initially leaving to go home that evening.

I’d experienced a vulnerability hangover.

It’s not like this was even my first ever one (or last), but it was definitely the most obvious and pronounced in terms of how swiftly and effectively it had shut down my initial feelings of pride and happiness. FFS.

Vulnerability hangovers are the feelings of shame and panic that come after putting yourself out there.

And I’m not talking about the physically daring things like bungee-jumping or skydiving. It’s the emotionally charged stuff of opening up to someone else or doing something that you fear others may judge you for. It’s the feeling of being found out for who you really are, and coming up short in some way.

Ultimately, they are about you being SEEN, and fearing you will be rejected for it.

There’s so many things we do and face that scare us, that we worry will go wrong or that people will think poorly of us for. Those are real fears and real feelings.

However, there is something particularly painful about the feeling of exposing yourself so openly and honestly. When it’s more linked to a sense of who you are, over what you have done, it feels far more threatening.

And if you actually take that brave step and put yourself out there for the world to see? Those nagging voices of worthlessness and rejection try to come snapping at your heels quick time.

There is one way to avoid them though …

Don’t try anything new. Never open up. Stay hidden. Keep who you really are and what you really want buried deep.

That’s a high price to pay for the safety of avoiding vulnerability, in my opinion.

So what do we do? Should we stay closed off and keeping others at arms length for all our lives? Hell no. So the catch is, how do we work through vulnerability hangovers? How do we learn to walk ourselves through the fear of being seen and come out the other side wiser and braver?

7 steps for getting through a vulnerability hangover

Provided for you in infographic form. Because, pretty.

7 steps for getting through a

I hope these give you some ideas on how to get through a vulnerability hangover. I recommend checking out Brene Brown and her research on shame and vulnerability – her work has been so inspiring and helpful in my own life.

How about you? Ever gone through a vulnerability hangover? How did you get through it? I would love to know in the comments. See you around ;).

How art journaling schooled me on self-compassion

When I look back on my life, it is clear to me now where my experience of art making has helped me through tough times. However, when you’re in the thick of it it’s hard to see.

2016 was a heck of a rough year. For so many people, on so many levels. Me? Our little family had to leave our then home against our will and had to deal with a broken housing system alongside financial insecurity. That’s the quickest and easiest way to put it, but let’s just say we were treated like scum in the process. It hurt a lot.

A New Years Resolution I actually stuck to? Blow me.

When New Year’s Eve rolled in on December 31st 2016, all I could do was look back at the previous 12 months and see how RAW I was from the whole thing. Seriously, the only way I could describe how I felt in the second half of that year was it being like someone had taken a cheese grater to each and every one of my nerve endings – physical and mental – and continued to scour at them day after day. Dealing with our situation at home, alongside keeping up with my responsibilities as a mother, teacher and department leader damn well took everything I had to give.

I had decided that my Word of the Year for 2017 would be Create. I wanted to spend more time on self-care, and that meant actually making art just for myself, not just examples for students at work. The irony of being an art teacher and not making you’re own art 😂 #thestruggleisreal.

So I pledged to start my own art journal. This little bitty A6 sketchbook. I purposely chose a tiny book so I wouldn’t be intimidated by it or overwhelmed by filling larger pages. At the time I thought I’d just start doing it as a means to chill out at the end of the day and de-stress. Thankfully, I got much more than I expected out of it.

A6sketchbookbaby

What I learned from art journaling AKA substituting the self-imposed beating stick for a paintbrush

Don’t torture yourself with it. Have some goddamn fun.

Do you know what I did for my first official journal spread? I decided I wanted to paint an abalone shell in realistic watercolour. You know, that iridescent/pearlescent rainbow shell thingy that is hard enough to capture in a photograph, let alone a bloody painting. Muggins here thought that was a GREAT idea, it looked so pretty in my head. Needless to say, I wanted to burn it after the first night of trying it out.

Thankfully I’m a stubborn fucker so didn’t cave in and declared it ‘done’ on the third night. But that taught me quick – if I’m gonna keep this up, I’m gonna have to not make this about making things realistic and laborious for the sake of ‘pretty’. Now I work much faster and spontaneously, and I’m happier for it. Now when I start getting bogged down into mind-numbing detail and expectations, I throw some paint on it (maybe a bit of glitter too ;D).

Perfectionism is for cowards. It takes courage to run the risk of getting it ‘wrong’.

Am I the only person who has ever avoided something they really wanted to do, simply because they didn’t think they could do it justice? I know it sounds crazy, and if you’re someone whose never experienced this then don’t judge! But I don’t think I’m alone here. There’s plenty of times I’ve done this in my life (this website for example, took me far longer than you’d believe to make happen), but for the sake of this post I’m gonna talk about it in relation to art making/journaling.

The ideas we have mean a lot to us. Some, more so than others. They speak to our values, our desires, the people, principles and things we love and hold dear. And the more they do so, the more precious they are to us. There are particular things I have wanted to make art about that I haven’t even gone near, because the picture of it in my head is so perfect and ideal that I don’t want to tarnish it with the messy process of birthing it into reality. Same for art journaling spreads – there are prompts I have seen or things I’ve wanted to journal about that I haven’t touched because I am waiting for the time I can ‘do them justice’.

Thankfully, I am breaking that cycle slowly but surely. The first time I consciously did it was for a spread based on ‘Strength’. I had this brilliant vision for how it was going to look like, took a deep breath, and started. The end result was not at all like I’d planned, and I cocked up a number of elements. That page is THICK with the layers and layers of acrylic I covered my failed attempts with! This normally would have bummed me out. But you know what – it didn’t. I loved it. To date it’s still my favourite spread because what showed up on the page captured more of what I was trying to than my own seemingly precious idea, and I was glad to have finally womanned up and done it.

Basically, it has helped me to learn to get over myself when it comes to my ‘precious ideas’, and to not let perfection make a coward out of me on the path to doing what I really want.

You don’t need to have all the answers. Leave room for the unexpected.

Following on from the above, learning to get over my perfect visions for my art journal spreads has meant a more intuitive and free-flowing approach. A lot of the time now I open my journal with more of a feeling or experience of what I want to capture rather than a particular vision of how it should look. On the flipside, sometimes you come across a particular cut out image that just SPEAKS to you, even if you don’t know what it’s saying yet, and use that as a starting point. When that has happened it’s been really interesting to see the page unfold as it tells it’s own kind of story.

Letting the process guide me rather than sticking to a mental blueprint has been really freeing, and a real lesson in surrender. As my spreads have embraced more abstract elements and textures, I find that feeling of Flow more readily and welcome thoughts and images as they come and go. And when it’s all finished, I see that a collaboration has happened where there have been moments of surprise and revelation, rather than an imposing dictatorship wanting to reflect itself back to itself. ‘Cos you know, sometimes you think you know best, but you really don’t ;).

Show up to yourself, again and again.

Ooh, this is a hard one. The everyday hustle can be such a grind at times. Family, work, friends, finances – obligations and responsibilities are out there in abundance. And somehow we find the time and the space for all of it, even if it kills us.

I once had an interesting conversation with myself on evening in that first month of 2017 after a few weeks of starting my art journaling. It was 11.30pm at night, I had crashed out on the sofa after an exhausting day of work, putting the boy to bed and stuffing something edible down my throat that took as little time as humanly possible to prepare. I had already popped back onto the computer to shoot of some more work emails I hadn’t had a chance to respond to or send during the day and plan a lesson or two. Now here I was, staring down a three episode re-run of Game of Thrones late at night, with a flicker of guilt growing in my mind about leaving my art journal closed for yet another night.

I hit on a thought, loud and crystal clear, as I stared blankly at Rickon failing to zig-zag his way to freedom:

How come I manage to drag myself to that computer every night at silly hours to do even more work, and yet can’t bring myself to get my arse to that table and do some art making for myself for 10 minutes???

You know what I felt at that point? ANGER. Like, what the fuck? Was I really not gonna give myself the same level of dedication as I give everything else? Even the stuff I actively didn’t want to do at times? I took one metaphorical look at myself, realised that’s some twisted shit, and parked myself down and did some goddamn art journaling. This was the result.

showup

Now, there have been plenty of times I have stayed up after working at night and done an extra 15 minutes or so on a spread, because I’m bloody worth it too. And I may be dog-tired, but I sleep a hell of a lot more contently knowing I showed up to myself that day, as well as everything else.

What does it all come down to?

goodvoicesandchoices

I hear things like ‘No worries, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed”. “It’s good enough” (code for ‘YOU are enough”). “Let’s try this”. “It’s no big thing” (yes, Flop from Bing, toddler mum here). I more often look for the more joyful, ease-full path where I can, and if I can’t find one, try make one. And not feel guilty in the process.

At a time in my life where I was metaphorically beating myself up at every junction, it became a practice in surrender and learning to trust myself, mistakes and all. That I was still worthy, that I am as much of a work in process as my journal, and that’s okay.

And I’m still learning more (time for that another day, this has been one long ass post as it is). And it’s not like I’ve got it perfected. But the more I’m showing up for myself in this small way, in this seemingly inconsequential way, the more I’m finding the courage to show up as myself in other places.

I hope that you got something out of this post. Are there any makers, creatives, or journalers out there who would like to share what they have learned from their own practice? I’d LOVE for you to share in the comments. Thanks for reading, if you got this far ;).

What is a ‘creator’s mindset’, and why does it matter?

Working in education for 8 years now, I have heard the following phrase uttered disdainfully in one way or another on a number of occasions:

“What’s the point of art?”

Mostly heard from students in snarky, sulky tones, but also from misguided parents, narrow-minded educators and as an insidious message from government bodies.

Now I may be biased here, but for a damned good reason. There’s a HELL of a lot of point, and it’s not what you may immediately think. Let’s look past the paint and the canvas to explore something far more important and integral to what the people of this world need right now – a Creator’s Mind-set.

It’s not about the art work

The paintings, poems, sculptures, drawings, photographs and other art pieces are just the by-products (don’t get me wrong – inspiring, thought-provoking and masterfully crafted by-products, but hear me out). Although the world would be at a serious loss if there were no more songs, stories, or images, they are not crucial to our survival. We would still be breathing if there wasn’t any (although it would be shit).

But I would loudly argue that the skills and experiences learned and practiced from the making of these art works are 100% crucial.

It’s all about the process

On the journey of making an art work, you have to do many things. There’s the envisioning, the research (either into subject or technique), the mock-ups, the practice, the re-working, the long hours and the final touches, all before sharing your piece with the world.

That journey in and of itself is character building. But there’s even more to it than that.empowered quote (6)Let’s take a moment to break some of that down right here:

1.  In order to be inspired, you must become open to the curiosities, beauty and suffering in the world.

2. In order to have a vision, you must become someone who has trust in their own perspective and voice.

3. In order to take the first step in making, you must become someone who can live with uncertainty and put doubt to one side.

4. In order to generate ideas, you must become a problem-solver and a lateral thinker.

5. In order to make the vision you have in your head into something concrete, you must become action-orientated and dedicated to mastering your craft.

6. In order to keep going when it’s all looking like crap and you feel inadequate, you must become resilient and believe in your reasons over your fears.

7. In order to see your project through to the end, you must become accountable to your values and push past self-sabotage.

8. In order to share your work with the world, you must become courageous and know your expression is just as valuable as anyone else’s.

9. In order to know if it’s all worth it, you must become someone who understands the unique value of your contribution, and in turn the contribution of others.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg there bud.

Now just imagine, for a moment, if we took what we had to become – what we had to practice, be and do –  in the art making process and applied that to other areas of our lives. Holy shit.

Moving from Victim to Creator

The opposite of a Creator’s Mind-set is a Victim Mind-set. And we all know what THAT is like. The feeling of powerlessness, the ‘Why me?” mentality, blaming others or our situation for not getting our shit together.

Being a creator over a victim comes down to one single, crucial difference:

Believing that your power comes from within yourself, instead of from outside yourself.

Victims wait for permission, Creator’s give it to themselves.

Victims see dead-ends, Creators see challenges to be navigated.

Victims wait to be given what they want, Creator’s go and make it.

Victim’s are focused on what they get (or don’t get), Creator’s see themselves as contributors.

Victims default to apathy, Creator’s bravely engage.

Victims shy away from the pain and fear, Creator’s understand they are the gateways to truly living.

And, more than ever, I truly believe this world needs empowered creators.

So I ask of you – be brave. The greatest art you will ever make is the life you live and the person you become. Find a creative outlet – journaling, cooking, carving, song writing, drawing, whatever speaks to you. And let it be the training ground for a more engaged, courageous, resilient and powerful you. So when the times comes to be brave off the canvas – that muscle is already strong.

What qualities or characteristics have you developed from your own creative practice? Or what qualities would do you wish you could cultivate?