"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 errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; 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." -Theodore Roosevelt
My first book of the year was Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I had wanted to read this book for a while. Brene (I'm promoting us to first-name basis relationship) became a voice of trust for me after I first heard her TED talk on vulnerability. And vulnerability is something that has been hard for me since moving to Chicago, since starting grad school. Not that it was easy before. But a lot had changed, and life was hard, and I needed this reminder.
First, some background:
Last May (?), my life was basically as good as I could have hoped. I had chosen Chicago for grad school. I was working a lot and my future looked bright. And then, one day, I just broke. I realized that I was struggling with depression and anxiety. And while this seemed sudden and unexpected, now looking back on my life, I can see other times in my life when it's been an unnamed ghost in my life.
And guess what. Depression and anxiety suck. Especially together. And the change of coming to grad school, losing my close (in both strength and proximity) support system and being lonely, new stresses, financial struggles, and an identity crisis when I realized that academia--what I have always loved and been good at--is no longer my place . . . all of this compounded has made grad school terrifyingly difficult. It's hard when you can't bring yourself to care about things you used to love, but still desperately want to love it. It's hard when you know you will hate yourself for not doing work later, when you know you want a perfect outcome but you just don't have the motivation to put in the work. What I wanted to be so great led to breakdowns, loneliness, and overwhelming mountains of inadequacy and hopelessness.
I'm now meeting with a therapist and trying to be more compassionate with myself. I'm trying to meditate and exercise and accept and sleep and be social and not care so much about school while also letting myself enjoy bits. And so as I started to tease through these things, started to try to fix myself, I returned to the idea of vulnerability.
- I was vulnerable when a conversation with my dad caused an anxiety attack, and I opened up to my parents for the first time in literally years and told them about my depression and anxiety.
- I was vulnerable when I decided to honestly tell people in my program how I was doing.
- I am vulnerable when I think about building relationships and letting people see me in all my flaws and my strengths.
- I am vulnerable when I talk to my therapist, when I allow myself to feel emotion, when I let myself blow off homework without beating myself up when I just can't, and when I somehow push through and allow myself to feel the joy of school that I know is somewhere inside me.
- I am vulnerable when I take Brene Brown's (and my therapist's) advice to reframe my goals to be "show up and get wet" instead of focusing on all the shoulds, all the invisible, unrealistic expectations that I somehow think other people have for me.
Reading Daring Greatly, I knew I needed to write this post, at least for me. It was painful to read at times, to look back at my past and realize that there have been times when I was so happy because I loved and was vulnerable and just let myself live and enjoy it--instead of trying to force myself into a box because I don't want to be a burden on other people. It was difficult to read because it was too real for me in the midst of depression and anxiety.
But it was also so cathartic and validating.
This book reminded me of things I need (validation, connection, praise, love, recognition) and gave me a lot of those. It endowed me with some coping mechanisms for my really hard days (or weeks) and the permission from myself to have those days without shame. It inspired me to write this post (which like all blog posts of mine, is turning into an unwieldy monster that is longer than I expected).
While perhaps Daring Grealy as a book is probably not for everyone, and a few things I didn't necessarily agree with, the basic principles are things that everyone needs to be reminded of on a regular basis. And so here is my daily reminder to myself.
I am brave.
I am worthy.
I am enough.