Remember that dream you had as a kid? You know, the one where you went to school without any pants. Or the one where you're on stage and you look down and suddenly your clothes are mysteriously missing. You were exposed for the entire world to see, and the fear and panic were crippling.
That's often how I feel when I want to write for this blog. It's just me, and I'm frightened. Don't worry, this doesn't mean I'll suddenly stop wearing pants. I have no desire to write this blog from prison. But it does mean that I've entered into a strange cycle: the desire to create a blog about finding freedom from the need to create a perfect image traps me into trying to create the perfect blog image.
So, wait right here for a second...
...Ok, I'm back. I just kicked that perfectly sculpted blog image in the junk. And it hurt more because it wasn't wearing pants.
The idea of being fully transparent is frightening. What happens if they don't like what they see? Will they accept me? Will they like me? Or will they make fun of me? Will they call me a reject? Will they make me feel defective? This are the words that race through the minds of those that Robert McGee calls "Approval Addicts" in his book, The Search For Significance. And I'm guessing that those who can identify with this term just did the internal equivalent of the "Mmmm Hmmm, C'mon" that you might hear at the more vocally expressive churches around town on a Sunday morning.
So, what does it look like to open up our lives and expose what's behind the image?
Here's what it looks like for me:
For six months, I have had this idea in my heart about opening up my life to share the fears, successes, struggles, and messy nonsense that runs through my brain. Not for my glory, but to benefit others who might be stuck trying in the same spot that I've been. But I never felt like I had the main idea down. It wasn't until siting with my wife Cheryl when we felt like we landed on the right name for the idea. "Behind The Image: An Unfiltered Look At Life." We were supper giddy about it, and I instantly went to see if the domain was available. (Side note: much of the inspiration from that day comes from the incredible lobster mac & cheese I had for lunch. Thank you Mitchell's Fish Market. You make dreams come true.) So we began to create this idea and get excited about a shared project.
This is the part of the story where the main antagonist, fear, steps in. If you'd like, we can call him Freddie the Fear Monger. In fact, lets just imagine that Freddie the Fear Monger looks exactly like Fred Savage from The Wonder Years.
Anyways, fear has a sneaky way of preventing me from opening up my heart. I can open up parts of it and trick myself into thinking I'm being vulnerable. And in many ways I am. But if I get really honest with myself, I know the difference. So, when I sit down and start writing, Freddie (Savage) the Fear Monger sits down with me and begins to alter the content. He starts over-using the delete key. He starts doing research. He begins to replace raw honesty with clever, witty phrases. And then he flicks me off and kisses Winnie.
It is incredibly hard to be vulnerable while writing. Let me clarify: I mean vulnerable about the things I'm thinking and feeling in the moment. I can share parts about my past, or things that have happened to me. I can even share about painful emotions from grief. But when I mean vulnerable, I mean confronting the "please please don't hate this" feelings that enter as soon as I hit the "publish" button. Exposing ourselves (creatively, not in the Pee Wee Herman kind of way) is incredibly scary. We have poured something of ourself into our work, and we are now making it available to public scrutiny. And we have no control over how it is received.
I was sharing the idea about this blog with a close friend, and he encouraged me to check out Brene Brown's TED talk about the power of vulnerability. I really enjoyed it (plus extra bonus points for representing social workers!!) I was watching another video with her, and she said something very powerful: "There is no creativity without vulnerability."
So, here I am. I am secure in who God has made me to be. Yet every single morning I wake up afraid and have to discipline my mind to reject the lies and self-defeating thoughts and replace them with the truth that I am loved and accepted by God for who I am, and not who I think others want me to be. And I have a stack of flash cards with key scriptures on them that help me rewire my thought process.
As a recovering people pleaser and approval addict, know that this blog might be the most frightening thing I've ever done. But at the end of the day, it's not about me. You might find it incredibly helpful. Or, you might find it incredibly offensive. You might even be indifferent and keep scrolling through your newsfeed, confused as to why there's blog that mentions both "Fred Savage" and "no pants" (these are unrelated phrases, but if picturing Fred Savage with no pants helps encourage you to step out of your fear, it was worth it.) But I know that there is someone who needs to read this. And it might just be me.
Join The Conversation
Do you ever feel this way? Are you in the midsts of fighting through the fear of what others think about you? Has there ever been a time you felt free as a result of being vulnerable? Or did reading this help you consider starting on your own Behind The Image journey?
If you have a story, I'd love to hear about it. Share it in the comments below, or find me on Twitter @RickGuttersohn