Vulnerability & "The Middle" of the Journey
As a writer, I tend to get words or phrases stuck in my head for various lengths of time, and almost to a tic-like degree. Words might come into my mind for a day and easily find their way into a conversation...or they live for weeks in an imaginary fancy hotel suite, demanding room service and drinking all of the most expensive liquors from the minibar of my brain.
Vulnerability is the most recent hotel guest whose name and meaning has been in the extended stay in my head for weeks. I’m constantly thinking about the word and how it relates to this current season of my life.
What does it mean to be vulnerable on social media today? And what is it going to take for us to value vulnerability in a culture obsessed with perfection?
We all know how endlessly frustrating it is to scroll through Instagram and see everyone’s filtered lives. Consider this week’s post as my way to exercise (more like exorcise?) this word in my writing and in everyday conversation. If you’re struggling with feed-envy of others online—or if you ever thought I have my life together—keep reading. And also watch this video of me falling at a John Mulaney show; it’s been a nice mini-lesson in vulnerability for me.
In obsessing over vulnerability for the last few weeks, I’ve also been consistently annoyed with how no one seems to talk about “the middle” of a journey.
You’ve seen it before (and might have missed the subtext of statement):
“I’m so #blessed to announce I’m starting my dream job as a fry cook with The Krusty Krab!”
(“I’ve been unemployed for weeks now and living off of savings; I sent out 75 resumes and had 36 unsuccessful interviews. The Krusty Krab finally hired me.”)
We’re all so eager to share what we’ve accomplished—and rightly so! I fully believe that you should only follow accounts of people whose success you’re happy to celebrate. But has too much of “in the end, I did this” ruined our idea of how hard the beginning and middle can be?
I can’t go into the details online just yet, but I’m currently working on something really, really big (I realize this runs counterintuitive to vulnerability, but just trust me on this part). So without sharing too much—but in working on being more vulnerable with you—here’s my own middle.
For the story’s sake, let’s just pretend I’m trying to bake a soufflé.
So, I’m trying to bake a soufflé. The biggest soufflé I’ve ever made. Side note: I know virtually nothing about making a literal soufflé so this analogy will definitely have some culinary errors.
In preparing for this soufflé, I’ve been carefully collecting the ingredients for months. I’ve been documenting everything I have in my own kitchen. I’ve been asking friends and family members for their recipes. So why was I scared to start baking for so long?
STARTING THE PROCESS CAN BE THE SCARIEST PART
Getting started can feel absolutely overwhelming, especially if you’re baking alone. You can buy all of the ingredients and store them in your pantry...but nothing really matters until you put your little chef hat on and get to work.
(Yes, my baking analogy does involve a cute chef outfit, thanks for asking.)
Up until now, a small part of me has kept saying you’ve never made a soufflé before, what makes you think you can do it now? I listened to that little part for way too long. But recently, I read a quote from a businesswoman I admire that changed the way I’ve been negatively viewing my own inexperience: “I think we need to have a healthy dose of naïveté to actually go for it initially.”
There is still so much I don’t know about soufflés, and that’s really scary to me. But it's also exciting to be forced to carve out my unique path without a predetermined plan. And I do know that I have to throw a few soufflé parts to the wall to see what sticks.
THE OVEN TAKES A WHILE TO HEAT UP
This one has been the toughest part of my culinary journey. As you might already know about me, I am extremely impatient. Nothing happens quickly enough for me, and that’s specifically why I picked a soufflé analogy to represent how long this process has been so far.
Why aren’t things rising faster? Do I need more yeast (again, zero real soufflé knowledge here)? What can I do to speed this mess up?
To be honest, I don’t have the answer for this. When I get impatient, I just remind myself of those anecdotes by famous people like Oprah and Tina Fey and how they worked at the YMCA or got fired at my age. But good GOD am I over people telling me to just wait for it to play out. It’s a soufflé, not the next Game of Thrones book, damnit!
Ugh. Now I’m angry. And hungry. What do you do to quiet an impatient mind?
YOU CAN DO EVERYTHING RIGHT AND THINGS WILL STILL BLOW UP
From all of my soufflé knowledge (which is mostly based on ‘90s sitcoms with an episode centered on a baking plot line), I know that you can do everything right on your end—buy the best ingredients, meet with soufflé masters, and set all of your timers while it’s in the oven—but sometimes things fall apart, and it’s not your fault. I won’t get too woo-woo here, but I like to think those blow-ups were just soufflés meant for other people.
And to that point: if you’re making a soufflé too, know that you’re going to have to sacrifice things to make this ridiculous dessert. Your time, your money, and your ego are all going to experience some major upheavals in this process. Prioritize what matters more to you; I mean, do you want to serve your guests Ho-Hos for the rest of their lives? Probably not. (Ho-Hos, please sponsor me!!! Kidding.)
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re still learning to prioritize. I’m trying to teach myself this lesson too.
So here I am, stuck in my middle. It’s not pretty and effortless like this perfect summer Realisation Par dress and these Superga sneakers (heyo, like how I worked that in?) but I wanted to do my small part for a society that needs to begin a “post-perfection” era. We have to start celebrating the vulnerability that connects us all as people online. It’s the only way we’re going to keep any sanity in a culture focused on our end result.
I hope that sharing this will give you some kind of reassurance; if you’re stuck in a middle (or a beginning, or a no-man’s land) just know that you’re not alone. No one magically gets what they want without blood, sweat, and a ton of sucky soufflés.
SHOP THE LOOK
Shopstyle doesn't have my Realisation Par dress listed, but you can find it here.