Go Be Happy: You Don’t Owe Anyone a Vulnerability Tax!

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I’ve been struggling to articulate this for a while now, so here goes:

I left a lot of things behind last year, as I think most of us did.

Some less-than-fab relationships. About 20 pounds of (donated) shoes and clothes. A bunch of business books I never wound up reading, and always felt twistingly guilty seeing, pristine and unopened, on my shelf.

But one thing I’m proudest to have identified, and started to shake off?

The subconscious idea of a “vulnerability tax” being required as part of success in the industry.

Maybe you know what I’m talking about, dear reader?

Virtual “Take-Backs”

I don’t mean transparency here, i.e. talking about how much time, risk, and effort stuff actually takes, which I think is VERY necessary.

I’m talking about that feeling you get after you post a selfie where you feel REALLY beautiful, but immediately afterward, you feel compelled to post another one making an ugly face.

You know — so people know you don’t take yourself ~too seriously~, or think too much of yourself.

Industry-wise, it looks more like reaching a revenue goal and celebrating it in public, then feeling this compulsion to remind people that you argued with your partner last night, or your roof is leaking, or something hard happened in your childhood.

You know — just so people won’t think your head’s getting too big.

Do y’all ever wonder why that is?

I do.

Why Are We Compelled to Hedge Our Bets?

At a certain point, I think it becomes less actually helpful “life is real” type stuff, and more of a habit to ward off the evil eye, or other people’s jealousy.

And as I reflected on this, it hit me like a ton of bricks sometime last year that using vulnerability as currency to attempt to keep yourself safe is antithetical its actual purpose.

Vulnerability is about taking a risk to share, create, or speak human-ly, while simultaneously understanding there may be consequences for doing so.

It shouldn’t be used as strategic penance to drop in the “Don’t cancel me, bro” box, or a way to cut YOURSELF down to size a bit before anyone else has a chance to in the hopes no one will attack you, or assume bad things about you.

When it comes to this vulnerability-as-currency idea, I’m not actually stuck on the “WHY DO WE DO THIS???” question when it comes to my own work.

Here’s the Reason I Do It

I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me, even people that I love, and essentially imply that because I’m a happy, positive person who has fun in my career and on social media, that I must not be… completely real.

Like I’ve never had a bad day in my life, and I’m just boppin’ along with a streak of great luck without a care in the world.

And, while I consciously know that my joy doesn’t take away from theirs, and seeing me as less of a person is a sign they’re dealing with their own stuff, it’s still pretty humiliating to hear.

It became a trade-off to me.

OK, if I’m sharing some good stuff, I have to humanize myself by reminding people I’ve been through shit, and my life sucks sometimes, too.

I didn’t think that way ALL the time. But it was definitely present.

And I realized sometime in 2022, like…

Extremely eff that???

Realization – We’ve Earned Those Awesome Days

Why in the WORLD do I/we have to perform so people believe there’s a complex human being under here????

That we have ups and down down downs, and shit gets hard, we try and fail, and we piss people and ourselves off frequently???

If we’re gonna claim to be empathetic and soooo accepting and whatnot in this industry, shouldn’t we just assume that about other people?

It’s so completely effed that we might feel like when things are going well, we have to trot out some trauma or other just to ensure random people will believe we’ve suffered adequately to deserve what we have.

And maybe I’m the only one in the world with this self-conscious-ass habit that I needed to put a stop to, but I don’t think I am.

Look, I’m a loud and joyful person online and off because that’s who I am, but I’m also a pretty private person.

I deal with hard things internally because that’s a boundary for me, and sometimes I’ll share tidbits of what’s going on, but it’s absolutely nobody’s business but mine.

Permission to Stuff that Vulnerability Tax Granted

So in 2022, and now in 2023 I decided to say: “Whatever, man.”

I’m gonna be present to my happy, having-a-good-ass-time self with no vulnerability-tax provided — because if I can’t revel in my joy without trying to justify myself to folks who need some kind of receipts to prove I’m a complete person… what the hell am I really doing here?

When I choose to be vulnerable in public, I want to do so because I’m being present to that situation as I see it, and it feels important and helpful to share — not because I’m trying to apologize, or protect myself from other people’s jealousy, or anger, or dismissiveness.

And it feels so good to be done with all that in a way I can’t really explain.

(Spoiler alert: no one’s canceled me yet.)

So in here on this day, rest assured: It’s OK if they think your head is big.

‘Cuz ya know what?

All that brain of yours has gotta fit somewhere.

Let ’em talk. Let ’em stew. Let ’em choke on your glitter downdraft. Keep doing you, and celebrating your life and accomplishments as joyfully and freely as you wish.

‘Cuz personally? I can’t get enough of watching you shine.

Keep going.


Photo by Count Chris on Unsplash

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