Last week, I released my first book.
Wait! Please don’t quit reading! I know, for the last month or so, I did the first-time-author thing and wrote repeatedly about Loveable. But that is behind us now. Sort of. This week, I don’t want to tell you about Loveable; I want to tell you about how I survived the vulnerability of publishing it. This is what I did:
I let it be vulnerable.
What I mean is, several weeks before the book was released, I was beating myself up for feeling so anxious: “Kelly, this whole book is about trusting you’re loveable and living from it. Where’s your confidence? Where’s your joy?” Of course, self-condemnation doesn’t produce much joy, so I just kept feeling worse. Eventually, though, what I realized (okay, what my wife told me) was this:
There is no way to live vulnerably without feeling vulnerable about it.
So, instead of trying to eliminate my sense of vulnerability, I decided to choose how I would live my vulnerability. That is, instead of trying to live my vulnerability with no anxiety, I decided to live it with no regrets. At first, I wasn’t sure how to do this. Eventually, though, what I decided (okay, what my wife recommended) was this:
Try to live your vulnerability gratefully.
This whole writing journey of mine began with a practice of gratitude—writing down one thousand gifts I noticed in my everyday life—so why not bring it full circle and start paying attention to the gifts right in front of me once again? Why not begin to notice this:
Vulnerability and gratitude can co-exist.
Then, in the weeks leading up to the launch, this is what I noticed:
I saw trees bending in the wind, instead of breaking. In them, I saw that every heartbreak is really a heart-bend. If this publishing thing doesn’t work out, my heart won’t be broken; it will be bent. And if the winds of disappointment start blowing, I’ll eventually figure out how to bend myself upright once again.
I heard the babble of middle schoolers on the playground across the street from my office. I listened to the sound of little ones trying to find their voice in the world. And I was reminded: Each of us is just one voice in a much bigger conversation, just one note in a much grander symphony called humanity. I was grateful to be a little part of the bigger whole.
I attended my son’s third grade talent show. I watched how unapologetic the kids were about showing up and being seen. Vulnerable, for sure—the pink cheeks and shy smiles testified to it. But afterward, when I told my son I was proud of him, he looked at me and said, “Thanks, me too.” I was grateful for childlike vulnerability, which is a lovely mingling of risk and pride and joy.
And then, finally, just days before Loveable released, I attended my oldest son’s community theater performance of The Shadow Box, a two-hour meditation upon life and death, love and grief, set against the backdrop of the early hospice movement. In the final scenes, a young terminal cancer patient named Joe rests his head in his wife’s lap and sobs, wondering if it was all a waste of time. The building of their home. The building of their life. The building of those things which will inevitably pass.
The play closes with these lines:
Someone should have said it a long time ago. When you were young. Someone should have said, this living…this life…this lifetime…It doesn’t last forever. A few days, a few minutes…that’s all. It has an end. Yes. This face. These hands. This word. It doesn’t last forever. This air. This light. This earth. These things you love. These children. This smile. This pain. It doesn’t last forever. It was never supposed to last forever. This day. This morning. This afternoon. This evening…These eyes…These things you see…Yes. Yes. These things you hear. This noise. This music…Yes…Yes…They tell you you’re dying, and you say all right, but if I am dying I must still be alive. These things you have. Yes. This smell, this touch. Yes. This taste. Yes. This breath. Yes…This moment.
And so, three days before the release of Loveable, I embraced that there’s no way to truly live at all without feeling vulnerable, because simply being alive is a vulnerable experience.
There is nothing more vulnerable than giving everything you have to something that will eventually pass.
Gratitude doesn’t just co-exist with vulnerability, it embraces vulnerability.
If life is going to end up in vulnerability anyway, you might as well choose to live the whole precious thing vulnerably.
You might as well choose to love the people you love without hesitation. You might as well choose to live the passions you want to live without protection. You might as well give yourself a chance at joy, while you still have time to enjoy it.
Vulnerable. Grateful. Alive.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.