The three ingredients of creative vulnerability

by | Feb 19, 2012

When you work for yourself, it’s easy to feel vulnerable. And if you resist it, vulnerability can interfere with your ability to focus. It can sap your confidence. And it can keep you from receiving support.

In short, it can play havoc with your ability to do creative work, let alone promote it. But when you engage with vulnerability rather than pushing it away, it can become the seedbed for creativity in business and life.

Chunk things way down to regain focus

Whether your vulnerability is physical, mental, emotional, or some combination of the three, it may make it hard to concentrate. You may be easily distracted, or you may seek distraction to keep uncomfortable feelings at bay.

At the same time, you may tend to see projects and tasks as monolithic, undifferentiated challenges. In other words, even modest projects seem like Very Big Deals.

One remedy is chunking down. Choose one task to begin with. If you can’t choose, start with the first one you think of. Then break it down into tiny pieces. How tiny? Break it down until you get to a step that is a no-brainer. Then break it down one more time.

Lay out the steps in no particular order

Start with the end result: a new web page, an article, balancing your checkbook. What needs to happen to get that result?

You don’t have to be organized or clear to do this. Write down the things that occur to you in any order. You could make a list, write the bits on stickies, or make a mindmap. What’s important is shaking up that Very Big Deal so that it starts to break into not-quite-so-big parts.

Look at the steps you’ve captured. Is there one that stands out as a good starting place? If so, great. Start there.

If the steps still feel too large, choose one and break it down further. What needs to happen for you to take that step?

Let time be your friend

When you’re vulnerable, there’s a tendency to think in terms of hours and days rather than minutes. What might otherwise seem like an advantage—a block of open time—becomes a black hole sucking away focus.

Again, break it down. What can you do in an hour? Or 30 minutes? Don’t think in terms of finishing things, think in terms of moving them along.

Spend 30 minutes writing down what you want that web page to do. Devote an hour to your article. Or spend 15 minutes gathering receipts. Settle on an amount of time that feels doable, and focus for just that long.

Rinse and repeat.

Build confidence by showing up for yourself

I interpret confidence to mean self-trust. If you feel vulnerable, and if you feel like there’s something wrong with that, self-trust can be dicey. There’s a tendency to think first of all the ways you can’t trust yourself right now.

That’s okay.

Build confidence or self-trust by making and keeping really tiny commitments to yourself. Make an agreement with yourself to take your vitamins, to go for a ten minute walk, to spend those 15 minutes gathering receipts.

What’s essential is that you make your commitments specific, simple, and modest. And make just one each day. You can always do more, but making and keeping one tiny commitment to yourself each day is a steady way to restore your confidence.

Build confidence by leaning into wellbeing

An even better way to build confidence and self-trust is to look in the direction of your innate wellbeing. Of the wellbeing that is part of your nature as a spiritual being in the physical world. You don’t have to feel good to remember that you are always okay.

Be support-able

When you’re vulnerable you need support more than ever, but you may also withdraw or contract against support. Here’s how you can become more receptive to support.

Start with the support that’s right beneath your feet

In a very real sense, support is always available. Pay attention to the literal support of the ground beneath your feet. Let yourself settle into your chair. Notice that the chair is supported by the floor. The floor is supported by the foundation of the building. The foundation is supported by the earth.

Your body recognizes support when you let it. And when you do, you’ll find your nervous system calms down, which makes it easier to receive support from other sources.

Notice when people want to help

When vulnerability makes you defensive, you’ll pull back when people offer support. Even modest offers—offers that would come in whether or not you were vulnerable—can trigger defensiveness.

It’s as if the floodgates of neediness will open if you acknowledge and accept support. Or your hard-won structures of muddling through will be disturbed and fall apart.

It helps a lot to dial things back. Just notice when help is available. You don’t have to accept it; just see if you can be okay with the possibility. This will give you some space to choose support with your dignity intact.

Vulnerability goes with the territory

There’s nothing like self-employment for making you feel exposed and vulnerable. Just realizing that normalizes things so you don’t interpret sensitivity as a character flaw.

But vulnerability doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. With a little self-awareness and the willingness to keep things simple, you can maintain focus, build confidence, and let in the support you need to continue to do creative work.

Photo by Ernst Vikne via Flickr