I spent most of a rare beautiful Saturday afraid to leave my house because I knew that the August edition of San Francisco Magazine was on the stands. I knew that if I left my house, I needed to stop and pick up some copies of it and face the article written by Bernice Yeung about the rise and fall of my relationship with Chris Messina. Bernice spent a great deal of time with both of us over at least an 8 month period, both when we were together and after the breakup. What started out as a piece on Coworking and our involvement in the movement slowly turned into a highly personal piece on living our life online. Knowing this, and having gone through the exercise of fact-checking that revealed the depth of how personal this piece was going to be, I was really afraid to read the article.
So, yes, I live my life very openly...mostly thanks to the advent of Twitter in 2006. Sure, I had been personally open on this blog, but only to the extent that I could weave my personal revelations into my professional practice. But when Twitter and its 140-character limit came along, it gave me license to broadcast the nuances of my everyday life. And it catapulted my openness into an extreme place. I had a really simple-to-access tool at my fingertips (literally) to tell the world how I felt, even when these feelings were ugly. And the most powerful part of this is that the more open I became, the more I connected with people: personally, professionally and otherwise. The benefits were clear to me. I was growing an extended family on Twitter. It was an amazing resource for personal healing.
But there is a downside to this that I only discovered after reading Bernice's article.
With openness comes vulnerability. Not vulnerability in the sense of: 'omg, ppl know I'm not home, so they are gonna break into my house'. Vulnerability in the sense of: 'I've ripped my ribcage open for you to see my heart and if you reject it, I think I'll die.' And with that level of vulnerability I didn't notice it happen, but a great deal of defensiveness set in. And it's really affected many of my relationships.
It plays itself out in really destructive ways such as:
- Setting unattainably high expectations and then being highly critical when not met.
- Instead of listening and having a normal discussion, shutting down completely in angry defensiveness.
- Walking away from several professional opportunities because I didn't think they 'appreciated' me.
- General paranoia in the form of, "Everyone thinks I'm a space case" kind of garbage.
Now, this isn't me. Sure, my Mom will tell you that as a teenager I was very angry and defensive, but that was 20 years ago. Now I'm a grown woman who has been acting like a teenager again. If you've been on the receiving end of any of this, I apologize. And I don't blame Twitter at all. It's merely a tool and what I've gleaned through all of this is: openness is good, but defensiveness is not. I need to know my limits and, as I go through life, own the things I put out there, no matter what.
So, recognizing this in the context of reading the article and taking a really hard look at my personal interactions over the past couple of years I have set the goal of truly embracing the chaos and dropping the defensiveness. It won't mean that I'm no longer afraid to be rejected, but it does mean that I will recognize when I'm having a defensive reaction.
And this, to me, is the only pitfall of living my life online. Amongst the many perks, such as: amazing people I've met and experiences that have opened up for me because of this, the pitfall has been that I've forgotten how vulnerable it feels to be open and how I need to be trusting as well as open. Good thing is that I can choose how I react to it.
:: update: Chris' awesome response to the article.