Almost three years ago, Ez of the blog Creature Comforts did something exciting and new online: she took a moment to be vulnerable and transparent. Inspired by a post written by Jess Lively, Ez wrote about the things that she was afraid to tell her readers, and anyone else online. It spurred a movement on blogs across the globe and people participated in several rounds of sharing these fears openly on the web.
In my circle of blogging friends, this moment in time is one that comes up in discussions regularly. People often cite it as a real breakthrough in connecting with their friends and readers, an example of what there should be more of and something we should all strive to keep alive in every post, not just one every year or so. But when this was all happening, I was in too vulnerable of a space to join in. In 2012 I had come out to my friends and family, ended a longterm relationship and was recovering from a draining 30+ city book tour. I wasn’t ready to open up because I wasn’t ready to process all those things alone yet. But lately I’ve been thinking more and more about what that sort of openness means to all of us online.
The way we all connect to each other as writers, bloggers, makers, readers and humans matters. I’ve talked about why transparency and honesty is a valuable thing and it’s led to some wonderful conversations on and offline that make me think that making it a more regular discussion — and making sure all of our posts are infused with that spirit of openness — is the best way to move forward. It’s clear to see that almost everyone online is clamoring for “realness” and relatability. I think it’s part of a desire to see ourselves, even just a tiny bit, in the people around us and a way for us to feel hopeful, connected and inspired. So today I wanted to join in this discussion, albeit three years late to the party. In a world where it’s all too easy to celebrate just the pretty and successful parts of life, there’s power and importance in taking a moment to air out the things that are more about fear than success. My hope is that anyone reading here can chime in, too, and use this moment to start the spring season with a fresh and open mind and heart. If nothing else, maybe some of us can find a new friend who can help us through a shared issue or concern. xo, grace
1. I’m Scared I’m Letting People Down All The Time:
My greatest professional fear is one that I do every day and will probably never be able to avoid entirely. Whether I’m passing on a home tour, responding too slowly to an email or upsetting someone with a reaction to their email/comment/post, some days it feels like a major part of my job is absorbing people’s disappointment and trying (and failing) to fix it and make it better.
I realize that it’s impossible to make everyone happy, and to provide everything to everyone, but I care deeply about trying to help and make as many people happy as possible. It’s such a big part of my self-identification that I often consider leaving online work entirely to do something more one-on-one (like nursing, counseling, or even some sort of animal rescue work) that allows me to focus more closely on one person and one issue at a time. I imagine this would make me feel as though I’m giving someone 100% of my time and energy, rather than just a portion. When I saw last week’s home tour with Sarah and Edurne and heard about Edurne’s second career in nursing, I had a real moment of wondering if that’s the path I should be following. Sadly, the fact that I have passed out 50% of the times I’ve ever been near a needle at a doctor’s office probably means I won’t make a very good nurse. But I have a feeling that down the line, my next big project or career will be more about helping people face-to-face.
2. I’m Scared That I’m Becoming a Hypochondriac:
I want to get this one out of the way quickly because it’s the one that embarrasses me the most. Over the past few years, I have become preoccupied with illness and far too prone to assume the very worst about every issue I face. I’ve dealt with some shadowy health scares in the past (major issues that land me in the hospital but are never diagnosed as anything that feels “right”) and it’s led me to feel that there’s always something lurking just under the surface that I haven’t found yet — and can’t control. Just in the past few months I’ve been to a gastroenterologist (convinced my bad reflux was something far more sinister), had an endoscopy and full round of other testing, and collapsed into a ball on the floor after discovering a lump in the bottom of my mouth (which turned out to be a sort of over-developed muscle near a normal bone in my jaw/mouth). It’s not pretty. The armchair psychiatrist in me thinks it’s probably due to the fact that I finally feel comfortable and happy and thankful about my life, so now I’m scared something will take it all away. No matter the root cause, I can’t seem to kick the feeling that every little ache and pain is indicative of something worse. (This is basically my search result life late at night.)
3. I’m Scared of Losing Stability and Security in Work:
It’s no secret that the internet is not the most secure place to work and that the blog/ad market took a major hit a few years ago. I never thought Design*Sponge would become my full-time job, and while I’m thankful that it has, learning to find stability in a market that is changing constantly is something I really struggle with. I am a fundamentally old-school type of person who longs for stability and the chance to find a groove and just stick with it, but knowing that that will probably never be possible with this job is tough. I am very, very thankful to just have a job right now, but sometimes worrying about the financial end of things and knowing that other people, who I care about and respect very much, rely on me and this job for their income can feel overwhelming. (*Don’t worry, DS team, I promise I’ll always keep you guys safe and as my first priority.)
4. I’m Scared That Following My Personal Needs and Changes May Affect My Business:
I have weirdly never been worried that being gay will hurt my business. I’m sure we lost some readers that day and since then, but I frankly don’t want to spend too much time with people who wouldn’t read the site because of that, anyway. But for some reason, I worry a lot about how my desire to let myself be more comfortable in life will affect my work and the way people view me or the site.
Five years ago I spent a lot of time worrying about what to wear to meetings and trade shows and how much to eat to ensure that I stayed small enough to look sharp and strong. I wasted so much time (and money and effort and good food) worrying about those things that I forgot that they never had much to do with the success of the site in the first place. I’m not naive enough to think that being relatively pulled-together and cleaned up isn’t helpful for photo shoots, etc., but after a rough few years between 2011-2013, I finally realized that respect and success have more to do with the things on the inside than the outside.
So a few years ago I really let all of that go. I gave away or sold any clothes that were too fancy or uncomfortable and I slowly built my everyday uniform of jeans, long sleeve shirts and the occasional loose dress. I felt happy and good about myself and then when we moved upstate I continued that slide into comfort and gained 10 pounds on top of another 5 from the year before. Combined with a new (very limited) sleep schedule at the hands of a young dog, I look at myself and see someone who looks far less like the “tough NYC girl” I used to see in the mirror and more like someone who looks older, softer and like she spends more of her days in muddy galoshes than spiky half-boots. On the inside, I love that. But on the outside, I worry how that will affect the people who see me as a reflection of the site and expect me to stay “small, cute and stylish.” (Those were the exact words written to me one day in an email related to a photo shoot as a guideline for my appearance.) I realize this fear is very small in relation to the very real survival needs of others, but it’s one that I really struggle with and hope I can learn to move on from in the future.
I didn’t want to write about this fear. I didn’t want to give it, or the site, any extra air time, but I wanted to be 100% honest here and let this all go.
Do you know what it feels like to have an entire forum of people devoted to hating you and your work publicly, year after year? I do. And a lot of other people do, too. I realize that having people aware of you or your work in any way is, in some sense, something most of us should be happy about, but that can be tough to internalize sometimes.
I’m constantly reminding myself that everyone deserves a place to say whatever they want online, but it can be hard when you see/hear/discover people sometimes preying on your most vulnerable fears. No one is a harsher critic than ourselves, but to see those criticisms voiced online and to know that you aren’t the only one who sees those problems can be tough.
I realize that I put myself, my work and my life (part of it, anyway) online, so I’ve “asked for this” in some ways — and I know that’s what most people think. But every now and then I fall into this self-hating hole of reading through forums and realizing how many awful things there are said about me, my work and all the myriad things I should be doing better.
The only way I pull myself out of this place and move on is to remember a powerful moment from my life a few years ago. I was sitting on a bench in Brooklyn, just a few months after I came out and moved into my own apartment. I was talking to a dear friend and admitted to her that some days I just didn’t want to wake up anymore. I thought it would be easier to close my eyes and never deal with all of the difficult feelings I had, the hurt I’d caused, and having to process all of these messy feelings and behaviors at an age when I “should” have had it all together. Thankfully, this friend gave me the name of her therapist and that person helped me put things in perspective and get into a much better place in my life. That moment is a place I go back to a lot when I need to remember that compared to life and not having the privilege of living, everything else is just small potatoes.
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I hope putting this all out there will help some of you feel like you have someone else you know online who feels how you may have felt, now or in the past. I’m a firm believer that airing our fears is the only way to move past them or work on them, so thank you for allowing me this space to talk today.
So often I’m appreciative, but surprised, by people who email to say how much they envy my life or what it looks like from the outside. And while I know just how lucky I am to be here and have the life I do right now, I hope this helps anyone who feels that blogs/bloggers/the design community are a little too shiny and pretty and perfect, realize that we’re all very real people with problems we don’t always talk about online. And I’m very hopeful and happy to meet, connect and share with people online who are interested in digging deeper to find these parts of our lives that intersect and overlap so we can build deeper bonds in our community and help each other not just build homes we love, but lives we appreciate and enjoy, too. xo, grace