A New Story is Brewing: What I Learned From My Critics

I have been working with my mentors the last few years on a new health care framework called Empathetic Partnership.

It's for all helping professionals and is meant to be a tool to help providers create safe and effective partnerships with patients or clients. It's a six element framework using women of sexual minority as the example of marginalized populations in need of safe and caring health care. It was published in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners in September 2014.

My friends at Washington State University wrote a Press Release about this framework in December. It was so well written and one of the best descriptions of my work I've ever seen or been able to articulate myself. I was so honored to have them share my work. A few days after the press release . . .

Yahoo called.

I was thrilled, delighted, terrified. I did my best on my phone interview and they released a story about my work on Yahoo Health the next week.

My framework is based on New Zealand nursing's concept of Cultural Safety and the work of US sociologist Brené Brown. So I've studied these concepts and frameworks extensively. I know well of Brené Brown's own story of making the mistake of reading comments on her amazing TedTalk. Suffice it to say she doesn't recommend people read comments on their work.

The first few comments started coming through on Yahoo. I couldn't stand not to look. Surely people wouldn't be cruel, right?


If you are looking for a shame spiral, look no further!!!

My triggers got activated. I felt vulnerable, exposed, embarrassed, profound shame . . . all those yucky feelings associated with sharing something that lives deep in your core when you have no idea how it'll be received. I immediately thought of Brené Brown. It was in that dark time of one of her vulnerability hangovers that she came across the Theodore Roosevelt quote that led to her landmark book, Daring Greatly.

Those who dare greatly are in the arena: showing up, being vulnerable, sharing their work, doing their best to live to their highest potential while embracing their own humanity.

I reminded myself that many of these people commenting on my work are critics, sitting on the sidelines throwing judgement. They are not in the arena, so they do not get a vote.

Later that day, I went to my divinely scheduled therapy appointment.

I shared the story through tears. My therapist carefully listened. She looked at me and said,

"Niki, a new story is brewing."

Yes. I am learning to live my life informed by what happens, not defined by it.

My new story is that I get to choose. Choose what input I take in, choose what I focus on. Choose how I respond. Choose whether to react.


I get to choose to be brave, even when it scares me.

And I also get to choose to take care of myself.

The following is a list of things I'm considering my survival guide to living in what Brené Brown calls the arena.

How to survive showing up and letting myself be seen:

1. Breathing.

--Yes, breathing. Deeply inhaling. Slowly exhaling. Repeat. When you do this, you cannot help but come into presence. This moment. Your body. Life force. Do more of that. Tears falling, sweating, heart racing, shame spiral? Breathe. There is no power anywhere other than this moment.

2. Know Who Your Tribe Is.

--Who are your "safe" people? Who can you call at 4AM and tell them that the shit storm is in full effect? Who can you trust to show up for you, who you know love you for you and have the emotional capacity to sit in the shit with you? Knowing who your tribe is ahead of time is essential to surviving the moments, hours or days (or longer) of hard times.

3. Self-Care Is Essential.

-- Knowing what things you can actively do to take care of yourself in shame, crisis, or exhaustion are important. Think about making a list ahead of time and keeping it somewhere accessible. My self-care essentials are journalling, driving alone, therapy, breathing, reaching out to people who love and understand me, crying, snuggling my dogs and partner, exercise and rest. It is in the times when you most feel like hiding, feel most shameful, feel most worthless that you need YOUR OWN TLC. Kristen Neff's work on self compassion is a huge help during this time. Sharing your work, speaking up, being seen . . . these are all wonderful, yet terrifying aspects of life. Providing yourself with self-compassion, empathy and understanding for the parts of you that are scared is something wonderful you can do to help comfort yourself.

4. Keep Your Vision In Mind

-- It’s easy to forget why you are standing in the sun when people try to block you with shadows. Try to stay in close contact with your own vision, dreams and goals. Remembering why you are in the arena saves you when you get confused and feel like running away. Your dreams and goals may shift over time, but understanding what motivates you to keep showing up will help you in the midst of panic. When I stay in touch with this part of myself, it reminds me that the personal cost of not sharing my work with the world is far greater than the fear of sharing it.

I am learning that I get to choose my story. And you get to choose yours. No one gets to write my story for me. I am choosing my vision, my dreams, what I know I was put here to do. I am also choosing who gets a vote, and learning mine is the most important one in my own life. I'm proud to say I only ever read 3 out of the over 1100 comments on that Yahoo Health story.

I am working towards not letting my shame define me, not letting the critics count. That’s my old story.

There is, in fact, a new story brewing.

 And I'm learning to tell it, live it, breathe it.

What is your new story? What are the old tapes you've replayed over and over but are ready to discard, to record over? What's the skin that no longer fits you? What's the new life you are ready to embrace?

What new story are you brewing?