The risk of vulnerability

[This is a guest post from the brave and amazing Penny McKinley-Rodgers]

I’ve struggled with my creative identity for as long as I can remember, and it is only been in the last year that I feel I am untangling and emerging from the net of insecurity and fear which has held me hostage for so long.   You see, creativity has always been in my life, but I coveted it from the sidelines.  For me creativity and artists are synonymous; and artists are cool.  They belonged to an exclusive club I so desperately wanted to join, but didn’t feel I had the right qualifications for.   

Admittedly I did try and be cool.  I looked at these artists and attempted to emulate them.  I thought if only I could be a little more like them, I might find my own creative success.  Needless to say all I found was the unhealthy compulsion for comparison, the ultimate death knell of creativity! When I finally got sick of the dissonance, I realised true success can never come from pure imitation. Creative success is ignited by spirit, and there’s no spirit in copying someone else.  

In some ways I think I always knew that, but I was in denial.  It’s so much easier hiding in the shadows of others, or behind a congenial facade.  I wanted a safe way to explore my creativity, free from judgement, criticism, and the worst fear of all, rejection. But there is no comfortable place for creativity. There is no safe path to follow. You have to be a pioneer.  

Creativity is founded in authenticity, and that in turn, is borne out of courage.  For me, this has been my greatest difficulty. My ego is sensitive, and I have an army of gremlins on standby to leap at any opportunity to keep me small.  I struggle with being totally open because it isn’t easy to expose who you are; to put it out there and say, “Okay, this is who I am. This is what I love, and this is what I do.” Because inevitably you will be judged, and yes, it is personal.  

Interestingly enough it wasn’t until I was asked to write this guest post that I really took the time to peel back the layers and explore to importance of creativity in my life.  Thanks to Susannah, I now have at least ten posts about this matter to muse on. I’m realising that the risk of vulnerability is a small price to pay for creative expression and that the risk of appearing foolish is worth taking to do what I love. This is the only way I can be true to myself — my creativity is important.  

I once thought my greatest fear was being invisible.  Now I wonder if the opposite is true.  I guess I’m on my way to finding out.

* * * * *

I’m a girl with a camera who still can’t quite believe she has the power to make her dreams come true.  But I’m working on it.

You can connect with Penny on her blog, her website and on Twitter.

[Photos by Penny McKinley-Rodgers]

21 responses
  1. Katherine

    Firstly–LOVE LOVE LOVE these dog pictures!

    Secondly–thanks for the heartfelt post. I loved what you said about “It’s so much easier hiding in the shadows of others….” It’s very true…why is it easier being afraid, easier to let other’s squash our dreams, easier to admire than to jump & put action to our dreams?!

    Thanks for sharing Penny & thanks Susannah for introducing us to her.

  2. Cindy

    I don’t know if this makes sense, but almost every word you said was in my heart and could have come out of my mouth.

    Creativity is such a deep part of us, it does make you vulnerable to put it before others, and vulnerability is scary.

    Like you, I’m grateful that I’ve started to understand that. I feel like that understanding of vulnerability is a prized possession I want to hold onto, you know.

  3. Amanda

    There is a tremendous amount of absolute truth in this post, but personally, it was the last paragraph I really related to. It’s SOoooo much scarier to be seen than not to be, which is why so many people undermine their own success without even realizing they are doing it (me included, of course!)

  4. Mariella

    My god, I feel so close to these thoughts, it’s amazing that this is what I have been thinking since a very long time…

  5. Heather

    This was a lovely post..I can totally identify with you on this.. It’s just this last year or so that I have connected to creativity in such a deep, never letting it go way..

  6. lisa field-elliot


  7. Tone

    Those photos hit me in the gut. The easy charm and simple love of a dog revealed as monumental. Lonely, beuatiful, enough. Gorgeous.

    And text rings true. Don’t be afraid to be visible, Penny.

  8. Sandie Cottee

    What a beautiful post. I just love the photos, the light is amazing.
    But even more I love your honesty, Penny.
    Your words really resonate with me, not only in my creative being but in business & career decisions I am now having to make. Thank you.
    I feel empowered and touched by your vulnerability. It reminds me that without risk there can be no gain. My word for the year is ‘Intuition’ and it helps remind me to be authentic and true to myself. That’s what you have done in this post. Thank you :)

  9. Jo

    Pen you know I love you and now everyone else will too. xx
    (oh your boys always look SO handsome!)

  10. Jess

    The colours in that second photo are amazing! The doggy’s face and the sunset have the same russet shade… beautiful :)

    And I can also relate to this. I’ve never been one of the ‘cool kids’ and it’s hard not to get sucked into the desire to fit in with your community in a certain way. I’m having fun learning more about myself and aiming to be my own version of cool ;)

  11. Vanessa

    This post has had not only an emotional, but also a physical effect on me – the sort of effect that comes sometimes from someone putting into words pretty much exactly how you feel but can’t find the words to express. It makes me wonder how many more of us there are, feeling like this and perhaps hiding it from others. Thank you so much for these words.

  12. Tammy

    Like everyone else I absolutely love your images! Reading your words were like talking to a close friend who understood my fears. Then seeing your beautiful smile at the end made me smile too. Thanks Sus for the intro!!

  13. pen

    Thank you all SO much for your kind words. When Sus posted this yesterday, I’ll be honest and say I had a minor panic; but now, seeing the comments you’ve taken the time to leave here has just reinforced every word I wrote. It’s totally worth the risk.

    Thank you also for the acknowledging my boys – they really are my muses.

    Pen :)

  14. Mark

    Great post. I can also say that I fully relate to all of the points you made so eloquently. It’s a real challenge trying to create your own artistic vision and style, but from what I’ve seen of your work, from the images here and on your website, I think you’re well on your way! Thanks for sharing :)

  15. Nicole | Blue Bicicletta

    beautiful post! And your photos are just beautiful Penny! I was just over at your website—your photos are so intimate and lovely!

  16. Kel

    Oh Penny, I identify so strongly. It is something I face almost daily.

  17. Deanna

    Wow, this really resonates with me. Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes you feel so alone when you are comparing yourself to others, it is something I struggle with constantly.

  18. Clare

    “I’m a girl with a camera who still can’t quite believe she has the power to make her dreams come true. But I’m working on it.”

    I loved this. Beautiful post, thank you.

  19. Susan Bonaci

    Thanks for sharing your feelings. It made me feel human. Your words – ‘inevitably you will be judged, and yes, it is personal’ sum up why it’s so hard to allow ourselves to be vulnerable sometimes. The core of human nature is a desire to be loved and accepted and putting yourself in a position where not everyone will respond in this way is damn scary. On the other end of the scale, in the moments when we let go and express our creativity in a way that’s true to us it feels euphoric. Like sunshine moments – those captured in your photographs.

  20. Nicola

    Penny, for me you totally encapsulated what it means to be creative. It’s not something that some of us have and some of us don’t. It’s the willingness of one soul to allow itself to be seen. And that requires the willingness to be vulnerable, to risk ridicule and criticism and do it anyway.

    Thanks for a wonderful post and some truly beautiful images

  21. pen

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the additional comments here. I’ve bookmarked this page now to come back whenever I feel a little lost or alone!

    It means so much, truly.

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