The Authenticity of Vulnerability

The Authenticity of Vulnerability

It’s hard to have a conversation about vulnerability these days without mentioning Brene Brown and her work.   She deserves a lot of the credit for bringing the discussion about vulnerability into the forefront of the American consciousness with her popular TED talks and books on the subject. For people like me, who are trying to live as a more authentic version of themselves, vulnerability lies at the core of what we’re attempting to do.

In my journey to live my life more authentically it was inevitable that I would stumble upon vulnerability.  And boy did I stumble, much like Brene Brown herself did. Even when the obvious truth presented that living my life from an authentic place demanded that I show up in vulnerability, I still fought it. The realization that tipped me onto the other side of my struggle with vulnerability was that people don’t share their souls with those who project perfection and those who seem to be untouched by the struggles of life.  And their soul was what I was looking for: I wanted to touch that depth of realness in a person.  I wanted to hear what inspired them, the turning points in their lives, the beliefs that shaped them and who was meaningful in their life.  I also wanted to hear their substance, their struggles.  I realized that if I wanted to hear those stories from other people, I had to share my own stories like that, and many times I had to go first.  But to go first is to risk rejection and to risk someone looking at you like they can’t believe you just said what you said.  The sensitive introvert in me would much rather let the other person reach out to me first, to put themselves in the vulnerable position, because at that point I can choose to say yes to their offer, while already knowing that they want to connect with me.

Many of us struggle with vulnerability as it can go against the very core of some of our strongly held beliefs, namely that vulnerability is weakness.  I know that I oscillate between wanting to share my vulnerability with others and not sharing it because it’s scary.  Sometimes it feels like being vulnerable is the exact opposite of what we feel we should be doing- we should be bolstering ourselves up, looking more powerful, more perfect, more invincible.  That’s how we impress people, get more friends, clients, connections, whatever it is we’re looking for, right?  But I’ve found the exact opposite to be true.  It’s very difficult to connect with people in any sort of meaningful fashion unless you’re willing to risk vulnerability.  What if in our vulnerability we really are more beautiful?  What if in that flash of uncertainty, flow of emotion, or struggle, we are more human and more whole, and more connected to others?  What does that mean for our lives?

Here’s what I do know about vulnerability, from personal experience.   When we show up as our vulnerable selves, and are honest about our struggles and our imperfections, we inspire others to do the same.  Public speaking is not a comfortable arena for me, but I recently signed up for a public speaking workshop.  At the end of the day we were invited up to speak in front of the group: we could tell some basic generic facts about our lives or we could tell a story.  I was one of the first to speak.  I opened with the revelation that I generally only speak from a script, but I’d decided to “wing it” and tell a bit of the story of my journey of losing myself and then finding myself again.  It was raw and vulnerable for me, both the subject matter and the unscriptedness of it.  When each subsequent person got up, they also told a raw and vulnerable personal story.  The experience was very powerful and we were all transfixed. The feedback that I got from another speaker was that because I had gotten up and shared in such a personal way, it had given her the courage to do it as well.

So what is it to show up and be vulnerable, to risk connection and rejection, to truly see someone and be seen?  We don’t just wake up one day and decide to be vulnerable.  Vulnerability is a moment to moment choice.  It takes practice.   There is a paradox to be held here, and that is to be strong in ourselves we can be vulnerable.  I think about the people that I really admire.  And it’s those who choose to show up fully, to share themselves.  Those who share their truth, even when it’s not pretty, or popular.  And it’s a truth shared not for attention, not for pity, but for the sheer beauty of showing up and living a whole, authentic life and inspiring others to do the same.

Calistoga

IMG_0257

biking through half-lit evenings
of childhood summers
cricket songs
in dark freedom
of pedaled breezes
hair flowing back
song of youth
I am older now
but perhaps more free
in mind, in body
but the remembrance feels freer than all

let me go
cricket songs echo
cloaked in cool darkness of summer nights

my face younger
my worries less solid
it all lies before me
the fears, the dreams
losses to come
wisdom to gain
suffering with a longer term purpose

I am older now
with children of my own
who don’t bike at night
that freedom generationally lost
like my own childhood
years ago

Risk and regret

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my risk aversion and what it has meant in my life, and on the flip side, about others who have no qualms with risk and what it has meant for how they live their lives. I’ve realized that security is important to me- physical security, financial security, secure relationships, etc. These are all important aspects of living a fulfilling life, as long as they are not taken to the extreme. In the Christian faith, we ask forgiveness for both the things we’ve done and the things we’ve left undone. This can be applied to the things we’ve done or haven’t done to/for others, as well as ourselves. Things left undone has been the much bigger issue for me than things done. And honestly, until recently, I’ve always thought that it was a better place to be, because rarely had I intentionally hurt someone else or myself. But perhaps this is not a better place. If you want to live a full and intentional life, you have to take some risks, and you can’t easily default to “no, I won’t do _____ because I am not sure how it will turn out” or “no, I can’t do _______ because don’t want to make a mistake (or fail)”. Sometimes, this is where my risk aversion has left me, with fine opportunities that I could have seized upon and didn’t. Part of my risk aversion has come from not listening to or trusting my inner voice, which would have included looking closely at how I felt about something, rather than just weighing the hard fact pros and cons (which generally led me down the road to over-analyzation). While I wasn’t comfortable with the notion of having to regret something that I had done, I downplayed the feelings that could come from regretting something that I hadn’t done.

This is not to say that every opportunity that comes our way should be taken. Evaluating these opportunities requires discernment. And for my friends who err on the side of not considering risk enough, there may be a different lesson for you here; to consider using the more logical aspects of decision making and not just follow your feeling impulse in any moment. In addition, to realize that actions can have unintended consequences and require trade-offs in our lives that we perhaps wouldn’t be willing to make if we’d thought through those.

As with so many aspects of our lives, we’re left with trying to find balance; balancing the knowledge of who we are and what our default tendencies are, as well as balancing the two sides of the risk spectrum.

holiday post-mortem part 2

The holiday season of 2012 has come and gone. I have spent time with various members of my family and tried to give them glimpses of some new pieces of myself and some of my new ideas about the world. The experience reminded me that sometimes it can be hard to be to be a new, different person with those people whom we have spent a large portion of our life with. It’s easy to fall back into an old way of being; and this is not always a bad thing.

A few years ago I met up with one of my college roommates for a girls weekend. We hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, yet it felt like no time had passed. We saw each other as the same people we had been. We didn’t have to negotiate our roles with each other, we already knew which of us would lead in different situations. When we got into the car for the first time that weekend, she drove and I navigated, and that is how we’d done it in college. In some cases, it’s nice not to have to go through a renegotiation process in our relationships and just be how we’ve been before.

But sometimes we want to start anew, in one area or all areas of our relationship. Sometimes we want to show people that we have changed, but we don’t know how to introduce that into the existing relationship. Sometimes we see their reactions to new ideas we have or new pieces of ourselves and we realize that there is a reason that we haven’t been that way with them. And sometimes they react in unexpected new ways themselves, and show us a new piece of themselves.

As we attempt to share our new selves, we also need to recognize when someone else is trying to share their new way of being with us, and be open and curious to it, rather than inherently react negatively to the unexpected. As I attempted to share new pieces of myself with my family, I also noticed that they tried to share new pieces of themselves with me. And I wasn’t always open to it, my initial internal reaction sometimes was negative or judging. I had to remember that it is a two-way street.

In this time of new year’s resolutions, I guess that the best we can do is to keep trying. If our new way of being is important enough to us, we can have the courage to bring it out into to open, and not hide in ourselves of the past. Whether other people react positively or negatively to it, we can still be true to ourselves. We must also allow other people the freedom do the same, and acknowledge and encourage the new pieces of themselves that they reveal to us.