Vulnerability and I have an interesting relationship.
I didn’t really understand what being vulnerable meant until I was 10 years old. When I was 10 my mother, brother and I were hit head on by a drunk driver. This wreck took 3 lives and drastically changed multiple families forever. You can check out more about the wreck here. The following two years I had to learn how to be vulnerable with my family. It was a struggle. I often floated between bitterness and pretending nothing happened because as a young child I didn’t really have the capacity to fully accept.
When I was 14, my mom made me learn vulnerability in a different way. To cope with what happened and to help prevent it from happening to others my mom, grandparents and I began speaking for Mothers Against Drinking and Driving. I was 14 when I had my first public speaking engagement. I was in 8th grade and was speaking to the juniors and seniors of the high school I was about to attend. Oh, and I cried the entire time I spoke. It was humiliating, but it was also freeing. I found that I rather liked being transparent with people, at least in this area of my life.
In college I learned true, deep vulnerability in friendships through the college ministry I was a part of. I learned how to be fully transparent with the good, the bad, and the seriously ugly. This is when I learned authentic connection with other people. I would share my ugly side with my community and they would encourage me by speaking truth and holding me accountable. By the end of college, I thought I had this whole vulnerability thing down.
I was definitely wrong.
Last fall I had a hard time adjusting to post-college life. Moving to a new country, starting grad school in a different discipline, living alone for the first time, having my first full-time job all made it a pretty stressful time. The thing that added the most stress, however, was not being willing to be vulnerable.
You see, I always want to be the best me I possibly can be. I think that’s important and I don’t think it’s inherently bad. Yet, I was convinced the best me that could possibly exist was perfection. So when I experienced culture shock or couldn’t handle everything I put on my plate, I got so mad at myself. I minimized all of my struggles and refused to give myself grace. This led to a huge amount of stress and anxiety that I honestly didn’t even realize I had. This also kept me from being open to my teammates about struggles I was having. I didn’t want them to know I wasn’t perfect.
The past two nights I’ve watched Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability. It’s actually a little funny. During team training we were supposed to watch this video and talk about it, but I never got around to it. Sorry, Gary! 🙂 Anyways, in the talk Brené gives the old school definition of courage. She says, it means “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart; the courage to be imperfect.” I know I’m not perfect and that it’s impossible to be perfect, but sometimes the dreamer in me has to be reminded that as well.
Brené also mentions that many of us numb vulnerability. It’s not necessarily a fantastic feeling. It’s kinda like that feeling you get right before the roller coaster takes off. Half of you wants to stay on the ride and experience it all while the other half of you wants to hurry up and get off the ride before it’s too late. The problem with numbing vulnerability, she says, is that you can’t selectively numb emotions.
If you numb the pain, you numb the joy.
If you numb the loneliness, you numb the connection.
If you numb the hurt of unmet expectations, you numb the delight of new discoveries.
Like many areas of my life, I want to grow here. I want to actively choose vulnerability.