Hope-Filled Mama

hope. encourage. inspire.

Tag: courage

Choosing Vulnerability

Vulnerability. This word strikes fear in my heart. It makes me uncomfortable. It probably does the same for most of us.

Merriam-Webster defines the word vulnerable as: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded, open to attack or damage.

Image credit:  Anna WK / Flickr

That doesn’t sound fun, pleasant, or attractive in any way. It makes me want to run and hide. It makes me want to do laundry instead of write about being vulnerable.

I prefer the word authentic. Its definition is: real, actual, true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character. That sounds much more pleasant. I love to be authentic, to sit with friends and have long talks about the big picture, as well as the small details, of life. I enjoy deep, soul-filled discussions that help me understand them, myself, and the world a little better.

I can do authentic. I’m not very good at vulnerable. But I’m discovering that there is great healing and transformation available in being vulnerable.

Research professor and author Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s the courage to show up and be seen when you have zero control of the outcome.”

The times in my life when I have been my most vulnerable have included: moving to new cities where I knew no one, interviewing for jobs I need/want, getting laid off, watching my bank account drop to my last $400, trying to get pregnant after a miscarriage, trying to get pregnant after a stillbirth, being generous when we don’t have a paycheck coming in, giving difficult advice to a friend, giving difficult feedback to a stranger, and facing people who misunderstood my intentions.

My greatest vulnerability challenge right now is trying to figure out what I want to do in my next phase of life. My youngest will start kindergarten in the fall. This will open up my days and allow me to find a career again. I’ve been out of the corporate workplace for over ten years. If I want to go back to that kind of work, it will be a challenge to prepare myself and sell myself back into it. If I want to do something completely different from my technical and business background, I will need to start from scratch, feeling my way along.

I wish I had a clear purpose and direction, but I don’t. I have a bunch of different yearnings to do a lot of very different things: Pursue writing more seriously? Explore philanthropy? Return to school for another degree? Law? HR?

I feel very vulnerable in the process of trying to choose. What if I pick the wrong path? What if I end up not liking it? What if I fail? What if I don’t make any money?

But Brené Brown teaches that “…vulnerability [is] uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Yes, feeling vulnerable is at the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, but it’s also the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

I don’t want to live in fear for the rest of my life. I want to face my fear and risk failure. I want the reward of creating something of value that has an impact on myself, others, and the world. I want to have the courage to step into the arena, get myself dirty, and pick myself back up after I fall.

So I will continue to explore different options, willing myself to be courageous and try new things, even at the risk of failure. I will try to listen more to God, others, and myself. I will choose to feel uncomfortable, scared, and even vulnerable.

Don’t let failures define us

I spend too much time regretting mistakes and moments of weakness in my past. My twenties were filled with too much drinking and too many boyfriends. My thirties were defined by unfulfilled potential. My forties, so far, have had too many less-than-ideal mommy moments.

Yet in the midst of all my failings, I also managed to get two engineering degrees and a MBA. After school, I held many corporate positions, including a high-pressure one at Apple. I’ve traveled the world engaging in missions to help those less privileged. I run a women’s ministry that hopefully provides an opportunity for women to build their faith. I also married an amazing man and I’m raising three wonderful and adorable children.

My hope is that the good I do isn’t outweighed by the bad I did.

It was only a few years ago that I became aware that Martin Luther King, Jr. was widely known to have numerous affairs and had committed plagiarism in many of his writings and speeches. As I learned this, the person explaining this to me dismissed him and all of his teachings because of these transgressions. His dismissal of MLK saddened me in the moment and continues to haunt me still.

Martin Luther King, Jr. with his family

I admit I am too ignorant of MLK and his teachings, but what I do know of him continues to astound and inspire me. The obstacles he faced, the hatred, humiliation, and abuse he endured was truly unfathomable. His courage and perseverance was immense. His goals and vision are some of the loftiest this world has ever known.

“The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.”― Martin Luther King, Jr.

After studying the life of MLK, Philip Yancey says in his book Soul Survivor, “I better understand now the pressures that King faced his entire adult life, pressures that surely contributed to his failures. King’s moral weaknesses provide a convenient excuse for anyone who wants to avoid his message, and because of those weaknesses some Christians still discount the genuineness of his faith.”

I think this is a tragedy. I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t face the consequences of their misconduct. But instead of letting our failures define us or others, let us accept them, move past them, and let them lead us to learn and grow into better people.

It took me five long years of not dating to be truly prepared to find the right husband. I needed that time to learn more about myself, so I could better understand what kind of man would make a good life-long partner for me. It’s taken me ten years to build up the courage to face my fears and try new ventures like writing. I have to be willing to overcome uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy. And it will be a life-long journey to learn how to parent with the patience and grace I desire. I make many mistakes along the way, but I practice forgiving myself and try again the next day. I ask that we each do that for ourselves, as well as for others.

 

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

 

Do you spend time recounting your failures? What if you forgave yourself?

 

For more information on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. please see A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.Bearing the Cross

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