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.