The Power of Vulnerability
Before reading this post, I encourage you to check out the Ted Talk I posted above. Brené Brown is a phenomenal speaker who has devoted the past decade to researching stories and connection and what did she find? She found that vulnerability is essential for connection, “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” Four years ago in my sophomore year I recall approaching a mentor and stating that relationships are the most important thing in our lives. Life is less about what we do and more about who we do it with. Recall a favourite memory of yours, are you alone? Or are you sharing that experience with someone? Relationships are present in every aspect of our lives whether that’s in our relationship with our friends, our family, our significant other, our teammates, our mentors, our co-workers, or even just strangers. Everything that we do in society, we do by interacting with other people. Because relationships are central in everything that we do and are consequently a core component of our happiness, don’t you think it’s time we spent some time investing in them?
One of the tragedies of the 21st century is that we are governed by superficiality; social media, cell phones, computers (ironic, I know), televisions - all of this technology was created to increase connection, but I believe it’s doing the opposite. We might be the most accessible society to have ever lived, but we are certainly not the most connected. We no longer see strangers conversing on public transport, instead we see adults with headphones plugged in and their faces glued to a screen. Instead of real, authentic connections, our connections are limited to words on a screen. Even the art of letter writing has all but disappeared, an art that was sentimental, authentic, vulnerable. I believe we’ve become addicted to superficiality. That’s why anyone true, anyone deep, anyone with substance feels so lost, feels so alone. Because the truth is, they are. And nothing is worse than ending up with people who make you feel all alone.
So how can we change this? Well, we can start by having a conversation about it. Vulnerability is difficult because it’s a risk and a risk that leaves us susceptible to getting hurt, BUT, it also allows us the possibility to make a connection. And a real, authentic connection. The kind of connection where you feel understood, seen, loved. But the only way to rid yourself of feeling misunderstood is to give others the opportunity to understand you. That means, making yourself vulnerable.
Let me tell you a story. Around this time last year, I was in a pretty dark place. The people I had reached out to in my inner circle and asked for help seemed to reject me, they told me to just be happy and to snap out of my depression. I felt let down. I felt misunderstood. I felt rejected. Reaching out for help was my attempt at making myself vulnerable; I was in a dark and desperate place and I was abandoned. After hitting rock bottom, I recalled meeting an individual at A Very Gay Turkey Day late in 2013 (basically a lesbian thanksgiving for all the lesbians in the Atlanta region). The reason I remembered this individual was because she actually took an interest in me. She was entirely present and entirely genuine; she wasn’t distracted by anyone else nor was she trying to determine my relationship status. She was enjoying my company and I hers. Out of the 100 or so people I met that night, she is the only person I remembered. Apparently I even met my ex, but I have no recollection of our interaction. I remember this girl, though, because of her energy. She carried, and still does to this day, such a compassionate, vibrant, loving, and genuine energy and that resonated with me. I remember following her on Instagram and continuing to feel the intensity of her energy - the positivity, the love, the kindness, the tenderness - and I decided I needed some of that in my life. So during this dark period, I reached out to her on Facebook. These were my exact words: “hey, so i know this is extremely random, but i've been an avid fan of your energy for a while now. basically i'm in a pretty bad place right now and have been struggling for a few months and i think i could really benefit from your energy and good vibes. so if this isn't too forward, would you be willing to meet for coffee or something?”
Why am I sharing this story with you? Well, ironically, one of the reasons I reached out to this individual was because she had recently posted the aforementioned Ted Talk The Power of Vulnerability on her Facebook so I thought to myself, cool, she knows how important it is to make oneself vulnerable in order to establish a connection. I asked myself, what do I have to lose? Granted I was in a fragile state of mind at the time, so perhaps I might not have received rejection well, but I had decided that at the very least, she would decline my offer for coffee. No real harm done right? She ended up replying and to this day, she is one of the few people my souls have genuinely connected with. I would consider her a soul mate. I would even go as far as to say I’m platonically in love with this girl. She helped me significantly last year; her words of support and understanding catalyzed my healing process. She has seen all of me, and I, all of her. Our hearts, souls, and minds are so intrinsically intertwined. And all of this because I made a conscious decision to make myself vulnerable.
One of my favorite quotes (I have a lot) is, “It is a risk to love. What if it doesn’t work out? Ah, but what if it does.” Peter McWilliams. To me, love is synonymous with vulnerability. To truly love, you have to make yourself vulnerable. Without vulnerability, without being your authentic self, you’re essentially in a superficial relationship. Lust, perhaps, but not love. Love takes courage, compassion, connection, and most of all, vulnerability. I understand these are all words and words are a lot easier to say than to implement, so instead, I urge you to begin to allow yourself to feel. When you’re angry, be angry. When you’re sad, be sad. Be the best version of sad you can be; embrace your sadness. When you’re happy, be happy. Embrace it and run with it. Please don’t buffer your feelings. Like in my former post, the beauty of feeling things so deeply or of knowing darkness is that it makes the light, lighter. I have been told numerous times that I put all my eggs in one basket, that I’m too vulnerable and that that is why I get destroyed. But to me, there’s no other way to live. Because when things align, the beauty and serenity of that experience is what makes me feel alive. And because without my vulnerability, I would not have loved. And my soul would still be searching for a mate.
So let’s get practical. How can you make yourself more vulnerable in a world that is so guarded and sheltered? Take an active approach. When a friend comes to you and they are upset, instead of offering what I call “one-liners”, phrases that perhaps have the best intentions but terrible execution, ask questions. Often we hear people say, “I’m here if you need anything,” but that’s almost a dismissive statement. It’s almost as though you, as the listener, are not wanting to invest any energy into figuring out what is upsetting your friend, instead, you expect them to come to you. We do this despite the fact that we both know how difficult it is to make oneself vulnerable, let alone to someone who doesn’t seem overly invested in our wellbeing. So let’s change that. Let’s invest in people. Ask questions. And ask the difficult ones. I’m a firm believer that you can get almost anyone to open up if you ask the right questions. Don’t be afraid to ask personal questions either; if it’s too personal, chances are, they’ll tell you. I’m also a firm believer that everyone has a story they want to share, but often they do not have anyone who is willing to listen. Be that person. Listen. Help others help themselves and in turn, it will help you. When we create a safe environment for others to express themselves, we in turn create a safe environment to express ourselves.
I acknowledge that one of the difficulties of making ourselves vulnerable is this vicious and challenging cycle in which we live - being vulnerable has become so rare that people don’t know how to respond when someone is vulnerable. Because of their response (or lack thereof), people are then less likely to become vulnerable in the future because they received an unfulfilling response; a rejection of sorts. Vulnerability takes courage and when we don’t seek the response we desire or at times, even need, we retreat back into our shells of comfort and superficiality. So what can we do when someone makes themselves vulnerable to us? At the very least, we can validate them. Tell them that what they’re feeling is warranted. And all because they are feeling it. Feelings don’t have to be contingent on anything; if it’s real, it’s valid. Proceed to acknowledge the courage it took them to be vulnerable and ask questions. Try to understand. Be empathetic. Listen. Invest. Encourage.
So for those of you wanting to establish a connection, I challenge you to be courageous. Tell someone how you feel. Take a risk. Will you experience rejection? Potentially. But will you experience love? Just as likely. When you live your life vulnerably, you’re living authentically. When you live authentically, you’re living to be understood. When you’re understood, you feel a sense of contentment within. All of which contributes to an everlasting sense of peace and joy and an overarching feeling of happiness. But let’s not stop there. I not only challenge you to be courageous, I challenge you to invest in others. Create an environment in which others feel safe and secure. Create an environment that is governed by love and compassion. Create an environment of validation. Create an environment in which vulnerability can flourish. Create the environment that would make you want to be vulnerable in.
In the words of Bob Marley, “Being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure.” So be courageous. Be bold. Be vulnerable. And in turn, you’ll allow your heart to feel true pleasure.