The Pros of Vulnerability

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Earlier this winter, I got the book Rising Strong by my absolute favorite public speaker, Brené Brown. If you haven’t picked it up, you really should. It’s been a great help to me in these past few months in understanding my worth and strength. While I haven’t been able to finish the book due to school, work and my writing jobs, I’ve been meaning to get back into it before the summer semester starts in a few short days.

From the bits I’ve read prior to the spring semester, I started thinking more about the wisdom Brown shared at the end of March when I received a letter at my place of work from someone I once knew.

With the exception of holiday and thank you cards from clients, I haven’t received a letter in years. It was odd. No return address. No name. Everything was in a very swift sort of handwriting, almost blasé, especially with its subject matter that came off at first confusing, but began to make sense. Though still puzzled midway through the letter, it was only until I got to the end and realized who sent me the letter. While the mysterious writer never signed their name in print, I realized it very quickly even though I was equally perplexed with a thousand more questions. That said, life is what it is and the relationships we each form are of meaning no matter what we think. So many of us pretend that we don’t have an effect on people, but we do. We often pretend the choices we make or the things we say don’t have a huge impact on other people, but we are all just ripples in this giant pool we call life. Each, touching the other delicately amid Adam’s ale.

After reading it, twice, thrice and breaking down each time as if a dam broke open, I thought to myself it was the most real thing I had of theirs in months. That day as I drove home, I thought back to Brown—the courageous, vulnerability and self-worth expert. I had been introduced to her several years ago after she did a TED talk on vulnerability and it blew me away.

In her talk, Brown said the one variable that separated people who have a strong sense of love and belonging versus the people who struggle for it, was that the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of it. But the ones who struggle in their relationships, the ones who cannot connect with their partner or spouse, they constantly feel they’re not worthy of receiving love or belonging both personally and professionally. It produces the notion of those who settle and those who are afraid to connect. After discovering a partner’s shortcomings, they become rug sweepers and settle because living vulnerably means getting hurt—or recognizing the truth for what it is.

For years, I lay down my guard and bared my vulnerabilities to someone I deeply loved (and still love). Sometimes I get mad at myself for this aching heart because it hurts so much and sharing my love’s sentiments, wish what he did too. But, that is a dialogue stemming from fear of loss and I’m not the kind of person who gets scared anymore. I think love and being vulnerable made me that much stronger. I was able to fully embrace vulnerability in my relationships and that made me all the more—I just feel, so much more fulfilled and as if I’ve found my own meaning and purpose.

My vulnerability is my asset and my greatest measure of courage. And when thinking back to that letter which I’ve now left tucked deep in a drawer, I thought about how beautiful this mysterious writer was when he was himself with me all those years ago and in this letter. Vulnerable and open, and kind, and in many ways, his old self. If my time with him taught me anything more than the value true love brings, it’s that being vulnerable is fundamental. I think back to the “I love you,” period and while there are no guarantees in life, I know that the willingness we each brought to the roots of our relationship were ideals we both knew were complementary to our equation. Unfortunately, nothing good lasts that long.

Echoing Brown’s sentiments from her TED talk, I’m glad I made my choice to be brave in love all those years ago. I think it’s made me a better person even though I find myself crying to sleep many nights, or taking a sleeping pill to numb the thoughts that run rampant. In life, we can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Especially, at the same time. While he has chosen comfort, I know I was wise to choose courage. And I would do it every time, no matter how painful it’s been.

Loving him has shown me, while he is obligated, I will never settle nor repeat his errs. Believing that I’m stronger than him, I owe it to him to be my best self and most to my vulnerability. We don’t have control over the outcome of our lives, but we do have our courage and that ties into our self-worth.

I don’t regret loving him, nor do I regret meeting him. I’m glad I was open with him and was someone who could love him with every barrier knocked down. While some might see vulnerability as a weakness or another response for fear, they will constantly struggle with their own worthiness. But I’ll be lucky knowing that my vulnerability is and always will be the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love.

Being vulnerable and being seen as vulnerable, it’s not easy. Loving with our whole hearts isn’t easy either. It’s incredibly difficult. But you find your real purpose and everything you want in this life only if you’re vulnerable. Falling down and screwing up, it helps you to feel alive and know what you want most. While some of us choose to live with one foot on water and the other on land, being brave and rising above the comfort lets you see and experience what’s important in life. It also helps you to realize your real self-worth.

As Alfred, Lord Tennyson said, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” The way I see it, life can be seen in two ways: We either consider everything as a probable risk and decidingly cut down opportunities; or, we know everything our heart touches is a potential source of enrichment that opens the door to meaning. That said, this vulnerability exposes us to criticism, heartbreak and a pain that might last till your last breath—the choice is ours.

But by owning your story and loving who you are through every moment, through every person you’ve crossed paths with, or through the person who sparked that flame of love, the vulnerable process to understand your self-worth and purpose is the bravest thing you might ever do for a more wholehearted life.

{Image Credits: Top photo, my own; bottom photo, Martinsky/Tumblr}

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