A funny thing happens to me when I start to write about my life.
I stop. Promptly.
As soon as I start to find the courage to expose my belly, something swoops in and slaps on some familiar armor. I strap it on and shut down the sharing. Real quick.
I was on a hike this morning with some girlfriends, talking about this thing that happens to me. Trying to make sense of my need to share and my habit of shutting down as soon as I start to open up. “That’s what you need to write about then,” says my friend. And at the risk of sounding whiney or pitiful, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Renowned shame expert Brene Brown was on NPR this week talking about her new book, which explores the topic of vulnerability. I’ve heard her TED talk and listened to a few of her audiobooks and have become a huge fan. Pop psychology has become so focused on thinking a certain way to change your life (I’ve read all of those books, too), and it seems to me that she’s bypassed all of that and gone right to the core of why so many of us struggle to make real changes in our lives.
At our most basic level, we are all afraid we’re not ok. And no one wants to admit it. Because admitting it touches that fear and makes it feel true.
But the real work in transformation is not in changing the way we think about ourselves, repeating mantras or creating alternate beliefs, but in going deeper into those fears and opening up to it.
Opening all the way up.
I am afraid I’m not ok. That I’m not the best parent I could be. That I’m not the best friend or lover that I should be. That I’m not pretty enough, smart enough, fill-in-the-blank enough to be worthy of love. Admitting these things makes me weak in the knees. And not in a good way.
But according to Brown, that’s what we’re all feeling.
She also claims that the greatest measure of strength is one’s willingness to be vulnerable. That it’s the only true path to living a wholehearted life. What’s remarkable about this is that it’s probably the opposite of what we believe. If I tell someone I’m afraid, I will seem weak. If I confess my feelings of inadequacy, it will confirm that I’m not good enough. But she’s telling a different story. She’s saying we need to acknowledge this rawness. See it, feel it, taste it – and let others see it, as well.
My favorite quote from the interview with Brown is this:
“Vulnerability is the true measure of courage.”
Even as I write this, my armpits are sweating, and I’m just hoping I’m not the only one who feels this way. Because I think the point is that by pushing through the discomfort, we shed the stories of doubt we’ve been telling ourselves. That inner strength is maybe something we don’t acquire, but reveal. So right now, I’m choosing to believe that pit sweat equals courage.
I am in awe of people who live from their vulnerability, and I’m so grateful when I witness it. Admittedly, I don’t know anyone who does it all the time. But when I see it in a friend, a writer, a family member, my child – it brings me to my knees. In a good way.
I’m choosing to see the path of vulnerability as an adventure, a thick jungle through which there is no clear path. I have no idea what’s on the other side of it, but I believe the only way out is through.
And maybe I could have a little fun with it along the way.