Okay, I’ve been reading about vulnerability.

I had intended to read the book Daring Greatly several times this year, but coincidentally, I picked it up last week, during one of the most vulnerable periods of my life–the week after my mother died. If you believe in Fate or in God, the coincidence makes complete sense. Vulnerability scares me, and I’m willing to admit it. It scares you, too. It’s why we lives such busy lives–why we’d rather text than call and why we’d rather email than speak face to face. We’re that scared.

Vulnerability feels like out-of-control, exposed weakness–like you’re on a runaway train, careening toward a cliff, bound hand and foot, and gagged. Oh, yeah, and you’re naked and out-of-shape. And there’s no John Wayne/Harrison Ford/Tom Cruise character to rescue you from certain death at the last second. (Which is actually somewhat of a relief, since you are naked.)

I am reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, the great shame researcher that you read because everyone recommends her and you don’t think you have shame issues. Then she pounds your head into the pavement until you get her point, and remarkably, you don’t have a headache afterwards. She’s that crazy good.

I became a Brené Brown fan after reading The Gifts of Imperfection, which deals with rejecting perfectionism so you can function as a wholehearted person. Daring Greatly is STEP 2: Be courageous enough to be vulnerable. Brown says that vulnerability is the second step toward wholeheartedness. Well, I am interested in feeling wholehearted again. I’m interested in being thankful and joyful and all the other things that being “wholehearted” means. When you’re grieving, you feel lost at times. That’s vulnerability.

I won’t share the whole complex concept (if you’re interested, read the book or listen to a TED talk)–but the part that I read yesterday floored me. Here are Brown’s nuggets of truth that are rocking my brain thus far:

You learn more about living whole-heartedly from vulnerable experiences than you do from controlled experiences. In Chapter 4, Brown explains why:

  1. Joy comes in . . . ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.”
  2. Be grateful for what you have. . .  Don’t apologize for what you have. . . When you honor what you have, you’re honoring what I’ve lost” (or never had to begin with).
  3. Don’t squander joy. . .  When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience.”

Yes! Those are exactly the three things that we remember during times of grief. How powerful would these be if we remembered them every day??

One of our natural responses to feeling vulnerable and out-of-control is perfectionism. If you’re a strong person, when life sucks, you take charge. Doing something–doing everything–dulls the ache of a life happening without permission. We call it “striving for excellence,” “self-improvement,” and “moving forward.” But perfectionism is a shield we raise when we feel vulnerable; we raise it when we’re discouraged, disappointed, betrayed, afraid, or ashamed. Brown says, perfectionism “is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is form of shame.” And perfectionism is just one of many other responses to feeling exposed: mis-using vulnerable opportunities, and avoiding transparency (through lying, misdirection, manipulation, etc.). But perfectionism is the only one I’m talking about today.

Any time we ingest new information, we do so according to our present context. We apply knowledge according to the personality conflict at work, the rebellious child at home, the insecurity within ourselves. For me, this week–and likely for many weeks to come–my application is grief. I am contextualizing Daring Greatly to my current situation.  I am striving to live whole-heartedly–to enjoy life and appreciate my loved ones. I am leaning in to vulnerability, I am sharing, I am tasting the joy from my past and present memories. Although vulnerability is frightening, I am trying to embrace it. I know it will make me more resilient to other frightening things in the future (that I can’t control or avoid).

The question now goes to you. When you feel vulnerable, what do you do? What process do you engage to lead you into joyful, whole-hearted living?

Go ahead, be vulnerable and share. (It’s not like I’m looking at you right now. You only have to type.)

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