Let The Right Ones In: On Being Vulnerable

2010 April 23

The word vulnerable usually gives me hives. I’ve spent years avoiding it. In fact, one of the best compliments that I’ve ever received from a dear friend of mine was when she said that of all the people she knows, I’m one of the most sure of myself. So, why am I advocating vulnerability today? Why am I telling you to stand under a (figurative) tree in a (figurative) thunderstorm and wait for the (very real) lightning to hit you? Because, sometimes, it’s necessary.

Photo by Dan Barak

I’m not talking about vulnerability in terms of tearing your heart out of your chest and pinning it to your sleeve, dropping “I love you” on the third date, going to bed at night with your front door unlocked and your brand-new iPad clearly visible on the dining room table. I’m talking about taking off the bullet-proof vest. I’m talking about being glue to the universe’s rubber and simply waiting to see what bounces off of it and sticks to you. It’s about resisting the instinctual urge to give in to your tried and true knee-jerk reaction to conflict, criticism or being confounded and allowing yourself to feel confused or at odds instead. It’s about admitting that despite living all the years of your life in this body and this mind that you might not know what’s best for both 100% of the time. It’s about being able to say that you genuinely don’t know the answer and trusting that being thusly stumped doesn’t meant that everything is going to immediately cave in around you.

It’s scary as hell to contemplate, especially if you’ve been making your way in this world based on moxie, on grit, on the ability to sell your confidence and poise to anyone, whether they were originally intending to buy or not. Letting go of that, even temporarily, is hard. Doing that and letting the world take a good long look at what’s really beneath and not flinching when it tells you (in a variety of voices) what it sees is even harder. And being open enough to examine what these conclusions are and their validity is pretty much the holy grail of humbling yourself. But ultimately, it’s worth the effort. I’ve written before about the downside of the whole smile though your heart is breaking school of thought, but I think being fixated on demonstrating your unimpeachable self sufficiency and iron-grip causes its own kind of damage, even if it’s more difficult to detect. It breeds a certain sort of personal isolation, creates an aura of surety that people might respect and envy, but they don’t necessarily relate to. They simply assume you’ve got everything cased and move on to focusing their attention on folks with whom they can find common ground in flawed humanity. And the longer you meticulously focus on patching every crack in your public foundation and putting your best face forward at all times, the more difficult it becomes to step away from that mindset and the more frightening it becomes to contemplate maybe leaving the cracks as is or even asking someone else to give you a hand in fixing them.

Bottom line?  As much as leaving your decision-making to a majority vote is inadvisable, so is plowing through life like a one-person wrecking crew, unable or unwilling to take or seek counsel from others because that would mean admitting you actually wanted that counsel in the first place. Sometimes, we all need a fresh perspective or honest feedback or simply to stop running our internal monologues long enough to soak up some much-needed silence. But, you’re not going to get the help you don’t ask for and won’t allow into your life. It’s not about being needy, it’s about being receptive.  And being receptive means being vulnerable, being exposed and maybe getting hit with a bolt from the blue.

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