Seems like the buzz words these days are authenticity and vulnerability but what do these words even mean? Are we supposed to air all of our family problems to everyone on the planet including the mailman? Are we supposed to put bumper stickers on our cars stating every effort or opinion we believe in? Are we supposed to walk right into situations where we know we will be hurt by being vulnerable?
I completed my 2nd, and possibly last, half-marathon a couple of weekends ago. It was not something I was all pumped up for, exclaiming my domination and rule over those 13.1 miles. I walked into the race very ill prepared. I signed up for it, thinking it would help to motivate me to train again. It didn’t work. Neither had my gym membership nor my following all of my favorite body building and racing athletes on social media months prior. A smarter person may have just forfeited the money and avoided any chance of injury. I am not one such person. I showed up for the race, knowing that I needed to take my time and just concentrate on finishing.
My first half-marathon took almost 3 hours to complete and that was with training, so I knew this would be much longer. So, I decided to download a book to listen to. I chose Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Each chapter is so chock-full of information that I want to go back and read the text, take notes and digest it. There were a couple of areas that have stuck with me very strongly and some ideas I feel important enough to convey to you readers.
Brené Brown focuses a lot of “wholehearted” living. In an interview, Brené Brown said that the idea of focusing on wholeheartedness came from the Book of Common prayer that is recited in the Episcopal church. I believe that prayer is this:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole hearts; We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Emphasis is mine, of course.
In Brené’s book, she gives 10 guideposts for wholehearted living.
- Cultivating Authenticity (letting go of what people think)
- Cultivating Self-Compassion (letting go of perfectionism)
- Cultivating a Resilient Spirit (letting go of numbing and powerlessness)
- Cultivating Gratitude and Joy (letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark)
- Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith (letting go of the need for certainty)
- Cultivating Creativity (letting go of comparison)
- Cultivating Play and Rest (letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth)
- Cultivating Calm and Stillness (letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle)
- Cultivating Meaningful Work (letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”)
- Cultivating Laughter, Song and Dance (letting go of being cool and “always in control”)
I could probably write a blog post for each guidepost but am only going to focus on the concept of vulnerability and how it applies to the guideposts. If we are vulnerable then we aren’t always in control (#10). If we are vulnerable then we aren’t always certain (I’d like to substitute the term “God” for “faith” here. #5). If we are vulnerable then we aren’t self-conscious (#1).
One of the biggest points I remember on my walk/jog was listening to Brené on a podcast talking about vulnerability not being “letting it all hang out.” It IS honoring a sacred space between you and another trusted person with your story. Vulnerability is not over-sharing our lives to people who haven’t earned the right to hear it yet. … and I realized that I had made some errors in my life here during some massive life trials. Yet, the answer isn’t to clam up and tighten my lips, it’s to be wiser in my sharing. I can tell you that I haven’t gotten “burned” in the over-sharing episodes but it doesn’t make them any more correct or even beneficial for me.
The thing is, is that so many people do not experience the freedom of vulnerability. They don’t believe in the act of taking off the corset and showing their true waistline. They are afraid of what people think. They believe that NO ONE has earned the right to hear their story, so they trust no one with their story and then wonder why people don’t trust or reach out to them in return. The reasons for the mistrust could be family of origin issues, cultural issues or just random things that have happened through the years.
In reflection of my own family I saw this authenticity issue take its toll on my grandmother. My grandmother grew up poor but didn’t want to be known as “poor,” nor did she want to be associated with other poor people. Even in her old age she was very concerned with the image of herself and her descendents. She wanted to make sure all of our shirts were starched crisp and nothing had holes or any signs of filth. While cleanliness is a duty, yes, being chained to the idea of what class other people will put you in is not what God wants for us.
Being vulnerable RELEASES us from the chains of things that we (or someone else) have imposed on ourselves. … because of my upbringing I used to chain myself to the cleanliness of my house, which no one ever surprise visited. After having children, I do my best in the time I have to do it and move on… slowly learning how to remove the guilt and inner-critic talking to I sometimes give myself.
I highly suggest Brené’s work and you can find many of her interviews and talks on youtube and via podcasts. If we all start living a life with a bit more vulnerability, chances are we will start being nicer to each other too… and that’s not such a bad thing, is it?
… oh and I did finish the race. It took almost 4 hours and I may have been one of the last 10 people total but I DID NOT GET HURT. 🙂
Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on Vulnerability: HERE
Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on Listening to Shame: HERE
Brené Brown’s talk on Critics: HERE